Antidepressant medications may be associated with suicide attempts and death in severely depressed children and adolescents but not in adults.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently began requiring drug manufacturers to include a warning regarding the risk of suicidal behavior among children and teens treated with antidepressants after a large analysis of clinical trials revealed a potential link. It is uncertain whether there is an association between treatment with antidepressants and suicidal behavior in adults, according to background information in the article. Because relatively few completed suicides occur, suicidal behavior is used instead in studies assessing the risks associated with antidepressant medications and few studies have examined the risk of suicide attempts or deaths in patients treated with antidepressants.
Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, and colleagues analyzed the medical records of 5,469 Medicaid patients who were hospitalized for depression at least once in 1999 or 2000. The researchers first selected all cases of completed suicides (eight children and adolescents and 86 adults) and suicide attempts (263 children and adolescents, 521 adults). They then matched each case with one to five controls based on demographic information, period following hospital discharge, presence or absence of a suicide attempt prior to hospital admission, state of residence, other medication use and presence or absence of a substance abuse disorder.
Severely depressed children and adolescents ages 6 to 18 years were 1.5 times as likely to attempt suicide and also significantly more likely to complete suicide if they were treated with an antidepressant medication than if they were not treated with an antidepressant. More specifically, children and adolescents who died from suicide (eight cases) were more likely to have been treated with an SSRI antidepressant than their matched controls (39 controls, 37.5 percent vs. 7.7 percent). Among adults age 19 to 64 years, however, treatment with antidepressants was not associated with either suicide attempts or suicide deaths.
The link between completed suicides and antidepressants in young patients was based on only eight cases, and it is possible that the sickest children were more likely to be treated with such medications, skewing the results, the authors write. "With these caveats in mind, the present findings are consistent with the recommendations for careful clinical monitoring during the treatment of depressed children and adolescents with antidepressant medications," they conclude. "In practice, physicians face the difficult challenge of balancing safety concerns against evidence that depression is a key risk factor for adult and adolescent suicide and that antidepressant agents are effective for adult and adolescent depression."