Alternative medicine (1)
- Treatment-resistant depression
- Suicide and suicidal thoughts
Coping and support (1)
- Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
Lifestyle and home remedies (1)
- Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms
- Teenage depression: Prevention begins with parental support
Risk factors (2)
- Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
- Teen suicide: What parents need to know
- Male depression: Understanding the issues
- Depression self-assessment
- College depression: What parents need to know
- see all in Symptoms
Treatments and drugs (11)
- Antidepressants for children: Explore the pros and cons
- Atypical antidepressants
- see all in Treatments and drugs
Antidepressants for children: Explore the pros and cons
Learn why antidepressants have warnings about suicidal thinking in children, what to do before your child starts taking an antidepressant and the warning signs of a potential problem.By Mayo Clinic staff
Antidepressant medications are often an effective way to treat depression and other mental disorders in children and adolescents. However, antidepressants do pose a risk of harmful side effects and complications. In fact, antidepressants are required to carry strong warnings about their possible link to suicidal behavior in children, adolescents and young adults ages 18 to 24.
You may be alarmed about the suicide warnings. But before you panic or refuse to allow your child to be treated with antidepressants, get the facts. Learn what the warnings mean, signs of trouble and other treatment options. This will help you make an informed decision about your child's health.
Why do antidepressants have warnings about suicidal behavior in children?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that an extensive analysis of clinical trials showed that antidepressants may cause or worsen suicidal thinking or behavior in children and adolescents. The analysis showed that children taking antidepressants had about a 4 percent chance of developing suicidal thoughts or behavior, compared with only a 2 percent chance in children taking a sugar pill (placebo).
None of the children in any of the studies actually took his or her own life. Still, the FDA considered the findings so disturbing that it issued a public health advisory and began requiring manufacturers to label antidepressants with strong warnings about the link to suicide in children. The FDA later broadened its warning to include young adults up to age 25.
However, not all mental health researchers believe these warnings are necessary. Some studies have reported opposite results — that suicide rates in children decrease when they take antidepressants.
Should children not be treated with antidepressants at all?
Not necessarily. The warnings about a possible link between antidepressants and suicidal thoughts don't mean that antidepressants can't be used to treat children. Nor are the warnings meant to frighten people away from antidepressants. However, the antidepressant warnings should be taken as a caution to carefully weigh the pros and cons of using these medications in youngsters.
For many children and adolescents, antidepressants are an effective way to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health conditions. If these conditions aren't treated effectively, your child may not be able to lead a happy, fulfilled life or do normal, everyday activities. In addition, suicide is a possible complication of depression if it isn't treated.
Which antidepressants must have the warnings about suicide?
Although the FDA analysis examined only nine antidepressants, the agency's concern was great enough to extend the warning to all prescription antidepressants. This warning is known as a "black box" warning. This is the strongest safety warning that the FDA can issue about a prescription medication. The warning is printed in bold type framed in a black border at the top of the paper inserts that come with antidepressants. Antidepressants also come with a medication guide that advises parents and caregivers about risks and precautions.
What should you do before your child starts taking an antidepressant?
It's important that your child have a thorough evaluation before he or she starts taking an antidepressant. This evaluation should include:
- A physical exam
- A psychiatric exam by a psychiatrist, or a pediatrician or family doctor who is experienced in pediatric psychiatric issues
The psychiatric evaluation should include:
- A detailed review of any potential risk factors your child may have that may make it more likely for him or her to hurt themselves
- An assessment of whether your child may have other mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder
- An evaluation of whether there's a family history of mental illnesses or suicide
What antidepressants can children take?
Fluoxetine FDA approved
Your child's doctor or qualified mental health professional can prescribe any antidepressant on the market. However, the FDA has officially approved only one antidepressant for the treatment of depression in children — fluoxetine (Prozac). In addition to Prozac, escitalopram (Lexapro) is approved for the treatment of depression in adolescents age 12 and older.
Doctors can use their medical judgment to prescribe other antidepressants for children. This practice, called off-label use, is a common, and perfectly legal, practice for many types of medications for both children and adults. Fluoxetine is also FDA approved to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children, as are the antidepressants sertraline (Zoloft), fluvoxamine (Luvox) and clomipramine (Anafranil).
(1 of 2)
- Moreland CS, et al. Effect of antidepressants on suicide risk in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Sept. 23, 2010.
- Antidepressant medications for children and adolescents: Information for parents and caregivers. The National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/antidepressant-medications-for-children-and-adolescents-information-for-parents-and-caregivers.shtml. Accessed Sept. 23, 2010.
- Depression in children and adolescents fact sheet. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88551. Accessed Sept. 23, 2010.
- Medication guide about using antidepressants in children and adults. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2005/020822s29lbl.pdf. Accessed Sept. 23, 2010.
- Bonin L, et al. Overview of treatment for adolescent depression. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Sept. 23, 2010.
- American Psychiatric Association, et al. ParentsMedGuide: The use of medication in treating childhood and adolescent depression — Information for patients and families. ParentsMedGuide.org. http://www.parentsmedguide.org/parentsmedguide.htm. Accessed Sept. 23, 2010.