Many mental health professionals remain concerned that the regulatory warnings put on antidepressants in this and other countries have had a deleterious effect, possibly leading to an increase in depression and suicides among young people. This concern has been stoked by recent journal articles written by researchers with ties to the drug industry, which I’ve blogged about here.
Now comes a fairly convincing international finding that there has been no overall effect on suicide rates among young people as a result of the regulatory warnings on antidepressants. As you may recall, the warnings were required by the FDA and other regulatory agencies, beginning in late 2003 and 2004, because of evidence of an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among children and young adults on SSRI antidepressants.
The latest study, published in the July issue of Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, is based on suicide data from 2004 to 2006 provided by 22 nations, including the US, to the World Health Organization. The researchers, from the University of Bristol, found no clear evidence of a beneficial effect on population suicide rates as a result of the warnings. Equally importantly, they did not find evidence of an adverse effect on suicide rates either.
Interestingly, they did find “weak evidence” for a slight increase in suicide rates in young women, aged 15-19, but not in young men. The researchers were at a loss as to how to explain this gender difference. But they did note that in the UK, this slight increase might reflect the two to three-fold higher levels of antidepressant prescribing among young women. In the US, they found the strongest inverse association between SSRI prescribing and suicide mortality among boys under the age of 15; in other words, between 2004 and 2006, when SSRI prescriptions for this age group dropped, as it did for other age groups in wake of the warnings, fewer boys in the U.S. committed suicide.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the beneficial effect of antidepressants, is it?