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Antidepressants Can Actually Increase Suicide Risk Among Under-18s, Report Suggests

28/01/2016 11:29 GMT | Updated 28/01/2016 12:59 GMT

Depressed children should always be offered counselling before being prescribed antidepressants, an expert has said, after a study was published suggesting certain drugs can double the suicide risk for under-18s.

Researchers in Denmark said that children and adolescents have a doubled risk of aggression and suicide when taking selective serotonin and serotonin-norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitor drugs to combat depression, The Press Association reports.

The researchers found no significant link between antidepressants and suicide and aggression among adults - but in children and adolescents the risk doubled.

child depression

Children and adolescents have a doubled risk of aggression and suicide when taking certain antidepressants drugs

Professor Shirley Reynolds, professor of evidence-based psychological therapies at the University of Reading said the results drew attention to alternative ways to treat depression, such as exercise.

The risks discovered are associated with the drug paroxetine, which is not prescribed for children and adolescents in the UK, Prof Reynolds, said, urging British parents to "not panic".

She added: "All young people should be offered an evidence-based psychological treatment immediately. However, antidepressants should be available when a young person does not respond to psychological treatment or does not want psychological treatment.

"Combining antidepressant treatment and psychological treatment is associated with improved outcomes and can lead to more a rapid reduction in symptoms."

She added: "Obviously these results will make doctors, parents and young people themselves think harder about taking antidepressant medication.

"But do the results mean that children and young people should never be prescribed antidepressant medication? No. There are alternative treatments.

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"But only a specialist child and adolescent psychiatrist should prescribe antidepressant medication to children and young people and all children and young people who are prescribed antidepressants must be carefully and regularly monitored."

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, examined clinical study reports of 70 trials with 18,526 patients.

"We suggest minimal use of antidepressants in children, adolescents, and young adults as the serious harms seem to be greater, and as their effect seems to be below what is clinically relevant," the authors wrote.

"Alternative treatments such as exercise or psychotherapy may have some benefit and could be considered."

Speaking on The Today Programme, she said: "Suicidality is part of depression. Most people will see more benefits than risks. This draws attention to the fact there are a lot of other ways to treat depression.

The guidance says that we should always try psychotherapy first and only if children don't respond after a limited period should we consider the use of antidepressants and even then we would only prescribe them by a child psychiatrist and after a long discussion with parents and the children themselves.

"This must be an informed decision."