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Antidepressant Use May Curb Teen Suicide

Increasing Use of Antidepressants May Be Factor in Falling Suicide Rates
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Oct. 13, 2003 -- Increasing use of antidepressant medications may be contributing to declining teen suicide rates.

Researchers say use of antidepressant medications among teens and adolescents has grown in the last decade while suicide rates have declined. But it's difficult to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

The study showed that a 1% increase in adolescent use of antidepressants was associated with a decrease of 0.23 suicides per 100,000 adolescents per year.

The results appear in the October issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Antidepressant Use Lowered Suicide Rates

In the study, researchers looked at the number of antidepressant prescriptions filled by 10- to 19-year-old youths in 588 ZIP codes between 1990 and 2000 and then compared that with the number of suicides in those ZIP codes.

Researchers found that regions with higher rates of antidepressant use among teens also had higher teen suicide rates. But they also found that areas with increasing antidepressant use experienced a slight drop in suicide rates over the 10-year period.

The study showed that this trend between antidepressant treatment and decreasing teen suicide rates was significant for older adolescents (ages 15-19) and males but not for younger adolescents and females.

Researchers say that compared with younger adolescents who commit suicide, older adolescents who commit suicide are more likely to have a diagnosable mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety disorders, and might be more likely to benefit from antidepressants.

"The relationship between suicide and mental status is not simple, and merely expanding access to antidepressant medications is unlikely to ensure the abolition or even a continued rapid decline in adolescent suicide rates," writes researcher Mark Olfson, MD, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and colleagues.

But researchers say these findings confirm that teen suicide prevention policies that seek to identify and treat young people with depression and other mental disorders are an effective way to reduce teen suicide rates.

Despite recent declines, researchers say that suicide is still the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years old and the fourth leading cause for adolescents aged 10 to 14 years old.

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