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More Concern on Antidepressants in Children

As FDA Considers Their Place, Antidepressant Use Skyrockets Among Italian Youths

Medication Better Than Taking No Action continued...

"Probably the worst thing parents can do if they suspect their child has depression is nothing at all; the biggest risk is to be left untreated," he tells WebMD. "The FDA is doing the right thing, because this is a very serious issue and we don't want to make a mistake in either direction. But with all this media attention, sometimes I am concerned that parents may become reluctant to get any help for their kids."

His advice: "If you see signs that your child might be depressed or you are concerned, get a good evaluation from a trained mental health professional," says Fassler, of the University of Vermont. "There are treatments other than medication. Certain forms of psychotherapy, on their own, are very effective."

Even with medication, he says counseling should be part of a multi-pronged approach to effective treatment; often, it's not. "But in my own review of data, I'm not convinced there is an increased risk of suicide from SSRI use."

And he's not alone. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says SSRIs can be effective in treating childhood depression. And in January, an American College of Neurophsychopharmacology Task Force found no evidence of an SSRI-suicide link after reviewing clinical trials, epidemiological studies, and toxicology results from autopsies of teenaged suicide victims. Its review of 49 adolescent suicides indicated that 24% of those kids had been prescribed antidepressants, but none had any trace of SSRIs in their system at the time of their death.

Still, Clavenna has other concerns. "Apart from the risk of suicide, evidence is lacking on long-term safety," he tells WebMD. "Unfortunately, the clinical trials performed so far followed children for only a few weeks of therapy, so data regarding long-term safety are lacking. At least two months is needed to evaluate the effects of treatment on depressive symptoms.

"All antidepressants act on the central nervous system, and the possible long-term effects on a growing individual, on a growing body, on a growing nervous system need to be taken into consideration."

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