In 2013, it was estimated that nearly 4.5 million teens and young adults (age 13-24) were taking antidepressants. While antidepressants can be prescribed for off-label uses, the most common use is to treat depression.
But what happens when antidepressants fail?
What if your depression actually becomes worse?
There is strong evidence to suggest that antidepressants can actually trigger suicidal thoughts in teens and young adults. In some studies, teens and young adults who were taking antidepressants were twice as likely to attempt or die by suicide as those who did not.
Due to the increased risk, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a “black box” warning for antidepressants prescribed to young people. Although these drugs are still on the market today, there have been talks to ban their use in these age groups completely in the future.
Remarkably, the year the FDA’s warning took effect, rates of antidepressant prescriptions to adolescents dropped by 20 percent, and the suicide rate for adolescents increased by 20 percent. Researchers are unsure what this paradoxical data means, but are extremely concerned about the spike in overall deaths by suicide in those who are taking these drugs.
One can only speculate why these drugs have this effect on teens and young adults.
One theory is that when a person is suffering from major depression, they do not have the physical energy to go out and make a suicide plan. Once they begin taking these medications however, the chemical balance in their brain is shifted, causing them to have more energy to go out, formulate, and act on their plan.
Antidepressants can also cause extreme agitation and restlessness in some individuals. These feelings may make it hard for that person to visualize a way out of their depression. They may be desperate for an escape, making suicide more attractive.
Unlike some other medicines used to treat illnesses (i.e. antibiotics) there is no one size fits all dosage for antidepressants.
What some people, especially teens, don’t realize is that it may take a few tries to get the dosage right. Plus, it can take weeks or even months to feel the full effects of the antidepressant.
If you’re a teen who is on antidepressants and still feels suicidal, talk to your doctor and they’ll work with you to find the right dosage. If you’re a parent/guardian of a teen on antidepressants and you feel your child is becoming more suicidal, talk to them about it and work to get them even more help through counseling (which they should be enrolled in if on antidepressants anyway) or by taking them back to the doctor to find the right dosage.