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Anti-Depressants and Their Link to Adolescent and Teenage Suicide

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Dustin McKennon

Brenda Craven

English Composition Section P

21 April 2005

Anti-Depressants and Their Link to Adolescent and Teenage Suicide

Two percent of preteens and five percent of adolescents suffer from depression (www.about-teen-depression.com 2004). There are specific signs and symptoms associated with depression, which are helpful in detection of the illness. There are various ways to treat depression, such as medication, group therapy, and/or herbal supplements. There are pros and cons with each treatment, but the worst coincides with the medication -suicide. Much research has been conducted, which will be discussed in the paper that has shown a link to antidepressants and suicide. However, there is also evidence that the suicide rate could be decreased with proper diagnosis and early, supervised treatment for depression, especially when dealing with children and adolescents.

Depression is a condition that has no preference in its victims, meaning that it will strike people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. However, research has indicated that the onset of depression is now occurring earlier in life compared to past decades (American Family Physician 2000). Knowing this, depression is a condition that needs to be cured immediately.

There are many signs and symptoms commonly associated with depression, although most do vary with each individual. Most symptoms include frequent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, decreased activity, persistent boredom and low energy, social isolation, low self esteem, extreme sensitivity, frequent complaints of illness, poor concentration, and thoughts or expression of suicide (NIMH). In order to be diagnosed as suffering from depression, patients must have 2 or more of the above symptoms for at least two weeks that cause severe distress or interfere with daily life.

Statistics show suicide to be the third leading cause of death among 13-19 year olds, with approximately 6000 suicide deaths each year (Youth Suicide 1989). Because of statistics like this, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers are striving to find interventions to help prevent suicide among children and adolescents. However, until then, the best prevention appears to lie in early diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, limiting access to certain lethal agents like medications and weapons, as well as communication between parents and children (Pediatric Nursing 1999).

Treatment for depression via medication comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are literally hundreds of drugs that can be used for treatment of depression symptoms. SSRI's or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors are among the most widely distributed antidepressant drugs when it comes to children and adolescents. However, several studies in 2003 raised a concern about the effectiveness of SSRI's in children. An additional study was performed that compared SSRI vs. placebo in children aged 5-18 years. It was concluded that, except for fluoxetine, risks from SSRI's outweigh benefits in the treatment of adolescents (Pediatric Nursing 1999). Studies with paroxetine and sertraline also concluded that there was an increase risk of suicidal thoughts and weak improvement in depressed mood (NIMH).

So what is it about the antidepressants that cause an interaction in the brain that can lead to suicide? According to Dr. Thomas Kramer, psychopharmacologists seem to have the answer. There are two mechanisms that can potentially cause medications to induce suicidal tendencies. One mechanism, akathisia, causes intense restlessness while taking the medication, which could lead to acts of suicide. The other mechanism simply involves the road to recovery from depression. Not all symptoms of depression can be treated at once, which results in some patients having an increase in energy prior to the destruction of a negative mindset. This can be very dangerous since the increase in energy can now motivate the patient to act on all suicidal thoughts that accompany depression. As a result of this, patients on antidepressants are seen to be at greatest risk one week to 10 days after starting treatment (www.focusas.com).

Upon reviewing all of the research and statistics, several questions came to mind for both parents and physicians. Should antidepressants still be given to children and adolescents? As a physician, this is a catch-22 in that if you do not treat a child suffering from depression you leave the child at a risk for self-harm, which can be viewed as negligence. However, if you do decide to treat the child with antidepressants, which is by far the easiest mode of treatment, the child could still be at risk for self-harm due to the risk associated

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