According to a study that is being referred to as one of the most comprehensive comparisons of commonly prescribed antidepressants so far, most of these drugs are ineffective and some might even be unsafe for children and teens who are suffering from major depression.
The study, which was published in The Lancet, found that out of 14 antidepressants, the only one that worked better than a placebo was fluoxetine (Prozac). Even more startlingly, in addition to not being effective, the drug venlafaxine (Effexor) was linked with a heightened risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts when compared to a placebo and five other antidepressants. The other 12 drugs assessed include imipramine, nefazodone, paroxetine, citalopram, duloxetine, mirtazapine, sertraline, nortriptyline, escitalopram, despiramine, clomipramine, and amitriptyline.
The study’s authors caution that the true levels of effectiveness and risks are not entirely clear because many of the clinical trials assessing them are poorly designed, and some are subjected to selective reporting.
Study co-author Professor Peng Xie said, “The balance of risks and benefits of antidepressants for the treatment of major depression does not seem to offer a clear advantage in children and teenagers, with probably only the exception of fluoxetine.” He recommends that young people who take antidepressants should be monitored closely, especially in the early stages of treatment.
It is estimated that around 3 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 12 and 6 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from major depressive disorder. Despite the FDA issuing a black box warning about antidepressant use in people younger than 24 due to the high risk of suicidal thoughts, the use of these drugs rose in the seven-year span between 2005 and 2012. The proportion of Americans younger than 19 taking the meds in the U.S. rose from 1.3 percent to 1.6 percent. The most commonly prescribed antidepressant in our country is sertraline.
The study was led by Dr. Andrea Cipriani, from the University of Oxford. The researchers systematically reviewed and analyzed published and unpublished randomized trials that compared the effects of the aforementioned 14 antidepressants in young people suffering from major depression. They ranked the drugs in terms of their efficacy, tolerability, acceptability, and serious harms. They also accounted for the quality of the studies.
More than half of antidepressant studies funded by Big Pharma
They found that 65 percent of the trials had gotten funding from pharmaceutical companies. Nearly 30 percent of the trials were rated as having a high risk of bias, while almost 60 percent had a moderate risk of bias. Only 4 of the 34 trials assessed were considered to have a low risk of bias.
The University of Adelaide’s Dr. Jon Jureidini questioned just how many more suicidal events could have been uncovered if the data of individual patients had been made available.
One of the drugs in the study that was found to be ineffective, citalopram (Celexa) recently came under fire when a number of researchers, doctors, and psychiatrists asked the American Psychiatric Association to retract a questionable study touting its benefits in younger people that was actually written by ghost writers who were employed by the drug’s manufacturer, Forest Laboratories. This underscores the need for more independent studies into antidepressant use.
Natural treatments can help with depression
For young people who are struggling with depression, it might be a good idea to try some natural ways to cope. Exercise can release feel-good endorphins, and being outdoors is also a mood lifter, so why not combine these and play sports outside? Other young people are getting relief from meditation, yoga, art therapy, and aromatherapy. With the risks of antidepressants being so great and their efficacy in serious doubt, it’s disappointing that they continue to be prescribed in such high numbers to young people.