Study finds antidepressant does not increase risk of suicide for kids

February 6, 2012

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Fluoxetine, or Prozac, was not shown to increase the risk of suicide in kids.

New research by Chicago scientists suggests using antidepressant drugs does not increase suicidal thoughts and behavior in kids, which contradicts warnings by government regulators.

In 2004 the Food and Drug Administration alerted the public that the drugs, intended to reduce depression, can actually make children more likely to think about or attempt suicide.

But a new study out Monday found no evidence of that risk. The study examined 708 children, plus thousands more adults, using an unprecedented level of detail. Researchers found, in fact, that the drug fluoxetine, marketed as Prozac, doesn’t seem to affect suicidal behavior in children either way. The drug did appear to improve kids’ depression symptoms. 

Lead author Robert Gibbons, a professor of medicine, health studies and biostatistics at University of Chicago Medicine, says that suggests depression and suicide work differently in kids than in adults.

“Unlike adults where it seems depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior are very tightly linked, that doesn’t seem to be the case as much in children,” Gibbons said. “Apparently there are children whose depression can be treated, but their suicidal risk remains high.”

The FDA puts a high-profile “black box” warning on many antidepressants, cautioning that drugs may increase the risk of suicidal behavior in children. Mina Dulcan, head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says that warning was always based on weak evidence. She welcomed the new study, which she said offered a sophisticated analysis of the problem.

The findings are published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Note: This story has been updated to correct the author's name.