Some psychiatrists are claiming that the government’s “black box” warnings on the risks of antidepressants for teenagers have worked too well, to the point that they’ve scared off worried parents and lawsuit-sensitive doctors, leaving depressed teens undiagnosed and untreated. The rate of suicide among children and young adults jumped 8% in 2004, one year after the warnings went into effect—it was the biggest one-year spike in suicides for that demographic in 15 years, and psychiatrists worry it was caused in part by the 22% drop in prescriptions of antidepressants.
The Netherlands reported an alarming 49% jump in the teen suicide rate from 2003 to 2005. They, too, have a “black box” warning on antidepressants that, ironically, warns consumers that the medication can lead to suicidal thoughts.
So, did a warning for the benefit of the public backfire and worsen the problem, or is something else responsible for the higher rates? Experts are divided. The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control says the spike can’t be pinned on just a drop in antidepressant prescriptions, because “suicide is a multidimensional and complex problem.” A psychiatrist concurs, “There are so many social issues that go into suicide rates and how they’re reported.”
But Dr. Mark Riddle at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center says, “There’s been concern that the black box would lead to a reduction in prescribing and therefore an increase in suicides, and my guess is that’s what’s happening.”