Antidepressants may double the risk of aggression and suicide in children

It is has been researched that suicidal behavior may be increased with children aged <18 who take popular antidepressants such as SSRIs and SNRIs, however, few systemic research has been done to correlate the effects of aggressive behavior with popular antidepressants.  This systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted to analyze the mortality, suicidality, aggression, and akathisia associated with five popular antidepressants—duloxetine, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and venlafaxine—using clinical study reports.  Akathisia is an extreme state of restlessness, agitation, and distress that can increase the risk of suicide and violence. No patients were involved in the study.  The methods included obtaining clinical study reports from the European Medicines Agency and Modern Humanities Research Association.  Out of the 198 clinical study reports, only 68 were used.  Using the reports that contained double bind placebo controlled trials and patient narratives, primary outcomes (mortality and suicide) and secondary outcomes (aggressive behavior and akathisia) were assessed by searching for specific terms, such as those used by the FDA.

Quality of the clinical study reports were varied, such as the number of trials conducted and the length of the study designs.  The results of the study showed that 16 deaths occurred in adults, and 155 suicidality events occurred with an odds ratio in children and adolescents doubled to that in adults.  The odds ratio for children and adolescents was also double that to adults for aggressive behavior.  The odds of akathisia were roughly the same for both adults and children and adolescents.  Thus, the data from this study shows that there is indeed an increased risk of suicide in children and adolescent taking antidepressants.  However, the study also found that there was a significant increase in aggressive behavior in children and adolescents.  This was a comprehensive review of randomized controlled trial data and is the first to note this finding of increased aggressive behavior.

My questions posed to colleagues are: Do you feel that this is a significant, valuable finding, despite the limitations in the research study?  Do you feel that this information could benefit pharmacists, and if so, how?

BMJ. 2016; 352(65): .


1 thought on “Antidepressants may double the risk of aggression and suicide in children”

  1. I really do feel that this is a significant finding. Although there are some limitations in this study and only 68 were used out of the original 198, there was still scientific evidence found. The numbers speak for themselves in a study like this and I think there were enough study reports used to verify the data.
    Overall, these are alarming statistics. I think the big question here is if the benefits of the antidepressants used in children and adolescents outweighs the risks. In this way, I think this information could really benefit pharmacists. After all, pharmacists are the ones dispensing these medications and have access to their prescription profile. I’m sure that physicians talk to the young patient and make sure that this medication is suitable for them, but how reliable do you think this is? Pharmacists should be aware of studies like this and be ready to counsel appropriately and bring up any concerns to the patient.

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