It noted a 24 percent decrease in antidepressant prescriptions among young adults and a 33.7 percent increase in suicide attempts by drug overdose alone in the two years following the black box warning.
The study showed no jump in such attempts among adults older than 29. Completed suicides did not change for any group, although researchers said the chance of completing suicide by overdose is rare, so this was an expected result.
A 2007 study published in the American Psychiatry Journal of Psychiatry backs up the most recent research. It examined prescriptions of SSRIs from 2003 to 2005 in patients up to the age of 19 in both the United States and The Netherlands, right after the FDA warning. It noted a 22 percent drop in prescriptions and a 14 percent rise in actual completed suicides, not just attempts.
In The Netherlands, the drop in prescriptions was similar, but the rise is suicide rates was 49 percent. Both countries showed only an increase in suicides among young people, not adults. Researchers said they believed the warning was premature.
The National Institute of Mental Health states that the benefits of antidepressants “likely outweigh their risks to children and adolescents with major depression and anxiety disorders.”
Psychiatrist Beresin adds that antidepressants are “very safe, the SSRIs in particular.”
Other medications including steroids, cholesterol drugs and antibiotics can sometimes be “extremely dangerous” on the body’s organs, but carry no black box warning, he said.
“Depression is one of the most debilitating illnesses known to mankind with one of the highest death rates,” said Beresin, who blames lack of education for fear of antidepressants. He argues that not all patients with mental disorders require medication, and many do well on psychotherapy alone or in conjunction with drugs.
“Yes, you have to monitor their use and be vigilant,” he said. “But we need to drop the warning and use antidepressants as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.”
Beresin said he sees stigma as a “huge” part of the problem.
“The entire culture has a prejudice against patients with psychiatric disorders and it’s prevalent not only among the general population but common in medical schools and among physicians,” he said. “People don’t understand psychiatric illnesses and see it as a moral or ethical problem. … They deny it exists.”
Dr. Suneel Kamath and Dr. Natasha Demehri of ABC’s medical unit contributed to this report.