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Teen Suicide is Soaring: Here’s What You Need to Know about Antidepressants

Teen suicide is soaring. Is lack of mental health and addiction treatment to blame?

Teen suicide is soaring. Is lack of mental health and addiction treatment to blame?

 If you are a parent, or a person looking after a child or teenager with a mental health condition such as depression, a decision you may be facing is whether or not they need antidepressant medication. And you may have heard about a link between antidepressants and teen suicide or aggression.

Antidepressants and Teen Suicide: What You Need to KnowThe Warning Label on Antidepressants and Why You Should Care

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required a black boxed warning on all antidepressant medication. This type of labeling is considered to be the strongest warning that a drug can carry, and signifies that serious or life-threatening risks are associated with taking that drug.

The FDA’s intention was to alert the public about the increased risk of suicidal thinking, or suicide attempts, by children and teenagers taking antidepressants. The FDA went on to extend the warning to include young adults, up to 24 years of age, about three years later.

national study was released in 2014, investigating whether these FDA boxed warnings were associated with changes in suicide attempts, or completed suicides, for young patients taking antidepressant medication.

Researchers tracked the use of antidepressants among 2.5 million young people from 2000 (before the FDA put the warning in place) to 2010. What they found was a catch- 22.

Following the placement of the FDA’s warning, the use of commonly prescribed antidepressants fell by 30% in teenagers, and 25% in young adults. But, during that same period, suicide attempts rose by 22% in teens and 34% in young adults.

The researchers concluded that the decrease in antidepressant use, because of the labeling, may have left many depressed young people without treatment. This, in turn, boosted an increase in suicide attempts, according to a Howard LeWine, MD, chief medical editor of internet publishing at Harvard Health Publications.

Completed suicides, however, did not change for any age group, according to the study.

A Doctor’s Input on Treating Depression

“Since the FDA placed the black box warning, I’ve not prescribed these medications to adolescents and young adults,” says Medical Chief Officer and founder of saludmóvil, Dr. Joseph Mosquera.

Instead, Dr. Mosquera suggests seeking out other options first, including the possibility of taking supplements under the guidance of a doctor or specialist.

Determining the severity of your child or teen’s depression is also key.

“If you consider the fact that these medications are only marginally used for mild to moderate depression, the better choice may be standardized evidence-based supplements such as SAM-e, rhodelia, or St. John’s wort. These are supplements that can interact with other medications, however, they don’t have the suicide risk of SSRIs in younger people,” explains Dr. Mosquera.

What Are SSRIs?

SSRIs is an acronym for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

They are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication, according to the Mayo Clinic. Here’s a breakdown of how SSRIs work:

  • The medication eases depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.
  • Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that carry signals between brain cells.
  • SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available.
  • SSRIs are called selective because they seem to primarily affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters.

Supplements That May Help Battle Depression


S-adenosyl-L-methionine, also known as SAM-e, is a chemical found naturally in the body, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). It’s made in the body from methionine, an amino acid found in foods, and has been found to regulate key functions in living cells.

SAM-e is sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S., and can be used alone or paired with other antidepressants. According to community-based non-profit organization Mental Health America (MHA), the supplement’s side effects are less than many antidepressants which makes them easier to tolerate. MHA also points out that SAM-e works more rapidly, does not cause weight gain, sexual dysfunction, sedation or cognitive interference. It’s important, however, to understand what side effects you may experience as a result of SAM-e, and discuss all considerations with your doctor.


People use rhodiola as a dietary supplement to increase energy, stamina, and strength, to improve attention and memory, and to enhance the ability to cope with stress, according to the NCCIH. Rhodiola is also considered by some experts a promising treatment for stress and for mild to moderate depression.

Two review articles, published in 2011 and 2012, found evidence that rhodiola may enhance physical performance and ease mental fatigue, but emphasized that the limited quantity, and quality of available evidence, did not allow firm conclusions to be made.

According to MHA, the risk of drug interactions and side effects is minimal with rhodiola, but consumers using anti-anxiety, antibiotic, or antidepressant medication, birth control pills, or diabetic and thyroid drugs should consult with the doctor who prescribed the medication.

St. John’s wort

This is a plant that grows in the wild, and has been used for centuries around the world for health purposes including the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Consumers, however, need to be aware of the concerns about its safety and effectiveness, according to the NCCIH.

The MHA also lists St. John’s wort as a possible treatment for mild to moderate

depression. They also provide a list of possible side effects and drug interactions. It’s imperative that you speak with your doctor, or specialist, before starting to take this supplement.

Hispanics, Depression and Suicide

Only 7.3% of Hispanic adults received medical services for mental health issues in 2011, even though the number suffering from a mental illness was nearly double that.

One of several issues getting in the way of Hispanics seeking proper treatment is the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health conditions. Many people fear being called “locos.”

But staying silent can be a fatal mistake. A 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed kids in the 9th through 12th grades. Among Hispanic students, Latinas had the highest reports of suicidal behavior among any other group including non-Hispanic black and white students, as well as Latino male students.

It’s important for families and community members to push beyond any stigma, come together and get help for anyone who may be quietly suffering. Lives could be saved, with the right treatment.

Choosing the Right Mental Health Treatment for Your Teen

“You really want to take something that is safer than SSRI’s, as well as effective, and some of these supplements can be the answer to the dilemma,” says Dr. Mosquera.

For parents, or anyone taking care of a young person dealing with a mental health condition such as depression, Dr. Mosquera recommends an integrative approach. “Look at the child’s habits, lifestyle, and sleep patterns. Are they eating nutritiously? Are they drinking energy drinks and eating pizza all day? Are they exercising? All these things can impact mood and behavior.”

It’s important to always speak with your doctor for the best treatment based on your child’s mental health needs. You can also gain some guidance on antidepressant use on the FDA’s website. There is also more information specific to children and teens on the National Institutes of Health website.

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