A new study suggests that giving most antidepressants to kids and teens with depression is useless—and may even be harmful. Scientists took a look at 34 trials involving 14 antidepressants and 5,260 subjects with an average age of 9 to 18, a release notes. Drugs studied included sertraline, sold under the brand name Zoloft, and escitolopram, or Lexapro. Findings? "The only one that is better than placebo and other drugs is Prozac [fluoxetine]," says the study's lead author, reports the AP. Venlafaxine (Effexor), meanwhile, may actually pose a danger to youngsters: Subjects who took this drug showed an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actual attempts compared to those who used placebos and five other antidepressants. The study was published in the Lancet journal.
And because of what researchers say is a dearth of reliable data, venlafaxine may not be the only antidepressant that could prove dangerous, leading to the scientists' own caveat for this research: that the relatively small number of eligible studies they reviewed, the flawed design of some clinical trials, and misreported results may be masking the true risk involved with the studied antidepressants. The percentage of US youngsters up to age 19 taking antidepressants rose from 1.3% in 2005 to 1.6% in 2012—despite FDA warnings and psychological interventions still being encouraged as the first resort. "We recommend that children and adolescents taking antidepressants should be monitored closely," a study co-author writes, "particularly at the beginning of treatment." (Paxil, one of the drugs included in this research, was found to be unsafe for teens in a 2015 study.)