Major depression is a serious condition that affects 5 percent of adolescents.1 For young people, depression can affect every aspect of their lives: home, community, and school. In the past decade, an increasing number of children have been prescribed SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors2) to treat their depression and related symptoms; however, the use of this special type of drug in children is controversial because it can lead to unexpected and even dangerous side effects.
What is an SSRI?
Modern medications are designed to correct problems in the body's chemistry. The same is true for the SSRI family of drugs, which help treat psychological symptoms. SSRIs help boost the brain chemicals that affect a person’s mood.
There are several types of SSRI drugs prescribed in the United States. Some popular SSRI medications are:
- Celexa (generic citalopram)
- Lexapro (generic escitalopram)
- Luvox (generic fluvoxamine)
- Prozac (generic fluoxetine)
- Paxil (generic paroxetine)
- Zoloft (generic sertraline)
These SSRI medications are sometimes prescribed to teens and young children for various psychological conditions. Depression is the major reason these drugs are used in children; however, they have been used to treat other psychological conditions, which include:
- Social anxiety disorders
- General anxiety disorders
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Controversial study findings regarding SSRI use for children
The medical community concedes that its knowledge of the impact of antidepressant treatments on adults is greater than its knowledge about these treatments in children. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began reviewing numerous studies and reports of clinical trials about the use of these SSRI drugs in children. Findings were shocking. These drugs increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior, something called suicidality, in these young patients. As a result, the FDA issued black box warnings for several of these antidepressant drugs.3 A black box warning is the most serious alert the FDA issues.
These findings and warnings rest at the center of the controversy about prescribing SSRIs for children. Some medical professionals think the extreme warnings are not necessary and may frighten parents, whose children might benefit from drug treatment. Others think that giving children pills is not the best practice. Therapy should be the first resort as children’s brains are still developing and altering brain chemistry at a young age may cause long-term harm. The debate remains unsettled, but the controversy resurfaces with each new clinical trial involving children and SSRIs.
Doctors believe that antidepressant drugs have benefits but that careful monitoring should take place. Parents and caretakers should be watchful of their young child, teen or young adult’s condition. In addition to actual attempts at suicide, these symptoms may indicate a risk of worsening problems4 for children using SSRIs:
- Panic attacks
- Self-injury or self-harm
- Thoughts about death or dying
- Aggression, violence, or agitation
- Periods of isolation or spending more time alone
- New or worsening anxiety
- Sleeping problems
Still, these are not the only side effects. Other serious side effects of SSRI use in children include nausea, vomiting, seizures, rapid heart rate, headache, changes in appetite, and manic episodes.5
If your child has had serious side effects due to the use of SSRI medications, you may have a right to sue. To understand and/or protect your legal rights, contact an experienced personal injury, mass tort, or products liability attorney.