Study: Antidepressants in Children and Teens Ineffective

Girl holds teddy bear next to lakeMost antidepressants do not help children and teens with depression, and some may worsen symptoms or cause suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet. The study’s authors report 2.8% of children ages 6-12 and 5.6% of teens ages 12-18 experience depression.

Do Antidepressants Work for Children and Teens?

The study was a meta-analysis—a study of other studies. To gather data on antidepressant use in children, researchers conducted a search for all antidepressant studies available in major databases through May 31, 2015.

The studies included trials of 14 popular antidepressants, including popular options fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and paroxetine (Paxil). The team excluded studies that lasted less than four weeks, used fewer than 10 participants, or included participants with treatment-resistant depression.

More than 65% of studies in the analysis were funded by pharmaceutical companies. Using the Cochrane risk of bias measure, researchers assessed the credibility of each study. They found 29% had a high risk of bias, 59% had a moderate risk of bias, and 12% had low risk.

Most of the antidepressants were ineffective or only moderately effective. Fluoxetine (Prozac) was the only antidepressant with benefits that outweighed the risks. Nortriptyline (Pamelor) was “significantly less effective” than a placebo and seven other antidepressants. Venlafaxine (Effexor) was correlated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and was poorly tolerated, along with Imipramine (Tofranil) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

Risks of Antidepressant Use in Young People

Despite concerns that antidepressants might increase suicidal thoughts in some people, the researchers say unreliable data made it impossible to assess the correlation between suicidal thoughts and antidepressant use. For example, in four studies that compared paroxetine to a placebo, investigators officially reported just 13 (3%) of 413 suicidal events. Reanalysis of individual patient data in just one study found 10 such events (10.8%) among 93 participants.

No drug is without side effects, even when those side effects are mild and tolerable. Because many antidepressants appear to be largely ineffective in children, the study’s authors suggest these drugs may do more harm than good. They say children and teens taking antidepressants should be closely monitored, particularly when they begin treatment.


  1. Cipriani, A., Zhou, X., Giovane, C. D., Hetrick, S. E., Qin, B., Whittington, C., . . . Xie, P. (2016). Comparative efficacy and tolerability of antidepressants for major depressive disorder in children and adolescents: A network meta-analysis. The Lancet. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(16)30385-3
  2. Welch, A. (2016, June 9). Most antidepressants ineffective in teens, study finds. Retrieved from
  3. Whiteman, H. (2016, June 9). Major depression: Most antidepressants ineffective for children, teens. Retrieved from

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  • dixie


    June 14th, 2016 at 2:21 PM

    I have to wonder if they were being monitored closely to ensure that they were taking their medication like they should be? This would be a big responsibility to be left to a child, it would certainly have to take a lot of parental involvement to make sure that eh or she was taking the medication as indicated.

  • Jack


    June 16th, 2016 at 9:45 AM

    If they do more harm than good then why on earth are they still being used as an option for treatment?

  • Lola


    June 16th, 2016 at 1:50 PM

    Maybe this would just be me but I would never want my child taking something that could potentially cause them a great deal of harm.
    So the numbers are not confirmed, For me it is enough that there is even the possibility that they could increase suicidal thoughts. I know that for some people they are simply looking for the best answer available for them, but I would have to think long and hard about it if this was my child.

  • Walker


    June 18th, 2016 at 9:11 AM

    All of them or just certain ones?

  • Nancy V.

    Nancy V.

    June 18th, 2016 at 9:37 AM

    I know several children/adolescents who take anti-depressants and are healthier and better able to reason. Most people never experience anything worse than a bad day or grief in their lifetime, yet so many say they are “depressed.” The term is too loosely used, because in the context of the disease, severe major depression and bipolar depression cause serious interruptions in one’s ability to function, reason, relate to others, and manage one’s mood. For children, grades may suffer, isolation becomes a dangerous reality, and impulsive acts may be less restrained. They commonly struggle to eat and sleep normally. Irratibility tends to get them in trouble. Suicidal thoughts can become obsessive.

    Yes, children and adolescents (as well as ill adults) need to be monitored medically. Severe depression makes it nearly impossible to choose wisely. As important as taking medication as prescribed, is finding the right dosage and time of day to take the medications. None of this, in my opinion, should be done aside from a specialist’s care. That is, a psychiatrist who took years of advance schooling in brain science that General Practitioners did not.

    Look at who is prescribing the medications. Someone in-the-know? Check out who is monitoring. Someone in the know? Understand the specific issues of the child or adolescent. Were they suicidal before taking medications? Do they tend generally toward impulsivity and less emotional control? Medications cannot be blamed for issues beyond the physical.

    Why is it better to allow someone to suffer such disability when treatment may be available? I would never deny anyone the right to try what may work. Treated and untreated severe depression have different outcomes the majority of the time. Severe depression is consistenly far more dangerous than medications. Left untreated, even a moderate depression tends to become worse and more frequent over the years. I believe it is important to consider the use of antidepressants for people of any age before running away in fear.

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