Staggering number of Aussie kids on antidepressants


Australia's medical watchdog has called for a detailed investigation into the link between antidepressant use in young people and suicide after prescriptions soared by 66 per cent over a decade.

The Therapeutic Goods Adminstration (TGA) review confirmed youth suicide rates had also increased between 2009 and 2019.

The suicide rate in young people increased from 4.43 per 100 000 in 2009-2012 to 5.75 in 2016-2019, the report found.

However, the TGA said there was not enough evidence that increasing antidepressant use had caused the increase in suicides.

The review was ordered by Health Minister Greg Hunt after an academic study found a correlation between rising antidepressant use and increasing suicides among young people.

"The investigation found that while the increasing use of antidepressants in young people was a concern, the strength of the current evidence available was insufficient to conclude that a causal relationship existed between prescribing of antidepressants and rates of youth suicide," the TGA said yesterday.



As a result the watchdog has called for a new investigation to link PBS, Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), hospital and death data "to further investigate the clinical journeys of young people prescribed antidepressants in Australia and the relationship between antidepressants and rates of youth suicide".

This work will commence in early 2021.

The TGA said it had also written to medical colleges about the "the need for additional clinical guidelines for general practitioners around the management of depression and prescribing of antidepressants to children, adolescents and young people".

The TGA sought advice from the Advisory Committee on Medicines (ACM) as part of its review.

"The ACM advised that there is a valid and important role for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) in current clinical practice in treating moderate-to-severe depression in children and adolescents, supported by professional guidelines," the TGA said.

However, the group noted that psychological therapies are recommended as the first line treatment for depressive disorders in children and adolescents.

And it also noted that some young people may be missing out of psychological therapy.


Prescriptions for antidepressants for young people have soared. Picture supplied.
Prescriptions for antidepressants for young people have soared. Picture supplied.


"The ACM expressed concern around the increasing use of antidepressants in young people in the absence of other alternatives and recommended the development of further clinical guidance to support the safe prescribing of antidepressants to young people in whom antidepressant therapy is clinically appropriate," the report said.

A search of the TGA'; s adverse events data base revealed 167 suicide-related adverse event reports for persons aged under 25 years of age listing antidepressant medications as suspected medicines since 1993.

Reporting of adverse events is not compulsory so this may not reflect all cases.

Curtin University academic Martin Whitely who co-authored the study that prompted the TGA review welcomed the findings which called for a further investigation into whether antidepressants were causing an increase in suicides.

"Having a forensic analysis of the outcomes for young people on antidepressants is what's needed," he said.





Originally published as Staggering number of Aussie kids on antidepressants