Treatments for suicidal ideation in teens too often ineffective

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Approximately one in eight teenagers have had, at some time in their lives, persistent suicidal thoughts or ideation, and about a third of them had made an attempt at suicide, the first nationwide study found.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that 55 percent of suicidal teenagers had received some therapy before they thought about suicide, therefore suggesting that access to treatment does not necessarily make a big difference. Further, effective treatment for severely suicidal teenagers must address not just mood disorders, but also behavior problems that can lead to impulsive acts, experts said.

The findings, based on interviews with more than 6,000 teenagers and at least one parent of each, linked suicidal behavior to multifaceted combinations of mood disorders, such as depression, and behavior problems, such as ADD and eating disorders, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Researchers found that between the ages of 13 to 18, nine percent of males and 15 percent of females experienced persistent suicidal thoughts. Among girls, five percent made suicide plans and six percent made at least one attempt while among boys, three percent made plans and two percent carried out attempts.

The study authors noted that almost all of the suicidal adolescents in the study qualified for some psychiatric diagnosis (depression, phobias or generalized anxiety disorder) and that those with an additional behavior problem such as ADD, substance abuse or explosive anger, were more likely to act on thoughts of self-harm.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom points out that this case is a perfect example of the failure to properly balance the risks and benefits of a given drug therapy. He says, There has been an enormous amount of press coverage on this subject over the years virtually all of it about how antidepressant use in teens (adults too) carries with it an increased risk of suicidal ideation or behavior, the implication being that antidepressants and teens simply don t mix. He adds, But what you don t read about is the number of suicides that were prevented by bringing depression under control. This stigma about teens and antidepressants, and the consequent refusal by some parents and doctors to even consider drug-based treatments, is doing a disservice to many teens in need.