Increased Suicide Rate in Children and Teens Found
Better understanding of mental disorders & treatments fails to translate into better outcomes for children with the disorders
A Statement by David Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO of Mental Health America
Contact: Heather Cobb, (703) 797-2588
ALEXANDRIA, VA (February 5, 2007) —Pediatrics today published “Annual Summary of Vital Statistics: 2005,”which measured death rates in youth. While the death rates for youth did not change significantly between 2003 and 2004, deaths attributable for suicide increased significantly between 2003 and 2004. For youth aged 14-19 the suicide rate increased by 11%, from 7.3 per 100,000 to 8.2 per 100,000 children and adolescents. Similarly for youth aged 10-14, the rate increased by 8%, from to 1.2 to 1.3 per 100,000 (pediatrics.aappublications.org).
At a time when understanding of mental illnesses and their treatments is better than ever, an increased rate of suicide –an almost wholly preventable tragedy –is completely unacceptable. This is particularly true in light of the steady decline in suicide rates since the early 1990’s. This is a disturbing reversal of progress.
While drawing conclusions related to the causes of this increase would be premature, it could be related to actions of the Food and Drug Administration. In 2004, the FDA mandated labeling for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressant medications, after reviewing research that indicated a small increase in suicidal thinking (NOT ACTIONS) among young people taking the medications. It is important to note the distinction between suicidal thinking, self-injury and fatal suicide: the FDA warns only of suicidal thoughts in its labeling –research does not indicate an increase in actual suicides. As a result of the agency’s activities, dramatic decreases in the use of SSRI’s in the adolescent population were noted. Other research has indicated a general relationship between the use of SSRI’s and decreasing suicide rates in the general population. We must therefore wonder if the FDA’s actions and the subsequent decrease in access to these antidepressants in fact have caused an increase in youth suicide.
The federal government must move aggressively to comprehend any potential consequences of their actions on the lives of youth.
There is nothing ambiguous about death as a consequence of illness. Ninety percent of suicides are attributable to a mental illness, most often depression. Depression affects one of every eight teens and one in 33 children. Not all children and adolescents living with depression need an antidepressant. However, for many, these treatments can be an effective and even life-saving component of their treatment plan. The FDA’s black box labeling on SSRIs and the attention paid to this issue have created yet another formidable barrier to treatment for youth –by scaring young people and parents away from care –and contributing to a decline in treatment. Without treatment, suicide is a real risk. Youth who need treatment for a mental illness and go without are at risk of the very outcome the agency aimed to prevent: suicide.
The FDA and other federal agencies must take action to counteract any unintended consequences.
More research is needed to clearly understand the underlying root of any increase in suicide rates, as well as to determine the affect of the black box on treatment utilization. Mental Health America looks forward to working with the FDA and other agencies to ensure that the American public understands the inherent risks of untreated mental disorders and the importance of treatment and support for children and adults, as well as their families.
For more information, please visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net.
Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) is the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping ALL people live mentally healthier lives. With our more than 320 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation –everyday and in times of crisis.