Elizabeth Wagele

The Career Within You

When Teen Depression Leads to Suicide

Is it safe to use medication for teens with mental illness?

Posted Sep 15, 2015

When I was in high school, the mother of one of my friends made several suicide attempts and finally succeeded. I worried about the possibility that my friend might be depressed enough from his mother’s death to try to kill himself. Fortunately, he recovered from the trauma and went on to lead a productive life. Since suicide is the third cause of death among young people, it’s important to pay attention to its causes and treatments.

Experts say psychiatric counseling for teens is important to prevent teen suicide. If your teenage child seems depressed, watch for:

            * a family history of suicidal behavior or mood disorders            

            * a history of physical or sexual abuse

            * exposure to violence, such as being injured or threatened with a weapon.

Other factors that can increase the risk of teen suicide include:

            * access to firearms

            * loss of or conflict with friends or family members

            * use of alcohol or drugs

            * becoming pregnant

            * social isolation.

Gay teens or those unsure of their sexual identity are also more likely to commit suicide, particularly if they have suffered bullying. Suicide contagion is also a concern. In 2007, 39 percent of youth suicides were by kids who had lost someone of significance to them to suicide.

Richard A. Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times, "Teenagers, Medication and Suicide," in which he gave the history of teen suicides, their causes, and treatments. He concluded that stress from the drive to success and social pressure for perfection is partly to blame, but that adolescent mental illness (depression or alcohol or drug abuse) is also an important factor. In fact, at least 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness.

For years, I kept reading about the dangers of drugs that were prescribed for teens; the word was that they could result in suicidal feelings and suicides. The result of this information was that antidepressant use declined 31 percent among adolescents and 24 percent among young adults within two years after an FDA advisory was issued in 2004.

The FDA analyzed 372 clinical trials involving nearly 100,000 subjects and found the rate of suicidal thinking and behavior was 4 percent in those taking antidepressants, compared with 2 percent in people taking a placebo.


In his Times article, Friedman states that antidepressants are really underused. The small risk of suicidal behavior posed by antidepressant treatment has always been dwarfed by the deadly risk of untreated depression. In 2013, 8.7 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 25 experienced a major depression episode in the previous year, but only half of them received psychiatric treatment.

Friedman concludes that the government should rescind its 2004 black-box warning on antidepressants altogether. “Parents and teenagers, and their doctors, too, should not be afraid of antidepressants and should know that they can be very helpful,” even life-saving, when prescribed by the right experts and monitored carefully. “The only thing we should all fear is depression, a natural killer that we can effectively treat.”

• See this interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Greta Kaul called “Suicide concerns in tech industry.”

• Visit wagele.com to find out about Elizabeth's eight books on personality types and her CD on Beethoven.

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