Mandatory antidepressants for children?
- A bill that would require mandatory depression screening for public school students was introduced in New Jersey but was vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy in January 2020
- The bill would have applied to students in seventh through 12th grade
- With their parents’ consent, the students would have filled out a computerized screening intended to identify signs of depression
- The bill raised serious controversy, however, in part because the confidentiality of the screenings was in question, as was the potential for false positives
- The bill was introduced as a way to reduce the rising rates of teen suicide in the state, but the first-line treatment for depression is typically antidepressant drugs, which have been shown to increase suicide risk in teens
New Jersey has seen a coordinated campaign aimed at furthering the reach of Big Pharma and limiting residents’ rights to health freedom. In January 2020, a bill to eliminate religious vaccine exemptions narrowly failed to pass the state Legislature.1 A bill that would require mandatory depression screening for public school students was also introduced, but was vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The bill would have applied to students in seventh through 12th grade. With their parents’ consent, the students would have filled out a computerized screening intended to identify signs of depression. Assemblyman Dr. Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who proposed the bill, said in a news release, “This is a way to make sure that every kid gets screened, so that we can prevent future tragedies.”2
The bill raised serious controversy, however, in part because the confidentiality of the screenings was in question, as was the potential for false positives. Diagnosing depression is not exactly an exact science, nor something that’s easily quantifiable via a computerized screening.
Further, while the bill was introduced as a way to reduce the rising rates of teen suicide in the state, the first-line of treatment for depression is typically antidepressant drugs, which have been shown to increase suicide risk in teens.3
Depression Screening to Reduce Teen Suicide?
Aside from the ethical and privacy ramifications of screening public school students for depression is the likely inefficacy of such a program in reducing teenage suicide. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds in 2016, according to sobering data from the World Health Organization.4 Only road injuries claimed more lives in this age group.
In the U.S., the suicide rate for those between the ages of 10 and 24 increased 56% between 2007 and 2017, with the pace of increase in suicide greatest during the latter half of the study period (rising at a rate of 7% annually from 2013 to 2017).5 In New Jersey, there were 100 suicides among 15 to 24-year-olds in 2017, which is the highest in decades.6 An NJ Advance Media investigation further revealed a mental health crisis occurring in the state:7
“Interviews with more than two dozen mental health experts, school administrators, counselors and parents, along with an analysis of mental health staffing data, reveal a frayed safety net that leaves young people dangerously vulnerable.
After decades of schools largely ignoring adolescent mental health, tens of thousands of students in New Jersey still attend schools without the recommended number of certified nurses or counselors. Most school psychologists have almost no interaction with students who aren’t classified as special education.”
Depression is a problem among adolescents throughout the U.S., where an estimated 3.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 suffer from depression, defined as having at least one major depressive episode in a year.
This accounts for 13.3% of adolescents, who experienced a period of at least two weeks with a depressed mood, loss of interest in daily activities and other symptoms, such as problems with sleep, appetite, energy, concentration or feelings of self-worth.8 Further, depression among adolescents is on the rise, increasing by 30% in the last 10 years,9,10 and depression is known to increase suicide risk.
Screening adolescents for depression could therefore theoretically identify those at risk, allowing them to get treatment they may otherwise miss. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) even recommends screening adolescents 12 to 18 years of age for depression, and also states there is “adequate evidence” that treating adolescents with antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may reduce symptoms.11
The reality, however, is that conventional treatment for depression — antidepressants — is often ineffective and may make the problem worse instead of better.
Antidepressants Are Ineffective and Increase Suicide Risk
If the New Jersey bill were to have passed, and students were screened for depression and found to be at risk, they likely would have become quick candidates for antidepressant medications. Such drugs are heavily promoted and often used as a first-line treatment by psychiatrists and other doctors.
Such medications are not likely to help this population’s mental health, however. For instance, Oxford University researchers analyzed results of 34 clinical trials that involved more than 5,260 children with depression (aged from 9 to 18 years).12 The children took 1 of 14 antidepressants for an average period of eight weeks.
The majority of the drugs (13) did not work to relieve the symptoms of depression, and the one that did — fluoxetine (Prozac) — has previously been linked to severe homicidal akathisia. “When considering the risk-benefit profile of antidepressants in the acute treatment of major depressive disorder, these drugs do not seem to offer a clear advantage for children and adolescents,” the researchers noted.13
What’s more, the study found the antidepressant venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts in the youth compared to placebo and five other antidepressants. Other research has also found disturbing links between these psychiatric drugs and suicidal tendencies.
In a systematic review and meta-analyses published in BMJ, researchers reviewed 70 trials with 18,256 patients, which revealed that in children and adolescents taking antidepressants the risk of suicidality and aggression doubled.14 Even USPSTF states, “There is convincing evidence that there are harms of SSRIs (risk of suicidality [i.e., suicide ideation, preparatory acts, or suicide attempts]) in adolescents.”15
Suicide Is the 10th Leading Cause of Death in the US
While screening for depression in public schools is highly questionable, there’s no question that suicide is a growing problem in the U.S. Rates rose across the U.S. from 1999 to 2016, making it the 10th leading cause of death. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans aged 10 and older committed suicide, and more than half of them did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.
“Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide,” the CDC noted, but added, “Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor.”16 Suicide rates varied across the U.S., from a low of 6.9 per 100,000 residents per year in Washington to a high of 29.2 per year in Montana.
In Ohio, meanwhile, suicide is the leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14, according to a report from the Ohio Department of Health,17 and the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34 year olds.18
When all age groups were factored in, suicide rates in Ohio rose by nearly 45% from 2007 to 2018, according to the report, with most suicides committed among adults aged 45 to 64. Overall, five people die due to suicide daily in the state, while one youth commits suicide every 33 hours.19
However, rates increased in nearly all U.S. states, 25 of which had increases of more than 30%. CDC principal deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat called suicide a “tragedy for families and communities across the country.”20
What’s Behind Rising Suicide Rates in Teens?
As the CDC noted, suicide is rarely the result of only one factor, although there are multiple theories about what’s driving the increase. Use of cellphones and social media is one possible culprit, as data suggest spending three hours or more each day on electronic devices can raise a teen’s suicide risk by as much as 35%.21
Spending 10 or more hours on social media each week is also associated with a 56% higher risk of feeling unhappy, compared to those who use social media less, and heavy social media users have a 27% higher risk of depression.22 Writing in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, researchers have suggested that the rise in adolescent suicide is connected to the rise in media screen time:23
“Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on nonscreen activities (in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services) were less likely.
Since 2010, iGen adolescents [those born in the mid-1990s or later] have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide.”
Poor diet is another potential culprit. Higher levels of sodium in the urine can be an indication of a diet high in sodium, such as processed foods and salty snacks. A low level of potassium, meanwhile, is indicative of a diet lacking in fruits, vegetables and other healthy potassium-rich foods.
As might be expected, higher sodium and lower potassium excretion rates were associated with more frequent symptoms of depression in one study. “This study was the first to demonstrate relationships between objective indicators of unhealthy diet and subsequent changes in depressive symptoms in youth,” the study noted.24
In separate research, when researchers systematically reviewed 12 studies involving children and adolescents, an association was revealed between unhealthy diet and poorer mental health, as well as between a good-quality diet and better mental health.25
Signs of Teenage Suicide Risk
According to the CDC, the 12 warning signs that someone may be contemplating or getting close to suicide are:26
Feeling like a burden
Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Increased substance use
Looking for a way to access lethal means
Increased anger or rage
Extreme mood swings
Sleeping too little or too much
Talking or posting about wanting to die
Making plans for suicide
If you notice one or more of these signs, take the following five steps to help. For more information about how to prevent suicide, see bethe1to.com.
- Ask how they are feeling and if they are considering ending their life, or if they have a plan to do so
- Don't let them be alone and do your best to keep them safe
- Make yourself available to them
- Reach out to them daily and help them connect to others
- Follow up
If your teenager is depressed, you should also seek help, from a counselor, a holistic psychiatrist or another natural health practitioner, to start the journey toward healing. There are many alternatives to drugs for treating depression, including nutritional interventions, light therapy and exercise.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, which works as well as antidepressants and may reduce the risk of relapse even after it’s stopped, may also be helpful.27 Learning how to use an energy psychology tool like the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can also make an enormous difference if you suffer from depression or any other kind of emotional dysfunction.
In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to use this technique for depression. If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, however, don’t wait to take action. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911, or take your teen to your nearest hospital emergency department for help.
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