Suicides increased after antidepressant warning: Manitoba researcher
April 8, 2008

Youth suicides increased after Health Canada warned about the use of antidepressants, a University of Manitoba researcher has found.

Health Canada issued a notice in 2004 that antidepressant drugs were linked to increased rates of suicidal thoughts in children and teens.

It advised patients under the age of 18 who were being treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to consult their physicians. A similar warning was issued around the same time in the U.S.

Dr. Laurence Katz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, studied provincial data from 2005 and 2006, and found some children and teens with mental illness stopped taking their medication and stopped regularly seeing their doctors following the warning.

Katz, of the university's child psychiatry department and mood and anxiety disorders research group, found youth suicides in Manitoba rose dramatically during that time.

Katz had been worried about the advisory and what it would mean for children's health.

During the two-year period studied, there was a 25 per cent increase in youth suicide and a 14 per cent drop in the use of antidepressants among children and teens.

There was also a 10 per cent drop in the number of doctor visits by depressed kids, suggesting the public didn't really understand the warning, Katz said.

"If people had followed those guidelines and adhered to the concern in the warning, we would have expected to see physician office visits increase. But, in fact, they went down."
More research needed

The results, released Monday in Winnipeg, don't surprise Bill Ashdown of the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba.

"Having the advisory come out would certainly negatively impact the number of doctors who would simply say, 'No, I'm not going to bother prescribing because it will get me into a hassle.'"

Ashdown is convinced some patients would have simply stopped taking their medication without consulting their doctors. He said the warning should have been issued only to physicians through medical journals.

Katz said he didn't have a problem with the way the warning was worded — the problem was with how it was perceived. More research is needed, he added, into what role the warning played in the study's findings.