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Youth Suicides Rise After Years of Declining Rates

Youth Suicides Rise After Years of Declining Rates Antidepressant warnings may be the cause
After a generation of declining youth suicide rates in the United States, a sharp increase in the number of young people taking their own lives has captured the nation’s attention and concern.

Voice for Change. New research shows that suicide rates for American youth rose significantly
between 2003 and 2004, a troubling U-turn after a steady drop in suicides since the early 1990s. The release last month of two studies based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal a possible link between the spike in youth suicides and the release of government warnings about a potential increased risk of suicidal thoughts among young people who take antidepressant medications.

The first study, released in the September 2007 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry, details a 14 percent increase in suicide rates for youth below age 19—the largest increase in this age group since the agency began collecting suicide data in 1979. The second study, published in the CDC’s Sept. 7 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reveals an 8 percent increase in suicide rates for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, following a 28 percent decrease over the last 15 years.
Suicide Increase Coincides With Government Warnings

Recruiting for Mental Health America Class of 2008!

Do you know of an individual or organization interested in becoming a Mental Health America affiliate? Is there a new MHA within your state organization? Mental Health America is now accepting nominations for its “Class of 2008” yearlong affiliate training program. The number of participants will be limited to 15, and where space is available, will be open to new executive directors and to affiliates who are in a rebuilding period. We also seek interested parties in Idaho, Wyoming, New Hampshire and South Dakota. For more information, contact kjohnson@mentalhealthamerica.net.

The rise in suicides in both populations coincides with the public controversy around the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision to mandate a “black box” label that warns the public about rare but possible risks for children taking antidepressants. The decision and controversy preceding it sparked widespread media coverage and helped lead to an approximate 22 percent drop in antidepressant prescriptions for youth up to age 19. In contrast, the rate of such prescriptions for older adults—who were not a target of the warning—continued to increase during the same time period while their suicide rate decreased. All these findings are further supported by additional research conducted within the past year that demonstrates an association between
higher antidepressant prescription rates and decreasing rates of suicide.

Although more research is needed to fully understand the underlying causes of the rise in youth suicides, and the
effect of the government warning on prescribing patterns, Mental Health America believes the data illustrate the importance of carefully communicating the full range of costs, risks and benefits associated with antidepressant use. It is critical that the FDA craft and test its messages to ensure they are optimally designed to support sound decision-making by both practitioners and families. The goal should be fully informed decision-making—including a risk/benefit analysis that addresses the dangers of forgoing treatment.
Untreated Depression Poses Grave Risks

Suicide claims the lives of more than 30,000 Americans each year, and depression is the leading cause, despite the fact that it’s the most treatable of all mental health disorders. A recently released 10-year retrospective study by Mental Health America shows the percentage of Americans who believe depression to be a serious health problem nearly doubled from 38 percent in 1996 to 72 percent in 2006.

And a new study shows that depression is more debilitating to everyday life than are many chronic physical conditions, including diabetes and asthma. With an estimated 21 million Americans suffering from depression in any given year, and only half of all Americans with mental health conditions seeking treatment, the danger of untreated depression may far outweigh any danger associated with antidepressants.

Mental Health America continues to work with the FDA and other federal agencies to better educate communities about the inherent risks of untreated mental health conditions, and the importance
of care and support for children and adults, as well as their families.

The e-Bell Newsletter is published by the Mental Health America, which works with its 320 affiliates nationwide to promote health, prevent mental disorders and achieve victory over illnesses through advocacy, education, research and service. To receive the e-Bell, visit Mental Health America’s Web site www.mentalhealthamerica.net or call 800-969-6642. Cited reproductions, comments and suggestions are encouraged.
Mental Health America
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Alexandria, VA 22311
Phone: 703-684-7722
Fax: 703-684-5968
Information: 800-969-6642
TTY: 800-433-5959
Web site: www.mentalhealthamerica.net

Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Board
David Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO
Holly Seltzer, Senior Director of Publications
Ken Chamberlain, Director of Electronic Publishing
Bridget Toland, Media & Publications Assistant

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