Abstract

Background

The safety of antidepressants in children and adolescents is being questioned and the efficacy of these drugs in juvenile depression remains uncertain.

Aims

To assess antidepressant efficacy in juvenile depression.

Method

Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing responses to antidepressants, overall and by type, v. placebo in young people with depression.

Results

Thirty drug–placebo contrasts in RCTs lasting 8 weeks (median) involved 3069 participants (512 person-years) of average age 13.5 years. Meta-analysis yielded a modest pooled drug/placebo response rate ratio (RR=1.22, 95% CI 1.15–1.31), with little separation between antidepressant types. Findings were similar for response rate differences and corresponding number needed to treat (NNT): overall NNT=9; tricyclic antidepressants NNT=14 > serotonin reuptake inhibitors NNT=9 > other antidepressants NNT=8. Numbers needed to treat decreased with increasing age: children (NNT=21) > mixed ages (NNT=10) > adolescents (NNT=8).

Conclusions

Antidepressants of all types showed limited efficacy in juvenile depression, but fluoxetine might be more effective, especially in adolescents. Studies in children and in severely depressed, hospitalised or suicidal juvenile patients are needed, and effective, safe and readily accessible treatments for juvenile depression are urgently required.

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