Medications aimed at treating mental disorders have proven to be very useful in clinical practice, but they also have their drawbacks. Despite the fact that in many cases they allow for the mitigation of certain symptoms that negatively affect the quality of life of those who suffer from them, it is also true that in all cases they have side effects on the body of the patients .

The side effects, as well as the dependency that certain psychotropic drugs can generate, make it worthwhile to explore alternatives.

Drugs to treat mental problems in children: a good idea?

When the potential clients of these substances are younger people, such as children and adolescents, the possibility of using invasive methods to alter the biological dynamics that occur in their nervous system becomes even more dangerous, taking into account that the changes produced at such a young age can be determinant in their growth.

For this reason, an ambitious meta-analysis of several studies has recently been carried out in which the effectiveness of antidepressants in children and young people of both sexes was evaluated . The results, published in the scientific journal The Lancet, show that these drugs are much less effective than previously thought, or at least in terms of their effects on younger people. In fact, they may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts (and behaviors).

How was the meta-analysis performed?

The meta-analysis has been carried out by a team of researchers led by Dr. Andrea Cipriani, from the University of Oxford. It includes a review and statistical analysis based on 34 trials based on the efficacy of 14 antidepressants in young people. In total, the children and adolescents studied among all the research from which the meta-analysis started were a total of 5260 individuals.

Among the factors taken into account in the meta-analysis are, of course, the efficacy of antidepressants, but also their adverse effects, withdrawal and tolerance to their side effects .

Results: some antidepressants do not work

The most effective antidepressant found was, judging by the results of the meta-analysis, fluoxetine. However, the most important discovery made from this study is that the rest of the antidepressants showed an efficacy that at most could be considered very low . In fact, they did not show to be more effective than placebo. Imipramine, duloxetine and venlafaxine also generated such strong adverse effects that they caused the treatment to be interrupted, which is not the case with placebo. In the case of the latter (venlafaxine), an important correlation was detected between taking this antidepressant and the appearance of suicidal thoughts.

It is clear that the efficacy of this type of medicine does not have to be assumed simply because taking these substances seems to have an obvious effect on mental processes : these effects do not have to be those intended . Furthermore, the psychopharmacological treatments that are effective in adults do not have to be equally beneficial in younger people, since both their bodies and the biological processes that occur in their neuroendocrine system are different from those of mature human beings.

It is not advisable to draw conclusions

However, it is worth noting the fact that, although the findings of a meta-analysis may be more important than those of a single study based on a small group of people studied, this study has limitations that make it impossible for us to take its findings as the absolute truth .

Firstly, because the meta-analysis was so massive and based on such a large amount of information, the team that carried it out could not access the micro-data used in the studies on which they were based, so they had to rely in part on the good work of the scientists who had preceded them.

In addition, working from research conducted independently of each other meant that, in part, the data that were crossed in the statistical analysis were not entirely comparable, as they referred to slightly different situations and somewhat different methods.

This is why this meta-analysis should be considered as a basis for further research , and not as a compelling reason to have antidepressant treatments stopped immediately.