Antidepressants should not be used to treat children and teenagers, a controversial new Australian study has warned, saying clinical trials have exaggerated the benefits of the drugs and played down their side effects.
However, doctors are split over the findings, arguing that the drugs have a valid place in the treatment of young people.
The Australian study, published in the British Medical Journal, found trials of antidepressants such as Zoloft, Prozac, Arapax, Efexor and Cipramil for children consistently exaggerated their benefits while playing down their possible harm.
The study also found drug companies had either paid for the trials or remunerated the authors of at least three of four larger studies.
Jon Jureidini, the study's lead author, said the findings showed antidepressants could not confidently be recommended as a treatment for children.
This follows international concern that the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRIs) to treat childhood and adolescent depression is linked to increased suicide risk and self-harm.
But other experts warned against an over-simplistic approach, arguing that the use of antidepressants depended on the treatment options available.
In younger children, the evidence on antidepressant use was not as clear and he believed the prescription of the drugs was best left to psychiatrists with experience in treating children.