Studies have found that there is a link between Prozac and suicide in patients under the age of 25. While the exact reason for this increase in suicidal thoughts or tendencies is still unknown, the connection between Prozac and suicide has earned the drug, generically known as fluoxetine, the most serious warning label awarded to prescription drugs. Prozac is nonetheless considered by many health professionals to be one of the best medications for children over 8 years old. This connection does, however, require that young patients taking this selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) be closely monitored, especially during the first four to six weeks of treatment.
Several studies have been conducted on patients 24 years and younger diagnosed with depression to determine if there is a link between Prozac and suicide. One of the largest studies conducted found that 4% of patients taking Prozac to treat their depression exhibited suicidal thoughts or tendencies, versus 2% of those not taking the medication experiencing the same issues. This rate was found to be even higher in those suffering from bipolar disorder and in those who had already attempted suicide. In studies involving adults over the age of 25, there was no link found between Prozac and suicide.
The exact reason for the increase of suicidal behaviors in young adults is still unclear. The cause of this Prozac side effect is difficult to pinpoint because depression itself can cause suicidal tendencies. Some doctors believe that a young adult's brain reacts differently to a SSRI than it would once the brain is fully developed, which usually occurs in the mid-20s. The extensive fluctuation in hormone levels during puberty and the teen years may also play a role in the connection between Prozac and suicide.
Despite the increased risk of suicidal behaviors, Prozac is one of the only drugs approved for use in children over 8 years of age. Fluoxetine is also considered one of the most effective antidepressants for treating young adults suffering from moderate-to-severe depression; there is little evidence to show that Prozac is useful in patients experiencing only mild depression. Due to the link between Prozac and suicide, young patients are closely monitored during the first month of treatment for any signs of increased agitation, hostility, or self-harm tendencies.
If a patient taking this SSRI suddenly begins contemplating suicide, discussing suicide. or attempting to hurt him- or herself, the primary doctor should be contacted immediately. It is extremely important that the patient not cease taking the medication unless the doctor approves. Suddenly stopping any SSRI, especially Prozac, can significantly increase the risk of attempted suicide in a patient of any age and especially in younger patients.
In almost all instances, it is best for a patient under supervision of a doctor to slowly taper the fluoxetine dosage until the body is weaned from the drug. While Prozac can be a good treatment option for those suffering from depression, it does not work for everyone. For these patients, there are numerous other SSRIs and antidepressants that may be able to help.