Unlike adults, it seems young people on antidepressants are more likely to commit crimes

A controversial link.
A controversial link.
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Scientists have found young people taking common antidepressants are more at risk of committing violent crime.

Many studies have looked at the effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), one of the most widely prescribed psychiatric medications, on violent behavior. While one concluded SSRIs decreased violent crimes, another suggested both adults and children on SSRIs were more likely to be violent. There are some big caveats to these studies, and to overcome these, researchers from Oxford University took a unique approach to this controversial topic in a study published in PLOS Medicine.

Researchers used the Swedish national registers to get data on common SSRI prescriptions, such as fluoxetine and citalopram, and violent crimes statistics over a three-year period. Researchers found that of the 856,493 individuals (10% of the Swedish population) who were prescribed SSRIs, 8,377 individuals (1%) were convicted of a violent crime.

While researchers didn’t find a significant link between adults taking SSRIs and violent crime convictions, young people aged 15–24 were 43% more likely to commit violent crimes while on antidepressants. Young people on antidepressants had a higher risk “of violent crime arrests, non-violent crime convictions and arrests, and non-fatal accidental injuries,” researchers said.

The researchers can never be sure why this link exists, but they speculate that young people on lower doses of antidepressant could become violent because they’re not receiving the right dose during treatment. Researchers were keen point out they found a link and not a casual relationship between those on antidepressants and violent behavior—one doesn’t definitely lead to the other.

They also explained that research focusing on the relationship between people taking antidepressants and violent behavior has so far been inconclusive. But the results are consistent with other studies that have shown young people respond differently than adults to antidepressants.