Pharmacotherapy of major depressive disorder in adolescents

Gabriele Masi, Francesca Liboni, Paola Brovedani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance of the field: At any one time, major depressive disorder (MDD) affects 4 - 6% of adolescents. When untreated, MDD leads to a high immediate and subsequent suicide risk, long-term chronicity and a poor psychosocial outcome. Whereas psychotherapy can be effective in mild depression, it seems to be less effective in moderate and severe depression. However, although the use of antidepressants increased markedly during the 1990s, in recent years it has decreased as a result of concerns regarding the emergence of suicidality during antidepressant treatment. Areas covered in this review: Are antidepressants truly effective? What is the relationship between different treatments for depression psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy - alone or in combination? Can antidepressants increase the risk of suicide in some adolescents? Can antidepressants reduce suicide risk in suicidal adolescents? What the reader will gain: There is evidence that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can improve adolescent depression better than placebo, although the magnitude of the antidepressant effect is 'small to moderate', because of a high placebo response. The SSRI with the best rate of response compared to placebo is fluoxetine. The increased risk of suicidality in adolescents, compared to adults, is weak but consistent across most studies. However, epidemiological studies do not support a relationship between use of antidepressants and suicide rate. Take home message: A cautious and well-monitored use of antidepressant medications is a first-line treatment option in adolescents with moderate to severe depression. Low rates of remission with current treatment strategies indicate that further research in both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-386
Number of pages12
JournalExpert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


  • Adolescence
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Suicidality
  • Tricyclics
  • Venlafaxine.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology


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