Depression = Murderer?

The term psychological autopsy is now being thrown around by the talking heads on cable news shows in the analysis of Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech gunman. The first words from the TV medical experts are that this kid was not only depressed but also being treated with medications. I also found it interesting that an article from the Associated Press has this as the second paragraph...

News reports said that he may have been taking medication for depression and that he was becoming increasingly violent and erratic.
The article goes on to outline some of his other characteristics as they try to profile this individual: a loner; a writer of disturbing plays; a writer of the suicide note against "rich kids," "debauchery," and "deceitful charlatans."

I could be wrong, but I'm starting to see people in the press making the association between depression and murder. Of course, this kid had mental illness and of course he was undergoing treatment for it. But, the implication that everyone with mental illness has the potential "to snap" and kill people - as being suggested in the media - This bothers me.

With the Virginia Tech story as a backdrop, I was scanning the health headlines and ran into a different Associated Press article today with this title: Antidepressants' benefits trump risks for kids

If you remember, three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration made a statement warning the public about use of antidepressants in children and teens. At the time, they stated that there was an increased risk of suidical thoughts and behaviors. There was a huge uproar then. All my patients were talking about it - particularly parents. Now, the research is stating that those concerns are not as serious as once thought.

Researchers analyzed data on 5,310 children and teenagers from 27 studies. They found that for every 100 kids treated with antidepressants, about one additional child experienced worsening suicidal feelings above what would have happened without drug treatment. In contrast, the FDA analysis found an added risk affecting about two in 100 patients.

There were no suicides in any of the studies. The antidepressants included Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Effexor, Serzone and Remeron.

"The medications are safe and effective and should be considered as an important part of treatment," said study co-author Dr. David Brent of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "The benefits seem favorable compared to the small risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior."

Now, this is by no means the final word on this issue. Some may even say this study complicates the discussion. So, what is a doctor to do? What is a parent to do?

I think this study emphasizes the close communication that is needed between docs, patients, and their parents - especially when it comes to mental illness diagnosis and treatment. I realize that's easier said than done.

But, as more of this Virginia Tech case is uncovered, it seems as if improved communication could (and I emphasize could) have changed the outcome of this tragedy. Of note, N=1's comment in my previous post makes an excellent point.