Efficacy and Safety of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, and Placebo for Common Psychiatric Disorders Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

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Depressive disorders (DDs), anxiety disorders (ADs), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common mental disorders in children and adolescents.


To examine the relative efficacy and safety of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and placebo for the treatment of DD, AD, OCD, and PTSD in children and adolescents.

Data Sources

PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and Cochrane Database from inception through August 7, 2016.

Study Selection

Published and unpublished randomized clinical trials of SSRIs or SNRIs in youths with DD, AD, OCD, or PTSD were included. Trials using other antidepressants (eg, tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors) were excluded.

Data Extraction and Synthesis

Effect sizes, calculated as standardized mean differences (Hedges g) and risk ratios (RRs) for adverse events, were assessed in a random-effects model.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Primary outcomes, as defined by authors on preintervention and postintervention data, mean change data, and adverse event data, were extracted independently by multiple observers following PRISMA guidelines.


Thirty-six trials were eligible, including 6778 participants (3484 [51.4%] female; mean [SD] age, 12.9 [5.1] years); 17 studies for DD, 10 for AD, 8 for OCD, and 1 for PTSD. Analysis showed that SSRIs and SNRIs were significantly more beneficial compared with placebo, yielding a small effect size (g = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.25-0.40; P < .001). Anxiety disorder (g = 0.56; 95% CI, 0.40-0.72; P < .001) showed significantly larger between-group effect sizes than DD (g = 0.20; 95% CI, 0.13-0.27; P < .001). This difference was driven primarily by the placebo response: patients with DD exhibited significantly larger placebo responses (g = 1.57; 95% CI, 1.36-1.78; P < .001) compared with those with AD (g = 1.03; 95% CI, 0.84-1.21; P < .001). The SSRIs produced a relatively large effect size for ADs (g = 0.71; 95% CI, 0.45-0.97; P < .001). Compared with participants receiving placebo, patients receiving an antidepressant reported significantly more treatment-emergent adverse events (RR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1.01-1.12; P = .01 or RR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.22-1.82; P < .001, depending on the reporting method), severe adverse events (RR, 1.76; 95% CI, 1.34-2.32; P < .001), and study discontinuation due to adverse events (RR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.38-2.32; P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance

Compared with placebo, SSRIs and SNRIs are more beneficial than placebo in children and adolescents; however, the benefit is small and disorder specific, yielding a larger drug-placebo difference for AD than for other conditions. Response to placebo is large, especially in DD. Severe adverse events are significantly more common with SSRIs and SNRIs than placebo.

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