A father from New South Wales, Australia is warning parents about the very real dangers of antidepressants after his eight-year-old son tried to take his own life twice while on the medication.

In 2015, the boy was prescribed the powerful medication to treat his anxiety since he was “struggling with social situations, having meltdowns and had recently been diagnosed with mild autism.”1 However, his father John (a pseudonym) reports that their doctor spent almost no time discussing the possible side effects with them. In fact, he says that the pediatrician and clinical psychologist both told him that the Sertraline (or Zoloft) was a very mild drug that they often gave to children with both a high success rate AND “no significant side effects.”2


John reports that the medication initially worked well and that his son had fewer meltdowns, however, around six or seven weeks after he started the antidepressant the threats of self-harm started.

“It got the point where you are sitting with him and he is just saying, ‘just kill me dad, I want to die’.

And you are thinking, Jesus, what am I supposed to do, I can’t protect him…

Then he tried to jump out the window and he tried to strangle himself. It was just a frightening and really tough time for us when that was happening.”3

Immediately after the suicide attempts, John and his wife took their son to the local emergency department where the decision was made to wean the boy off the medication. However, the effects of being taken off the medication can be difficult and yet the family was told they were legally obligated to send their son to school during the weaning process. (How ridiculous and irresponsible.)

Not surprisingly, an investigation into the boy’s medical treatment (done by the Health Care Complaints Commission) found no evidence that the pediatrician or psychiatrist had failed to provide a “reasonable standard of care” and the child psychologist who treated the boy noted on a report that “while it was possible the antidepressant had caused his attempts to self-harm, it could not be ‘confirmed absolutely’.”


But John and his wife absolutely believe that it was the medication that caused their son to try to take his own life. His son is no longer taking any medications and had shown no signs of being suicidal.

John says that parents need to be told- in plain language- about the potentially dangerous side effects of antidepressants,

“You are brought up to listen to the doctor and believe everything they say. You’re told they know what they are talking about and you don’t. If they say you do something then you basically go and do it. You trust them implicitly.

This has been a very rude education in that in fact that’s not really the case. We took the doctor’s advice and it was only when everything went wrong that we realised that actually we should have taken more care in that. We didn’t appreciate the risks involved.”4

In 2015 a study from Columbia University and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at the use of Sertaline to treat anxiety disorders in children and found that the drug was safe and associated with a “tolerable adverse event profile”.5 At the same time, it also found that in children aged 12 years and younger there was a higher rate of psychiatric adverse events.


Drugs like Zoloft cannot be the first step in treating anxiety or depression in young children. Especially since we KNOW the dangers. If your pediatrician tells you otherwise, run.

Sources and References

  1. 9 News, January 23, 2018.
  2. 9 News, January 23, 2018.
  3. 9 News, January 23, 2018.
  4. 9 News, January 23, 2018.
  5. 9 News, January 23, 2018.