Did you know that antidepressants cause autism? Well, no one else did either—until today.
All the major news outlets are screaming about a new study which claims that autism and antidepressant use are linked. The extremely small study, which examined fewer than 300 autistic kids, found that their mothers were more than twice as likely as mothers with “healthy” children to have taken antidepressants.
Now, keep in mind that even the lead researcher is urging caution.
Time Magazine reports: “Lisa Croen, Ph.D., the director of autism research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a large nonprofit health plan based in Oakland, emphasizes the preliminary nature of her team’s findings. “This is the first study of its kind to look at the association, and the findings have to be interpreted with a lot of caution,” she says. “We can’t detect causality from one study.'”
But what do you think mothers dealing with depression are going to do with these accusatory headlines? Especially when they’re coupled with statements like this one from Fox News? “Results indicated a doubling in risk of autism if the mother filled a prescription for antidepressants at any point in the year before delivery.”
A lot of them are going to freak the hell out, that’s what.
A person dealing with depression often isn’t feeling too terribly rational. Most of us are already playing the blame game—feeling guilty for being depressed in the first place, and wishing we weren’t such a burden on everyone around us.
So, how big of a leap do you think it would be for a woman in that condition to decide that her antidepressant use is almost certainly dooming her unborn child to a life spent battling autism? And from there to further decide that she has to throw her pills out the window or spend the rest of eternity in Bad Mommy Hell?
All this despite the fact that we have incontrovertible proof that untreated depression during pregnancy poses serious risks to both mom and baby—risks that can also lead to developmental problems.
The media is doing both pregnant women and children a disservice by jumping to conclusions so quickly. Maybe antidepressants do aid in the development of autism. Or maybe those babies developed autism because of environmental factors having nothing to do with the antidepressant use. It’s going to take more than a small study of 298 children to decide.
Can we please approach this with a tiny bit of caution? Lives—both big and small—may be at stake, after all.
*Photo courtesy of Bradley P. Johnson.