News coverage of FDA warnings on pediatric antidepressant use and suicidality

Colleen L. Barry, Susan H. Busch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: In 2004, after an 18-month investigation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directed pharmaceutical manufacturers to add a black box warning to antidepressants regarding increased risk of suicidality in children. Our objective was to evaluate the quality and content of and overall impression conveyed in news coverage of this issue. METHODS: We collected all news stories on pediatric antidepressant use and suicidality published in a convenience sample of 10 of the highest-circulation print newspapers in the United States, the 3 major television networks, and a major cable news network in 2003 and 2004 (N = 167). Two researchers coded news articles by using a 9-item instrument. RESULTS: The quality of news reporting on key health messages included in FDA warnings was mixed. The overwhelming majority of news stories correctly described a risk of suicidality associated with pediatric antidepressant use, as opposed to suicide itself. However, other key health messages highlighted in FDA warnings often were absent from news coverage. News stories were more likely to include anecdotes of children harmed versus children helped by antidepressants, whereas expert sources quoted were more likely to emphasize the benefits of antidepressants over their risks. However, the majority of news stories conveyed neither the overall impression that the risks of pediatric antidepressant use outweighed the benefits nor the impression that the benefits outweighed the risks, and coverage became increasingly neutral over time. CONCLUSIONS: Inclusion of key health messages in FDA safety warnings was not sufficient to ensure their communication to the public through the lay press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-95
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Antidepressants
  • Food and drug administration
  • News media
  • Pediatric depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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