On February 7, 2004, the body of Traci Johnson, a 19-year-old college student, was found hanging by a scarf from a shower rod in a drug company laboratory. Johnson had no apparent signs of depression, and the reason she killed herself was a mystery. What made her death different from other such tragedies is that she was a subject in a trial of an experimental antidepressant. The company, Eli Lilly, noted that four other patients given the drug in earlier trials had also committed suicide. Not long afterward, prompted by Johnsons death and others, the Food and Drug Administration warned doctors that antidepressants might increase the risk of suicide in children and adolescents.
Johnsons death and the FDAs warning underscored the difficulty of treating depression in children. Was the cure worse than the disease? Nearly two decades after doctors began giving antidepressants to children, it is a question they still cannot answer definitively.