The effectiveness of antidepressant medication in the management of behaviour problems in adults with intellectual disabilities: a systematic review

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Background A comprehensive systematic review was performed to establish the current evidence base regarding the effectiveness of antidepressant medication for the management of behaviour problems in adults with intellectual disabilities. Method An electronic search of PsycInfo, Embase, Medline and Cinahl databases was conducted spanning the time period 1990 to October 2005 for primary trials. This was supplemented by hand searching and cross-referencing of relevant reviews. Strict scientific methodology requirements were formulated that the studies had to meet in order to merit inclusion in this review. Results One crossover randomized controlled trial in a small cohort, seven prospective uncontrolled trials and two retrospective studies were yielded in the search. Of these, one explored the effectiveness of the tricyclic antidepressant - clomipramine, and nine considered various selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Conclusions Evidence based primarily on a small number of either prospective or retrospective case studies that included a small number of participants and often used non-validated outcome measures for a short period of follow-up, suggests that antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, show improvement of aggression and self-injurious behaviour on average in less than 50% of cases and the rest show either no improvement or deterioration. The effect is most pronounced in the presence of an underlying anxiety or an associated diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Most studies have highlighted the concern regarding adverse effects.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)750-765
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disability Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2007