Do Antidepressants Increase Suicide Risk?

A British study of some 3,000 adults and children showed evidence that patients are prone to suicidal impulses when they are first put on antidepressants. Researchers studied four drugs and found suicidal thoughts or attempts were four times more likely during the first 10 days of treatment than they were after three months.

Suicide was almost 40 times more common early on than later in treatment (though there were only 17 suicides, all in patients older than 19).

Experts believe the study is unlikely to resolve the debate over whether the drugs themselves increase the suicide risk. And it may not soothe skeptics who maintain that newer drugs such as Paxil and Prozac that increase brain activity of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin are particularly risky for children. The study found no clear-cut evidence to support that idea.

Some doctors argue that patients just starting on antidepressants are usually in the deepest throes of depression--which itself can cause suicidal behavior--and that the risks subside as the drugs take hold. Others say a medication-induced mood boost may give a profoundly depressed person just enough energy to act on suicidal thoughts. However, some relatives of people who have committed suicide blame the drugs themselves.

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KDKA July 20, 2004

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