Study: antidepressants may not increase suicide risk

Study results appearing in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggest that treatment with antidepressant drugs reduces the risk of suicides and suicide attempts in adolescents and adults with depression. "The overall suicide risk associated with antidepressants is low," commented lead researcher Gregory Simon, adding that "this conventional wisdom that risk goes up after treatment doesn't seem to be true."

In the epidemiological study, researchers analysed records of 65 103 adolescents and adult patients treated with antidepressants from 1992 to 2003, comparing the rate of suicides and hospitalisations for suicide attempts before and after treatment began. The results showed that patients were "significantly" more likely to attempt or commit suicide in the month before starting treatment compared to the six months after treatment began. While the overall risk of suicide attempts was higher in adolescents than adults, the reduction in risk was about the same in both groups. Additionally, the results found that the risk of suicidal behaviour in patients taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors was less than the risk in patients taking older antidepressants.

Simon said the findings indicate that "on average, most people [taking antidepressants] are not at higher risk. If anything, they appear to be at lower risk for a serious attempt at suicide or dying of suicide," The Washington Post reports. Robert Temple, medical policy director at the FDA, commented that the results were "reassuring" and that the agency would continue to study the safety of antidepressants. He added that the results did not "contradict" the FDA's position on the safety of these drugs. In 2004, the agency required drugmakers to add warnings to antidepressants' labels after study results suggested that some drugs increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour in children and adolescents.

Separately, a different study published in the journal analysed 2876 adults with depression who were taking Forest's Celexa for up to 14 weeks. The results found that about 28 percent of patients treated with the drug experienced complete remission, and 15 percent experienced some improvement, The New York Times reports. The ongoing study is part of a longer trial examining ways to treat depression in people who do not respond to initial drug therapy. Additional phases will examine different drugs, multi-drug combinations and drugs in combination with therapy.

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