Antidepressants May Lower Suicide Risk
Better Treatment of Depression Aids in Suicide Prevention
WebMD News Archive
Treating Depression is Only One Part of Suicide Prevention
"Depression is the number one risk factor for suicide. Of
those that commit suicide, 40% to 70% have a diagnosis of depression," says
Douglas Jacobs, MD, professor psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder
of National Depression Screening Day. "However, the majority of people with
depression do not commit suicide."
Jacobs says increased antidepressant use has also been
associated with a drop in the suicide rate in the U.S. over the last decade,
but it's difficult to prove definitively that greater antidepressant use is
fueling the decline because suicide is such a complicated issue.
"The public should understand that antidepressants are
correlated with a reduction of the suicide rate, but any one case of depression
has to be treated very individually," Jacobs tells WebMD.
"Unfortunately suicides do occur even in those taking medicine."
Herbert Hendin, medical director of the American Foundation for
Suicide Prevention and professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College,
says improved use of medicines that treat depression are just one aspect of
He says that while SSRIs have made depression treatment easier
for both doctor and patient, effective suicide prevention requires more than
just prescribing antidepressants.
"You can identify depressed persons who are suicidal from
ones who are not," says Hendin. "There are differences emotionally.
[Suicidal people] tend to be angrier, more anxious, and they are very often in
a state of desperation, and if they don't get immediate relief they feel life
Hendin says many people with depression are not receiving
adequate doses of antidepressants or all the other necessary medications, such
as anti-anxiety drugs, to treat their depression appropriately and effectively
lower their suicide risk. But he says there are also people for whom an
antidepressant may be the first step in suicide prevention.
"Sometimes there will be people trapped in a situation that
is making them miserable, and you can't cure it simply with
antidepressants," Hendin tells WebMD. "Sometimes [with antidepressants]
you give them enough energy, but then you have to help them get out of that