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Study: SSRI Antidepressants Save Lives

Suicide Rate Dropped After New Antidepressants Were Introduced

Early Monitoring Important

While the findings suggest SSRI use has resulted in a decrease in suicides among the population at large, they say nothing about whether the drugs pose a risk for specific subpopulations of users.

Seattle-based psychiatrist Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that it would take much larger studies than are likely to be performed to answer that question. Simon is a researcher for Group Health Cooperative, a nonprofit private insurer in the Pacific Northwest.

Other studies have suggested that if there is an increase in suicide risk associated with SSRI use, it is greatest in the early days and weeks of treatment. For that reason, the FDA has called for close monitoring of newly-treated patients.

Simon agrees that close monitoring is important -- but not because the antidepressants are dangerous. Rather, it is important, he says, because finding an antidepressant that works often takes time.

"Unfortunately, many people who start taking these drugs stop within a week or so because they don't seem to be working," Simon says.

Careful early monitoring could boost the effectiveness of antidepressant treatments from 40% to 50% up to around 75%, he says.

Closer monitoring of patients when they start SSRIs is a positive outcome of the suicide-risk controversy, Licinio says.

"It used to be that people were put on these drugs and told to come back in a few months, but that is not happening so much anymore," Licinio says. "These drugs do change mood and behavior among very vulnerable people, so close monitoring is important."

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