Study Probes Suicide, Antidepressants
Antidepressants Up Suicide Attempts -- But Cut Actual Suicides
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 4, 2006 -- Antidepressant treatment ups a person's risk of suicide
attempts -- but cuts the risk of actual suicide, data from Finland reveal.
Also, in a surprising finding, the same study suggests a link between
antidepressant use and reduced risk of death overall.
The reason for this apparent benefit is unclear and will require further
study, the researchers report.
The Finnish study comes in the midst of continuing controversy over the
benefits vs. risks of antidepressants.
Clinical trials of antidepressants find that people who begin treatment seem
to have a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and gestures.
That is why the drugs' labels carry a strong warning that they may up a
depressed person's risk of suicide.
But the new findings suggest the real culprit is depression, not antidepressant drugs, says Jari
Tiihonen, MD, PhD, chairman of the department of forensic psychiatry at the
University of Kuopio, Finland.
"We found out the use of antidepressant treatment was associated with
increased risk of attempted suicide," Tiihonen tells WebMD.
"But treatment was also associated with decreases in completed
suicide," he says.
When people on antidepressants attempt suicide, Tiihonen says, they most
often try to kill themselves by taking too many antidepressant pills.
"When patients have antidepressant medications at home, it is easy for
them to open the bottle and make a suicide attempt," he says.
"Nowadays, these drugs are not so toxic, so it is hard to kill oneself with
However, they rarely attempt suicide by more fatal means. "Suicide
attempts by hanging and shooting are not increased among patients taking
antidepressants," Tiihonen says.
This makes a lot of sense to Robert D. Gibbons, PhD, director of the Center
for Health Statistics and professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois
"If you are taking an antidepressant, it is pretty good evidence that
you are depressed," Gibbons says. "Giving depressed patients bottles of
pills that can be used to attempt suicide could increase the suicide attempt
Suicide Due to Depression, Not Antidepressants
Tiihonen and colleagues took advantage of the extraordinarily detailed
medical records kept on every person living in Finland.