Does Antidepressant Use Decrease Risk of Suicide?

Antidepressant use is controversial, and studies on various types of antidepressant treatments have produced inconsistent findings. Some research suggests that people with depression benefit greatly from antidepressant therapy and realize decreased symptoms and better quality of life. Other research however, has shown that people who take antidepressants have outcomes similar to people who take placebos.

One important area of research relating to antidepressant use is the risk of suicide. Depression is a leading cause of suicide and antidepressant treatment is just one approach that has been explored as a method of reducing suicide rates. Although there is evidence that antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide, especially among younger individuals, there is also mixed evidence about the positive impact of antidepressant use on suicide prevention.

In an attempt to get a better picture on how antidepressants affect suicide rates, Ricardo Gusmao of the Department of Saúde Mental at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, in Portugal analyzed data from studies conducted in 29 European countries over a 30-year period. He looked at antidepressant use, socioeconomic status, divorce rates, alcohol use, and other demographic factors as part of his study.

Gusmao found that over an average span of 15 years, antidepressant use increased by approximately 20% each year. In this same time frame, suicide rates dropped by approximately .8% yearly. This finding suggests that antidepressant use had an overall positive effect on decreasing suicide rates in these countries.

When he looked at other factors, such as divorce, employment, and alcohol use, Gusmao discovered that the findings were inconsistent. In particular, countries such as Hungary that had increases in alcohol-related deaths, had decreases in suicide. This finding contradicts existing research which points to a direct link between alcohol use and suicide, especially among people with depression. But surprisingly, even though alcohol use rose by 25% in an 8-year period, suicides decreased by 20%. Additionally, some countries did not show suicide reduction as a result of antidepressant increase.

Gusmao believes these contradictory findings could be the result of shorter data periods and believes that for these specific studies, longer study periods could provide more consistent results. Regardless, the results of this current study show a decrease in suicides as antidepressant use increased. Gusmao added, “These findings underline the importance of the appropriate use of antidepressants as part of routine care for people diagnosed with depression, therefore reducing the risk of suicide.”

Gusmão, R., Quintão, S., McDaid, D., Arensman, E., Van Audenhove, C., et al. (2013). Antidepressant utilization and suicide in Europe: An ecological multi-national study. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66455. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066455

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  • zell


    July 16th, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    It is so hard in many cases to point the finger at the real cause. Is it the depression or the medication that could raise suicide rates? Or is it something else going on in life that causes the numbers to jump? I would think it is very hard to isolate just one thing that could lead to a higher number of suicides especially since we will all naturally have multiple things going on in our lives, any one of which could make just the right person feel like this was the end. I certainly don’t think that the research can be dismissed as this is something that concerns a great number of people worldwide. But I do think that it is something that should take mamy mental health professionals take notice and to work even more diligently to prescribe and create the right treatment plan for each individual patient with whom they are working.

  • Blake


    July 17th, 2013 at 4:21 AM

    Wasn’t there a case of a young guy murdering his grandparents or something a few years ago and that was blamed on medication that he took? seems like I remember something like that.

    Anyway, I have faith that any medical provider will be well versed on the dangers of any medication that they prescribe before giving it to anyone. And hopefully the patient would be clear headed enough to know if this is making them have thoughts that don’t seem right.

    I know, I have a lot of faith in the sommunity that is getting such a bad rap these days, but I have to think that for far more people than not, the combination of therapy with medication does a lot more good than it does harm. Please tell me that’s true.

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