Reasons why antidepressants don't cause suicides

October 5, 2015

For years, people have linked the use of antidepressants to suicide. But the reasoning for the correlation isn't exactly sound. Here's why.

Reasons why antidepressants don't cause suicides

The history of antidepressants

  • The story of antidepressant medications begins in the 1950s.
  • Doctors noticed that the moods of patients undergoing treatment with experimental tuberculosis drugs seemed to brighten.
  • Inspired by this discovery, scientists developed drugs that helped relieve depression but had a long list of unpleasant side effects.
  • The introduction of Prozac and other newer antidepressants reduced the side effects, but controversy has nonetheless haunted this new generation of mood enhancers.

Is there a link between antidepressants and suicide?

  • Despite the scary headlines, many experts believe that the benefits of antidepressants far outweigh the risks.
  • Some research does suggest that medications meant to lift the mood and erase despair may make people more likely to commit suicide.
  • Concerns that antidepressants make people suicidal emerged in the 1980s, when fluoxetine and similar drugs first became available.
  • The threat appeared to be greatest among children and teens taking the drugs.

Some evidence is anecdotal

  • At first, the concerns were based largely on anecdotal reports, including several high-profile incidents in which youths for whom the drugs were prescribed began acting strangely before taking their own lives.
  • Then, in 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked at 25 studies. They determined that antidepressants double the risk of suicidal thinking in children under 18 who suffer from depression.
  • Skeptics have pointed out that the FDA focussed largely on suicidal thoughts, which are common among teens. About one in five think about suicide in a given year.
  • In fact, none of the young people studied actually killed themselves. Few even attempted suicide.

Other evidence contradicts the suicide theory

  • Other research contradicts the theory that antidepressants make people suicidal.
  • For instance, a 2007 review of 27 studies found no significant increased risk of suicide among young people taking antidepressants.
  • Experts have noted the suicide rate dropped 13 percent in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. The number of people taking antidepressants increased fourfold during that time.
  • Concerns led doctors in the Netherlands to cut back on prescribing antidepressants by 22 percent. Afterwards, the suicide rate among youths rose by nearly 50 percent.
  • These studies suggest that far from causing people to harm themselves, antidepressants help to prevent untreated depression, the leading cause of suicide.

Antidepressants do have side effects, but suicide isn't one of them. If you think you're suffering from depression, or having suicidal thoughts, seek professional medical attention immediately.

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