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No suicide link with antidepressant prescribing

Antidepressant prescribing since the early 90s – when SSRI use started to soar – has not been associated with an overall increase in poisoning mortality or suicide, say UK researchers.

The data comes as the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency announced updates to EU-wide information on suicidality on all antidepressants noting the increased risk to young adults.

The latest study from researchers at Imperial College found prescribing of antidepressants rose almost three fold from 1993 to 2004 while the total suicide rate dropped from 98.2 cases per million to 81.3 per million.

Although this apparent effect of prescribing on the suicide rate disappeared after the figures were adjusted, there was no association between increased SSRI prescribing and suicide rates.

Dr Oliver Morgan, honorary research associate at the department of primary care and social medicine at Imperial College, said: ‘Some studies have suggested that for certain individuals - such as young patients and the more severely depressed - there may be a link between antidepressant use and suicidal thoughts.

‘Our study suggests that even if there is a link between antidepressant drugs and suicide – and this has not been proven - the increased quantity of antidepressant drugs prescribed over the last decade or so in England does not appear to be associated with increased suicide rates.'

The paper was published in the Journal of Public Health.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, past chair of the NICE mental health guideline review panel and GP in Stanmore, Middlesex said the results were encouraging as they suggested the purpose of prescribing antidepressants was being achieved.

‘The whole point is to reduce depression and risk of suicide and often very small scale studies with anecdotal results can receive disproportionate publicity.'

However, he added: ‘It is recognised that antidepressants can cause harm and in certain subgroups of patients we need to be very cautious. Prescribing SSRIs in children and adolescents does pose a risk.'

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