Do antidepressants t(h)reat(en) depressives? Toward a clinically judicious formulation of the antidepressant-suicidality FDA advisory in light of declining national suicide statistics from many countries

Z. Ríhmer, Hagop Akiskal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

148 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Given that suicidality is a well-known symptom and outcome of untreated or inadequately treated depressive illness, the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning of emergent suicidality in children and adolescents based on the antidepressant arm of placebo-controlled randomized trials (RCTs) has created understandable concern in clinical practice. The issues involved are of broader public health importance for all age groups. As in other branches of medicine, psychiatrists must always be vigilant of the rare risk of iatrogenesis when prescribing potent agents like antidepressants for patients with depressive disorders where the risk of suicidality is inherent. The overall evidence we review suggests that the widespread use of antidepressants in the new "SSRI-era" appear to have actually led to highly significant decline in suicide rates in most countries with traditionally high baseline suicide rates. The decline is particularly striking for women who, compared with men, seek more help for depression. Recent clinical data on large samples in the US too have revealed a protective effect of antidepressant against suicide. We argue that the discrepancy between RCTs (in children) and national and clinical suicide statistics (in adults) may reside in new provocative data documenting high rates of unrecognized pseudo-unipolar mixed states particularly in juvenile, but also in adult, clinical populations. Such an interpretation accords well with equally provocative data that bipolar II (which is often "mixed" in nature) may well represent a particularly vulnerable clinical substrate for suicidality. In this respect, the widespread (at least in the psychiatric sector) augmentation of antidepressants with benzodiazepines, atypical antipsychotics or mood stabilizers may represent one situation where current practice is superior to evidence-based medicine. We conclude that rather than being a threat, the judicious clinical use of antidepressants actually does serve to effectively treat and indeed protect depressed patients from suicidal outcome. The fact of being in treatment with regular clinical follow-up appears beneficial as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-13
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume94
Issue number1-3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006

Fingerprint

United States Food and Drug Administration
Suicide
Antidepressive Agents
Psychiatry
Evidence-Based Medicine
Depressive Disorder
Benzodiazepines
Antipsychotic Agents
Randomized Controlled Trials
Public Health
Age Groups
Placebos
Medicine
Depression
Population

Keywords

  • Antidepressant
  • RCT
  • Suicide
  • Suicide attempt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Neurology
  • Psychology(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "Given that suicidality is a well-known symptom and outcome of untreated or inadequately treated depressive illness, the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning of emergent suicidality in children and adolescents based on the antidepressant arm of placebo-controlled randomized trials (RCTs) has created understandable concern in clinical practice. The issues involved are of broader public health importance for all age groups. As in other branches of medicine, psychiatrists must always be vigilant of the rare risk of iatrogenesis when prescribing potent agents like antidepressants for patients with depressive disorders where the risk of suicidality is inherent. The overall evidence we review suggests that the widespread use of antidepressants in the new {"}SSRI-era{"} appear to have actually led to highly significant decline in suicide rates in most countries with traditionally high baseline suicide rates. The decline is particularly striking for women who, compared with men, seek more help for depression. Recent clinical data on large samples in the US too have revealed a protective effect of antidepressant against suicide. We argue that the discrepancy between RCTs (in children) and national and clinical suicide statistics (in adults) may reside in new provocative data documenting high rates of unrecognized pseudo-unipolar mixed states particularly in juvenile, but also in adult, clinical populations. Such an interpretation accords well with equally provocative data that bipolar II (which is often {"}mixed{"} in nature) may well represent a particularly vulnerable clinical substrate for suicidality. In this respect, the widespread (at least in the psychiatric sector) augmentation of antidepressants with benzodiazepines, atypical antipsychotics or mood stabilizers may represent one situation where current practice is superior to evidence-based medicine. We conclude that rather than being a threat, the judicious clinical use of antidepressants actually does serve to effectively treat and indeed protect depressed patients from suicidal outcome. The fact of being in treatment with regular clinical follow-up appears beneficial as well.",
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