Do antidepressants increase or decrease suicidal behavior in patients with major depressive disorder (clinical depression)?

Updated: Aug 06, 2020
  • Author: Jerry L Halverson, MD; Chief Editor: David Bienenfeld, MD  more...
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Antidepressants were associated with a significant reduction in the risk of suicidal behavior in observational study by Leon et al, which followed 757 patients over a 27-year period. This study included participants with psychiatric and other medical comorbidity and those receiving acute or maintenance therapy, polypharmacy, or no psychopharmacologic treatment at all. [188] The results suggest, however, that clinicians must closely monitor patients when an antidepressant is initiated.

Other studies have argued that a decline in youth suicide rates coincided, to a striking extent, with significant increases in the prescription of antidepressants (mostly SSRIs) to adolescents. [189, 190, 191] The Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS) lends support for fluoxetine's efficacy in adolescent depression, notably the combined use of fluoxetine and CBT. [192] Data from the TADS study also suggested a possible protective effect of CBT against suicidality when used in combination with fluoxetine.

Additionally, a study by the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle of more than 65,000 children and adults treated for depression found that suicide risk declines, not rises, with the use of antidepressants. [193] This is the largest study to date to address this issue. This study also showed that with psychotherapy and antidepressant drug therapy, the highest risk of suicide was in the month prior to seeking treatment. The month following initiation of treatment was also a period of high risk for both types of treatment, emphasizing the importance of close follow-up after treatment initiation.

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