Suicides are in decline in Sweden, dropping by about 30 percent since 1990 to around 1,500 people per annum. At the same time the use of antidepressants has increased in parallel, the researchers observed.
The researchers at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge thus set about to investigate the hypothesis that antidepressant medication was a causal factor in this decline.
The study looked at toxicology data from 18,922 cases of suicide registered in Sweden from 1992-2003, linked to registers of psychiatric hospitalization.
The researchers expected to find that those who had spent time as in-patients for the treatment of depression in the year prior to their death, would have a higher incidence of antidepressants at the time of their suicide, as they were considered to be the most vulnerable group. The report however indicates that they were in fact under-represented.
“The finding that in-patient care for depression did not increase the probability of the detection of antidepressants in suicides is difficult to explain other than by the assumption that a substantial number of depressed individuals were saved from suicide by postdischarge treatment with antidepressant medication,” the researchers concluded in their study.
Göran Isacsson, who led the research team, told the Dagens Nyheter daily that the classification of depression as a life-threatening condition and that medicines can help to prevent suicides, is somewhat provocative.
“It is thus important to show that antidepressant medication actually works to prevent suicide,” he said to the newspaper.