From ‘making shrimp act crazy‘ to ‘men taking them in order to improve their sex lives‘, there have been all sorts of claims thrown about regarding the use of antidepressants and their potential to cause more harm than good. Perhaps the most delicate of all these controversies however, is the notion that they induce in sufferers one of the main things they are taken to prevent. Namely suicidal thoughts – and even worse, a strong desire to act on said thoughts.
From what was initially began as the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration ) considering how antidepressants may have such a negative effect on the mind in a public hearing back in the 1990s, this alarming revelation is one that has been gaining momentum in recent years. Take a recent article in the Telegraph which makes the claim that antidepressants actually raise the risk of suicide. According to the boldly worded piece, scientists found that ‘pharmaceutical companies had regularly misclassified deaths and suicidal events in people taking anti-depressants to favour their products’, which really muddies the waters when it comes to the moral obligation of such companies to protect and save lives .
“It is absolutely horrendous that they have such disregard for human lives.”
Indeed, while the NHS is critical of the said article’s sensationalism, it does concede that it is worrying how researchers’ ‘are unable to tell the true extent of harms from antidepressants, because of poor data collection and availability’, although the same piece also concludes that ‘according to the data we do have, it is likely that for many people, the benefits of antidepressant treatment will outweigh the risks’. However this doesn’t take away from the fact that, for some people at the very least,by taking these drugs there is a real risk of them attempting to commit suicide.
“Drug companies routinely blame suicides on the depression that was being treated, not the drugs — but the experiences of patients treated with the same drugs for non-mental indications like pain and the experiences of healthy volunteers cannot be written off as the “disease.”
One of the earliest instances whereby SSRI’s were suspected of causing more harm than good occurred in 1989, when a man named Joseph T. Wesbecker entered his former workplace, Standard Gravure, killed eight people, injured 12 and committed suicide thereafter . This all happened after he had been prescribed Prozac. A lawsuit was filed against Lily and company – the manufacturers of the drug. However the law decided to side with the pharmaceutical company over the bereaved family members of the victims.
While this is only one single, isolated case it all links back to the worrying notion that we, the public, are not being given total transparency when it comes to the potential dangers of these drugs.
So are we really being given all of the facts?
Dr. David Healy, professor of psychiatry at Bangor University ,made a valid point when he stated:
‘If we were getting our drug information from The New York Times instead of medical journals, we would all be a lot safer. When the Times reporter Jayson Blair was found to have fabricated stories, he was history.
But the editors and writers involved with journal fraud still have their jobs and the articles are not even retracted’
Indeed, he even goes as far as to suggest that as many as 1,000 to 2,000 Americans on SSRIs kill themselves each year, when they otherwise would not have done so. While it is difficult to say with any certainty that this statement is completely true, it does suggest how pharmaceutical companies are not held to account as much as they should be. With such organisations being seemingly beyond criticism and reproach, there is unlikely to be a significant shift in the way in which the information about these drugs are presented to the general public.
On the other hand, one thing that the medical community does agree on is that prescription of antidepressants for under 18s should be strictly and scrutinised. Indeed, so precarious is this danger that it is recommended that this type of medication should only be prescribed as a last resort to this particular demographic, after other forms of treatment, such as exercise and therapy, do not have a positive impact.
The risk of suicide appears to be increased in people of this age group when they take antidepressants. The exact reason why is still unknown, although some past studies show that children who start antidepressants may become more irritated and violent, thus increasing the likelihood that they will carry out high risk actions either towards others or themselves.
Some things to consider
-According to the most recent NHS guidance, it cites research showing antidepressants are indeed not as beneficial for mild depression as for moderate and severe depression, so this should be taken into account before you decide to start a course of SSRIs.
-It is also important to remember that it can take up to eight weeks for SSRI’s to build up in the brain and body to the point they can affect mood. So as tempting as it might be to dismiss your medication for not being effective, it might be worth persevering a little longer to see whether this is actually the case.
-While on any of form of antidepressant, it is advised that you closely monitor yourself for any drastic changes in your mood and perhaps ask your family and friends to do the same.While some of it will due to the nature of your mental illness, it could potentially be the antidepressants having an adverse effect rather than a beneficial one
-It’s also worth keeping in mind that depression by itself raises the risk of suicide. While it is obviously a risk for some people to begin a course of antidepressants, it can be argued that, for a lot of people, it is one that pays off in the long term.
Do I or don’t I?
So on the whole, it would seem as though the claim that taking antidepressants raises the risk of suicide is based on evidence that has many variables. The only common factor amongst the data available is that those under the age of 18 are particularly at risk (particularly when it comes to Prozac). Whether the same can be said for adults is currently up for debate.
I do not wish people to interpret any of this as an attempt of fear-mongering. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence available that for a large amount of people, this kind of medication can be hugely beneficial.
Professor Steve Bazire says that ‘a crucial distinction must be made between suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) and actually committing and completing suicide’ and reminded researchers to take into account that ‘overall, antidepressants do reduce the overall completed suicide rate’ and this is supported by various national studies. So from a universal perspective, it can be argued that taking SSRIs is a risk that is worth it for the majority of people.
In the end, you just have to make a choice.
Just make it an informed one.
Are you currently being prescribed antidepressants? Is the controversy surrounding these drugs justified or has the whole affair been overblown? I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts and ideas on this subject!
As a disclaimer of sorts I do not claim to be a medical professional. Nor am I endorsing or rejecting the use of anti depressants as a form of treatment for mental illness. All of the following is based off my own knowledge, research and opinion.