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Depression Therapy Reduces Suicide Attempts

Suicide attempts declined during the first month of treatment in a study of more than 100,000 patients treated for depression. The findings, published by Group Health researchers in the July American Journal of Psychiatry, show a similar pattern for populations of adolescents and young adults (up to age 24) as for older adults.

The study sheds new light on the black box advisory that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed in 2004 and has revised since then, said Greg Simon, MD, MPH, the Group Health psychiatrist who led the study.

The advisorywhich has concerned many patients, families, and care providerswarns that suicidal behavior may emerge soon after people younger than 25 start treatment with newer antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It was spurred by randomized placebo-controlled trials showing that starting to take an SSRI can make thoughts of suicide more common among some teens and young adults.

Dr. Simons study is the first published research to compare the risk of suicide attempts before and after the start of treatment with not only antidepressants but also psychotherapy. It is based on computerized medical and pharmacy records for more than 109,000 patients who started treatment for depression at Group Health from 1996 to 2005.

In the study, suicide attempts were about twice as common among patients up to age 24 as among older adults. However, the time pattern was the same for both age groups, regardless of the type of treatment they received: Suicide attempts were most likely during the month before treatment started, falling by at least 50 percent in the month after treatment began, with steady declines thereafter.

At all time pointsup to three months before and six months after starting treatmentpatients who received their antidepressant prescription from a psychiatrist tended to be most likely to attempt suicide.


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