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Most Suicide Rates Decline, but Findings Are Puzzling

es, we began finding international studies that suggested a correlation of declining suicide rates with an increase in the use of new-generation antidepressants,' McKeown said. 'But you can't blithely assume that drugs like Prozac have lowered the suicide rate. If that was the reason, why haven't the suicide rates of those in the 25-to-64 age brackets declined, too?'

From 1994 to 2003, suicide rates declined 30 percent in adolescents and young adults. Among older adults, the suicide rate fell 33 percent from 1987 to 2003. Despite the decline, suicide remains the third-leading cause of death among adolescents behind accidents and homicide. Among older adults, suicide is surpassed by several chronic diseases as a leading cause of death.

'We need to understand how something this significant could turn on a dime,' McKeown said.

That understanding is particularly important because the Food and Drug Administration has warned physicians about the risk of increased suicidal ideas and attempts, particularly among children, associated with certain antidepressants that are used for the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders and some types of personality disorders.

'We aren't trying to argue that these drugs are harmless,' McKeown said. 'But the possible correlation between the advent of new antidepressants and the decline in suicide rates needs to be better explored.'

Perhaps there is no association at all, he said.

'It could be that as antidepressants help a patient’s depression improve, that person becomes more energetic, less apathetic and better able to make decisions,' McKeown said.

The researchers also believe that the decline in some suicide rates may have nothing to do with antidepressants but with improved medical care. For example, some of the studies they surveyed attributed the decline in American homicide rates to improved trauma care.

'It could be that the number of
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