Healthy people who take antidepressants are twice as likely to become suicidal and violent, researchers claim.
The first ever review of trials of antidepressants taken by healthy adults, who have no signs of a mental disorder, concludes the pills doubled harms related to suicide and violence.
The use of antidepressants in England has nearly doubled in the last decade, from 29 million prescriptions in 2004 to 57 million in 2014.
At least one in 11 people now take the pills – the fourth-highest rate in Europe.
The first ever review of trials of antidepressants taken by healthy adults, who have no signs of a mental disorder, concludes the pills doubled harms related to suicide and violence
Experts fear many of these patients may not actually need antidepressants, with doctors prescribing the drugs as a stop-gap because of long waiting lists for therapy.
The new analysis, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, examined 13 previous trials of antidepressant drugs, involving 612 patients.
The researchers, from the Nordic Cochrane Centre and the University of Copenhagen, claim the original papers underestimated the risk of suicide and other harms.
Although their main finding related to the risk of healthy people taking antidepressants, they said it was ‘likely’ antidepressants also increase the risk of suicide among all people who take them, of any age.
Lead author Professor Peter Gøtzsche, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, said: ‘While it is now generally accepted antidepressants increase the risk of suicide and violence in children and adolescents, most people believe these drugs are not dangerous for adults.
‘This is a potentially lethal misconception.
Experts fear many patients may not actually need antidepressants, with doctors prescribing the drugs as a stop-gap because of long waiting lists for therapy
‘The reporting of harms in drug trials is generally poor. Our review established the trials did not report much about their methodology and the reporting of adverse events was generally inadequate.
‘It is well documented that drug companies under-report seriously the harms of antidepressants related to suicide and violence, either by simply omitting them from reports, by calling them something else or by committing scientific misconduct.’
Some experts, however, are not convinced by the findings – insisting antidepressants do more good than harm.
They said the Norwegian and Danish team had inflated the seriousness of the side effects – conflating even minor impacts with suicide risk.
CONTRACEPTIVES INCREASE THE RISK OF DEPRESSION
Women taking hormonal contraceptives may be at increased risk of depression, a study found.
Those using skin patches which deliver a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone were most likely to be prescribed an antidepressant.
Users of the ring and coil were 60 and 40 per cent more likely respectively, scientists discovered.
Women on the most popular type of Pill were 23 per cent more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant than non-users.
While teenagers on the Pill appeared to be more vulnerable than older women, experts found.
Professor Seena Fazel of the University of Oxford, said: ‘There are a number of serious limitations with this review that mean its conclusions are not justified.
‘The most problematic is it conflates a whole range of side effects – from “unusual thoughts”, “being jittery” to “caffeine feeling”, to the more serious outcomes such as self-harm and violence.
‘In fact, when you look at the data from included trials, none of them report the latter – all of the information is based on the first category of relatively minor side effects.’
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘The strongest conclusion one can draw from this data is to say some symptoms such as agitation occur in depression itself and in response to antidepressants.
‘Sometimes these symptoms are also experienced by people who go on to commit acts of violence or self-harm.
‘Overall, medications used in any branch of medicine do good can also do harm. The same applies in psychiatry.
‘Current evidence from large scale studies continues to show that for antidepressants the benefits outweigh the risks.
‘If the evidence changes then so will our advice, but this study changes nothing.’
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