Taking antidepressants raises the risk of suicide, a study suggests.

Experts last night warned that patients should be told of the dangers before they start taking the pills.

The research found depressed people on the drugs were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as similar patients who were not taking them.

Some seven million adults in England took the drugs in 2016/17. The researchers believe that for some, the chemicals in the pills can trigger severe agitation, restlessness and even psychotic episodes [File photo]

Study leader Dr Michael Hengartner, of Zurich University in Switzerland, said: ‘We can be confident that these drugs are producing an excess rate of suicides, beyond the depression itself.

‘There is no doubt that this must be a response to the pharmacological effect of the drugs themselves.’ 

Although the increased risk appears stark, in real terms the researchers calculated only 77 extra suicides per 100,000 patients taking the pills.

Taking antidepressants raises the risk of suicide, a study suggests. Experts last night warned that patients should be told of the dangers before they start taking the pills [File photo]

Taking antidepressants raises the risk of suicide, a study suggests. Experts last night warned that patients should be told of the dangers before they start taking the pills [File photo]

Scientists acknowledge that for many people, antidepressants are a lifeline.

But with more patients in Britain taking them than those in almost every other Western country, many doctors believe millions are being put at risk. 

Some seven million adults in England took the drugs in 2016/17. The researchers believe that for some, the chemicals in the pills can trigger severe agitation, restlessness and even psychotic episodes.

Dr Hengartner added: ‘I’m not saying no one should be given antidepressants, but doctors should be much more conservative about how they use them. One in six adults being given antidepressants like in the UK – that is alarming.

‘Patients should be informed of the risks and they should be monitored.’

The study found that people prescribed antidepressants were 2.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than depressed people taking placebo pills.

Last month, the Royal College of Psychiatrists acknowledged for the first time that coming off the pills can cause severe side effects lasting months – with the worst-hit suffering nausea, anxiety and insomnia [File photo]

Last month, the Royal College of Psychiatrists acknowledged for the first time that coming off the pills can cause severe side effects lasting months – with the worst-hit suffering nausea, anxiety and insomnia [File photo]

The research, published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, combined the results of 14 studies involving nearly 32,000 people taking a variety of antidepressants.

The authors stressed that the real-terms rise in risk was small, calculating that for every 100,000 taking the pills, there would be an extra 413 suicide attempts and an extra 77 suicides. But in England, this could add up to thousands of extra suicides.

The highest risk was found to occur in the first four weeks after the treatment begins.

Dr Hengartner said: ‘Our study signals a rare but serious risk that needs to be brought to the attention of practitioners, particularly when starting or stopping antidepressants.’

Psychotherapist Dr James Davies, of the University of Roehampton, said: ‘It is known that antidepressants increase the risk of suicide among young people and adolescents, and for this reason their use is restricted among these patient groups.

‘However, this research indicates that similar risks also occur for some adults.

‘This new evidence should be reviewed by regulators, reflected in clinical guidelines and brought up in conversations between doctors and their patients.’

Although the increased risk appears stark, in real terms the researchers calculated only 77 extra suicides per 100,000 patients taking the pills. Scientists acknowledge that for many people, antidepressants are a lifeline

Although the increased risk appears stark, in real terms the researchers calculated only 77 extra suicides per 100,000 patients taking the pills. Scientists acknowledge that for many people, antidepressants are a lifeline

Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, pointed out that the study was based on US data, and four of the 14 drugs assessed are not available in the UK.

But she added: ‘This is an important issue, which we need to understand better. As with all medications, we need to balance the potential benefits and risks of harm from starting, continuing and stopping their use.

‘It is vital that people prescribed antidepressants are monitored closely, made aware of possible side effects and know how to seek help if they experience them.’

Last month, the Royal College of Psychiatrists acknowledged for the first time that coming off the pills can cause severe side effects lasting months – with the worst-hit suffering nausea, anxiety and insomnia.

And two weeks ago, the European Medicines Agency issued guidance suggesting the most common pills – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs – can cause long-term loss of sexual function.

I wish someone had warned me of side effects

Miss Williams, 27, from Featherstone in West Yorkshire, found herself struggling with spiralling anxiety

Miss Williams, 27, from Featherstone in West Yorkshire, found herself struggling with spiralling anxiety

Barely a day after her antidepressant dose increased, Steph Williams started hearing a voice saying: ‘That’s it, we’ve had enough.’

She said: ‘I started researching how to commit suicide.’ 

She had been given the drug citalopram two months earlier, in 2016. Her GP started her on 10mg a day before upping the dose to 20mg.

Miss Williams, 27, from Featherstone in West Yorkshire, found herself struggling with spiralling anxiety. 

‘I felt a constant need to move, I was pacing the floor from morning to night,’ she said.

The nail technician, whose husband was in the military, was living in Newquay, Cornwall when her worried parents drove down to take her home. 

She said: ‘My parents lived near a railway bridge and I was going to jump from it.’

Her life was saved, she said, because one of her parents was with her constantly for the best part of the following year.

Although Miss Williams, pictured, is still on medication, over the past few years she has improved thanks to counselling, she added.

In 2017 she got divorced. The marriage, she said, was a victim of her illness. 

‘I wish someone had warned me just how dangerous these drugs can be,’ she said.

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