Objective: We review evidence on two claims that have been made about the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants; that they have: (i) decreased suicide rates in the population; and (ii) increased suicide rates in some individuals early in treatment.
Method: We critically review evidence in the English-speaking peer-reviewed medical literature on: (i) meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of SSRIs; (ii) observational studies of suicide risk in patients prescribed SSRIs and other antidepressants; and (iii) ecological studies of correlations between population use of SSRI use and population suicide rates.
Results: The largest and most recent meta-analyses of RCTs of SSRIs have found suggestive evidence that SSRIs increase suicidal ideation early in treatment compared with placebo. Observational studies have found an increased risk of self-harm within 9 days of an antidepressant drug being prescribed but the risk has been similar for the older tricyclic antidepressants and the SSRIs. Ecological studies in developed countries have found either that suicide rates have declined as SSRI use has increased, or have found no relationship between suicide rates and increased SSRI use.
Conclusions: Meta-analyses of RCTs suggest that SSRIs increase suicide ideation compared with placebo but the observational studies suggest that SSRIs do not increase suicide risk more than older antidepressants. If SSRIs increase suicide risk in some patients, the number of additional deaths is very small because ecological studies have generally found that suicide mortality has declined (or at least not increased) as SSRI use has increased.