Objective: To explore a possible temporal association between changes in antidepressant sales and suicide rates in different age groups.
Methods: A time series analysis using a two-slope model to compare suicide rates in Sweden before and after introduction of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs.
Results: Antidepressant sales increased between 1977-1979 and 1995-1997 in men from 4.2 defined daily doses per 1000 inhabitants and day (DDD/t.i.d) to 21.8 and in women from 8.8 to 42.4. Antidepressant sales were twice as high in the elderly as in the 25-44-year-olds and eight times that in the 15-24-year-olds. During the same time period suicide rates decreased in men from 48.2 to 33.3 per 10(5) inhabitants/year and in women from 20.3 to 13.4. There was significant change in the slope in suicide rates after the introduction of the SSRI, for both men and women, which corresponds to approximately 348 fewer suicides during 1990-1997. Half of these 'saved lives' occurred among young adults.
Conclusion: We demonstrate a statistically significant change in slope in suicide rates in men and women that coincided with the introduction of the SSRI antidepressants in Sweden. This change preceded the exponential increase in antidepressant sales.