Antidepressant prescribing and suicide rate in Northern Ireland

Eur Psychiatry. 2003 Nov;18(7):325-8. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2003.03.005.


Purpose: Although antidepressants are the most commonly used treatment for depressive illness, there is uncertainty if their use is associated with a reduction in suicide rate. Antidepressant prescribing in Northern Ireland has increased over fivefold in the decade 1989-1999. The authors sought to explore whether this increase was associated with a reduction in suicide rate taking into account social and political factors thought also to have an influence on suicide.

Materials and methods: Factors that have been suggested to influence suicide were entered into a linear regression with frequency of suicide and undetermined deaths (referred to as suicide rate) as the dependent variable. The above factors were antidepressant prescribing, unemployment rate, household alcohol expenditure and persons charged with terrorist offences. The rise in younger suicides, in recent decades, suggests this analysis should be carried out separately for younger (less than 30 years) and older (30 years and above) suicides separately. The predictors in the two models are based on aggregate data for the total group.

Result: In the younger group there was no association between antidepressant prescribing and suicide. For the older group increased antidepressant prescribing was associated with a reduction in suicide rate over the 10 years of the study.

Conclusion: Increasing antidepressant prescribing appears to be an effective strategy for reducing suicide. This has been demonstrated in older individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Northern Ireland / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*


  • Antidepressive Agents