Objective: Suicidal behavior has been associated with reduced central serotonergic function. Because selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) enhance serotonergic function, the authors studied the efficacy of an SSRI, paroxetine, in the prevention of recurrent suicidal behavior.
Method: They conducted a 1-year double-blind study comparing paroxetine (40 mg/day) and placebo in 91 patients who had recently attempted suicide for at least a second time. None of the patients had experienced a major depressive episode or had any other major DSM-III-R axis I diagnoses. At least one cluster B personality disorder was present in 74 patients.
Results: With adjustment for the number of previous suicide attempts, paroxetine showed significant efficacy in the prevention of recurrent suicidal behavior. Among the patients who had attempted suicide fewer than five times, 12 (36%) in the placebo group (N = 33) and five (17%) in the paroxetine group (N = 30) made a subsequent suicide attempt. Paroxetine was also significantly more effective in patients who met fewer than 15 criteria for cluster B personality disorders than in those who met more than 15 criteria. Overall, paroxetine was not significantly different from placebo in its effect on depressive mood, hopelessness, and anger. However, the data suggest that paroxetine may have some temporary effect in reducing anger.
Conclusions: This study indicates that enhancing serotonergic function with an SSRI may reduce suicidal behavior in a subgroup of patients who have attempted suicide more than once but who do not suffer from major depression.