Background: This paper presents a nationwide analysis of suicide mortality in Finland from 1990 to 1995, when the total use of antidepressants, especially that by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) expanded in the country.
Methods: Suicide rate was analysed by various methods including that by intake of antidepressants. Various antidepressants were compared by calculating fatal toxicity indices (FTI) by relating number of fatal poisonings by a drug to its consumption.
Results: The expanded use of antidepressants coincided with an increased number of deaths caused by these drugs. The proportion of suicides committed by use of antidepressants among all suicides increased from 5.6% to 8.4%. The total suicide rate, however, declined significantly. This was mainly accounted for by the reduced suicide rates by hanging and carbomonoxide poisoning, which outnumbered the increased figures of suicides by poisoning. On the whole, 82% of suicides by antidepressants were committed by use of tricyclics. Use of doxepin and amitriptyline remained steady, and their FTIs were constantly high. The lowest FTIs were associated with fluoxetine, citalopram, mianserin and moclobemide.
Limitations: The method ignores causality between the increased use of SSRIs and suicide mortality. Various factors affecting risk of suicide or choice of a method remain outside the scope of the data.
Conclusion: The increased use of SSRIs coincided with a significant decline in suicide mortality. However, suicides by use of antidepressants showed an upward trend. Therefore, in suicide prevention, risks and benefits of antidepressants should be considered in choosing treatment for depressive patients.