Antidepressants are supposed to ease symptoms of depression, but yet another study shows the drugs may actually increase suicidal feelings in users. According to Danish researchers, the new study wrecks “potentially lethal misconceptions” about the safety of antidepressants. 
Statistics About Antidepressants
Researchers estimate that 8% to 10% of Americans take an antidepressant. Adults in the U.S. consumed 4 times more of the drugs in the late 2000’s than they did in the early 1990’s. 
Are more people depressed now than they were 20 years ago? Probably, yes. But that doesn’t necessarily account for the rise in antidepressant use.
You see, nearly 70% of people taking an antidepressant do not meet the criteria for clinical depression. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel sad, or they’re not going through hard times. It simply means that, from a purely diagnostic standpoint, they are not clinically depressed.
Not only that, but between 25% and 60% of antidepressants are prescribed for off-label purposes, including ADHD, autism, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, and even neuropathic pain.
Findings of the Study
Danish researchers analyzed 13 trial studies, and conducted a study of their own involving 374 trial volunteers – all of them healthy – to see how antidepressants affected people who did not have depression. 
The researchers said they picked the patients that they did because earlier studies suggesting a link between suicide and antidepressants had been dismissed by those who blamed the deaths on the person’s supposed mental health condition and not the drugs.
Professor Peter Gøtzsche, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, said:
“The drug industry always tries to blame the disease for these harms, never the pills. This is why our study is important. Healthy volunteers don’t have a disease — so we cannot blame the side effects of the pills on it.” 
When the participants were given antidepressant pills, levels of side effects nearly doubled, including suicidal feelings.
“Suicidal feelings” included anxiety, nightmares, and agitation.
Gotzsche said these feelings could be considered as “precursors to suicidality or violence.” 
However, Professor Guy Goodwin, past President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, called the conclusions “absurd.” He said:
“This manuscript claims to show that antidepressants double the risk of suicide and violence, but it does not. The methodology is fatally flawed and leads to conclusions that are highly misleading.
If ‘nervousness, anxiety, tremor, bad dreams and agitation events’ are risk factors for suicide or violence, then probably the majority of people in the UK would be at risk of suicide or violence, which obviously isn’t so.”
Phil Cowen, Professor of Psychopharmacology at Oxford University, agreed, saying:
“These side-effects are clinically significant, frequently distressing and an important topic for discussion between patient and clinician.
However, the notion that they are necessarily indicative of violence and suicide seems to me rather like arguing that transient annoyance with a colleague is much the same thing as attempted murder.” 
Drug Companies Seriously “Under-Report Harms of Antidepressants”
But Gøtzsche said that his findings are even more disturbing, considering drug companies seriously “under-report the harms of antidepressants related to suicide and violence, either by simply omitting them from reports, by calling them something else, or by committing scientific misconduct.” 
Gøtzsche is right about that.
It came out in 2005 that a Harvard psychiatrist and the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly covered up a secret 1988 internal memo indicating that Lilly’s own controlled clinical trials of antidepressant drug Prozac had a significantly higher rate of suicide attempts, hostility, violence, and psychosis than 4 other commonly used antidepressants in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Earlier this year, another study conducted by Gøtzsche and his colleagues found that SSRI antidepressants – the most common class of antidepressants – doubled the risk of suicide and aggressive behavior in teens under 18.
That study, a review of 70 clinical trials of SSRI antidepressants, which involved more than 18,000 people, also found that 1 drug company misreported 4 deaths in favor of its product. The company also chalked up over 50% of suicidal incidents to “emotional lability” or “worsening of depression.”
No mention that either problem could have been the result of taking the drug itself.
And let’s face it – there’s a reason why antidepressants list “suicidal thoughts” as a potential side effect on their labels.
Serotonin and Depression: Lacking a Link
You’ve probably heard that depression is a result of a lack of brain chemicals, or an imbalance of them.
Researchers are still trying to figure out what causes depression, exactly, still arguing over whether a lack of the chemical serotonin is or isn’t actually the cause of depression.
And what do SSRI antidepressants do? They increase serotonin in the brain. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Well, there’s more to it than that. Maybe I’ll just let the Mayo Clinic explain:
“SSRIs ease depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that carry signals between brain cells. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available. SSRIs are called selective because they seem to primarily affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters.”
For years, doctors and patients alike have believed that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin, not because anyone told them so, but because they just assumed that because SSRIs improve the symptoms of depression, depression must be caused by not enough serotonin.
Antidepressants might make you feel better, but because they interfere with the delicate chemistry of the brain, they might also be causing you irreparable brain damage.
It’s like saying that eating pancakes might help you deal with the stress of an upcoming business meeting, but they’re still making you overweight and spiking your blood sugar.
Many scientists, including Dr. Turhan Canli of Stony Brook University in New York, have come to believe that depression might have more to do with gut microbes, viruses, or bacteria than brain chemistry. In fact, Cali believes depression should be reclassified as an infectious disease.
Only more research can prove or disprove this theory, which doesn’t offer the quick fix that so many people find in antidepressants. But this theory makes sense, because 80% to 90% of the serotonin in the body is located in the gastrointestinal tract.
But wouldn’t it be worthwhile to find and treat the cause, rather than just treat the symptoms?
No one should guilt you into or out of taking any medication. (And if you’re taking antidepressants, this is NOT my way of telling you to stop taking them! I know people who seem to experience much more benefit than risk.)
However, if you’re going through a divorce, you’ve just lost your job, or you’re grieving a loved one, counseling, yoga, and other methods for dealing with your pain may be a safer option for you.
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.