To examine the association between trends in antidepressant prescribing and suicide rates in Australia for 1991-2000.
Analysis of databases of suicide and rates of antidepressant prescribing according to age and sex.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data, sales data from the Australian pharmaceutical industry, prescribing data in general practice.
Men and women aged 15 years and over in 10 year age groups.
Main outcome measures
Trends in suicide rates and trends in antidepressant prescribing. Association measured by Spearman's rank correlations.
While overall national rates of suicide did not fall significantly, incidence decreased in older men and women and increased in younger adults. In both men (rs=−0.91; P<0.01) and women (rs=−0.76; P<0.05) the higher the exposure to antidepressants the larger the decline in rate of suicide.
Changes in suicide rates and exposure to antidepressants in Australia for 1991-2000 are significantly associated. This effect is most apparent in older age groups, in which rates of suicide decreased substantially in association with exposure to antidepressants. The increase in antidepressant prescribing may be a proxy marker for improved overall management of depression. If so, increased prescribing of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in general practice may have produced a quantifiable benefit in population mental health.
What is already known on this topicThere has been a substantial increase in antidepressant prescribing by general practitioners in Australia since the introduction of selective serotoin reuptake inhibitors in the early 1990sPrevious studies have indicated an association between increased antidepressant prescribing and reduced suicide rateWhat this study addsIn Australia the rate of suicide fell in older people, the age group most heavily exposed to antidepressantsMost antidepressants are now prescribed by general practitionersThe association may indicate the improved treatment of depression by general practitioners