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Therapy for Depression Cuts Suicide Attempts

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Treating people with depression -- by means of either medications or psychotherapy -- leads to a drop in suicide attempts, according to a new report.

The findings relate to the controversy about treating young people with antidepressant drugs, and the suspicion that doing so may be linked to increased suicide rates.

"Our study indicates that there's nothing specific to antidepressant mediations that would either make large populations of people with depression start trying to kill themselves -- or protect them from suicidal thoughts," lead author Dr. Gregory E. Simon, from the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, said in a statement.

"Instead, we think that, on average, starting any type of treatment -- medication, psychotherapy, or both -- helps most people of any age have fewer symptoms of depression, including thinking about suicide and attempting it," he added.

The study, in the American Journal of Psychiatry, involved an analysis of 70,368 depressed patients prescribed an antidepressant drug by a primary care physician, 7297 prescribed an antidepressant by a psychiatrist, and 54,123 treated with psychotherapy.

Medical claims were reviewed to assess the occurrence of suicide attempts 90 days before and 180 days after beginning treatment.

In all three groups, the rate of suicide attempts was highest in the pre-treatment period, followed by the 30-day period after starting treatment. Beyond 30 days, the likelihood of suicide attempts continued to fall.

The investigators found that teenagers and young adults had the highest suicide attempt rates, but the trends related to treatment were the same as in other age groups.

SOURCE: American Journal of Psychiatry, July 2007
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