Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience, led by clinical psychiatry professor Jari Tiihonen, determined in a new study that taking antidepressants reduces suicide rates in patients suffering from schizophrenia.
At the same time, the team discovered that schizophrenics who take benzodiazepines are significantly more likely to kill themselves than when on other medications. Furthermore, mortality rates were found to be unaffected from baseline figures when patients took several antipsychotics at once.
Tiihonen says that the team was very surprised to learn that antidepressants have such considerable effects on mortality rates in these patients. The investigators surveyed 2,588 Finnish citizens for four years, counting from diagnostic onwards.
During the study, the scientists were able to investigate the effects of various drug combinations on overall survival rates, and found antidepressants had the most beneficial effects.
Of the study group, 160 participants died during the investigation. Fifty-seven of them fell victim to poisoning, drowning and crimes, whereas 35 killed themselves. The other 68 died on account of cardiovascular diseases, the team reports.
Taking benzodiazepines was correlated to a 91 percent higher risk of early death in schizophrenia patients. Taking these drugs for more than four weeks was found to be the most dangerous, the team wrote in the May 7 issue of the esteemed medical journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
The paper detailing the findings, entitled “Polypharmacy with antipsychotics, antidepressants or benzodiazepines and mortality in schizophrenia,” was authored by Tiihonen and colleagues Jaana T. Suokas, Jaana M. Suvisaari, Jari Haukka, and Pasi Korhonen.
“The increased suicide risk for patients with long-standing benzodiazepine use may be partly attributable to the possible development of withdrawal symptoms when the drugs run out,” the team leader argues.
“These symptoms, which can be severe anxiety and insomnia, might have affected some of the patients’ decisions to commit suicide. It’s therefore extremely important that benzodiazepines are discontinued gradually rather than abruptly over a period of weeks or months and in consultation with a doctor,” he concludes.