A new study by researchers at Oxford University has found that a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be linked to a higher risk of young adults who take them committing violent crimes.
The three-year study involved 850,000 Swedish nationals who had been prescribed SSRIs.
The researchers found that 1% – a total of 8,500 – of the group were convicted of a violent crime during the study period, with an elevated risk for committing violent crime among the 15-24 age group who had been prescribed SSRIs.
The researchers say that increased risks were also found in young adults aged 15-24 years for violent arrests, non-violent convictions and arrests, non-fatal accidental injuries – and emergency contacts for alcohol-related problems.
The researchers say, however, that the results do not prove that prescribing SSRIs to young adults cause the increased risk for committing violent crime, as unidentified factors linked to both SSRI use and violent crime might explain the results – including the severity of an individual’s symptoms.
The researchers add, however, that if further research into the link between SSRIs and a higher risk for committing violent crimes confirms the findings, warnings about the increased risk of violent behaviour among young people prescribed SSRIs “might be needed”.
The authors say that clinicians must also weigh the SSRI-associated increase in violent crime against SSRI-associated reductions in disability, hospitalisation and suicide among young patients being treated for depression.
“From a public health perspective, this worsening of overall morbidity and mortality might argue against restrictions on the primary care prescribing of SSRIs, as long as potential risks are disclosed,” the researchers say.
NHS Choices warns that initial use of SSRIs is known to cause side effects in some patients being treated for depression, which may ease over time. Mild to moderate symptoms may include anxiety and nervousness, dizziness, erectile dysfunction in men or low sex drive, urinary problems, headaches, dry mouth and sleep problems.
SSRIs can also cause elevated levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain – also known as the happiness chemical. This may happen if natural antidepressants such as St John’s Wort are also taken with an SSRI
medication. This may also result in side effects such as confusion, agitation, sweating and stomach problems such as nausea or diarrhoea.
The findings of the Oxford University research are published online in the Public Library of Science (PLoS).
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