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Feature Medicine and the Media

Antidepressants and murder: case not closed

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 02 August 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3697
  1. Gwen Adshead, consultant forensic psychiatrist
  1. Ravenswood House, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, Hampshire, UK
  1. g.adshead{at}

A primetime documentary that points the finger at antidepressant use as key evidence in a mass murder case misses the mark, argues Gwen Adshead

Samuel Johnson observed in 1734 that it was “incident among physicians to mistake subsequence for consequence.” His observation might apply more to journalists; and especially the BBC Panorama programme “A Prescription for Murder,” broadcast on 26 July. The programme’s premise was that a rare side effect of antidepressants may be to induce violent thoughts; and it offered as evidence the case of James Holmes, who in July 2012 went into a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, and shot into the audience, killing 12 people and injuring 56 others. Holmes did not deny his role in the massacre, although at trial he offered a defence of not guilty by reason of insanity, which was not accepted by the jury.

A current trend among journalists is to review criminal cases and suggest that …

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