Intended for healthcare professionals

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

Re: Antidepressants and murder: case not closed

As a member of the online support community for prescribed drug dependence, you can imagine the dismay that has rippled through our ranks in the past week. We waited in anticipation to view the Panorama programme: "Prescription for Murder?" The links between SSRI drugs and violent acts are nothing new. I was advised of such risks some 30 years ago when first being prescribed an SSRI. The criticism of the documentary from certain quarters seemed unwarranted and exaggerated. As patients who have been significantly harmed by drugs of dependence, we are in no doubt that SSRIs can cause altered behaviour and many other terrible symptoms. Many of us live with them every day, tortured by neurological symptoms, altered states of consciousness, memory loss, inability to perform simple daily tasks, burning brain and so on and so forth. We are also very aware of the increasing body of evidence that suggest lack of scientific evidence that support the use of these drugs. We are told that antidepressants save many lives. Yet the suicide rates have recently increased at a time when antidepressant prescribing is at an all time high. (1)

The Royal College of Psychiatrists announced a Twitter-based Q&A session on 3rd August. The online support community submitted many, many intelligent and probing questions. The responses were few in number and lacking in substance. We were advised that the Royal College "thinks" the benefits of antidepressants outweigh the harms but no supporting evidence was provided. Today I read with even greater dismay an article entitled "Pharmacological iatrogenesis: substance/medication-induced disorders, that masquerade as mental illness". (2) Although the study was conducted in Australia it is confirmation of what many already suspect here in the UK, that SSRI drugs are causing significant harm to many patients and this has become a major public health issue. In October 2016, the BMA announced the need for a national helpline to help and support patients withdraw from drugs of dependence. (3) The Department of Health however insists there is insufficient evidence that such a service is warranted. The reality is that most patients who are trying to come off these drugs cannot find a doctor with sufficient knowledge of the adverse effects of psychotropic drug withdrawal and when patients describe their horrendous symptoms they are generally met with disbelief and often labelled as mentally ill. This causes deep distress to patients who are already suffering so very much. It seems that many GPs are quite simply out of their depth and have no idea what to do for such patients. Often more drugs are offered which only serves to make matters worse. Personally, I have withdrawn from a benzodiazepine and an SSRI and am physically and cognitively disabled. No doctor will acknowledge the cause of my symptoms or my disability.




Competing interests: No competing interests

05 August 2017
Fiona H French
Member of online support community for drugs of dependence