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Objectives: We aimed to examine the temporal association between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) prescriptions and suicide-related events in children and adolescents. Design: Self-controlled case series. Setting: Electronic health records were used from 479 general practices in The Health Improvement Network (THIN) UK primary care database from 1995 to 2009. Participants: 81 young people aged 10–18 years with a record of completed suicide, 1496 who attempted suicide, 1178 with suicidal ideation and 2361 with intentional self-harm. Main outcome measures Incidence Rate Ratios (IRRs) for completed and attempted suicide, suicidal ideation and intentional self-harm. Results: For non-fatal suicide-related behaviour, IRRs were similar for the time the person was prescribed either SSRIs or TCAs: IRRs increased during pre-exposure, peaked on prescription day, were stable up to the fourth prescription-week, and decreased after the prescriptions were stopped. For both types of antidepressants, IRRs were lower or similar to pre-exposure levels during the period of prescription. For SSRIs, there was an increase in the IRR for completed suicide on the day of prescription (N=5; IRR=42.5, 95% CI 4.5 to 403.4), and during the fourth week of SSRI prescription (N=2; IRR=11.3, 95% CI 1.1 to 115.6). Conclusions: We found that a very small number of young people were prescribed antidepressants and that there was an absence of a sustained increase in rates of suicide-related events in this group. There were no systematic differences between the association of TCAs and SSRIs and the incidence risk ratios for attempted suicide, suicidal ideation or intentional self-harm and, apart from the day of prescription, rates did not exceed pre-exposure levels. The pattern of IRR for suicide for SSRIs was similar to that found in non-fatal suicide-related events. Our results warrant a re-evaluation of the current prescription of SSRIs in young people. We recommend the creation of a pragmatic registry for active pharmacovigilance.

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BMJ Open

Publication Date



Vol 3, Issue 9