Family calls for more research into anti-depressants

THE family of a respected businessman who died suddenly during his recovery from depression has urged Irish doctors to conduct more research into anti-depressants.

Nicholas (Nico) Maguire’s sisters made the call at Cork City Coroner’s Court after the city’s deputy coroner, Philip Comyn, returned an open verdict in relation to their brother’s tragic death.

Mr Maguire, aged 52, from Lindville, on Blackrock Road in Cork, ran Abbeyside & Co, a successful construction and interior fit-out firm.

But last June, the once happy, cheerful and mild-mannered businessman, who had no history of psychiatric problems and no previous incidents of self-harm, presented at his GP with depression and suicidal thoughts. He blamed business pressures.

He was found dead less than three weeks later outside his mother’s home after apparently trying to take his own life.

However, the inquest heard detailed evidence that he changed his mind at the last minute. Tragically, it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The inquest was told that Mr Maguire went to his GP, Dr Orla Batt, on June 8, complaining of anxiety and depression.

Dr Batt said he expressed suicidal thoughts but had changed his mind.

With help from his wife, Angela, Mr Maguire began making plans to reduce the business pressures.

Dr Batt, who described Angela as a “pillar of strength”, prescribed Sertraline, an anti-depressant with the brand name, Lustral, as well as an anti-anxiety drug, to help him.

He visited his GP again on June 11, 15, and 24 — just two days before his death — and Dr Batt said she felt he was improving.

But his family said they saw a dramatic change in his personality while he was taking Sertraline.

They said he told them he was “driven mad” by the tablets and was having terrible dreams.

Family members have spent several months trawling through the medical literature, researching anti-depressants.

“Doctors in Ireland should do more research into the tablets they are prescribing,” one of his sisters, Liz Cunningham, said.

However, Professor Ted Dinan, a professor of Psychiatry at Cork University Hospital and an expert in pharmacology, said Mr Maguire had severe depression.

“People with severe depression can experience profound personality change. It doesn’t mean the drugs were to blame,” he said.

He said there is an increased risk of suicide in people who are in the “recovery phase” of depression, and that he is not aware of any convincing evidence that taking Sertraline actually leads to suicidal behaviour.

In fact, in countries where drugs like it have been introduced, the rate of suicide has actually dropped, he said.

“The use of Sertraline helps to reduce suicidality and reduce depression. The public should have no concerns about these drugs,” he said.

He also described Dr Batt’s course of action as a “sensible approach” which is regularly followed in primary care and psychiatric health care settings.

Following submissions from solicitor Cormac O’Hanlon, representing Mr Maguire’s widow, Mr Comyn said: “Overall, it seems to me he did intend to take his own life, but he changed his mind, but changed it too late. In the last moments, he did not intend to take his own life.”

He recorded an open verdict and expressed his deepest sympathies to Mr Maguire’s family on their tragic loss.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Cunningham said: “People should stand up and ask more questions. If this can help just one family, or one person, then the Maguire family will be happy.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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