Dr Declan Gilsenan said in his 30-year experience carrying out postmortems, he had seen “too many suicides” after people had started taking the drugs and questioned whether GPs were over-prescribing them.
He said the evidence is “more than anecdotal” and he is willing to meet the minister with responsibility for mental health on the issue, as part of a delegation organised by campaigner Leonie Fennell.
Ms Fennell is the mother of Shane Clancy, who took his own life after killing his friend Sebastian Creane.
He had just started a course of anti-depressants and it is believed he took more than the prescribed amount.
At Mr Clancy’s inquest, Dr Gilsenan testified that there were “toxic” levels of citalopram (brand name Celexa or Cipramil) in Mr Clancy’s blood.
Ms Fennell has been campaigning since Mr Clancy’s death to raise awareness about the potential dangers of anti-depressants and is seeking a meeting with Kathleen Lynch, minister of state with responsibility for mental health.
She has enlisted the help of Dr Gilsenan and a former minister, who does not want to be named at this time, but who also has serious concerns regarding side-effects and over-prescribing of the drugs, whose popular brands include Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro Paxil and Celexa.
“Based on my experience of doing postmortems on people where anti-depressants have been started fairly recently I would have concerns about the link to suicide,” Dr Gilsenan said.
He said the argument will be made that people who start taking anti -depressants are of course depressed, and so could be at risk of suicide. “This will be used against what I am saying, but in my work I have just seen too many cases. There are things like accumulation in the system and dose-related concerns, where people go over a safe level, and I am willing to sit down with the minister and talk to her about these things.”
Dr Gilsenan said doctors need to be more careful when prescribing anti-depressants and people need to be monitored more carefully. “It certainly seems GPs are using anti-depressants very frequently. These are very important drugs to psychiatry and if they are deemed to be harmful then it’s a big blow to them and that’s why they are defended so much.”
Another expert, Professor David Healy, who also gave evidence at Mr Clancy’s inquest, maintains the pharmaceutical industry is being protected by psychiatry.
In the case of Mr Clancy, the Irish College of Psychiatry came out in defence of the drugs at a time when families in grief were going through a high-profile inquest.
Prof Healy said that although companies are legally obliged to agree that their drugs can cause people to take their lives, psychiatry is not. “Here they offer one of the greatest services they can to companies — they can and regularly do offer apologias for industry. They state in public that not only did the drugs not cause a problem, but that they cannot cause a problem,” he said.
At Mr Clancy’s inquest, Prof Healy stated that in a small but significant minority of patients, using anti-depressants can give rise to violent behaviour.