A large study by Danish researchers has suggested that using anti-depressants may not help avoid suicides in the elderly.
More than 800, 000 people commit suicide every year all round the world.
In many countries, suicide rates have been falling, a factor attributed to better recognition of depression and the increasing use of antidepressants, particularly the newer selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
But research involving more than 2 million Danes aged 50 and above and living in Denmark between 1996 and 2000, throws this into question, reports the British Medical Journal.
In the research, the scientists assessed changes in the numbers of middle aged and older people committing suicide during this period and the types of antidepressant drugs they had been prescribed.
Only one in five of those committing suicide was actually taking antidepressants at the time of death.
Suicide rates in older men fell by almost 10 per 100, 000 of the population during this timeframe, but among recipients of antidepressants, the fall was less than one.
For older women, only 0.4 of the 3.3 fall per 100, 000 of the population was accounted for by those being treated with antidepressants.
Overall, treatment type made little difference, although rates among men taking SSRIs were slightly higher than among those taking tricyclics.
Suicide rates were five to six times higher among those taking antidepressants than those who were not.
Citing the analysis, the authors conclude that current antidepressant treatment accounts for only a fraction of the falls in suicide rates among older people.
But they nevertheless suggest that more should be done to pick up and treat depression among older people.
The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.