(NaturalNews) Taking sedatives or sleeping pills increases the suicide risk of senior citizens by 300 percent, according to a study conducted by researchers from Gothenburg University in Sweden and published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.
Researchers compared the medical records of 85 Gothenburg residents above the age of 65 who had committed suicide with a group of the same age who had not committed suicide. After adjusting for suicide risk factors relating to each individual's history of mental illness, the researchers found that neither antidepressant nor antipsychotic use led to an increase in suicide risk. In contrast, the rate of suicides was four times higher among those who took sedatives or hypnotics (sleeping pills) as among those who did not.
Sedative and hypnotics are widely prescribed to seniors suffering from anxiety, depression or insomnia. Previous research has indicated that having any of these conditions already increases a person's suicide risk.
"Persons with these problems might be more likely to seek health care and perhaps more likely to receive prescriptions for psychotropic drugs," the researchers wrote.
Sedatives and hypnotics are typically indicated only for short-term use, and doctors are already urged to prescribe them to older adults with caution, as they can increase the risk of falls. The current study only adds to the risks associated with the drugs.
"A careful evaluation of the suicide risk should be carried out when an elderly person presents with symptoms of anxiety and sleep disturbance," the researchers wrote.
The researchers could not determine from this study whether the drugs actually caused an increase in suicidal behavior — such as by increasing impulsiveness or aggression, including the tendency to self-harm — or simply provided an easy means for people to commit suicide, by overdosing.
The World Health Organization estimates that for every person that commits suicide, 10 to 40 attempts are made. An estimated 877,000 people kill themselves every year.