Lessons from SSRIStories #4: How is SSRI-Related Violence Different?

Summary of Post #3: The same mechanisms that induce violence in users of SSRIs can induce suicide. These mechanisms are akathisia, emotional blunting and delirium-psychosis. These are not uncommon effects, although the degree to which individuals experience them varies, and people may experience more than one of these side effects at once. Fortunately, severe delirium-psychosis, which causes those affected to experience unpredictable delusions that render them completely unaware of reality, is rare.

SSRI-induced violence

Violence and violent people have always existed. There have always been people who have little conscience, and scant regard for the rights and feelings of others. They may commit violent acts, without caring about the damage they cause. “Regular” violent crime tends to be motivated by such factors as jealousy, fear, lust, greed and revenge. The general public does not feel at risk from the perpetrators of these crimes because it is apparent why the victims were targeted. The public does not fear the jealous lover who murders the object of his passion or a rival, the armed bank robber, or the wife who poisons her husband for insurance money.


SSRI-induced violence is different, and these are the incidents that strike fear in the public because of their unpredictability. Often there is no warning, and no discernible motive.   Sometimes, the violent action comes out of nowhere in response to a sudden impulse.  Other times the violence involves elaborate planning, but still involves thought distortion, for example in mass shootings in public places or schools. These plans often involve suicide by the perpetrator, revealing the close link between the suicidal and homicidal impulses the drugs can cause. SSRI violence can manifest as overreactions so extreme as to defy rational explanation. None of these events have a rational motive and many have a bizarre aspect which makes the violence even more upsetting. SSRIstories has posted hundreds of news articles in which neighbours and family members declare that the violent act was completely out of character for the person responsible or in which police state that they are baffled about motive.

SSRI-induced suicide

Just as there has always been violence, there has always been suicide.  It is a complicated subject, difficult to think about and to understand.   But just as violence that results from taking SSRIs (and some other drugs) is different, so too is drug-induced suicide.   People who lose a loved one to SSRI-induced suicide agonize over having missed the warning shutterstock_260998763signs they assume must have existed. But there may well not have been any forethought, motive or warning signs.   When  medication interferes with a person’s normal judgement and fear, perhaps a sudden idea about suicide seems like a reasonable way to solve a problem. 

Many SSRI suicide deaths are the result of hanging. Often the victim will hang himself/herself from a low place, like a door knob. The implications of this are obvious, because it takes sustained effort to die in this way.  Some other suicides involve bizarre actions such as the person lighting themselves on fire, creating an additional distressing aspect to an already horrifying situation.  These may be rare cases where delirium-psychosis is at work. Despite this, the differences between suicide that occurs as a result of medication, and suicide that occurs without medication, are not as obvious as with violence toward others. It is interesting that, with suicide, the role of the medications is recognized as a drug side effect more often than is violence to others.

SSRIStories examples

Most of the time, drugs are mentioned in connection with a violent or suicidal act is to show that the perpetrator was mentally ill and receiving treatment. In 2015, “treatment” means psychoactive medication, yet even where the connection between the meds and the violence appears obvious, mental illness gets blamed, not the meds, and nobody questions this. Unfortunately, most news items do not address the issue of whether or not the perpetrator was taking psychoactive drugs, and it should never be assumed that drugs were not involved, just because they are not mentioned.

Here are a few examples, summarized through excerpts, posted on SSRIstories.org of violence that appears to have been committed while the perpetrator was in a state of mind that was not rational, and was probably delusional:

  • DEPRESSED MOM ATTACKS DAUGHTER WITH HEDGE-CLIPPERS – A Massachusetts woman is facing an attempted murder charge after police say she has attacked her 9-year-old daughter with a pair of electric hedge clippers, nearly severing her thumb… An arrest report cited by the Boston Globe painted a horrific scene inside the Mullins’ residence, with blood staining the walls, floor and bedding of the 9-year-old’s bedroom and other rooms… Anthony Mullin, the suspect’s husband, heard his daughters screaming and was able to force the clippers out of his wife’s hand… Mr. Mullin said that his wife has been taking medication for depression… Responding officers found both the girl and her mother covered in blood. The woman, still in her husband’s embrace, was heard repeatedly saying, ‘I just wanted us all to be together.’ According to Mr. Mullin, before police arrived, his wife grabbed a kitchen knife and threatened to stab him and take her own life. Police have yet to determine the motive behind the attack… The family’s neighbors in Westwood were stunned by the sudden outbreak of violence in the quiet community, describing the couple and their girls as seemingly happy and friendly.

  • MAN STABS 10-YEAR-OLD SON OF GIRLFRIEND TO DEATH – FULLERTON – A man who stabbed to death his girlfriend’s 10-year-old boy and then tried to decapitate the body was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. Efrain Loza Arteaga, 28, of Anaheim was sentenced Friday in Superior Court. He was convicted in August of first-degree murder and use of knife in the Jan. 22, 2000, slaying of Francisco Meza. A jury ruled that he was sane when he used a kitchen knife to stab the fifth-grader more than a dozen times in the neck and chest. “We never really figured out a motive,’ prosecutor Kevin Haskins said. Defense attorney George Donveas argued that Arteaga, who suffered from depression, had a hallucination after taking the drug Prozac.

  • CHILD’S MULTIPLE DIAGNOSES CREATE CHALLENGES FOR TOPEKA FAMILY – Three years ago, Topeka resident Courtney Davis received a message from her husband, James, that their 7-year-old son Luke was in trouble at school. Luke, who has autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,
    bipolar disorder and Tourette’s syndrome, had been prescribed new medication. Davis said an adverse reaction to the drugs caused her son to experience a “psychotic break,” during which he assaulted more than a dozen people at Shaner Elementary and ended up beating his body against a concrete wall at the school. “We’ve tried about 60 medications since then to control his disorders,” she said. Today, Luke is enrolled at Hope Street Elementary, where he is in a classroom with one teacher and two paraprofessionals and receives group counseling from Family Service and Guidance Center staff. He is taking three medications — Adderall XR, Seroquel XR and Zoloft.
  • LIFE FOR MAN WHO STABBED WIFE MORE THAN 500 TIMES – A HUSBAND inflicted more than 500 knife wounds on his terrified wife in a ferocious attack after completely losing his self-control “in a volcanic eruption”. Judge Globe said that precisely what happened on the afternoon of September 11 last year might never be known and had had to be pieced together by forensic investigation and a pathologist. “What is clear is that you took the life of your wife in acts of gruesome and savage violence and she must have suffered considerably before she died.” He said that although Bailey had suffered from depression, for which he received medication, no one had believed he was a risk to others, “still less capable of committing an offence of this seriousness”. The court heard that his extraordinary behaviour continued after the mid-afternoon attack as Bailey, wearing a Liverpool FC shirt and covered in blood, stormed round to the home of neighbour, Glynis Boyle, and banged on her window with a foot long knife. “He looked possessed. He looked wild, like a maniac and was shouting obscenities and ‘I have killed her’,” she later told police. She rang 999 and escaped into her back garden. Meanwhile Bailey got into her house and caused £20,000 worth of damage, including stabbing furniture. Police officers arrived and after escorting Mrs Boyle to safety could see Bailey bizarrely sitting watching television, still armed with the knife, said Andrew Edis, QC, prosecuting. Armed officers arrived but before they were able to subdue him with CS gas he stabbed himself in the chest with the knife puncturing his diaphragm, and had to be taken to hospital. Mr Edis said that the couple had been married since 1990 and appeared happy…When Bailey, an ADHD sufferer, was interviewed he said they had argued after they went into the kitchen for a cup of tea and he ‘snapped.’
  • PHONE CALLS OFFER FEW CLUES TO WHY MAN KILLED WIFE, MOM – The phone message from Robert Sarnow to his best friend, Henry Zibman, was chilling and to the point. “This is Bob. I killed Ollie at the house. I’m at Hillcrest. I killed mom,” Sarnow said. “See you later. No, I won’t see you later. That’s about it. Goodbye.” Minutes later, Robert Sarnow, a retired police crime scene technician, was himself dying, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Almost two weeks after the June 21 murder-suicide in Hollywood, no one knows why he did what he did. “He was a happy-go-lucky guy,” said Delrish Moss, a city of Miami detective who worked with Sarnow. “He was quiet, but always upbeat.” But recently, Sarnow had “…seen a doctor and was taking medication. He confided that he had “thought about committing suicide,” according to a Hollywood police report. His last telephone calls offered few clues to his state of mind… He left behind two grown children, a doctor from Shalimar, Fla., and a South Florida advertising professional. He didn’t leave a note. “He was a nice guy who had a bad bout of depression and did something horrible,” Zibman said.

  • FIRE FOILED MURDER PLOT, POLICE SAY – The boy poured the kerosene as his younger sister laid out the knives. The fire would burn slowly, they planned, long enough for them to stab their sleeping grandmother and their two siblings. The chilling admission came from an 11-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister, accused of starting a fire early yesterday morning in their Pleasant Township home to kill their strict grandmother. Follette, who escaped the blaze with the four grandchildren, said she learned the truth hours after the 2:45 a.m. fire when the sister told her of the plan while the family ate breakfast at a restaurant. The plan…was foiled when the fire spread too quickly and the smoke awakened one of their siblings, who roused the household. She said the two had been sexually abused by relatives and have been on medication for depression.

  • MAN LOSES BID TO VISIT CHILDREN JAILED ON CHARGES OF ATTACKING FAMILY WITH DRAIN CLEANER – While the children are recovering from the physical scars caused by the drain cleaner, Landis said, it could be six months before they overcome the emotional trauma. Then they may be able to visit their father without any further harmful emotional affects. – Stasko has testified that he suffers from depression and that since June, he had been prescribed Prozac as part of his treatment.

  • ‘HOW NECESSARY IS PUBLIC VINDICATION?’ CLAUDIA PEDREROS’ HUSBAND TALKS ABOUT THE VERDICT IN HIS WIFE’S MURDER TRIAL – On May 20th, 2011, a confused and nude Claudia Pedreros was found wandering on a remote Trinity County road. Her two and a half year old daughter, Sophia, was missing and later found drowned in nearby Coffee Creek… Parker says his wife began isolating herself about a month after the birth of their daughter and withdrawing with Sophia into her room. We went to see her doctor in Arcata and she was placed on antidepressants.  Over time things became worse and worse.…This escalated into not wanting to leave the house.  If she went to the grocery store, she would feel people staring at her and judging her as a bad mother. Then in the late summer of 2009,… Claudia was continuing to struggle with delusions and act strangely. Sometime before 5 A.M. on the twentieth, …Pedreros was found walking naked down Highway 3 in Trinity Co. near Coffee Creek. She appeared confused and denied having a husband or a daughter.
  • TOOK ZYBAN TO GET ME OFF NICOTINE – NOW MY WHOLE LIFE IS IN RUINS – When Helen Ruddie was prescribed the latest treatment to help her stop smoking, she thought her prayers had been answered. After trying everything from patches to costly acupuncture sessions, she hoped this would finally help her quit the habit. But 10 days after starting on a course of Zyban, the loving mother-of-two claims she became a demon. Helen, 41, says: “I can’t remember a thing, but I am told I was like something out of The Exorcist – so much so that my mum kept sprinkling me with holy water to try and bless me.” In a hysterical fit, Helen threw boiling tea over her husband Michael, tried to jump out of a window and raved wildly about seeing her dad, who had died almost 30 years earlier.
  • TOXICOLOGY FAILS TO EXPLAIN KILLING – Toxicology results from 58-year-old Gary Don Carner’s autopsy indicate his blood-alcohol level was 0.17 and 0.24, said Potter-Randall Special Crimes Lt. Gary Trupe. Two different tests were conducted on Carner’s remains, which is why there were two different totals, he said. Tests also indicated he had a prescription painkiller and an antidepressant in his blood at the time, he said. Trupe said authorities will likely never know why Carner turned violent the night of Aug. 3. He first tried to abduct a 31-year-old woman outside an Amarillo convenience store and then fatally shot Sharrel Blankenbaker, 63, of Felt, Okla., who stepped in to stop Carner from taking her 12-year-old granddaughter outside Love’s Country Store, 14701 W. Interstate 40. He fled Love’s and then abducted an 11-year-old girl walking nearby on Indian Hills Road. Minutes later, Carner was shot and killed by Potter County deputy Steve White, who identified Carner in his vehicle while on patrol. “We still never determined anything that he had in his past that could have triggered this,” Trupe said. “Why all of a sudden this man, who had no criminal history, no history of sexual offenses would do this.”

  • INFANT SLAIN IN LITTLE VILLAGE WAS CUT IN NECK WITH POWER SAW – A 52-year-old woman was taken into custody Monday morning in connection with the death her granddaughter, a 7-month-old girl whose neck was slashed with a circular saw… Family members told authorities that the woman, who had been taking care of the child, …had been taking antidepressant medication, authorities said. A police source said the grandmother stuffed a sock in the girl’s mouth, struck her in the head with a pipe wrench and then cut her neck and shoulder with the circular saw. She then cut her own neck with the saw. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has no record of previous contact with the family.
  • FARMINGDALE MOM WAS BEHEADED BY DISTURBED SON TWO DAYS BEFORE MEETING WITH PSYCHIATRIST TO OBTAIN HIS MEDICATIONS – Pat Ward, 66, had arranged an appointment on Friday with a psychiatrist to get medications for her 35-year-old son, Derek. ‘He killed my sister because we couldn’t get the prescriptions he needed. For four days, he didn’t have his meds,’ the Rev. Robert Lubrano told the Daily News. Derek Ward had become increasingly unstable in the days before the attack, Lubrano said. Pat Ward, 66, decapitated in her Farmingdale, L.I., apartment by her mentally ill son, had arranged a Friday appointment with a psychiatrist to get him back on his meds, the Daily News has learned. Derek Ward, 35, who butchered his mother Tuesday night before taking his own life by jumping in front of a train, was a “sick, sick kid,” according to his uncle. Derek Ward had battled psychiatric problems according to his uncle. Derek Ward had battled psychiatric problems for the past decade, but he had never been violent, Lubrano said. “He never raised his hand to her before this. We never got a real diagnosis. We thought it was schizophrenia or depression”

  • DRIVER WHOSE CAR HIT SCHOOL KIDS WAS LAUGHING – Witnesses say Jocelyne Siebenrock was smiling and laughing as she drove around a Woodland elementary school yard last October, hitting two children and critically injuring one of them, a Yolo County prosecutor said… Siebenrock will be tried on multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon and causing injuries while driving under the influence. Woodland Police Sgt. Julie Bryant testified Friday that she interviewed a 7-year-old girl who said Siebenrock was “stiff and smiling” and that an adult, Heidi Mikalic, saw Siebenrock “laughing and intentionally trying to hit the children.”… Jordan noted that her client had a blood-alcohol content higher than the legal limit. “Ms. Siebenrock couldn’t have intended to hurt anyone,” said Jordan… Woodland Police Detective Armando Fernandez said that two hours after the incident Siebenrock was apologetic. Fernandez said Siebenrock blamed several factors: she was angry at having been boxed in, she was driving under the influence of alcohol, she had not taken her anti-depression medication for two days [and so would have been in withdrawal], and her foot became stuck under the accelerator and she lost control of the car. Yolo County Unified Court Judge W. Arvid Johnson disagreed with Jordan and set a trial date of March 21.

  • MAN HELD IN BROTHER’S KILLING UNDERGOES MENTAL EVALUATION – A Dittmer man charged with killing his brother is being held for observation at the Fulton Diagnostic Center of the state Department of Corrections, authorities say. William K. Handley, 27, is charged with murder and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of his brother, Kenny W. Handley, 35, on Jan. 5. … William Handley …was reported to have been using the prescribed drug Prozac. Authorities …said William Handley…had blamed his brother for an incident that authorities believe might not have happened. After the shooting, William Handley abandoned his car and spent the night in a barn. … The sheriff’s department said Handley had admitted to medics that he had shot his brother.
  • NOT TAKING MY MEDICATION – Already in jail for attacking a stranger with a knife, Steven Kennedy told Oakland Park police that he was not taking his medication last week [and so would have been in withdrawal] when he killed and decapitated his lover, court records show. In an interview at the Broward County Jail on Monday, Kennedy, 34, told Detective William Cox that Barbara Jo Stevens, 37, prompted the attack by threatening him while cutting pizza in a “very aggressive manner.”… Police say he stabbed Stevens in the neck numerous times, killing her, then beheaded her with the same knife.
  • Autopsy report shows man in murder/suicide had several drugs in his system  – Police say Marcus Slattery, 44, killed his girlfriend, Deborah Steele, 58 before killing their dog and then turning a gun on himself.  A medical examination found antidepressants in Steele’s system as well… Investigators tell Channel 3 they still have a lot of questions… Neighbors are left to wonder why they didn’t any see signs of trouble.

Here are a few examples, summarized through excerpts, posted on SSRIstories.org of suicides that appear to be the result of an SSRI-induced altered state of mind:

  • MICK HUCKNALL’S COUSIN HARRY, 10, WAS LET DOWN BY AUTHORITIES BEFORE HE HANGED HIMSELF – …the depressed ten-year-old cousin of singer Mick Hucknall hanged himself. [Coroner] Ian Smith hit out at the pressures placed on youngsters by today’s society after being told of the death of Harry Hucknall, who was given fluoxetine and Ritalin for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.  In September, he was found dead in his locked bedroom in the home he shared with his mother in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria.


  • MUM’S HEARTACHE AFTER SON HANGS HIMSELF AT HOSPITAL’S £20M SPECIALIST SUICIDE WARD – Depressed Liam McQuade, 26, from Arbroath, was admitted to the showpiece Susan Carnegie Centre at Stracathro Hospital in Angus after his family discovered he was trawling suicide websites. They were assured he was on close observation at the NHS Tayside unit.  Jody, who also has two teenage children, said: “My son wasn’t a drinker or into drugs. In fact, for the last year, he was on a real health kick and going to the gym.  “But a few months ago he changed from being a happy joker and just slid into depression.” Jody said: “We made sure he got medical help. But the anti-depressants seemed to make him worse and doctors kept increasing the dose.”
  • SUICIDE GIRLS ON ANTIDEPRESSANTS BANNED IN BRITAIN – Friends Zoe Gough and Felicia Goodson hanged themselves within weeks of each other in Maryborough, on Queensland’s central coast. The deaths of Zoe in April 2009 and Felicia a month later, revealed last Saturday by The Weekend Australian, have been cloaked in secrecy.  Coroner’s reports obtained by The Australian confirmed Felicia had traces of the “prescribed anti-depressant” Venlafaxine in her system when she died, and Zoe had been taking the anti-depressant Zoloft for a number of months prior to her death.
  • OVERWHELMED: TEACHER JANE KILLED HERSELF AFTER WORK PRESSURE GOT TO HER – A YOUNG teacher committed suicide by setting herself on fire after the pressure of work made her depressed.  Jane Dibb, 28, fell ill after finding her job as a drama teacher on a one-year contract had been advertised. She set herself alight in March near a Dartmoor beauty spot and staggered half-a-mile to a clearing where her body was found by police search teams, an inquest heard yesterday.  Her dad Alan Dibb said: “Towards the end of 2001, Jane called me at about 9.30pm to say she was overwhelmed by the amount of work she had to do.  “I drove over to help her – she explained she had to write about 26 reports and mark lots of essays.  He said: “Since she died I have done some research on Seroxat and I believe she acted completely out of character. She had a lot of things going for her. She had a good job, a house and a boyfriend of 10 years. The pupils loved her, the parents loved her and other teachers loved her.”
  • FAMILY: PATIENT’S TOO-SOON RELEASE LED TO HIS SUICIDE – NATCHEZ­ – A day before officials at the state mental hospital at Whitfield released his 32-year-old son, Jody Rutter alleges they gave him this choice: Pick your son up tomorrow, or we’ll release him to a homeless shelter.  Three days after being released on June 25 to his grandmother, Rutter’s son David committed suicide.  Jody Rutter said he pushed to get his son committed to the State Hospital hoping doctors would help treat him for mental illness and increasing talk of suicide. He said he’d noticed that his son’s talk of suicide had gotten worse since a physician prescribed the antidepressant Paxil.  The nurse practitioner who told him about his son’s release emphasized David was not bipolar and said doctors increased the amount of Paxil he was taking, Rutter said.  On June 28, David Rutter walked onto the front porch of his 87-year-old grandmother’s house and hanged himself with an electrical cord.
  • A BROWARD FOSTER CHILD WHO KILLED HIMSELF LAST WEEK HAD BEEN PRESCRIBED POWERFUL PSYCHIATRIC DRUGS – WEEKS before his death, Gabriel Myers, the 7-year-old Broward boy who hanged himself in the shower of his foster home, had been prescribed a powerful mind-altering drug linked by federal regulators to an increased risk of suicide in children. On Thursday, Gabriel locked himself in a bathroom and hanged himself with a detachable shower head after arguing with the 19-year-old son of his foster dad about his lunch, Moss said.  Gabriel originally had been prescribed Vyvanse, an attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug approved for kids aged 6 through 12, Lexapro, an anti-depressant which is not approved for children, and Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic drug that also is not approved for kids, said Moss.

Visitors to SSRIstories.org will be able to find hundreds more examples like those above.

Next:  What Does Research Tell Us About the Connection between SSRIs and Violence?