Club fears drugs and deaths link — (Taranaki Daily News)

SSRI Ed note: Woman's group in rural NZ identifies the link between antidepressants and local suicides.

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Taranaki Daily News

By RICHARD WOODD – Taranaki Daily News 

Friday, 23 May 2008

A rural women’s group believes anti-depressants could be linked to recent suicides in South Taranaki.

The Manutahi Women’s Club says the drugs that may cause suicidal feelings are being too easily and willingly prescribed and usually with no patient followup or monitoring.

The club thinks general practice doctors and staff should take more responsibility for monitoring obviously depressed and potentially suicidal patients, instead of just prescribing drugs.

However, Hawera doctor Keith Blayney says South Taranaki GPs are having trouble just seeing people, let alone doing follow ups.

“Sure there’s room for improvement but just beating up the GPs isn’t going to get results.”

He says it’s the depression that causes suicide, not the drugs and that a determined person cannot easily be stopped.

The women’s club has written a letter asking Taranaki Federated Farmers and the Taranaki District Health Board to express their worries.

It will be raised as a late agenda item at today’s Federated Farmers’ conference in New Plymouth.

President Bryan Hocken says it’s a major issue for rural New Zealand.

Manutahi Women’s Club secretary Susan England said there had been another suicide in the area recently.

“We have had four in the past three years that we know of and all appear to have been on prescribed anti-depressants. We have also heard from friends and relatives in other areas of the effects of these drugs on people.

“If it’s happening in South Taranaki it will be happening elsewhere. The significance is not the number of suicides, but the effect of the anti-depressants. They can make people feel strange and overwhelmed and that’s our big concern.

“We feel that a specific procedure should be in place for all GPs to follow, when someone approaches them with depression.

“We feel there are far too many suicides that may just be through a chemical imbalance due to the medication. There are more suicides than road deaths in New Zealand.”

She said a farmer who recently committed suicide had been experiencing anxiety attacks during the drought.

He was prescribed anti-depressants that carried a warning they may cause suicidal feelings after 10-14 days.

His follow-up appointment was set for two weeks after the first consultation and his death occurred on the 10th day.

His widow told the Taranaki Daily News there should have been a follow-up call from the GP to check on him before his next appointment because of the side effects.

She had read the accompanying pamphlet explaining a whole range of side-effects including feeling suicidal, but doesn’t know what he was told.

She thinks he was probably affected, but doesn’t know for sure.

She never thought he would kill himself and he never said anything to her.

“I always put my trust in the doctor. When they give me medication, I trust them to tell me about any side effects it might have and what to do about it,” she said.

She knows about and supports the womens’ club campaign for GPs to take more responsibility.

Ms England says GPs should alert hospital counsellors, or the Rural Support Trust after the first visit, especially if medication was prescribed.

Those being treated for depression needed to be visited daily by support people.

Members of the women’s club raised the issue at a “Stress in rural communities” seminar in Patea.

They were told by presenters the most-important questions to ask a depressed person: Are you going to kill yourself? Do you have a plan? Do you have the means?

One woman told the seminar: “We want the GP to ask those questions.”

They learned that one in three depressed people do not seek treatment and most of them are men.

There were 10 women at the Patea seminar.

Like Minds Taranaki has run free public seminars in all rural areas this week.

The ninth and last is at the Tikorangi Rugby Club this morning.

National’s Whanganui MP Chester Borrows has met the Manutahi group and supports its concerns.

“I’m going to tell the Minister of Health this is a big issue for rural New Zealand and his DHBs need to be aware of it,” he says.

“I saw the rural suicide numbers climb in the mid-80s and I don’t want to see it again. Farmers are more alone these days and don’t have the opportunity to share their feelings. They don’t do things together as they used to, they are in big business enterprises now and they employ contractors.”