This article was initially written for RxISK (independent drug safety website) and published on 17/March/2015.
An Irish Epidemic: Suicide and Homicide on Antidepressants
Leonie Fennell – March 2015
Ireland is currently in the midst of an unprecedented suicide/homicide epidemic. Parents are uncharacteristically killing their children; husbands are killing their wives; brothers are killing their brothers; mothers are killing themselves and their babies, all at an alarming rate.
Dr Michael Curtis, Deputy State Pathologist, recently said
“I’m sure it has happened sporadically before, but the frequency and regularity of what we’re seeing (familicides) seems to be a phenomenon of recent years. We’re seeing it on a regular basis…”
So what is being done to stop this terrible phenomenon? Grand psychiatric words such as familicide, infanticide, siblicide and Parricide attempt to bring some clarity to these tragic incidences but provide little explanation. The media frenzy which follow these deaths largely focuses on the ‘mental health’ of the perpetrator, with the financial position of the more mature perpetrator usually offered up as another causal factor. A useless exercise – following a long Irish recession, families without money worries are actually the exception rather than the Rule.
Every conceivable deed or departure from routine, points as proof that he/she was ‘losing the plot’ before the incident occurred. The ‘mental health’ aspect is then widely discussed, usually ending with recommendations that vulnerable people should seek help. But what if the ‘help’ that a vulnerable person received is actually causing these tragic incidents?
Last year Ireland saw a huge number of these family killings. In Sligo, Shane Skeffington (20) killed his little brother Brandon (9) and then himself. This article in the Evening Herald stated that Shane
“had been receiving psychiatric treatment in a mental hospital just days before the tragedy happened”.
Six weeks later, this time in Cork, Jonathan O’Driscoll, aged 21, killed his twin brothers Thomas and Paddy (again aged 9) and then himself. The Irish Independent described him here as a
‘troubled youth on medication for mental health’.
Last month Michael Greaney, aged 53, killed his wife and attempted to kill his daughter. He then killed himself. After a spell in psychiatric services he was deemed as posing ‘no risk’ to his family. A psychiatrist recommended that he be allowed to return home, no doubt with a prescription filled for some psychiatric drug or other. The Herald stated here that friends
“expressed fears that the glass of wine (he had earlier) may have reacted with his medication to drastically alter his mood”.
What seems shocking, to me at least, is that all of these cases involved knifes. Another common denominator in every one of these cases, is that the perpretrators were receiving recent ‘care’ from irish psychiatric services. By its very nature, particularly in Ireland, the ‘care’ provided involved psychiatric drugs. That these drugs double the risk of suicide and violence, can lead to mania, psychosis, worsening depression and akathisia, is almost always overlooked. Experts say that the most dangerous times are when starting, discontinuing or changing dose (up or down).
When Anna Byrne, a woman heavily pregnant with twins, jumped off Howth Head killing herself and her two unborn boys, the fact that her medication had been recently changed wasn’t seen as a mitigating factor. Despite this report in the Irish Independent that Anna was deemed to be “low risk given that she did not indicate that she was suicidal and had made future plans”, her psychiatrist doubled her dose of Sertraline (aka Zoloft and Lustral), a few days before she jumped to her death.
Much discussions followed about mental health in pregnancy, which only seemed to push vulnerable pregnant women towards the same ‘care’ which may effectively have killed Anna and her boys. The teratogenic effect of these drugs didn’t enter the equation and shockingly, Sertraline was described as “a commonly used antidepressant during pregnancy”.
As I write this, Jane Braidwood, a 65 year old mental health professional, was stabbed to death in Dunlaoghaire, Co. Dublin. Her 31 year old son, Fionn, has been arrested by Gardaí in connection with the killing. The Irish Mirror reported that he is understood to have suffered from serious mental health issues. I can only guess, considering Mrs Braidwood’s profession, that her son also had access to medication.
You may ask why I feel I’m such an expert – how can I make such blatant accusations, how can I can be so sure?
In 2009 my son Shane, aged 22, killed another young man and then himself. Despite the media looking for every possible mitigating factor, there weren’t any. He didn’t have any ‘mental illness’, didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t do drugs and was a model student. In fact he was known by his lecturers as ‘An Chroí mor’ (Irish for ‘the big heart’). Shane was sad; he had broken up with his girlfriend some months beforehand and was struggling to move on. I insisted that he should see a doctor and lo and behold, Shane was prescribed Citalopram (aka Celexa and Cipramil). 17 days later my lovely son killed his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend by stabbing him once; he then killed himself, also by stabbing (19 times). Two others were also injured that night.
We struggled to understand how sensible, kind Shane could harm anyone, never mind himself. We read many clearly made-up media articles all pointing the finger; Shane was guilty, guilty, guilty. Journalists mentioned cocaine, alcohol and even other unsolved deaths in relation to my son. One journalist said that Shane was from a working class background trying to ingratiate himself into the middle classes. Another quoted a Catholic priest as saying Shane’s action were ‘pure evil’. From very early on, Irish psychiatry (as a whole) bombarded the media with letters defending their medical model. Well-known psychiatrist Patricia Casey even posthumously diagnosed Shane on national TV, stating she didn’t think it was the Citalopram that caused Shane’s actions, rather she thought it was the ‘mental illness he was suffering from’.
Strange then that a jury of normal people rejected a suicide verdict – a fact which upset Irish psychiatry enormously. They continued to vehemently defend the drugs, even going as far as contradicting the Coroner, questioning his ability to do his job.
Cohesive opinion within Ireland’s psychiatric services on these family killings, seem patchy and fragmented. In 2009 Professor Denis Gill stated that
“Interpretation and speculation would suggest that post-natal depression, reactive depression, mental illness … were factors in some of these incidents”.
Paul Gilligan, chief executive of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin, has an opposing view. He recently stated that these murder-suicides are
“not typically associated with mental health difficulties” & these incidents “require a great deal more premeditation and planning” than suicide alone.
Mr Gilligan overlooked one very important factor. If these men did not suffer from any mental health issues, then any drugs prescribed to them were wrongly prescribed. Therefore, it is surely conceivably that any psychiatric drugs prescribed in error, could have actually caused more harm than good?
I believe with all my heart that the mental health ‘care’ these people received is to blame for these deaths. I am not alone; Jake McGill Lynch was 14 when he was prescribed Prozac to ‘help with his exams’. The following month he took a rifle that he used recreationally (being a member of a nearby gun-club) and shot himself through the head. His parents were never told that Prozac could cause suicidality in young people or that this drug had a black box warning in the United States. Following Jake’s death, his parents Stephanie and John have been campaigning to increase the warnings here, so that no other young boy or girl is driven to their deaths by these drugs. On the issue of informed consent (or lack of), his mother said
“who in their right mind would give this drug to their child knowing that it could cause suicide?”
I believe that these deaths were preventable. I believe that further deaths are also absolutely preventable. I believe it’s not rocket science. But does the Government care enough? Does the Church care enough? Has Ireland lost its soul?