Treatment of Depression Decreases Suicide Study Indicates: Findings Linked to Euthanasia Prevention

By Elizabeth O’Brien

SEATTLE, Washington, July 6, 2007 ( - A recent Health Group study indicates that treating depression decreases suicide rates, and that the success of the treatment is not heavily dependent on the type of treatment—whether medication, psychotherapy or both. Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, emphasized the importance of this link between depression and suicide since it bears directly on the sadness and loss of hope that often leads people to choose euthanasia as well.

Advocates of euthanasia often argue that those who choose euthanasia do so in order to escape the unbearable pain of a terminal illness, while Schadenberg and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition point to research that has indicated that most who choose euthanasia do so because of treatable psychological distress, or depression, often caused by feelings of being burdensome to their caretakers.

Published in the July American Journal of Psychiatry, the extensive study followed the development of more than 109,000 adolescents and adults from 1996 to 2005. The results indicated that people who suffer from depression have a decreased level of suicide risk after the first month of being treated.

The fact that they received treatment, however, was more important than the type of treatment. The suicide-rate increased and decreased, for example, among adolescents and older people alike during the same time periods. Although suicides are more frequent among adolescents, the suicide rates decreased in both groups by 50 % in the following month after treatment.

Dr. Greg Simon, the Group Health psychiatrist who led the study, stated in Science Daily, "We think that, on average, starting any type of treatment-medication, psychotherapy, or both-helps most people of any age have fewer symptoms of depression, including thinking about suicide and attempting it."

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told that the results of this study are very "important to the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide."

He stated, "There is a direct link between the question of depression and the concern about euthanasia. The number one indicator for someone who might be considering assisted suicide is based on whether they are experiencing depression or emotional/psychological/spiritual pain. By treating that emotional pain, we in turn are reducing the incidents of people who are interested in suicide or assisted suicide."

He noted that "according to a study done in the Netherlands that was published in 2005 by Van der Lee et al (J Clin Oncol 23: 6607-6612, 2005), people who are experiencing depression or emotional, psychological or spiritual distress are 4 times more likely to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide than people with similar symptoms." 

The Dutch study was especially significant because the findings of the researchers contradicted their own bias. The authors of the study wrote, "Our clinical impression was that such requests [for euthanasia] were well considered decisions, thoroughly discussed with healthcare workers and family. We thought the patients requesting euthanasia were more accepting their impending death and we therefore expected them to be less depressed. To our surprise, we found that a depressed mood was associated with more requests." (see

Schadenberg concluded, "Once we deal with the issues of depression and the emotional and psychological pain that people might be experiencing related to illness or their condition, then we find that the interest in people wanting to commit assisted suicide drops significantly."

Read the Joint Statement by Doctors and Lawyers on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide:

Read the report in Science Daily:

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