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Early treatment with talk therapy or antidepressants in severely bereaved people and risk of suicidal behavior and psychiatric illness: an instrumental variable analysis

Authors Fenger-Grøn M, Kjaersgaard MIS, Parner ET, Guldin MB, Vedsted P, Vestergaard M

Received 24 November 2017

Accepted for publication 13 May 2018

Published 24 August 2018 Volume 2018:10 Pages 1013—1026


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Vera Ehrenstein

Morten Fenger-Grøn,1,* Maiken Ina Siegismund Kjaersgaard,1,2,* Erik Thorlund Parner,2 Mai-Britt Guldin,1 Peter Vedsted,1 Mogens Vestergaard1

1Research Unit for General Practice and Section for General Medical Practice, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark; 2Section for Biostatistics, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

*These authors contributed equally to the work

Purpose: Losing a loved one to death is a common and natural life-course experience. Still, bereavement has been associated with an increased risk of suicidal behavior and psychiatric hospitalization and little is known of how to counter these adverse events. We aimed to study the effect of early treatment in primary care with talk therapy (TT) or antidepressants (AD) in severely bereaved people.
Methods: We conducted a population-based cohort study including 207,435 adult Danes who experienced a severe loss in 1996–2013. We compared treatment and no treatment with either of the two treatment regimens within 6 months after the loss. The main outcome was a serious mental health condition (defined as suicide, deliberate self-harm, or psychiatric hospitalization) occurring >6 months after bereavement. Adjusted risk differences (RDs) 2 years after bereavement were calculated using both standard regression analysis and instrumental variable analysis (IVA) in which estimated physician preferences for treatment served as instruments.
Results: The standard adjusted regression analysis showed a higher risk of developing a serious mental health condition associated with both TT (RD, 7.1; 95% CI, 5.0 to 9.1 per 1000 people) and AD (RD, 30.1; 95% CI, 25.7 to 34.6 per 1000 people). The IVA, which was used to control for unmeasured confounding, showed that TT was associated with a lower risk of a serious mental health condition (RD, -17.1; 95% CI, -30.7 to -3.5 per 1000 people), whereas the results were inconclusive for AD (RD, -8.6; 95% CI, -62.6 to 45.4 per 1000 people).
Conclusion: This study suggests that early treatment with TT is associated with reduced long-term risk of serious mental health conditions in severely bereaved people. No clear benefit or harm of treatment with AD after bereavement was ascertained since the statistical precision was low.

Keywords: bereavement, loss, suicide, self-harm, practice variation

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