What should I do if I suspect that antidepressants may have played a role in the suicide of a family member?
There is always an inquest following a suspected suicide and the coroner’s office will be in touch with the family very soon after the death to discuss the inquest. You should inform the corner’s office of your concerns. Don’t assume that the impact of antidepressants will naturally be examined during the inquest, as it may not be. Families often have to be quite proactive if they want this to be looked into.

Will the coroner look into whether antidepressants may have prompted the suicide?
Some coroners are more proactive in areas like this than others. Some coroners have called for further investigations into antidepressants and suicide or have asked for better warnings when antidepressants are prescribed, others just do the minimum to fulfil their legal obligations and are not so interested in preventing future deaths. In legal terms, the strongest action a coroner can take is to write a Rule 43 letter to warn of the possibility of other deaths in similar circumstances. The letter can be sent to organisations which are in a position to reduce future risks. Although the receiving organisation is not obliged to act on the contents of the letter, there is an obligation to reply. But comments made by coroners at the end of an inquest are often reported by the press and can, therefore, reach a wide audience.

How will the inquest work?
The inquest will be opened a few days after the death and then adjourned to allow the coroner time to gather witness statements. An interim death certificate can be issued once the inquest has been opened.

What will happen at the full inquest hearing?
Witnesses will be called and asked questions about the death by the coroner. The family can also ask questions. Witnesses are likely to include any witnesses to the death and professionals who became involved. This might typically include a police officer, pathologist and GP. One or more family members may be asked to give evidence about the last time they saw the deceased alive and their demeanour leading up to the death. Some witnesses will not attend in person, but will have submitted a statement, which will be read out by the coroner or the coroner’s officer.

Will there be a jury?
Not usually, but it depends on the nature of the death. In some areas an inquest involving a death on a railway will be held in front of a jury.

Can the family call witnesses?
Witnesses are called by the corner, but families can ask that an expert witness be consulted if they have particular concerns. This will be done at the discretion of the coroner. If an expert witness is called, they will be asked to submit a report, which will be read out at the inquest. They may also be asked to attend the inquest. David Healy, a professor of psychopharmacology and experts in antidepressants and suicide, has given evidence as an expert witness at several inquests.

What sort of verdict can I expect?
The likely verdicts at the inquest of a suicide are ‘suicide’, ‘open verdict’ or a ‘narrative’ verdict. An open verdict is often given when the coroner, or jury, cannot be sure whether the deceased intended to take their own life, including instances where a psychiatric condition may have made it difficult for the person to make a rational decision. A narrative verdict allows more detail to be given than a ‘short form’ verdict, giving the circumstances of death, without attributing the death to a single cause.