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We determined the rates of suicide in two consecutive time intervals of low and high selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescribing for men and women with mood disorders, who were at relatively high risk of suicide, in a discharged hospitalized sample. High quality Swedish national registers were cross-linked to estimate rates of suicide. The results were stratified by three age-bands, and rates of comorbid substance misuse were explored. These were compared with general population suicide rates. There were 1606 suicides in discharged patients with mood disorders. Suicide rates decreased for all women during 1989–94 and 1995–2000 [odds ratio (OR)=0.74, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.64–0.85] and a trend was found towards lower rates in men (OR=0.89, 95% CI=0.78–1.02). Approximately 90% of suicides occurred in those aged over 40 years; thus, the inpatient sample lacked the power to discriminate clear effects in the younger age groups. There was no increase or decrease in the rates of substance use disorders in patients who committed suicide. There were 20 851 suicides in the general population during 1989–2000. Suicide rates were lower at all ages for men and women in the general population in the interval of high SSRI prescribing. We conclude that there is no evidence from this study of an increase in suicide rates following the introduction of SSRIs in the general population or in a high-risk inpatient sample.