Laurence Leamer, a bestselling Kennedy historian, wrote a controversial column this week in The Daily Beast that asked if antidepressants could have helped drive Mary Richardson Kennedy to suicide.
According to Leamer, it's the question that Kennedy family members are asking this week in the light of a just-released Westchester County medical examiner’s report revealing the estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Junior had three antidepressants in her system - Trazodone, Venlafaxine, and Desmethylvenlafaxine - when she hanged herself in May.
'A doctor would never prescribe more than one antidepressant,' Doctor Frank Vaccaro, a New York psychiatrist, told Leamer. 'More than one is an overkill.'
Leamer also quoted Doctor G. Heath King, a Florida psychoanalyst and former Yale professor, who concurred with Doctor Vaccaro's opinion.
'In excess, some side effects are exaggerated. Even at standard doses, Venlafaxine alone has been shown in at least three independent international studies to significantly increase the risk of suicide.'
Other medical experts quoted by Leamer took the view that there are occasions when psychiatrists will prescribe a mix of antidepressants as an effective treatment for their patients.
Leamer quotes sources close to the family who told him that Mary changed antidepressants in 2006, adding that they believed it was highly likely that the three antidepressants found in her body were prescribed at different times and that she had decided to take them together herself.
Mary struggled with alcohol abuse for several years although there were no traces of alcohol in her system at the time of her death.
In 2006 she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder by Sheenah Hankin, a Manhattan psychotherapist. Later Doctor John Gunderson, a Harvard psychiatrist who is often referred to as the father of BPD research, agreed with Hankin’s assessment.
The Richardson family deny that their late sister Mary had borderline personality disorder, insisting instead that she was depressed.
Leamer is author of the trilogy The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men, and Sons of Camelot.