Depressing truth about antidepressants
by Tina Amirkiai
Jan 27, 2010
If you are one of the millions of people taking antidepressants for mild depression symptoms, you might as well be taking a placebo.
A study released by a team of researchers led by Jay C. Fournier, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, found that the most commonly prescribed antidepressants do little for mild to moderate symptoms of depression, having the same results as a placebo.
The study, published in the Jan.6 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, combining previous studies with research from new clinical trials, concluded, “There is little evidence to suggest that [antidepressants] produce specific pharmacological benefit for the majority of patients with less severe acute depressions.”
Dr. Paul Dobransky, a Chicago psychiatrist, believes professionals need to look closely at each individual patient’s symptoms and carefully diagnose the best treatment. He said there are three angles that must be looked at when it comes to mood disorders, which he referred to as the “bio-psycho-social” aspects.
“The biological or physical symptoms of mood disorders are where medications are often useful,” he said. “They cannot however, alter one’s character, personality or fix any external or social stress the patient might be dealing with.”
Researchers used a severity scale to evaluate the level of depression symptoms in the hundreds of clinical trial patients, which ultimately helped determine that the antidepressants were most effective for those with more severe disorders.
Researchers evaluated the 728 men and women, half of them had severe depression and the other half had more moderate symptoms. They found that compared to the placebos, the drugs caused a much steeper reduction of symptoms in people who scored higher on the severity scale.
Researchers concluded that, “For patients with very severe depression, the benefit of the medications over placebo is substantial.”
Dobransky and other critics maintain that the drug companies should be held accountable for all the advertising and sales hype in recent years, leading directly to the overuse of drugs like antidepressants.
In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration loosened the restrictions on the direct-to-consumer advertising by drug companies. Since then, pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars advertising their products to the general public.
Dobransky said a big part of the problem is patients see advertisements and want to use these drugs as a quick fix. According to him, patients often assume that mild cases of depression involving stressful situational causes can be resolved with medicine. But he said quick fixes like that do not exist.
“Each case needs to be set in its proper place and in many of these cases, therapy between the patient and their doctor is the best solution,” Dobransky said.
One antidepressant user, who asked that her name be withheld, said when she sought help for what she considered to be minor depression, doctors immediately told her drugs were the answer. “They made it seem like my world was falling apart,” the 29-year-old said. “They really pushed hard for me to take drugs, and I didn’t want to, but they made me think I really needed it. So I took them.”
She said that after a few weeks on Prozac, she felt numb then started having dangerous thoughts. “I became emotionless. Like, things that should’ve made me happy, I was not excited about. Things that should have made me sad didn’t upset me. I started dreaming about driving my car into a wall.” She said that according to her doctor, these were all symptoms of her depression, but she thinks it was the drugs.
“I just felt like instead of my doctor doing her job as a therapist, she looked to some drug to cure me, which is ridiculous,” she said. “It’s basically a quick fix, it solves nothing, and in my case turned mild symptoms into severe ones.”
A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, who makes paroxetine, sold as Paxil, told Bloomberg News that “the study used for the analysis in the JAMA paper differ methodologically from studies used to support the approval of paroxetine for major depressive disorder, so it is difficult to make direct comparisons between the study results.”
If you think you might be depressed, the Depression Health Center on the WebMD Web site advises relying on licensed professionals trained to treat depression who can help you chose the best course of treatment, which may or may not include antidepressant drugs.
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