Prescribing antidepressants to the vast majority of patients is futile, because the drugs have little or no impact at all, according to researchers at the University of Hull,The Financial Times reports.
Almost 50 clinical trials for four drugs, including Prozac, Effexor and Paxil, were reviewed by university psychologists, who found that the latest generation of antidepressants worked no better than a placebo for most depressed patients. Even the trials that suggested some clinical benefit for the most severely depressed patients didn't produce convincing evidence. The study was published in the latest PLoS Medicine.
“The difference in improvement between patients taking placebos and patients taking anti-depressants is not very great," Irving Kirsch, a psychology professor tells the paper. “This means that depressed people can improve without chemical treatments. Given these results, there seems little reason to prescribe anti-depressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients.”
Alison Cobb, the policy officer at Mind, a mental health charity in the UK that wants docs to favor alternative therapies, hailed the findings. "This study represents a serious challenge to the predominance of pharmacological treatments for depression. Anti-depressants have been shown to help many people, but by no means all. Too many general practitioners are being forced to dish out drugs because they don’t have proper access to psychological therapies services which are recommended by Nice,” the UK regulator.
However, Gary Bell, a consultant psychiatrist at Capio Nightingale Hospitals, which provides private psychiatry treatment, contests the conclusions of the Hull research. “Anti-depressants are one of the great breakthroughs in the treatment of depression in last 20 to 30 years,” he tells the paper. "They do not always suit everybody but the results are often life-saving. People who do studies do not have the hands-on experience of using these medicines.”
UPDATE: This is a belated addendum to note that the researchers are psychologists, who theoretically may stand to benefit if greater emphasis is subsequently placed on counseling instead of medications. In fact, the following day, the UK government disclosed plans to spend additional money to train therapists in response to this study (please look here). We should have noted the potential conflict when we first posted this item.
Hat tip to Furious Seasons