Millions of Britons are taking anti-depressants for no reason, according to a study that found they made little difference to the condition.

Researchers discovered the drugs, which cost the taxpayer almost £300 million a year, generally work no better than dummy pills, and said exercise and therapy should first be prescribed instead.

How depressing.

8 thoughts on “Really?”

  1. Perhaps some people are prescribed AD’s when other things would be best. But why is that? AD’s are cheap and easy (today anyway). Therapy is expensive and the waiting lists on the NHS are ludicrously long.
    As for exercise – getting depressed people to exercise isn’t all that easy…
    So, the NHS doctors prescribe the easy, cheap, short term option over the expensive, long term option.

    The drugs do work for many patients though, and where they do work they can enable a relatively normal life to be lived.

  2. Hmm…

    I have been teaching for the past decade the obvious fact – which I learned from David Healy’s superb work (eg. Psychiatric Drugs Explained) – that SSRIs are highly-effective anti-anxiety drugs, but are not really antidepressants.

    SSRIs were marketed as antidepressants from about 15 years ago because anti-anxiety benzodiazepine drugs such as diazepam/ valium were at that time being (over) vilified as addictive. It was felt that an ‘anxiolytic’ couldn’t be marketed successfully under that label – and indeed none has been a big success over the past couple of decades. In effect, anxiety has been rebranded as ‘depression’.

    So there is no doubt that SSRIs are effective, but primarily for anxiety symptoms not depression/ melancholia (SSRIs are also very effective to treat premature ejaculation – which probably increases the sum of human happiness).

    But the study makes an error. Everyone knows that SSRIs have significant side effects, that is not in dispute. Therefore if their average therapeutic effect is zero this does not mean the drug is doing nothing; it means that the drugs harm as many people as they help – a very different matter, because it implies that if the drugs were prescribed more selectively then the *potentially* ought to be able to help more people than they harm.

    You certainly wouldn’t want to dispense with SSRIs from the pharmacopea – they are just about the only useful psychiatric drug discovered in the past 30-something years.

  3. Mrs Bunny, an academic psychologist who is very good at meta-analyses and systematic reviews
    (for which she wins grants for) has had a look at the study. She says it is very poor, and she isn’t convinced at all.

  4. Actually, the media reports are quite shrewd; because reporting nonsense as front page news will result in rebuttals and counter-arguments which should keep the story going for quite a while and fill the column inches.

  5. Within the past month, I read a blog comment
    (can’t recall where) made in jest, “I’m addicted to placebos.” And I was duly amused.

    But,’way back in 1956 I met a man–we worked together for two summers–who was “addicted” to Bufferin. He explained to all that he’d been through many lengthy drug-taking episodes–heroin, cocaine, marijuana, psilocybin, LSD
    (which wasn’t even named then, if I recall aright–it was called “lysergic acid X”–and a few others.

    He had, he said, come to the conclusion that he was of an “addictive personality” and that, no matter what drug addiction he quit, he’d eventually wind up with another. So, he’d concluded that the best he could do was to be addicted to something relatively innocuous–and so chose Bufferin.

    I asked him why he hadn’t chosen vitamins of one sort or another–something healthy, at least.
    His answer, which at least seemed well-considered, surprised me. Basically, he said that vitamins or other “good for you” things were, in fact, a similar addiction for those who took them (or, at least, for most of them). But there were two sorts of addicts, in the main: those addicted to “good” things and others, addicted to “bad.”
    And, he even explained that there were people addicted both ways simultaneously: to “healthy” lifestyles and hard drugs at the same time. He even suspected that most “teetotalers” were a form of addict. He was of the “bad” drug type, he’d come to believe, and had managed to settle on Bufferin at the least harmful. He even claimed (both mild in effect) a “rush” with his “hit” (a couple or three 4 or 5 times a day) and “withdrawal symptoms” if he had to go without.

    At the time, I was quietly dubious and somewhat (privately) contemptuous. But, over time, I’ve come to appreciate that, quite possibly, he was “on to something.

  6. Is this report causing the drug company bosses to suffer from depression? If so, will they take some of their own pills?

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