The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) just published a study on antidepressants: “Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity.” The lead authors are from the University of Pennsylvania departments of psychology and psychiatry. Their findings suggest antidepressants are effective for cases of severe depression but not for mild or moderate versions. They looked at studies that compared antidepressant medications to placebo in the treatment of levels of depression varying from mild to severe based on a standard depression rating scale, and they found positive results for antidepressants primarily in the severely depressed sub-population. Their conclusion noted a “minimal or non-existent” benefit for mild to moderate depression.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antidepressant medications are the most prescribed family of medications in the US. That means we consume more antidepressants than medications for any other health problem, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and headaches. Our doctors write well over 100 million prescriptions for antidepressants each year. There are an estimated 14.8 million Americans with depression. The data suggests that we prescribe an awful lot of these medications, and many folks may not really reap significant benefits from them. Many of us may get the impression from commercials and advertisements that we if ask our doctors for a little something to boost our mood, that the right pill should work. Life is rarely that simple.
Antidepressants can also cause significant side effects including:
Weight gain and increased appetite
Fatigue and drowsiness
Insomnia and agitation
I have been concerned in my own practice for a number of years about the large number of patients that I see who seem to obtain less than stellar results from their antidepressants. Certainly, taking medications that make us feel too tired to do much or look overweight or strip us of our desires for sex can worsen depressive symptoms by virtue of their side effects. At the end of the day, our health is still very much an end product of our own specific genetic makeup and the environment we expose it to. Finding the right habitat of brain chemicals, social interactions, family dynamics, and lifestyle patterns that blend well with our own particular DNA still seems to be an elusive discovery for many treating depression and those who experience it.