More people need anti-depressants, study finds

With more than 350 million people experiencing depression worldwide, many people turn to prescription drugs and anti-depressants to better manage their condition.

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In some cases, people are put on increased dosages because they believe their depression isn’t getting any better. However, a new study by the University of Oxford and published in The Lancet Journal claims all anti-depressants are effective when it comes to adults with major depression symptoms.

As part of the study, researchers analysed 522 previous trials and discovered that anti-depressants are almost always more effective than placebo when it comes to treating short-term depression in adults.

The UK study analysed 21 of the most common anti-depressants used to treat depression and found that every single one of them was more effective than placebo treatments. Some had small impacts, while others were moderate, depending on the drug.

More than 116,477 patients were analysed as part of the study, using the largest amount of unpublished data to date. Dr Andrea Cipriani, lead author of paper, said the findings were key to helping both patients and doctors treat depression.

“Our study brings together the best available evidence to inform and guide doctors and patients in their treatment decisions,” she said in a statement. “We found that the most commonly used antidepressants are more effective that placebo, with some more effective than others. Our findings are relevant for adults experiencing a first or second episode of depression – the typical population seen in general practice.”

Currently, just one in six people with depression are receiving the correct treatment they need in countries such as Australia, Britain and America. The number is much worse for people in developing countries, with just one in 27 people seeking treatment.

Reboxetine was the drug least-likely to improve mental health, while Amitriptyline proved most successful in the study. Fluoxetine, which many people know as Prozac, was one of the least-effective drugs analysed in the study. Still, it should be noted that different drugs have different impacts on individuals. Something that may work for one person may have a completely different reaction for someone else.

Dr Cipriani added that while anti-depressants are effective, they shouldn’t always be the first option when it comes to tackling depression. “Antidepressants can be an effective tool to treat major depression, but this does not necessarily mean that antidepressants should always be the first line of treatment,” she said.

“Medication should always be considered alongside other options, such as psychological therapies, where these are available. Patients should be aware of the potential benefits from antidepressants and always speak to the doctors about the most suitable treatment for them individually.”

Co-author Professor John Ioannidis acknowledged there was much speculation surrounding the effectiveness of anti-depressants, despite millions of people around the world taking the drugs.

“Anti-depressants are routinely used worldwide yet there remains considerable debate about their effectiveness and tolerability,” he said in a statement. “By bringing together published and unpublished data from over 500 double blind randomised controlled trials, this study represents the best currently available evidence base to guide the choice of pharmacological treatment for adults with acute depression.

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“The large amount of data allowed more conclusive inferences and gave the opportunity also to explore potential biases.”

What do you think? Do more people need to be on antidepressants, or should people be looking at other ways to overcome depression?