Approximately 14.8 million American adults and 2.1% of children – including 2.6 million adolescents – are suffering from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) every year. The most common modern treatment for MDDs are antidepressants, and it was estimated that 8-10% of the population take them. More than two-thirds of those who take the medication do not even meet the criteria for MDD, and more than one-third do not meet the criteria for any other mental disorder either. Furthermore, a 2008 study actually showed that antidepressants do not work – they have no clinically significant benefit compared to placebo drugs.
In 2008 Irving Kirsch, Department of Psychology, the University of Hull, United Kingdom, led a peer-reviewed study that analyzed both published and unpublished data from 47 clinical trials done by the FDA in order to license four new-generation antidepressants: Fluoxetine, Venlafaxine, Nefazodone, and Paroxetine. The data that was retrieved using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Different sources have reported Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Venlafaxine (Effexor) to cause depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, as well as headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and many other adverse reactions. Nefazodone has similar side effects but also can cause liver failure (and has been discontinued in many countries). All four drugs come with a similar warning:
“Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in short-term studies in children and adolescents with [MDD] and other psychiatric disorders.”
The 2008 study also came to the following surprising conclusions.
Antidepressant Drugs Produced an Effect in a Very Small Number of People with Specific Symptoms
The study has shown that the antidepressants had no effect on people with moderate depression, a very small effect on those with severe depression, and only reached any significant difference in patients at the very upper end of the very severely depressed.
“Given these results, there seems to be little reason to prescribe antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients, unless alternative treatments have failed to provide a benefit,” said Professor Kirsch.
Even for the People Who Had an Improvement – The Effect was Small, Almost the Same as a Placebo
The study concluded that even though the drugs showed some effect on severely depressed patients, the effect was small. It was also shown that the increased positive difference between the effect of placebo and the effect of the drugs were due to decreased responsiveness to placebo in severely depressed patients rather than increased responsiveness to the drugs.
Pharmaceutical Companies Withhold Important Data All the Time – And Only Show the Studies that Have “Better” Results
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK approved these antidepressant drugs because they only had access to the studies that showed better results, according to Kirsch.
“This study raises serious issues that need to be addressed surrounding drug licensing and how drug trial data is reported,” said Professor Kirsch, “The pharmaceutical companies should be obliged when they get a drug licensed to make all the data available to the public. When you analyze all the trials of these SSRIs, both published and unpublished, it leads you to more sober conclusions.”
The Independent reported that Tim Kendall of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ research unit has said that getting access to the unpublished trials has been impossible in the past.
“The companies have this data but they will not release it. When we were drawing up the guidelines on prescribing antidepressants to children [in 2004] we wrote to all the companies asking for it but they said no,” said Kendall.
Alternative Methods of Treatment Need to Be Tried First
Professor Kirsch concluded that antidepressants should be used only after trying every other alternative treatment method available, including counseling and “talking therapies” and physical exercise, reported The Independent.
Psychologist Nikki Martinez wrote about different types of alternative methods to treat depression in Chicago Tribune. The therapist recommended the following (note that this is not for those who are severely depressed or suicidal):
- Life changes such as a balanced routine, having small goals to work towards, finding a way to fight stress, helping others and staying active have a great effect on overall level of depression.
- Diet that includes all the necessary vitamins such as omega-3 fatty acids. If unable to get all your vitamins from food, getting a multivitamin (for men or women) can be a good option.
- Exercise is important because it boosts endorphins in our body.
- Getting enough sleep and sticking to a regular schedule helps the body balance itself. Not getting enough sleep – especially not sleeping long enough to let the brain get into the deepest level of sleep – prevents the brain from restoring itself, therefore hinders the ability to achieve being in a good mood.
- Therapy can be a great help to those who are going through difficulties in life that may be causing negative thoughts and dark emotions.
- Some studies have shown promising results for supplements such as SAMe, St. John’s Wort, fish oil, and Folic acid.
- More and more research has been supporting meditation and yoga as techniques that have positive impact on the mood, while reducing stress levels.
- Another option to explore is light therapy boxes (especially useful during the winter months).
This article is for informational purposes only and should not constitute medical advice. Consult a licensed naturopathic doctor for more information.