How effective is antidepressant medication?

Most healthcare professionals would agree that treating depression is not as simple as popping a pill and your depression goes away. As in other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, getting well involves making lifestyle changes in addition to medication therapy. In fact, most research studies with antidepressants show that any given medication alone will help usually anywhere from 50-70% of people get at least 50% better (response). Studies also show that less than 30-50% of people experience complete relief of their symptoms (remission) with medication alone.

When researchers try to determine whether an antidepressant works, they compare it to a fake pill or “placebo.” Similar groups of people are divided into one group that gets the real medicine and another group that gets the placebo. The researchers and those participating in the study are “blinded” as to who is on the real medicine and who is on the fake pill. This is called a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. This is the most scientifically accurate method we have for determining how well a treatment works. While people on antidepressants often do well, so does the placebo group. This has caused some to question the true benefit of antidepressant medicine and whether the benefits of taking these types of medications outweigh the risks. The answer for most is yes because in many, though not all studies, the people on antidepressant do better than those on a placebo.
Although a small number of people will say they were “cured” of their depression when they took an antidepressant, the vast majority will feel better but not completely well with just medicine. Many studies and decades of clinical experience have shown that medications are one part of depression treatment. Without counseling, lifestyle changes, good diet, exercise and myriad other proven non-medication depression therapies, you are not likely to do as well as you could or should.
Dr. Pina LoGiudice, LAc, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
As one of the most well prescribed types of drug of all time, over 160 million antidepressant prescriptions are written annually, despite the fact that a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed antidepressants to be no more effective than placebos (sugar pills) in most cases of depression. Anti-depressants are shown to be helpful in the minority of very severely depressed cases, and should be used when needed for these cases.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.