An important story has been flashed around the world, but unfortunately some of the interpretations of the story have been intemperate. In a study published in PLOS Medicine a team of researchers from the University of Hull team concluded the drugs actively help only a small group of the most severely depressed. They based this on a meta-analysis of all clinical trials submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the licensing of the four new-generation antidepressants for which full datasets were available.
The researchers reviewed data on 47 clinical trials, both published clinical trial data, and unpublished data secured under Freedom of Information legislation.
They focused on four antidepressants: fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), nefazodone (Serzone) and paroxetine (Paxil).
Many of the reports in the media have taken this research to mean that antidepressants are no better than placebo. That is not the case. The medications can be very effective and even life saving in people with severe depression. However, the effect in people with mild depression is no greater than placebo.
What this tells us is that the over-prescription of antidepressants for normal variations in mood is probably not justified. We are all allowed to be miserable from time to time, but that does not mean that we need to take medications.
Not surprisingly, some of the manufacturers have strongly disputed the findings.
The biggest worry after reading some of the news reports is that some people might stop their medications abruptly, and that can cause many problems. And some folk really do need to be on the medications and stopping them without clear guidance can be very risky.