Published: Thu, February 22, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Antidepressants are effective in treating mental health, major study finds

Antidepressants are effective in treating mental health, major study finds

The worldwide study - a meta-analysis pooling results of 522 trials covering 21 commonly-used antidepressants and nearly 120,000 patients - uncovered a range of outcomes, with some drugs proving more effective than others and some having fewer side effects. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found people in the United Kingdom take almost twice as many antidepressants as those in France, Italy or Holland, five times as many as those in Korea and eight times as many as in Latvia.

Professor John Geddes, Oxford's head of psychiatry, said: 'This isn't just a bit of common unhappiness, this is a major mental health problem that really is devastating for an very bad lot of human lives.

According to the World Health Organization, some 300 million people worldwide have depression.

After the largest-ever study, the Oxford University-led team said they had wanted to "give the final answer" to the controversy of whether or not the pills effectively treat depression.

The treatments agomelatine, amitriptyline, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, venlafaxine and vortioxetine were found to be most effective, while fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine, reboxetine and trazodone were found to make the least difference.

But she said Global Positioning System should try to offer patients talking therapies, so they did not end up becoming "reliant on medication".

"This research should reassure patients who are taking or are contemplating commencing antidepressants, and the doctors that prescribe them, that they are an effective treatment".

The study took six years to complete and included all the data, published or unpublished, the researchers could find.

The most famous antidepressant of them all, Prozac - now out of patent and known by its generic name, fluoxetine - was one of the least effective but best tolerated, measured by a low drop-out rate in the trials or fewer side-effects reported. The first three "might be considered first choice" by doctors, they write, although the two most effective drugs - amitriptyline and venlafaxine - might still be first choice for severe depression.

"Patients should be aware of the potential benefits from antidepressants and always speak to the doctors about the most suitable treatment for them individually", said the researcher, who examined tests where some patients had been given antidepressants and others placebos.

Other treatments for depression include talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling. We tend to focus on over-treatment, but we need to focus on this'.

It has been suggested that more than a million people per year in the United Kingdom should be given access to treatment for depression, through either drugs or talking therapies, with scientists saying the study proves that the drugs do work.

Other experts said the study was of major importance.

Carmine Pariante, a professor at the UK's Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and spokesperson for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the study "finally puts to bed the controversy on antidepressants". "Depression is a significant mental illness which, if left untreated or unmanaged, can cause a huge amount of distress for a patient, their family and friends".

The scientists noted that their study could only look at average effects, so should not be interpreted as showing that antidepressants work in every patient. "It should never be swept under the carpet or ignored".

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