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Antidepressants really do work confirms global study

22 February 2018

The global study - an analysis pooling results of 522 trials covering 21 commonly-used antidepressants and nearly 120,000 patients - found that all such drugs were more effective than placebos.

Antidepressants do help in combating the mental health condition, a new study has found.

"It puts to bed the idea that antidepressants don't work - all 21 antidepressants were more effective than placebo at treating 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.

Prof Carmine Pariante, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and spokesperson for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "This meta-analysis finally puts to bed the controversy on antidepressants, clearly showing that these drugs do work in lifting mood and helping most people with depression".

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She said: "Also, this paper does not help us understand how best to help patients who have treatment-resistant depression and can not improve on any of the 21 antidepressants tested here".

"We found the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants work for moderate to severe depression and I think this is very good news for patients and clinicians".

Professor Andrea Cipriani, who led the six-year review of worldwide research, said the findings were proof that antidepressants should be used more.

Other options include talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling. To under-treat depression is a huge problem we need to be aware of. The choice will be need to made by doctor and patient'.

According to Beyond Blue, in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression.

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One of the least effective pills was fluoxetine - a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) commonly known as Prozac.

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. "By bringing together published and unpublished data from over 500 double blind randomised controlled trials, this study represents the best now available evidence base to guide the choice of pharmacological treatment for adults with acute depression". About one third of depressed patients do not respond to such medication.

David Taylor, Professor of Psychopharmacology, King's College London pointed out that the most effective antidepressant found is amitriptyline - an antidepressant first found in the 1950s. "It should never be swept under the carpet or ignored". He added: 'Antidepressants are an effective tool for depression.

Prof Pariante said this type of study can not account for individual differences in response to medication, and "we still need to understand why some antidepressants work better than others, even within classes of drugs that supposedly have the same pharmacological actions".

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.

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Antidepressants really do work confirms global study