Everyone goes through a time (or two or more) when they’re “down,” but a growing percentage of the world’s population is actually depressed and seeking help for it, often in the form of medication. But new research says that antidepressants could make you sad; apparently, popular meds are often no better than placebos, and could even be worse for patients’ overall happiness in the long-term.
Dr. Giovanni Fava, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Bologna in Italy, has examined the effects of antidepressants for over 20 years. His newest study, to be published in the next issue of Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, argues that antidepressants used over long periods of time can actually increase a patient’s chances of relapse — even more than if they were to take a placebo. Based on existing depression literature, Fava’s study examines patterns in patient trials and research, and he feels strongly that they can do more harm than good if they aren’t administered properly:
Antidepressant drugs, for me, they’re like antibiotics. If they’re used properly, they’re very good. But if they’re used when it’s not necessary, or for the wrong indication, or if they’re prolonged for too long, then they’re not helpful.
Yikes. We’re all familiar with the fallout of over-prescribing antibiotics, and imagining a similar scenario with antidepressants is, well, depressing.
Could there be such a thing as super-depression, or antidepressant-resistance? The Daily Beast asked Dr. Irving Kirsch, a professor of psychology at the U.K.’s University of Hull and the author of The Emperor’s New Clothes: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, what he thought of Favas claims. He tended to agree:
I’ve noticed two things. One is, if you look at clinical trials that follow patients for up to a year after they’ve been successfully treated in the placebo arm and you keep treating them with placebo and you see what happens, you get about a 20 percent relapse in that group. Most of them stay better, actually, so that’s encouraging. If you look at trials who’ve gotten better on drug and then switched to placebo to then see how many relapse—they’ve been in a trail for four to eight weeks on antidepressants and are then switched to placebo—about 50 percent relapse.
While those suffering depression might not want to go cold turkey off their meds, these studies are disconcerting. While this could seem like impossibly bad news, there’s some hope, in the eyes of doctors who look to other alternatives. Many doctors who practice Functional — or integrative — Medicine argue that we shouldn’t be treating depression as a prozac deficiency, but as a symptom of other physical problems or imbalances.
Check out our gallery of reasons you might be depressed that don’t require meds, and this interesting article about how chromium deficiency could be causing your case of the blues.