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New study debunks hypothesis that antidepressants are ineffective

Published on 21/08/17 at 09:55am

A research group at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have released findings rebutting the claim that antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) do not provide any benefit.

The increasingly prevalent hypothesis asserts that SSRIs only produce an antidepressant effect in patients because of the placebo effect. If this were true, the drugs should not show any benefit compared to placebo in clinical trials, but in truth they have proven to consistently outperform them. The logic of the argument is that the side-effects induced by SSRIs cause the patient taking them to believe they have been given an effective treatment, and thus triggering the placebo effect. 

The implications of this are that the benefits of SSRIs which have been frequently observed in clinical trials are due to the psychological effects of believing that the drugs are effective, and not because they induce a specific biochemical effect.

This belief has propagated despite a lack of any worthwhile evidence, but the team at Sahlgrenska Academy set out to test it. The team’s study sought to observe the effects of citalopram and paroxetine on 3,344 participants through analysis of past clinical trials. By comparing the antidepressant effects in those who experienced side-effects to those who didn’t the team found that there was a clear superiority of SSRIs to placebo.

The findings provide strong support for the assumption that SSRIs produce a specific antidepressant effect in patients, and also highlight the danger that baseless media criticism of the drug group could discourage patients from seeking effective help and create further complications in this treatment area.

Matt Fellows

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