Major study: more should take anti-depressants

Epidemic: Every year in the UK about one in four people will experience a mental health problem.

Has the debate finally been settled? A major study has come out in full support of antidepressants. But sceptics remain unconvinced, and say that we are in danger of medicalising sadness.

Scientists say they have settled one of the biggest debates in medicine after a huge study found that anti-depressants really do work.

The study, which analysed data from 522 trials involving 116,477 people, found 21 commonly used anti-depressants were all more effective at reducing symptoms of depression than dummy pills.

The analysis has united much of the medical community. The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the study "finally puts to bed the controversy on anti-depressants".

This assertion, though, is likely to be misguided, whatever the science says.

Prescriptions of anti-depressants have more than doubled in the last decade. This has a positive side, as it suggests that as the stigma has decreased, people have become more willing to ask for help. But many are worried.

Writing for The New English Review, conservative psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple sees anti-depressants as an example of a modern, irresponsible attitude to life.

He writes: “I think there is harm to seeing life as a technical problem. It is unrealistic, crude, uncivilised and ultimately cruel.“

Is this “scientistic view of human behaviour” the right way to treat the rising evil of depression?

The perfect cure?

Society must become comfortable with antidepressants, say some. Scepticism of anti-depressants, especially those with huge proven benefits, will only increase the stigma surrounding mental health. It does not matter how somebody beats depression; it simply matters that they do.

“Illusion and disillusion spring eternal in the human breast,” writes Dalrymple. Anti-depressants symbolise our tortured attitude to life, where everything must be perfect and every solution must be easy. Instant gratification is a dangerous thing, as it distracts people from self-improvement.

You Decide

  1. Are anti-depressants the best way to cure depression?

Activities

  1. List three pieces of advice you might give to someone who thinks they are suffering from depression.

Some People Say...

“Depression, suffering and anger are all part of being human.”

Janet Fitch

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A major new study has found that anti-depressants are sometimes extremely effective at curing depression. Some drugs are better than others.
What do we not know?
There are still many unanswered questions about depression. For years scientists have categorised it as a brain disorder, and brain disorders are rooted in genetics. But no genes for depression have ever been discovered.

Word Watch

Dummy pills
In these trials, one group of people are given real anti-depressants, while another are given pills that have no effect at all. The groups are not told which is which. Often those who took the dummy pills, believing they were given the real thing, exhibit similar results as if they had taken genuine anti-depressants. This is called the “placebo effect”, and frequently confuses medical research.
Stigma
In recent years several well-known people have spoken out against society’s attitude to depression, including Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus.

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