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New debate into the efficacy of antidepressants

Antidepressant drugs are at the centre of a new debate about their efficacy, as mental health charities and the pharmaceutical industry deals with implications of a study published by the Public Library of Science.

Antidepressant drugs are at the centre of a new debate about their efficacy, as mental health charities and the pharmaceutical industry deals with implications of a study published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS).

The meta-analysis conducted by the University of Hull (UH) indicates that antidepressants afford no significant clinical improvement to patients with mild depression.

The four drugs included in the study included GSK's Paxil, Prozac (fluoxetine) manufactured by Eli Lilly and Co (ELC), Wyeth's venlafaxine, Effexor, and Serzon (nefazodone) developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS).

Professor Irving Kirsch, lead researcher at UH psychology department, said: "Given these results, there seems little reason to prescribe antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients."

"The difference in improvement between patients taking placebos and patients taking antidepressants is not very great. This means that depressed people can improve without chemical treatments."

Coverage of the findings appeared in national media outlets on February 26 such as The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and BBC News with some stating that drugs such as Prozac 'don't work.'

Richard Ley of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) warned the report could cause patients to stop taking antidepressants, and advised people to consult their doctors first.

UK mental health charity SANE echoed the ABPI's concerns and said patients who stop taking antidepressants could experience severe bouts of rebound depression.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, said: "If validated, this research would mean that psychological therapies would be the only available treatments for the majority of people, but these do not work for everyone, particularly those with severe clinical depression."

Professor Shelia Holmes, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, stressed that, "anyone currently taking antidepressants should first contact their own doctor before considering stopping their medication."

But the reports findings have been welcomed by some quarters that believe the key to curing depression is talking therapies rather than prescription medications.

Paul Corry of mental health organisation, Rethink, said: "The doctors, the patients, and campaigners like us have been telling governments for years - spend NHS money on talking therapies and don't just pour it into drugs."

26th February 2008

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