Are Antidepressant Medications Any Different Than Placebo for Mild or Moderate Depression?

New Analysis Sees No Major Difference Between Antidepressants and Placebos in Such Cases

While antidepressant medications apparently provide substantial benefits to patients with severe symptoms of depression, their benefits are typically minimal or nonexistent when treating mild or moderate forms of depression, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

To determine whether there is a significant difference between antidepressants and placebo for patients with less severe depression, researchers examined data on 718 patients from 6 large-scale, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressants approved by the FDA.

According to this detailed analysis, the effectiveness of antidepressant medications varies considerably, with these medications showing no advantage over placebo in patients with mild or moderate symptoms of depression. However, antidepressants were clinically advantageous over placebo for patients with very severe depression symptoms.

According to the researchers, these findings suggest the need for clearer marketing of antidepressant medications, especially when considering that there is little evidence indicating that antidepressants are beneficial for patients with less severe symptoms and that most data championing the efficacy of antidepressants exclude such patients.

Primarily used to treat major depression that may occur alone or in combination with chronic pain, sleep disorders or anxiety disorders, antidepressants aim to elevate mood by chemically altering neurotransmitters in the brain.

A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry noted that antidepressant use doubled in the last decade to approximately 27 million Americans, with half of these people using these medications for back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, insomnia or other problems as opposed to depression.

Given the findings of this most recent study in JAMA, patients suffering from chronic pain and related depression may only want to consider antidepressants when clinically proven to be severely depressed.

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