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Antidepressants: Are They Effective, and Why It Matters


In the world of depression and antidepressants, there has been a long and heated debate regarding the effectiveness of medication as a part of treatment. There are many varying schools of thought: some claim that the majority of help is due to a placebo effect; others say they work most effectively when used to treat severe depression; still others argue that genetic factors influence a person’s favorable or negative response to medication. Are any of them right, or should we proceed on an individual basis?

There is no shortage of studies discussing the effectiveness of antidepressants, and one of these finds that antidepressants only notably decrease symptoms in those who suffer from severe depression. In this study, conducted by two scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, findings suggest that severely depressed people experienced a steep reduction of symptoms when taking antidepressants, while their moderately depressed counterparts got few or no added benefits from medication. This study implies that while medication is almost always an option, it may only be favorable if your condition is diagnosed as severe. However, this is far from the only standpoint scientists and psychiatrists have taken regarding the treatment of depression.

Another potential point that has been explored is that of the placebo effect. There have been cases where people who are taking placebo pills have actually shown equal or more improvement than those who are taking the antidepressant in question. This would suggest that the psychological power of taking a pill labeled as an ‘antidepressant’ is more potent than the actual ingredients with which the pills are made. Another study proposes that the answer to the question of who would benefit from antidepressants lies in the genetic makeup of the patient.

A recent study suggests that the genomic makeup of a patient may be able to provide strong clues as to whether or not antidepressants will prove an effective course of action. Genetic variants explain 42% of individual differences, thereby heavily influencing the effectiveness of medication (Nauert). While the study acknowledges that there is a far way to go in finding out how to use this information effectively, they suggest that the genetic predisposition to medication may be a tool that is used in the future to determine which, if any medications are likely to work for a certain patient.

Interestingly, many doctors prescribe antidepressants easily – and patients switch from one to another, trying to find one that works for them. I think that is the most important point of all, which many clinical studies fail to address: what works for you? If someone has been on many antidepressants and isn’t experiencing relief, it may be that medication isn’t the most effective course of action. Conversely, if someone is experiencing decreased symptoms, what does it really matter if it is the placebo effect, severity of their symptoms, or genetics that are allowing them relief?

The point of these medications existence is to provide relief, and while it is important to know whether or not they work across the population of study, it is equally if not more important to evaluate their success on an individual basis. After all, it is the individual who we’re trying to help by prescribing antidepressants.  According to the study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania pointed out, depression is an illness that is not alike in any two people, and therefore the effectiveness of treatments won’t be homogeneous in their results. Whatever works for someone is exactly what they should do, if it helps them to live happily and healthily with reduced symptoms of a serious mental illness.


Works Cited

Carey, Benedict. “Popular Drugs May Help Only Severe Depression.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times Company, 6 January 2010. Web. 4 April 2013.

Nauert, Rick. “Genetics Impacts Depression Meds’ Effectiveness.” Psych Central News. Psych Central, 29 March 2013. Web. 4 April 2013.

Reidbord, Steven. “Do Antidepressants Work?” Psychology Today. Sussex Directories, 14 July 2011. Web. 4 April 2013.

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Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Mental Illness, Research · Tags: antidepressants, depression

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