Health & Fitness Antidepressants 'work better than a placebo', study finds
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Doctors should stop prescribing antidepressants because there is no decent clinical evidence that they work better than a placebo, a study has found.
About one in six British adults take the tablets, but there is rising concern about their overuse and the risk of withdrawal symptoms and side-effects.
Experts at University Collegereviewed all existing evidence on common antidepressants and concluded there remains ‘considerable uncertainty about the benefits’.
They urged doctors to give the drugs ‘to fewer patients, for shorter periods of time’ because so many struggle when they stop taking them.
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The study found that much of the evidence came from trials lasting just six to 12 weeks and the ‘results don’t meet the threshold for a clinically important difference’ between antidepressants and placebo pills.
The study, which was published in the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, comes after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) last month ruled that the NHS should offer patients with mild depression group therapy sessions before pills.
Lead author Dr Mark Harowitz said: ‘The prevalence of side effects may be even higher among those taking antidepressants for more than three years, and can include emotional numbness and mental “fogginess”.
‘Patients trying to come off their treatment often experience withdrawal symptoms: these can include anxiety, insomnia, depression, agitation and appetite changes, and can interfere with social functioning and professional life, particularly if treatment is stopped abruptly.’
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Dr Harowitz found that the findings in teenagers and children were ‘even less convincing’ despite the number of 12 to 17-year-olds on antidepressants more than doubling since 2005.
The study said antidepressants may work for severe depression, but added: ‘The cons may outweigh the pros in those with mild to moderate depression or in those whose symptoms don’t yet qualify as depression.’
Its authors concluded: ‘In light of this uncertain balance of benefits and harms, we should re-visit the wide- spread and growing prescription of antidepressants.’
Latest data shows about 7.8million adults in England take antidepressants.
The most common drugs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline.
Prescriptions are also 50 per cent higher for women.
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