Listening to (the headlines about) Prozac

A meta-study conducted by Hull University recently brought to light some unpleasant revelations about the most widely-used class of antidepressants. It’s an interesting study, though of course without the actual text of the paper it’s hard to say a lot. It’s a meta-study, which means that instead of going out and holding clinical trials, the researchers instead gathered the raw data used in a number of other studies and tried to draw inferences from that. How they divvied up and applied the data across particular drugs, etc., will have a lot to do with the final results.

The kicker here is the horrible job that the media has done of presenting the findings, at least as far as the headlines go. Here is one of the more in-depth articles on the topic. Essentially, according to the article, the study revealed:

1) Mildly depressed people improve when taking SSRI’s. So do people taking a placebo. People taking SSRI’s improve slightly more than placebo takers, but not by a lot.
2) Alternative therapies, like exercise, counseling, and cognitive behavior therapy can provide relief as well, and may be preferred as they carry no risks of side effects.
3) Severely depressed people respond more strongly to the SSRI than to the placebo.

The headline of this article, and almost every other on the subject:

“Antidepressant drugs don’t work”


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