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Some people need antidepressants, but not as happy pills

By       Message Linda Hunt Beckman     Permalink
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"Evidence accumulates that, in most cases, SSRIs work no better than placebos to boost mood. The first such analysis, published in 1998, looked at thirty-eight manufacturer-sponsored studies that included more than three thousand depressed patients. It found negligible differences in improvement between those on the drugs and those on dummy pills. At least 75 percent of the benefit from this class of antidepressants seemed to be a placebo effect. This finding has since been confirmed by other research." (Andrew Weil, "We Have Happy Pills, Anxiety Drugs, and Therapists Galore, So Why Are We More Stressed and Depressed Than Ever?" OpEdNews, July 3, 2012)

The passage above is typical of what one finds in online "progressive" newsletters. But, recent articles in The New York Times and scientific/psychiatric journals do NOT say depression is caused by a deficiency of serotonin. Instead, the latest thinking is that serotonin and other neurotransmitters are like the fuel that make the emotional system work. For one thing, serotonin allows the amygdala in the brain to generate new nerve cells. This relatively recent work also argues that antidepressants work--but probably only for people in danger of severe depression (major depression). Antidepressants save lives and the quality of lives every day.

Why is the left against antidepressants? I am a progressive, and so I am sorry to see the leftwing political press sound like cranks. Are they against vaccines and antibiotics too? Yes, all medicines have side effects, but that doesn't mean we'd be better off without them! I would not be alive without antidepressants, nor would some others that I know.

Mindfulness and therapy are also helpful. Unhappiness is caused by a multitude of factors--some of them cultural or political. But, if I were severely depressed and had to choose one treatment, I would hope I had a good psychiatrist who would prescribe the best antidepressant for me. One problem with clinical trials is that everyone takes the same dose of the same pill; a good doctor will try different ones on a patient until he or she gets the right one at the right dose. What we need is better psychiatry and more research --we do need to know more--so that the right people get the medication they need. Antidepressants do not make those who are in need of them happy. They make them feel like their old selves (and, thus able to be sad, angry, disgusted, and yes, sometimes joyful) and save them from suicide.


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I am a healthcare activist, a professor of literature, and a writer. My books have been scholarly--on literature--but I have also written for newspapers, mostly on the need for single payer healthcare. I am semi-retired from academia, married, and (more...)

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Some people need antidepressants, but not as happy pills