Although antidepressants are considered to be efficient and the US Food and Drug Administration has approved them as a suitable treatment for depression, researchers are still trying to prove that they are more effective than other methods (Placebo is the most popular alternative).
Lead researcher Dr Andrea Cipriani of the University of Oxford said, 'This study is the final answer to a long-standing controversy about whether anti-depressants work for depression.
Researchers from Oxford University analysed data from 522 separate trials involving 116,000 patients suffering from moderate to severe depression. Approximately 37 percent of these people received no treatment. "Our findings are relevant for adults experiencing a first or second episode of depression - the typical population seen in general practice".
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of Global Positioning System, said: "This research should reassure patients who are taking or are contemplating commencing antidepressants, and the doctors that prescribe them, that they are an effective treatment for depression in the short-term".
The World Health Organisation estimates that around 300 million people suffer from depression globally. The economic burden in the United States of America alone has been estimated to be more than $210 billion.
Antidepressants included in this study were either compared with a placebo or with another antidepressant in a head-to-head format.
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While these results should reassure many people with depression that antidepressants can be effective, "this does not necessarily mean antidepressants should always be the first line of treatment", he said. Contemporary western psychiatry relies heavily on antidepressants to treat depression and presents it as the most scientific, enlightened approach to the illness.
When looking at the acceptability of the treatments (the dropout rates per treatment) agomelatine, citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline, and vortioxetine were the most tolerated. The choice will be need to made by doctor and patient'. It is a respiratory depressant and can cause overdose. "It should never be swept under the carpet or ignored".
It has been suggested that more than a million people per year in the United Kingdom should be given access to treatment for depression, through either drugs or talking therapies, with scientists saying the study proves that the drugs do work. That this paper is considered groundbreaking enough to be published in a major medical journal speaks to the lack of clear data around antidepressants.
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The analysis of more than 500 trials did find that some medications worked better than others, however.
Dr Cipriani said the "big challenge" was to increase uptake of the drugs, and to ensure those suffering from depression did not give up on treatment too soon. The trial data can not show which drug would be likely to work best for any one individual.
David Taylor, Professor of Psychopharmacology, King's College London pointed out that the most effective antidepressant found is amitriptyline - an antidepressant first found in the 1950s.
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"Unfortunately, we know that about one-third of patients with depression will not respond to them", he said.