Wait, Are Antidepressants Just Making People Sadder?



IMG_0283_rPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
Do the side effects of antidepressants outweigh the benefits? Yes, sort of. According to a new study of over 1,800 adults from New Zealand, the psychological side effects of antidepressant use might be more widespread than previously thought.

It turns out that The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in which direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs is legal. So, like the study's participants, we're all used to the litany of fine-print conditions ominously listed at the end of every ad.

Commercials for antidepressants often warn of sexual dysfunction and suicidal ideation as possible reactions to taking the medication. But, while they seem like just-in-case mentions, this study — completed by lead researcher Professor John Read at the University of Liverpool — implies that these effects, along with emotional numbness, could be incredibly prevalent.

Over half of the study participants reported serious side effects: sexual difficulties (62%), feeling emotionally numb (60%), and "feeling not like myself" (52%). Other notable responses included reduction in positive feelings (42%) and caring less about others (39%). The latter effects are especially troubling, as they imply that nearly half of the participants actually felt worse while on their medication.

Of course, this begs the question of whether a patient with clinical depression would already feel "emotionally numb." In other words, are these negative feelings caused by the medication, or by the medication not working well enough to quell them?

Established research has shown a correlation between the incidence of depression and socioeconomic factors, which were also correlated with these reactions. However, the adverse side effects were not correlated with the participants' depression ratings prior to going on medication. So, it wasn't simply that the more depressed folks remained more depressed while on medication. Changes did occur.

Taking a deeper dive into the data on antidepressants (as compared to placebos), we see that SSRIs are incredibly strong on an individual level — they significantly help many people, significantly diminish the lives of many people, and have no effect at all on still others. When taken by the numbers, it's understandable that so many would believe a sugar pill is just as good as the real thing. But, the truth is more complex: The drugs actually hurt and help approximately the same number of people.

If a drug's side effects outweigh its benefits — for any substantial segment of users — then there needs to be more discussion of the danger. And, when severely negative reactions are possible in a class of drugs that is so widely used (in some countries, one in 10 adults take antidepressants) — we all need to be more aware of their potential harm. (Science Daily)