Antidepressant Study Finds Drugs of Little Help to Those with Mild Depression

<"">Paxil and other antidepressants may not be the best therapy for people with mild depression, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). In many cases, they were no more effective in treating people with mild depression than placebos.

To reach this conclusion, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania combined the results of six studies, comparing a total of 718 patients assigned an antidepressant or a placebo. Three of the studies looked at Paxil and the others looked at imipramine, an older antidepressants.

The severity of the patients’ depression, according to the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, which doctors used to diagnose depression, ranged from mildly depressed to very severely depressed.

The authors of the study found that patients who were the most severely depressed (a Hamilton score over 23) did best on antidepressants. For example, severely depressed patients taking Paxil improved an average of four points more on the rating scale than similar patients taking a placebo. This difference was deemed significant.

Patients with a score under 23 taking Paxil or imipramine improved only one point more than those taking placebo. In patients with scores of 18 or less, indicating mild or moderate depression, the difference between both groups was less than one point.

In the U.S., antidepressants are used by nearly 15 million adults every year. Many of these patients fall into the mild or moderately depressed category, yet few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of antidepressants on such patients. Most studies – including those used to assess a drug’s safety and effectiveness prior to approval – focus on severely depressed patients.

According to USA Today, the lead author of the JAMA study said its findings “should give one pause” about prescribing antidepressants to mildly, moderately or even severely depressed patients. Instead doctors might want to consider non-drug options, such as exercise or psychotherapy.

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