More drugs are not the answer

New research from the University of Oxford concludes that antidepressants work – some more effectively than others – in treating depression.

Peter Kinderman is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society:

“I agree that for some people antidepressant drugs are effective in raising mood or stimulating activity in the short term. This is not really very surprising, as we have known for about 20,000 years that various chemicals can be stimulating, can address tiredness or lethargy, can stimulate the reward systems of the brain and can raise mood. There are major industries – legal and illegal – built on that fact. So, I’m not hugely surprised that drugs can affect our mood.

“And there were some important issues in today’s research that we need to bear in mind. People who were known not to benefit from antidepressants weren’t included in this study. The research focussed on short-term benefits (8 weeks) in people with severe or moderate depression. Most people are not advised to limit their use of these drugs only to 8 weeks (most people take antidepressants for many months and years), and this study tells us nothing about their affects – including adverse effects – over the long or medium-term. The short-term effects may well be benefits, but we need to be mindful of long-term adverse effects. So, I’m sceptical of the claim that a million MORE people should be offered the drugs.

“We know drugs can raise our moods. That’s important. It may be something we want to contemplate when considering help, but it doesn’t really change a great deal. In particular, this research doesn’t speak of what the experience of depression actually is. Nor does it explore the disease model of mental health or offer insights into the causal processes that might lead people to be depressed. It’s important – at least in my opinion – to remember that, even when medication can help alleviate distress, that is not necessarily evidence that a biological disease process lies behind our mental health problems. We know that our mental health is intimately related to the things that happen to us, the circumstances of our lives, and how we make sense of this.

“In my opinion we should respect anything that helps people, but our real focus should be on understanding, and addressing, those factors in our lives that give rise to the hopelessness and low mood that so many people are suffering from. While many people find medication helpful, I’m not convinced that drugs should be seen as solutions to more systematic social and personal problems.”

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