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Chewable, Cherry Flavored Antidepressants February 4, 2009

Posted by yostliketoast in Healthcare, Mental Health.

This week I came across a website that contained statistics about depression in the US.  In addition to finding general prevalence stats, I came across a far more controversial fact:

“Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers — over a million — are clinically depressed.”

I was completely disturbed by the idea that psychiatrists have diagnosed over a million four and five year-olds as clinically depressed and that many parents believe that antidepressants are the answer.

I could get into a long and heated debate on whether these children are, in fact, clinically depressed or if pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists are just looking to make money. However, what I find to be far more interesting is that parents and doctors are willing to drug such young children when the true effectiveness of antidepressants are still unclear.  I hope to pursued parents, doctors, and researchers to reconsider antidepressants as the primary method of dealing with depression symptoms.

Unfortunately, given the limited space of this blog I can’t mention all the scientific studies which explore the effectiveness of antidepressants. However, a recent study which compared the effectiveness of twelve “new generation” medicines for treating depression is a great example of why the science isn’t concrete.

Overall, the results of this study named four clear winners, Zoloft, Lexapro, Effexor, and Remeron as the most effective drugs in reducing depression symptoms to “much improved or very much improved.” To compare these drugs, the authors used a multiple-treatments meta-analysis, which incorporated 117 randomized controlled trials and 25,928 study subjects. Although these numbers seem impressive, these results are far from reliable and have left many wondering, does it matter?

First, they rely on existing articles which compare the effectiveness of depression drugs. Many of which, the authors admit, are funded by the drug companies themselves and thus produce biased results.

Second, the nature of depression is itself highly variable. Antidepressant drugs are administered based on patient specific symptoms and potential for side effects. They also affect each individual differently, which makes predicting the patients response to a specific antidepressant nearly impossible.

Lastly, using measurements such as “much” or “very much” leaves serious questions about how effective these drugs really are. In fact, some studies have found that new generation antidepressant drugs work no better than a placebo for the majority of patients with mild to severe depression. This leaves us wondering, do antidepressants really work after all?

While drug companies continue to spend millions figuring it out (and selling it to over-anxious parents of five year-olds), it’s important to realize that antidepressants aren’t the only option for patients suffering from depression.

Instead of drugging every person who feels sad or lonely, emotions which come hand in hand with living, people with mild to moderate depression symptoms should seek natural ways to manage their depression.  For example, regular exercise is proven to increase serotonin levels in the brain and decrease stress. Certain foods and just eating a balanced diet can also improve mental and physical function.

These natural methods are not the fabrication of hippies, but are scientifically proven interventions. In fact, several countries, including England, have published national plans to help people to manage depression without popping pills.

Instead of spending millions on researching and marketing antidepressants, researchers should focus on exploring natural ways to deal with depression and patients should focus on using them.



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