December 14, 2010
Antidepressants don't work.
What's even more depressing is that the
pharmaceutical industry and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
have deliberately deceived us into believing that they DO
work. London-based researchers have added more fuel to the fire by
just announcing that antidepressants raise the risk of fatal heart
This research is only the latest wake-up call for nations hooked on
happy pills. Might we finally heed the warnings and shake ourselves
out of our pharmaceutical stupor?
It is high time we did: a small mountain of studies shows that
antidepressant drugs are largely ineffective. But more than that,
they can ruin lives by creating chronic dependency and a grinding
hopelessness that sometimes leads to self-neglect and death.
Women have a 10 to 25 percent risk and men a five to 12 percent risk
of developing severe major depression in their lifetime. The use of
these drugs has tripled in the last decade, according to a report by
the federal government. In 2006, spending on antidepressants soared
by 130 percent.
The latest study, by Dr Mark Hamer, a public health
researcher at University College London, shows that people on the
older drugs -
tricyclic antidepressants - are at far higher risk of
cardiovascular disease than those taking the newer class of pills,
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
But if I were taking SSRIs, I would not be cheered by the findings.
Tricyclics were discovered in the Forties and it is only now we have
identified these dangerous effects.
Moreover, some SSRI drugs are known to cause serious problems such
as stomach bleeding. In addition, the withdrawal symptoms can be so
severe that patients may become dependent on them.
Dr Hamer says his findings do not only affect people with
depression, because antidepressants are also prescribed to people
with back pain, headache, anxiety and sleeping problems.
Last year, according to Dr Hamer’s figures, about 33 million
antidepressant prescriptions were dispensed in England.
At some point, surely, there will be no one left to prescribe for.
In my view, it’s fast becoming one of the greatest medical scandals
of our age.
The most worrying thing about these drugs is not their side-effects,
but their widespread non-effect:
they just don’t work for most people
with mild to moderate depression.
Two years ago, researchers at Hull
University concluded that the pills only benefit people who are most
seriously, clinically depressed. In these extreme cases, there is
often a physical problem in their brain, a result of genetics or
But what of the rest?
There is a growing view that many people are being needlessly
drugged because the natural state of feeling unhappy is viewed as an
illness, rather than a normal part of life that we should experience
and learn from.
An American study of 8,000 people who had been treated for
depression found that a quarter of them were not clinically sick,
but had just undergone a normal life event such as bereavement.
Their symptoms, it said, should be left to pass naturally (that, of
course, would be a blow to the drug manufacturers, who profit so
handsomely from the mass consumption of their mind-numbing
One leading expert, Randolph Nesse, a psychiatry professor at
Michigan University, argues that this mild form of depression is
beneficial, often interjecting in life to tell us to stop what we
are doing and reconsider.
This can help, he says, when something awful happens to us, such as
a job loss or relationship break-up, when it makes sense to slow
down to grieve, reassess and make changes.
But instead, we live in a world that tells us that when we feel out
of sorts we need a pill to recover.
It is this belief that creates queues of patients at the doors of
hard-pressed GPs, who often feel they have no option but to hand out
happy pills as though they were sweeties.
Many patients later claim they couldn’t have coped without them.
They will swear that ‘the drugs make me feel better, so they must be
working’. But often the drugs do not actually work as chemicals.
Instead, they merely reassure us the
so-called placebo effect.
How We have
Been Deceived by the Antidepressant Hoax
Drug companies are not forced to publish all the results of their
studies. They only publish those they want to.
The team of researchers that reported
their findings in The New England Journal of Medicine took a
critical look at all the studies done on antidepressants, both
published and unpublished. They dug up some serious dirt...
The unpublished studies were not easy to find. The researchers had
to search the FDA databases, call researchers, and hunt down hidden
data under the Freedom of Information Act. What they found was
After looking at 74 studies involving 12 drugs and over 12,000
people, they discovered that 37 of 38 trials with positive results
were published, while only 14 of 36 negative studies were published.
Those that showed negative results were,
in the words of the researchers,
"published in a way that conveyed a
That means the results were twisted to
imply the drugs worked when they didn't.
This isn't just a problem with antidepressants. It's a problem with
scientific research. Some drug companies even pay or threaten
scientists to not publish negative results on their drugs. So much
for "evidence-based" medicine! I recently had dinner with a
step-uncle who runs a company that designs research for drug
He designs the study, hires the
researcher from an esteemed institution, directs the study, writes
up the study and the scientist just signs his or her name after
In 2008, Professor Irving Kirsch at Hull University found
something strange when he took a close look at some figures from
drug manufacturers’ own trials of four common antidepressants.
The drugs improved patients’ sense of wellbeing. So far, so
But many of those involved in the trials were given sugar pills
instead of antidepressants.
And their depression scores improved just as much as those on the
real pharmaceuticals. In other words, the placebo patients put so
much store by the magical (and much-promoted) power of
antidepressants that they lifted their own morale without any
genuine chemical intervention. Such is the life-enhancing power of
But this phenomenon also has a dark side: the opposite of placebo,
which is called the ‘nocebo’ effect.
This occurs when you convince someone that a particular thing will
do them harm, and they begin to feel sick. Talk to someone about
food poisoning while they are tucking into a hearty meal and you
will see the nocebo effect at work.
Something similar is happening in our pill-obsessed world. When we
are convinced that we need drugs to get us out of an emotional
crisis, we stop doing things to help ourselves.
This was clear from the latest research. Dr Hamer found that
tricyclic drugs raise a person’s heart attack risk.
But that risk was dwarfed by another danger: the people taking the
drugs often lost the will to look after themselves properly. They
were more likely to smoke, be overweight and not exercise.
Dr Hamer says that if they started living more healthily they would
cut their heart attack risk by three times. Exercise and weight loss
would also help alleviate their depression and anxiety.
But people stuck in the role of helpless drug-munchers often cannot
make that change for themselves.
They simply sit waiting for their questionable pills to work. And
when the pills fail, they become even more demoralized. It’s a
vicious cycle, and one that’s sucking in more and more vulnerable
Thankfully, this situation is not entirely hopeless. Such patients
may be helped by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Health department guidelines already state that patients on
antidepressants should also be given CBT, but many GPs’ budgets will
not stretch to providing it.
And what is
It is a form of talking therapy that encourages depressed patients
to exchange their self-destructive thoughts for healthier ways of
believing and acting.
It is the modern equivalent of telling people (gently) to shape up,
smarten up and take responsibility for their own lives.
Except that you could not possibly convey that time-honored message
with such stark clarity these days. Apparently, we are all too
fragile to hear such sage advice: the shock might send us rushing to
the medicine cabinet.
That is a terrible shame. All the antidepressant drugs and
therapy-speak in the world cannot take away the simple, honest fact
that life for all of us can be dismally hard at times.
For most of us, though, the healthiest option is to face our
problems vigorously, rather than disappear down a black hole of
antidepressant dependency. That is an especially important message
to spread during this economic downturn. Times are getting harder.
But instead of grasping for tablets, we would be far better off
being encouraged to rely on our own resources - positivity and
self-reliance. It is sad news for the millions on antidepressants
that their drugs may have lethal effects on the heart.
But if such warnings awaken us to the wider damage these pills
wreak, they will have done everyone a priceless favor.