Skip to content

    Depression Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Can Antidepressants Work for Me?

    A look at the complex mix of factors -- and key questions -- to consider.
    By
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    How effective are antidepressants? That's a question that many people with depression have asked -- and research suggests that the answers aren't simple.

    It's a question that's relevant to millions. About one in 10 Americans takes an antidepressant, now the most commonly prescribed type of drug in the U.S., according to research published in 2009 in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Much of the surge has happened in the past two decades. From 1996 to 2005, the rate of antidepressant use rose from 5.84% to 10.12%.

    Recommended Related to Depression

    When Hospitalization Is Needed for Depression

    Most depression -- over 90% -- is treated on an out-patient basis. But, in cases of severe depression or treatment-resistant depression, some people need to stay in the hospital for a short time. You might seek hospitalization yourself. Or you could be hospitalized under a doctor's order. There is an unfortunate stigma associated with being hospitalized. Many people feel ashamed, as if it's a sign that they are "crazy" or "weak." Some people fear that being hospitalized is the same thing as being...

    Read the When Hospitalization Is Needed for Depression article > >

    But a report recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the drugs work best for very severe cases of depression and have little or no benefit over placebo (inactive pills) in less serious cases.

    That report isn't the last word on the topic, but it got plenty of media attention. So much, in fact, that many psychiatrists became concerned that people would misunderstand the findings and possibly dismiss crucial treatment.

    But the controversy also creates an opening to get a reality check about the popular drugs' advantages and limitations, experts tell WebMD.

    Here's what those experts said -- and the four questions they recommend you consider when deciding if an antidepressant is right for you.

    1. Do you truly have depression?
    2. Are you willing to stick with treatment long-term, including trying more than one drug?
    3. Would counseling help your mild depression, either alone or combined with an antidepressant?
    4. Do you have a good working relationship with your doctor?

    Psychiatrists Dissect the Study

    The report published in JAMA isn't new research -- it's a pooled analysis of data from six previously published studies. And it only includes two types of antidepressants -- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and older drugs called tricyclics.

    In light of those limits, experts interviewed for this story caution against reading too much into the findings.

    "This is the kind of study that really gets misinterpreted by the general public. It's always frustrating when that happens," says Jennifer Payne, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the Women's Mood Disorders Center.

    Some other psychiatrists agree. The report is "very limited," says David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of research at Massachusetts General Hospital's Depression and Clinical Research Program.

    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

    Today on WebMD

    contemplation
    Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
    jk rowling
    Famous people who've struggled with persistent sadness.
     
    depressed man sitting on hallway floor
    Learn the truth about this serious illness.
    Sad woman looking out of the window
    Tips to stay the treatment course.
     
    unhappy teen boy
    Health Check
    jk rowling
    Slideshow
     
    Pills with smiley faces
    Article
    Teen girl huddled outside house
    Article
     
    Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
    Article
    antidepressants slideshow
    Article
     
    pill bottle
    Article
    Winding path
    Article