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Drug vs. Talk Therapy for Depression

Survey Shows Antidepressants' Side Effects More Common Than Package Labels Indicate
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 7, 2004 -- Whether it's talk therapy or drug therapy, getting help for depression or anxiety helps, Americans say. But one appears to work faster, while the other may be more effective.

The survey is a snapshot of the common American's experience with mental health therapy -- and the second such survey published by Consumer Reports. The 1995 report "has been cited in textbooks and is considered a landmark study with worldwide impact," said Joel Gurin, Consumer Reports executive vice president, in a news teleconference today.

"We think this newest study is just as important," he added.

"We hope our study will call attention to the need for further research of a large-selling category of drugs, one that millions of people are taking." Gurin said. "Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems can be as debilitating as any serious physical illness. But there really is not enough information about the risks and benefits of different treatments."

During the past decade, "the biggest change ... has been the dramatic shift from talk therapy to drug therapy for mental health problems," he noted. "In 1995, less than half of people getting mental health treatment -- 40% -- got drug therapy. Now 68% get drug treatment, and 80% of those treated for depression or anxiety get drug treatment."

However, the drugs "have some serious side effects ... that seem to be much more common than people realize ... much more common than you might think from seeing drug ads and from reports on drug studies," Gurin said.

The link between antidepressants and suicide rates among children and adolescents is "a very serious issue" that both Congress and the FDA are investigating in hearings, he noted. An FDA panel is meeting next week to determine if there is an increase in suicide and suicidal thoughts among kids taking antidepressants. The agency sent out a warning to doctors last year to be on the lookout for worsening depression or suicidal thoughts in these kids.

Another problem: "Many managed care programs limit mental health treatment to 10 sessions... which may deprive people of the treatment they need."

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