June 1, 2010 -- Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for treating both anxiety and depression, but talk therapy appears to work just as well as the medications, according to a new survey. People who both take medicine and get therapy fare even better.
Nearly 80% of survey respondents with depression or anxiety reported antidepressant use, says Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor at Consumer Reports Health, which will publish the results of its third mental health survey of its readers in the July issue.
While medication produced good results, so did talk therapy. ''What we found is, if you can get yourself to talk therapy, and if you stick with it for at least seven weeks, you are going to get results as good as you would if you just popped a pill," Metcalf tells WebMD.
The survey, conducted in 2009, includes data from more than 1,500 survey respondents who had sought professional help for depression, anxiety, or another mental health problem between January 2006 and April 2009. They reported the treatments they sought and how well they helped, including specifics on types of drugs and side effects and the types of therapists they went to.
About 16% of U.S. adults have had depression at some point in their lives, according to a 2006 CDC survey, and about 11% are told by a health care professional they have anxiety.
Of the 1,544 respondents in the Consumer Reports survey with depression or anxiety, 30% reported depression only, 18% anxiety only, and 52% both at the same time. Most drugs now used for depression treatment also work for anxiety. The average age of the survey respondents was 58.
In the survey, those who took medications found that some drugs produced fewer side effects than other types.
Those who took the class of antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, and their generic equivalents had lower rates of side effects than those taking SNRIs.
SNRIs, or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, are a newer antidepressant class, often more expensive. Among them: Effexor, Cymbalta, and Pristiq.
The respondents who took SSRIs found them about as helpful as those taking SNRIs, with 53% of those on SSRIs saying they helped a lot and 49% of those on SNRIs saying that.
The side effects, Metcalf's team found, were higher than what is typically reported in drug company studies; 31% of those on SSRIs and 36% of those on SNRIs reported sexual side effects.
The first drug tried didn't always work, the readers reported; they took a median (half more, half fewer) of three.
Of the 45% of respondents who turned to talk therapy, either alone or with medication, 46% said the therapy sessions had made their condition "a lot better," while 45% termed things ''somewhat better."