Be Your Own Sleuth: Reports Exaggerate Antidepressant Study Results

Image: Corante.comImage:


I saw the story's headline this morning on "Limits to antidepressants' effectiveness," but as I read beyond the headline, I learned that the effects of only two antidepressant medications (the generic versions of Paxil and Tofranil) were studied in the research purportedly demonstrating that all or most antidepressants have little effect on mild to moderately depressed persons.

A subsequent Google search found 35 online news stories (not including blogs) covering the same recently published University of Pennsylvania's study on antidepressants.  Thirty-three stories had equally misleading headlines and some copy made sweeping statements about the amount of money spent (wasted?) on antidepressants every year for persons with mild and moderate depression.  (I smelled another sweeping government report coming!)

A little more digging found the source of the distortion: the University's own press release jumped to far-reaching conclusions, even leaving out the fact that only two medications were tested as well as a few other pertinent factors.

Only one of the 35 reports covering the story followed up by contacting the lead author of the study directly: Kathleen Doheny from WebMD.  She also contacted physicians familiar with the effects of various anti-depressant drugs, one suggesting the study findings were obvious, as in "any other disease process, the more severe the disease or symptoms, the more improvement with treatments."

A professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the anxiety and depression clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Gregory Asnis, MD, told WebMD that "The data is unfortunately skewed to two medications, only one of which [Paxil] is still commonly used."  

Additionally, Dr. Asnis noted that in the University of Pennsylvania study the effects of the drugs were measured after a short period of time - 6 to 11 weeks - when the effects of the medications could have kicked in later.

This is just one day, one medical study that few press reports questioned.  I have no horse in this race.  I'm only suggesting that when you read headlines that seem a bit far-reaching, even in medicine, you may have to be your own sleuth to get closer to the truth. 

To read more about the University of Pennsylvania's antidepressant findings, I definitely recommend the story on WebMD.


Jan 6, 2010
by Anonymous

Re: Be Your Own Sleuth

The Physicians Desk Reference states that SSRI antidepressants and all antidepressants can cause mania, psychosis, abnormal thinking, paranoia, hostility, etc. These side effects can also appear during withdrawal. Also, these adverse reactions are not listed as Rare but are listed as either Frequent or Infrequent.

Go to where there are over 3,500 cases, with the full media article available, involving bizarre murders, suicides, school shootings/incidents [51 of these] and murder-suicides - all of which involve SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc, . The media article usually tells which SSRI antidepressant the perpetrator was taking or had been using.

Jan 6, 2010
by T Goodman

re: Be Your Own Sleuth

While these stories may be true, your point is not related to this column.  My own point was that most of the news stories about this specific study, and even the original press release, made inaccurate generalizations.  Additionally, the study in question was not examining aberrant behavior resulting from the use of any drug; it compared the self-reported results of two antidepressant drugs with the self-reported results of placebo.

Jan 7, 2010
by Anonymous

Re: Be Your Own Sleuth

I understand that my comment was not relevant to the substance of your article. However, I thought it more important to warn others of the dangers of antidepressants, especially SSRI antidepressants, than it was to comment on any slight inaccurate generalizations coming from these studies.

Jan 14, 2010
by Anonymous

These medications are also helpful to many.

No one can actually get inside someone else's head to experience that person's thinking or emotions. I've been on Zoloft for about 8 years for panic attacks. Twice during that time I stopped taking it thinking I could do without it. But, after about 4 months each time, the attacks recurred. If you have never experienced a severe panic attack, there is no way to describe it for another's comprehension. Since my comment is anonymous, I will tell you what happened that proved to myself that I did need the medication after I stopped taking it the second time. One morning, driving down the highway on my way to work, the same as every day, for no reason whatsoever I began having an attack; completely lost control of my bladder and was hyperventilating and had to turn the flasher on and just sit there in the middle of the street until I was able to proceed. I have never had any side effects from this medication and as long as it works for me I will continue to take it.

Jan 19, 2010
by T Goodman

Thank you...

... for sharing your experience with others.  I am glad that you were able to find a medication so helpful to you.  Panic attacks are horrible even when you understand what's happening.