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The Antidepressant Myth

Date: 01-23-10
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Irving Kirsch

Professor Irving Kirsch, author of The Emperor's New Drugs, discussed his research into the efficacy of antidepressant medication. Kirsch argued that, contrary to popular belief, depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and treating the condition with antidepressant drugs is no more effective than placebos.

Kirsch analyzed data from numerous clinical studies on antidepressants and said he was surprised to discover that "75 percent of the response to the drugs appears to be a placebo effect." According to Kirsch, patients improved mostly because they believed they were taking a medication that would help them with depression. He went so far as to say that the figure could be as high as 82 percent, with the remaining 'drug difference' accounted for by enhanced placebo effect.

Kirsch stressed that lack of serotonin cannot be the physical cause of depression. As proof, he pointed to a new French antidepressant that works as a selective serotonin reuptake enhancer (SSRE). This drug decreases serotonin levels -- exactly the opposite of how popular SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medication functions. Kirsch said studies show about 60 percent of patients get better regardless of whether they are on antidepressants that increase, reduce, or do nothing to their serotonin levels. This is a clear evidence to Kirsch that these drugs actually do nothing.

And not only are antidepressants an ineffective pharmaceutical treatment for depression, Kirsch pointed out that they come with a host of negative side effects, including insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and increased risk of suicide in children and young adults. Kirsch suggested alternative treatments for depression, such as physical exercise (shown clinically to help people get better) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which boasts effectiveness comparable to antidepressants. Patients treated with CBT are less likely to relapse, he added. Kirsch also advised people currently taking depression medication to continue if it was working for them.

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