Anti-depressants lead to relapse in 42 percent of those studied
Researchers from McMaster University suggest antidepressants just lead to relapse for many patients, leading to a vicious cycle of requiring more medication. In their study, which evaluated outcomes of depression treatment with medication from dozens of studies, the researchers found not taking an anti-depressant short-term may serve a better purpose.
How anti-depressants cause more depression
According to Paul Andrews, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, “All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. The trick is what happens in the long term. Our results suggest that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back.”
Andrews contends there is much debate about whether depression is a disorder. He says even though it’s painful, it may be the brain’s way of coping with stress that may be natural and beneficial, just like the body fights a fever.
But when symptoms are treated in the short-term by altering neurotransmitters and serotonin in the brain, Andrews says depression returns because there are no coping mechanisms in place once the anti-depressants are discontinued.
Because anti-depressants interfere with natural chemicals, Andrews explains the brain can overcorrect, causing depression relapse with discontinuation.
“We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain -- and that’s what they’re supposed to do -- the greater your risk of relapse once you stop taking them,” Andrews says.
According to the paper, published in the journal “Frontiers in Evolutionary Psychology”, 40 percent of individuals experience major depression at some time in their lives.
In the analysis, the rate of relapse from taking anti-depressants was 42 percent, compared to just 25 percent for those who didn’t use medication for treatment.
Symptoms that accompany depression, such as lack of sexual desire, appetite loss, and difficulty sleeping and decreased socialization are just the brain’s way of focusing on healing.
He says the majority of the psychiatric community believes depression is an “evolved adaptation that does something useful”, though he emphasizes that every case is not the same.
According to the study authors, major depressive disorder (MDD) can be difficult to diagnose, making it difficult to sort out MDD from a "normal adaptive response", that usually occurs from death of a loved one, job loss, or other stress.
For the study, the researchers looked at patients given anti-depressants through their treatment, medication and then placebo and those given just placebo.
Andrews likens anti-depressant to a weight on a spring. When the weight is removed, the spring bounces back. He says it may be that anti-depressants can lead to relapse and more depression in the same way.
Though there are several types of anti-depressant medications, he says they all disturb the brain’s natural regulatory mechanism, leading to higher rates of depression relapse. In the study, 42 percent of patients taking anti-depressants suffered higher rates of recurrent depression than those not given the medications.
"Frontiers in Evolutionary Psychology"; Blue again: perturbational effects of antidepressants suggest monoaminergic homeostasis in major depression
Paul W. Andrews et al; July 7, 2011