What if antidepressants were not just too easily available and overly prescribed by doctors—as has been argued in many venues for years now, though to no discernible effect—but didn’t even work? That’s the takeaway premise of psychology professor Irving Kirsch, Ph.D., in his new book, The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth.
Antidepressants are supposed to be the magic bullet for curing depression. But are they? I used to think so. As a clinical psychologist, I used to refer depressed clients to psychiatric colleagues to have them prescribed. But over the past decade, researchers have uncovered mounting evidence that they are not. It seems that we have been misled. Depression is not a brain disease, and chemicals don’t cure it.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that SSRI’s like Paxil and Prozac are no more effective in treating depression than a placebo pill. That means they are 33 per cent effective, which is the percent of patients who will respond well to a sugar pill.
“Our data should give some pause” to doctors and patients weighing antidepressants, Robert DeRubeis, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said in a telephone interview. “They should give some consideration to other alternatives.” Exercise has been shown to be helpful to stem depression, as does psychotherapy, and even “self-treatment” with the aid of the plethora of self-help literature, he said.