Antidepressants work … Or do they?

It’s official: the drugs work … Or do they?

If you woke up on Thursday morning (22 February 2018) and turned on the radio, or picked up a newspaper, you would have found yourself inundated with wall-to-wall media coverage concerning what seemed to be a revolution in the world of mental health. ‘The drugs do work’, exclaimed almost every newspaper headline. After what was described as the largest study ever undertaken into antidepressants, lasting over six years, the results they said were clear. Antidepressants work. The subtext to this – not explicitly mentioned – was that over the past few years more studies have shown the opposite: that the drugs don’t work.

You can read the article in The Guardian here (and don’t forget to read the other important one from The Guardian, which I mention below).

In truth, if you look more closely at the data, and know how to interpret it, you will see that this latest study doesn’t overturn previous critical analysis at all; it supports it.

The point is, the critical voices raised against antidepressants in recent years have never claimed ‘the drugs don’t work’, but rather the degree to which they are said to work is clinically meaningless.

Which is to say, it is possible using statistical methods to perceive a tiny improvement in mood, but this has no meaning in the real world. And when you set this against the very real and often dangerous side effects of these drugs, then the data do not support their use at all. In fact, if you factor in the side effects and examine the data with a disinterested eye one clear winner emerges: the placebo.

This might not matter so much were it not for the fact that antidepressant use is attended with many serious and often dangerous side effects. It has been linked with suicides, homicides, and numerous lesser effects including sexual dysfunction, which can be permanent. They can also be highly addictive and very difficult to discontinue. Even 10 years after discontinuing Seroxat, for example, there are still many patients who suffer from electrical lightning type effects in the brain, and which in the absence of any official term for, they call ‘brain zaps’.

The conclusion drawn by the people quoted in this most recent research was that a million more prescriptions for antidepressants should be given out. In view of the well-documented side effects, this is highly irresponsible. I don’t usually enter this particular battle, but at the same time I have worked in the NHS as a psychiatrist and seen for myself the dangers of these drugs. How do doctors feel, what do they think, when a patient commits suicide after being put on Seroxat and never having been suicidal before. Did they, the doctors, read the information in the packet? Have they not read the unbiased reports of unbiased research?

I would urge anybody who is offered them, to do their research. You really owe it to yourself to find out before you take them and then find you can’t get off them.

You might ask, why then do so many people seem to think they work? It is a complicated question, but one thing can be stated categorically. The so-called method of action, that they correct a ‘chemical imbalance in the mind’, has been debunked years ago. In fact there never was any evidence for that theory.

There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the mind, at least not one that causes depression or similar mood disorders. There is no way of even measuring such an imbalance. And we don’t even know what high or low levels would look like.

The pharmaceutical industry has known about this for a long time, but doesn’t shout about it.

The reason some people claim that these drugs help them – note they always say ‘help’ them not ‘cure’ them – is that they make them feel different. Any chemical that passes the blood-brain barrier into your brain produces an effect of intoxication. It’s the same with alcohol coffee or any medicine. And if this feeling of intoxication feels better than how you previously felt, you might well feel the drugs are helping you.

What they categorically don’t do is fix anything.

People claim they get better with them. No doubt they are telling the truth. Because they would get better anyway.

There’s an old joke, that depression treated with antidepressants usually clears up in about 9 to 12 months, whereas left untreated it clears up in about 9 to 12 months. But what is not a joke, is that when treated with antidepressants you are more likely to become depressed again, whereas without antidepressants you are less likely to become depressed again. (This is also why some psychological therapies are said to be better than drugs for preventing recurrent depression – it’s not the therapy but the absence of drugs that has a favourable result).

As I said, anyone contemplating taking these drugs really should research them first.

The Guardian previously reported that
‘Seroxat, the British-made antidepressant which outsells Prozac, causes more people distressing withdrawal problems when they try to stop taking it than any other drug in the UK.
‘The committee on the safety of medicines, which receives reports of drug side-effects from doctors and pharmacists, has received an avalanche of complaints about Seroxat, one of the class of drugs known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). The SSRIs, including Prozac, have always been marketed as safe medicines which are supposed not to cause the dependence problems that emerged with older drugs such as Valium and Ativan.’

You can, and should, read the whole article here. The authors of the latest report and all who support it, should read this as well.

You can also read here what Professor Peter Gøtzsche, a world authority on the use of drugs in medicine, has written about the report.

And here you can read what Dr Joanna Moncrieff, also a world authority on the same topic, has written.

Another jaw-dropping eye opener to the worldwide problem of depression is the book Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm than Good by James Davies.

The SSRIs (including Seroxat and Prozac) and other antidepressants referred to in that article, have not changed (they are exactly the same as they were in 2002 when Sarah Boseley wrote that article. Nor have human beings changed. The inescapable conclusion is that nothing has changed and the harm done by doctors who prescribe such drugs continues. Ignorance is no excuse.

This begs the question: why did the study reported in the Lancet this week not include this all-important information. And if that omission is irresponsible, so is publishing it in The Guardian, The Times, The Sun and on the BBC News.

Who is telling the truth? Who knows what the truth is? Were all those patients who took Seroxat and other antidepressants and suffered as a result, lying? They were not part of a trial. They trusted their doctors’ knowledge and experience and suffered as a result.

Has anyone publicly apologised to the patients who are still alive and to the families of those who committed suicide? Has the medical profession learned anything and changed as a result? No, apparently not. Has the NHS changed? No, not even a public apology. Not to improve the treatment of mental health disorders or even make it safe.

Has the committee who decide what treatment is safe and recommended and what has harmful side effects and is not to be given, changed? No. Despite lack of any scientific evidence, they still insist that mental health conditions like depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Why?

The answer is simple. There are huge profits to be had for the makers of drugs like Seroxat and Prozac. The more they can sell their drugs and keep the profits rolling in the better for them. To ensure this, they have indoctrinated just about the whole of society via the psychiatrists, including the Royal College of Psychiatry in the UK and the American Psychiatric Association in the USA and other bodies around the world. As importantly, they have indoctrinated the media. The pharmaceutical industry has individuals and organisations in their pay. They donate large sums of money to individual doctors, self-help groups, the media and university departments. They pull the strings and control how doctors treat depressed patients and they control what research is done and what results are published in the departments they pay for. And so what if some patients, a mere few thousand of them, feel worse, or commit suicide, or are more likely to become depressed again and again, or to be addicted to them, as long as the profits keep rolling in.

For two undoubtedly unbiased learned professors, Professor Cipriani and Professor Geddes, from the undoubtedly unbiased prestigious institution, the University of Oxford, to say that a million more people should be taking these drugs – well that is surely music to the makers’ ears. But for far too many more patients it is like a prison sentence if not a death sentence for having done nothing other than trusted their doctors.

Shame on those professors for claiming that this paper proves that antidepressants are safe and effective and without so much as a recognition of all the irrefutable evidence that antidepressants are dangerous drugs and are really no more effective than placebos.

Shame on Sarah Boseley, Health Editor for The Guardian, for writing and printing this article without criticism and without mentioning her own previous article, which reported how dangerous these drugs are. This is not like her usually high stand of reporting.

And shame on Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, for endorsing this paper and saying that it now puts the debate to bed.

If psychiatry is at all scientific, which is very difficult to demonstrate, then we shouldn’t have blind faith in what profeteers tell us – even if they offer us tempting rewards.

Those in positions of authority have privileges and responsibilities. Perhaps they need to examine their knowledge and experience and their motives and biases more carefully.

Published by

Dr Clive Sherlock

Doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, founder of Adaptation Practice

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