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Emmy Griffin / September 28, 2022

Sugar Pills Are Almost as Good as Antidepressants?

More groundbreaking news in the area of treating depression.

This past summer, the University of London conducted a mega study that debunked the theory of chemical imbalance in the brain being the cause of depression. This study has direct implications for the prescription of antidepressant drugs: namely, that these antidepressants may not actually help a depressed person.

Antidepressants, rather than helping balance the chemical imbalance, got patients hooked on psychotropic drugs that sometimes have dangerous side effects. An article for Newsweek (an altogether unlikely source for this sort of skepticism) weaves together a convincing and scientifically backed tale.

Dr. Mark Horowitz, the main protagonist of the Newsweek article, was galvanized into action after he tried to wean himself off of his antidepressant, Lexapro. Many popular antidepressant drugs fall under the category of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Roughly 43 million Americans were prescribed these drugs as of 2019, though with pandemic anxiety and depression, that number is likely higher. Dr. Horowitz is one of the authors of the mega study conducted by the University of London. His contribution was on the efficacy of SSRIs versus placebos (sugar pills). He found that the antidepressants were more effective only 15% of the time. It further underlines the point that SSRIs — drugs that have horrible withdrawal symptoms such as brain zaps, severe depression, panic attacks, and disrupted sleep — are not the solution they promise to be.

It is the pharmaceutical companies that are the main pusher of these drugs. As Dr. Horowitz commented: “They’ve made us all believe that normal aspects of the human condition are a medical illness called major depressive disorder — that normal reactions to difficult situations are a chemical brain problem that needs a medical solution. They convinced people these are very ‘mild’ drugs that are very easy to stop. None of this is true.”

This overprescription problem is about to get worse. Last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) drafted a recommendation to primary care and other general practitioners to start screening for anxiety and depression in adults under 65. This broader interest in screening is largely motivated by the increase in mental afflictions in the wake of COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, there was a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.

Screening for anxiety and depression in people under 65 is all fine and dandy. What is not fine and dandy is if doctors propose to treat these conditions with a huge increase in prescriptions for SSRIs.

Hopefully, the more these findings are discussed, the better educated the public can become. We need to approach anxiety and depression with a lasting solution as the goal and not just a quick “fix.”

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