Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Effectiveness of SSRIs again

Long and thorough review of the evidence. The conclusion:
An important point I want to start the conclusion section with: no matter what else you believe, antidepressants are not literally ineffective. Even the most critical study – Kirsch 2008 – finds antidepressants to outperform placebo with p < .0001 significance. An equally important point: everyone except those two Scandinavian guys with the long names agree that, if you count the placebo effect, antidepressants are extremely impressive. The difference between a person who gets an antidepressant and a person who gets no treatment at all is like night and day. The debate takes place within the bounds set by those two statements. Antidepressants give a very modest benefit over placebo. Whether this benefit is so modest as to not be worth talking about depends on what level of benefits you consider so modest as to not be worth talking about. If you are as depressed as the average person who participates in studies of antidepressants, you can expect an antidepressant to have an over-placebo-benefit with an effect size of 0.3 to 0.5. That's the equivalent of a diet pill that gives you an average weight loss of 9 to 14 pounds, or a growth hormone that makes you grow on average 0.8 to 1.4 inches. You may be able to get more than that if you focus on the antidepressants, like paroxetine and venlafaxine, that perform best in studies, but we don't have the statistical power to say that officially. It may be the case that most people who get antidepressants do much better than that but a few people who have paradoxical negative responses bring down the average, but right now this result has not been replicated. This sounds moderately helpful and probably well worth it if the pills are cheap (which generic versions almost always are) and you are not worried about side effects. Unfortunately, SSRIs do have some serious side effects. Some of the supposed side effects, like weight gain, seem to be mostly mythical. Others, like sexual dysfunction, seem to be very common and legitimately very worrying. You can avoid most of these side effects by taking other antidepressants like bupropion, but even these are not totally side-effect free. Overall I think antidepressants come out of this definitely not looking like perfectly safe miracle drugs, but as a reasonable option for many people with moderate (aka "mild", aka "extremely super severe") depression, especially if they understand the side effects and prepare for them.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Great! So when can we start getting antidepressants and therapy to the millions of Americans who need it but can't afford it?