Study Finds Antidepressants to be Depressingly Ineffective

Prescription Antidepressants

The use of antidepressants has been controversial for quite some time.  And with good reason, altering the brain’s chemistry can yield unpredictable results. Regardless, drug companies and the media have done an extraordinary job at marketing these products and forcing them into our market.  Who hasn’t heard of Prozac?  If you’ve seen the recent commercials, you can finish this sentence, “Depression hurts, Cymbalta can…”

The use of antidepressants is very common. Between 2005-2008, the CDC estimated 11% of Americans age 12 and older took antidepressants [1]. Over 60% of these people had taken antidepressants for 2 years or longer, and unfortunately less than a third had seen a mental health professional in the last year.

With such high consumption of antidepressants, you’d think depression would be as solved like polio, right?  Wrong. A recent United Kingdom meta-analysis of 47 clinical trials found that antidepressant drugs provide almost no benefit to the people taking them [2].

Professor Irving Kirsch of the University of Hull led the study, which was published in the online journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine.  He said the analyzed data showed the drugs produced a “very small” improvement compared with placebo of two points on the 51-point Hamilton depression scale.

Furthermore, Professor Kirsch was quoted as saying, “Given these results, there seems to be little reason to prescribe antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients, unless alternative treatments have failed to provide a benefit.”

Alternative Approaches

The alternatives he mentions include exercise, talk therapy, interpersonal therapies, and counseling. In other words, activities that naturally stimulate and invigorate the body and mind are increasingly being seen as the first line of defense against depression. Antidepressants are beginning to take a back seat.

How we ended up in this position may be explained by a line within the pages of a 1994 publication entitled, “Listening to Prozac,” by Peter Kramer. Kramer suggested that anyone who is lacking “joy juice” might give themselves a dose of the “mood brightener” Prozac.

Depression isn’t something to be maligned, either. It’s a very serious clinical condition that affects and really debilitates a number of people. Suggesting a “run around the block” will fix their ailment is ignorant at best.  

However, given the results of the study, it is only reasonable to infer that some people who were prescribed antidepressants for depression were perhaps dealing with life’s ups and downs, daily routine, and other non-clinical stressors. If depression is caused by situational unhappiness, antidepressants alone will absolutely not help.

Moving Forward

As a result of the study, Alan Johnson, the United Kingdom’s Health Secretary said, “Talking therapies can have dramatic effects. We have put a lot of emphasis on medication in the past and it is about time we redressed the balance and put more emphasis on talking treatments.”

Alternative approaches to depression, specifically exercise, have been of interest for quite some time and shown promise. A 2004 meta-analysis entitled, The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed stated;

Lynette L. Craft Ph.D. and Frank M. Perna Ph.D. :

“The efficacy of exercise in decreasing symptoms of depression has been well established. Data regarding the positive mood effects of exercise involvement, independent of fitness gains, suggest that the focus should be on frequency of exercise rather than duration or intensity until the behavior has been well established.” [3]

I find it interesting that frequent exercise, not necessarily the most intense, is what positively impacted symptoms of depression.

Most achievements in life are the result of following a plan and process. It’s hard to finish a book without reading the first page.  Nobody gets to the top of the staircase without climbing all the stairs.  Battling depression is the same thing, and the evidence shows that those who add exercise, and other non-drug therapies, to their routine, may have the best success.

The natural product Lithium Orotate seems to work well for promoting a balanced mood.

– Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM


  1. Laura A. Pratt PhD, Debra J. Brody, MPH, Qiuping Gu MD PhD. Antidepressant use in persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2005-2008. National Center for Health Statistics. 2011 October. Number 76.
  2. Jeremy Lawrence. Antidepressant drugs dont work – official study. The Independent. 2008 February 26.
  3. Craft LL, Perna FM. The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;6(3):104-111.

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  • Amber Higgins

    I was put on Celexa a year or two after I had my daughter because I had an anxiety attack that turned into non-stop alternating between anxiety and depression. It was terrible and scary and I did everything I knew that was supposed to help, but nothing pulled me out of it. I feel like my brain chemistry changed after having a baby. I had protective mom feelings on overdrive that I guess I allowed to build and eventually spin out of control because I didn’t know any better at the time. Once I got into that state of mind, no amount of exercise, meditation or therapy would make it go away. I fought it hard, but after enduring weeks of feeling frightened and disturbed by my dark thoughts, I finally gave in and asked for a prescription. I never thought that sort of thing would happen to me. Before that experience, I used to not understand how anyone could even entertain suicide and thought that people who went on antidepressants should just buck up and get over it. Boy, was I naive. “Mind over matter” only works to a point. Brain chemistry is more complicated than I realized.

    However, if I could go back in time, I would make yoga, meditation, therapy, and health social activity a priority and not let myself get into that stressed out state in the first place. Now, I do whatever it takes to eliminate stress from my life and take time to calm myself when it starts to creep up on me. Most of all, if I knew then what I know now about how food, I would have used it as my medicine instead of prescription drugs. With the help of books on this subject, I have slowly and completely tapered off of Celexa and am hoping that the withdrawal symptoms will eventually subside. SSRI’s are terrible, and though they do help in the short term, they eventually stop working, and cause the very thing they were supposed to treat (depression and anxiety), as well as a mile long list of other side effects, including brain damage!

  • ghc_health

    Thank you Amber for sharing your story.

    -Dr. Edward Group

  • Bob Dole

    Ever since my step-dad got on anti-depressants he’s a completely different person, sure he’s easier to be around, but it’s NOT HIM.

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