Antidepressants do more harm than good, latest research findings. Exercise and talking therapies more effective. Professor Peter Gøtzsche in The Times.

Antidepressants do more harm than good.

Latest research findings.

53 million prescriptions written for antidepressants last year, double number of a decade ago
Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft anti-depressant tablets, close-up

Drugs given to millions of people to treat depression do more harm than good and must not be seen as a “quick fix” for psychological problems, a group of researchers will say today.

People with mild depression get little help from drugs such as Prozac and Seroxat but risk sexual problems, thoughts of suicide and debilitating withdrawal symptoms, says one of the world’s leading experts on medical evidence.

Professor Peter Gøtzsche, co-founder of The Cochrane Collaboration, says that “doctors treat patients much too loosely” and many would be better off with talking therapies or exercise.

He will today launch an organisation, the Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry that aims to “start a national debate about the use of psychiatric drugs and treatments, given the mounting evidence of ineffectiveness and harm”.

Other experts conceded there were legitimate questions to be asked about when doctors used antidepressants and whether talking therapies should be more widely available, but insisted drugs should not be demonised.

NHS guidance advises against using drugs for people with mild depression, but 53 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants last year, double the number of a decade ago, and Professor Gøtzsche said they are being used as an easy solution by doctors.

“They have some effect on severe depression but most of those who get treatment for depression don’t have severe depression and [the drugs] don’t work in mild depression,” he said. “So many people get harmed by these drugs and when few of those who have depression get any benefit the benefit to harm balance doesn’t look very good.”

Professor Gøtzsche said withdrawal symptoms such as irritability or agitation were often wrongly attributed to the depression, meaning people turned back to the drugs. “Half of patients have difficulty stopping drugs. Some never succeed and are hooked on drugs for life, based on something that might have been temporary and might have cured itself, like losing a boyfriend or failing an exam,” he said. “There are thousands of patients who have been terribly harmed by these drugs.”

GPs and psychiatrists need to make patients more aware of the side-effects of the drugs and that many bouts of depression will improve on their own, he said.

James Davies, a psychotherapist who co-founded the CEP, said: “During the past 30 years we have seen a dramatic rise in the use of psychiatric drugs. If the drugs were helping you would expect a significant reduction in mental health disability over this period — and yet the opposite is true. These figures raise some very difficult questions for modern psychiatry and for society more generally.”

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