The Sad Truth About Antidepressants

Antidepressants

Modern medicine is full of many miracles. But are antidepressants one of them? A growing body of evidence suggests the meds taken by millions of Americans may not be the solution depressed people want.

During the past century, we witnessed the eradication of some serious diseases, the development of cures for previously incurable illnesses, and medications to help manage the symptoms of what could otherwise be life-threatening conditions. Yet, despite the progress that has been made in numerous realms of the medical field, there has not been an equal degree of advancement in the treatments for mental health disorders, including depression.

Despite the progress that has been made in numerous realms of the medical field, there has not been an equal degree of advancement in the treatments for mental health disorders. Click To Tweet

In the late 1980s, the now well-known antidepressant medication Prozac was introduced into our consumer consciousness because of its lower side effect profile and its reported ability to reduce symptoms. Following this, many other similar medications for depression cleared the FDA hurdles too, and launched the mind-drug revolution in the field of psychiatry. Since that time, prescriptions for antidepressants have been on the rise. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health issues for so many people, it’s estimated that more than 40 million people in the U.S. were taking an antidepressant.

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE ANTIDEPRESSANTS?

The theory behind the way these medications work is that they increase the availability of certain neurotransmitters in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine—which are chemicals associated with our sense of well-being. Therefore, it would seem to make sense that antidepressants could potentially be the solution for anyone struggling with depression. Unfortunately, that is far from the reality of the response rate to them.

Although people struggling with severe depression often benefit more from antidepressants, scientific research has repeatedly found that the average rate of symptom remission from taking these medications hovers somewhere between 30% and 50%. Ironically, in many studies on depression, placebos (fake pills) have a 50% response rate as does psychotherapy.

An important reason why more people don’t get relief from antidepressants is that depression does not have a singular cause. There are numerous underlying factors that can lead to depressive symptoms, including:

In addition, symptoms of depression are linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet, overeating, smoking, addictions, and being physically inactive. Furthermore, depression frequently accompanies medical problems. A research study published in General Hospital Psychiatry looked at the data from 30,801 adults with chronic medical conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, among others, and found that their risk for depression was 3 times higher than that of healthy control subjects.

ANTIDEPRESSANTS AREN’T THE ANSWER TO A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE

A 2022 study in the journal PLoS One analyzed the data on more than 17 million people who had depression along with at least one medical condition. The researchers specifically looked at the differences in the mental and physical components of the health-related quality of life (HRQoL) between those who took antidepressants for their depression and those who did not.

In this study, the mental components of the HRQoL assessment measured each person’s social functioning, psychological distress, any role limitations from mental health problems, and a sense of well-being. The physical components they evaluated were energy level and fatigue, pain, overall health, and role limitations due to medical conditions. The researchers were surprised by what they found. Compared to the people not taking an antidepressant, those taking them had some mild improvements in some of their mental scores but had no significant improvement in their physical scores. In other words, antidepressants were not helping them have a better quality of life.

4 BASIC STRATEGIES TO GET HEALTHIER AND BOOST YOUR MOOD

Most people will agree that having a good quality of life is important on so many levels because of its direct impact on our mental health and physical well-being. It can help to provide us with a sense of purpose and meaning and feel connected to others—without which our lives can feel empty or insignificant. Because of this, it is vitally important to take preventative steps to protect your health as much as you can. And, even if you’ve been bad to your body and brain, you can choose to make positive changes now that will serve you well.

Some basic strategies to prioritize your overall health should include:

  1. Getting an annual check-up and following your doctor’s recommendations for the treatment of any health problems. Ask your doctor to help you create a plan to overcome or best manage any medical concerns.
  2. Switch from a high-fat, high-sugar diet to one that includes clean protein, low-glycemic carbs, healthy fats (like avocados), and plenty of fresh produce—research has found that the more daily servings (up to 8) of fruits and vegetables a person consumes, the better their mood is.
  3. Get regular exercise. Physical activity is so important! If you’ve been a couch potato, start with a walk around the block and increase the minutes you walk each day. Gardening and housework count as physical activity too. Not only does exercise improve your fitness and help with weight management, it also boosts brain chemicals that improve your mood.
  4. Manage your stress. Whether it’s with supportive counseling, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or learning to extinguish the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) swirling around your mind, it’s critical to find a way to minimize your stress because it can be a big driver of health problems and depressive symptoms.

Getting control of your physical health is fundamental to not only having a better quality of life but also helping to keep psychiatric issues from holding you back. Change can be hard and giving up those bad habits can be a challenge, but you can do it. Start with one healthy thing at a time and notice that when you experience success with it you will be naturally motivated to keep going in the right direction.

As the saying goes, “Every journey begins with a single step.”

Depression and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

20 Comments »

  1. Why propel the stigma around mental health when medications have literally saved so many people and given them their lives back? It’s obviously not the “fix” for any one thing (spoiler alert: nothing is) but can be a huge catalyst for taking those steps in the right direction.

    Comment by Marci Cook — June 15, 2022 @ 4:48 AM

  2. I find this posts insulting, irresponsible and alarming. As some one who for over 20 years took a million supplements, ate exceptionally well, meditated, slept, got counselling, exercised and had no underlying conditions – nothing helped my depression like taking an anti depressant.
    Believe me as some one who has had a life long condition of depression – it was the best decision ever!!
    There is so much stigma with mental health – there is no need to further add to the problem.
    As for the 30 to 50% effectiveness – it has to do with low methylation a leading cause of depression.
    Many lives have been save with this medication. There is a place for a wholstic approach – so please do not demonize something that has given relief to millions.

    Comment by Alexandra — June 15, 2022 @ 4:55 AM

  3. I have used medication for depression now for many years, I am 72 and havel learned to look at life and every day as something positive, no matter if it brings difficult tasks of life , I have wanted to get of them and try to turn “normal” feelings. Wish I could , Am I taking chances? wish someone could give me an answer. I am in fairly good health, Diagnosed with Fibro Myalgia early this year, triggered from atakor cholesterol medication. Am so annoyed having to take prednisolone steroids , which are making my immune system weaker. Anyone give me aome feedback.

    Comment by Thordis Malmquist — June 15, 2022 @ 5:20 AM

  4. I have been on an antipressant for 15 years, and they have been a complete game changer for me , I felt “ right” unless I forget to take my medicine. I believe the issue with these medications is that most are prescribed by doctors who start with one medication but do not follow up properly, and the patient doesn’t know what to expect . Thry already feel bad enough so are easily prone to want to give up if they have side effects, What a person needs is so individualized, but with most doctors there is no correlation to those differences.
    I’m a therapist and I see it all the time 95% of GP’s will RX Lexapro, which like all the others, works for some but not others.
    No one really tells the patient that it could take some trial and error to find the right one. My mother had depression back in the 70’s and was hospitalized for for a long time. With today’s drugs, our entire family’s life could have been altered tremendously if she could have had access to the right meds back then .

    Comment by Carla — June 15, 2022 @ 6:00 AM

  5. I was dismayed to not see relationships mentioned once in this article, as a contributing factor to depression and other mental illnesses. The factors related to relationship can be various — being in an abusive relationship, or a toxic relationship, growing up in a dysfunctional family, having alcoholism or drug addiction in the family and environment, an abusive boss, etc… and finally, the lack of real community in American society. Many Americans are living without real community, nowhere to go when trouble occurs. Please don’t mention religion because the various religions are places where alot of abuse occurs as well. I just don’t know how it’s possible to discuss depression without mentioning social factors. Seems rather odd.
    Thank you otherwise for your good advice.

    Comment by Leigh — June 15, 2022 @ 6:31 AM

  6. I have been taking ADs for management of fibromyalgia pain. It seems to be effective. Any info on that?

    Comment by Malissa Yocum — June 15, 2022 @ 6:56 AM

  7. Love this article! I tend to dislike medication, and believe there are alternatives. I know a few people who have not benefited from depression medicine.
    Thank you for great information! Although much is common senses, it helps to be reminded.

    Comment by Janlynn — June 15, 2022 @ 7:35 AM

  8. I sincerely hope that it will not be a “sad truth” that many people reading this article may not seek help for their depression thinking that antidepressants are a “bust.” This is far from the truth. The first “antidepressant’ was found when tuberculosis (TB) patients were being treated in sanitoriums for their tuberculosis and it was found that their moods improved! Countless individuals have benefited from antidepressants and this article does not adequately reflect this. Life style changes help and they should be committed to for a lifetime. Antidepressants do not need to be for a lifetime, however they are and have been life saving for very many in the short term.

    Comment by C Hansen — June 15, 2022 @ 7:36 AM

  9. Which antibiotics are the worst ones for triggering depression?

    Comment by Barb Bufore — June 15, 2022 @ 8:30 AM

  10. Am curious if you have any specific info on anti depressant VENLAFAXINE including long term side effects at 300 mg dosage level.

    Comment by Connie — June 15, 2022 @ 9:21 AM

  11. I have learned continuously about depression/anxiety through your post. I have a cluster of symptoms in the winter, not so much in the warmer months. Meds increase in the winter, less in summer. Nothing else changes. Aerobics 3-4days, Tai Chi 2days. I’m a pre-senior🙂 Of course covid didn’t help. I’m thinking low vitamin D in winter. But anxiety is what I’m told, low serotonin. Would love to stop the mess. A liver can only take so much.

    Comment by Dannette Larsh — June 15, 2022 @ 9:33 AM

  12. My son was on medications for bipolar. He died from chronic alcohol misuse at the age of 40 in January of 2021. I wish that I had known there was an Amen Clinic in Chicago. I feel that might have been what could have helped him. I discovered the Chicago clinic the day he died.

    I questioned the medications and their side effects for him personally. I never mentioned it to him. I had a brother who was not always compliant with medication for the same diagnosis and died at the age of 48.

    Comment by Patricia Hoffman — June 15, 2022 @ 1:16 PM

  13. Everyone in my family going back to my grandparents has some sort of mental issue. I have severe ocd and health anxiety. At the age of 58 i finally gave in and went on Zoloft. I suffered my entire life, i wish I had started meds sooner. No amount of exercise, healthy eating, supplements or meditation helped me. Meds save lives. Period!!

    Comment by Carolyn — June 15, 2022 @ 3:25 PM

  14. I thought this a balanced article and didn’t think it in any way should make people with mental health issues feel any level of shame. I am currently on antidepressants and certainly didn’t have a strong negative reaction. Always good to be reminded of the importance of looking after our physical health. Please continue disseminating information on current research. It is quite empowering and enables us to be better informed of options when seeing our medical practitioner.

    Comment by Elizabeth Love — June 15, 2022 @ 5:38 PM

  15. I am a healthy retired 64 year old who exercises daily, eats healthy, has a good social life and marriage, enjoys life…and I’ve been on anti depressants for years. It started after numerous miscarriages and I went on them in my mid 40s because I was suicidal! I’ve tried going off several times with no success. It is worse in winter (SADD) so I use a light box which helps. But I’ve finally accepted that I’m okay with this! I want to be happy everyday and not feel a fog hanging over me or sad about nothing or unmotivated to do anything. Life is too short to worry what others think or to feel ashamed that I need to take this medication..,I’d never feel that way if it was medication for heart disease, cholesterol, diabetes…I have a mental health issue and this helps. I don’t think this article tells the truth for those who truly understand and suffer from depression. Each person must decide how they want to live their life and I choose to take this medication so that I can live fully!

    Comment by Ellen — June 15, 2022 @ 6:05 PM

  16. A long-distance patient, I was evaluated and scanned at the Amen Clinic Northwest in the mid-2000s for a long-term history of combined disorders, including ADD/LD, anxiety, and depression. In terms of medical history, I had started using fluoxetine (Prozac) in the late 1980s off-label for anxiety, and it was initially a godsend. After a few months, I had to admit that it made my ADD (not yet diagnosed) worse, and stopped taking it with psychiatrist approval after one year. I tried other SSRIs and SNRIs in the 1990s, but none of them worked well for me; those that worked somewhat were quite sedating. The psychiatrist I saw for nearly 10 years (the same one who initially prescribed fluoxetine) said he had two patients who could not take SSRIs and SNRIs because they were too sedating; in my case, I think in retrospect that this was due to ADD comorbidity.

    My late mother was formally diagnosed with major depression and anxiety in her 60s (she’d probably had both conditions at least since late adolescence/early adulthood, but they escalated after she retired and had a medical crisis). When she began takng sertraline (Zoloft), everyone in my immediate family agreed she became a different, happier person. Unfortunately, life events that would be “normal high stress” (for example, moving to a new home) for most people caused her to spiral into what her psychiatrist diagnosed as psychotic depression, which in her case was only relieved by ECT. After an ECT series, the sertraline (sometimes taken in combination with other drugs) would work for her again. She was nearly 83 at the time of her last ECT series, and died of natural causes at age 86.

    Depression is obviously complicated and different treatments work for different people, but I often remember something Dr. Amen said in one of his videos that I watched in the mid-2000s: the best way to prevent depression is to get enough sleep, eat a healthful (in my case low-carb and grain-free) diet, and exercise. I know from experience that this is at least 50-75% correct. Although I am still prone to anxiety and depression, they are now more episodic than chronic. I now only take one medication “as needed” for ADD. I will never be neurotypical and have multiple life issues relating to this, but my life is somewhat better than it was before my Amen Clinics evaluation.

    Comment by Robea — June 15, 2022 @ 6:43 PM

  17. I think what this article fails to mention is the difference between mild to moderate Depression, versus Major Depressive Disorder. Many people taking antidepressants fall into the category of mild to moderate Depression. Antidepressants are less likely to be effective for those people, simply because their brain chemistry is not necessarily the main contributing factor in their “illness”. I am not saying they are not officially depressed, but it is often just stress related or situational. That population is more likely to get well using the alternate methods mentioned. For someone with severe MDD, (Major Depressive Disorder), suicide is much more likely to occur… and sometimes the medications do nothing. After battling Depression since 1977, the only thing that ever helped me was ECT. (shock treatment) Medications help keep me stable otherwise. My point is just that most people who get antidepressant medication from their internist are not seriously depressed. And so the meds are overprescribed, and thus have much less efficacy.

    Comment by Stephanie — June 15, 2022 @ 7:16 PM

  18. Thank you! I know people who have been helped by antidepressants and some who have been devastated by them. They undoubtedly help some people; for that, I am grateful. Mental health is complicated. Too few doctors understand the mind body connection and differences between individuals. I am glad to see that you discussed the negative effects of Lyme, but what about mold, yeast and hyperglycemia? What about trauma and the vagus nerve? What about gluten, dairy or other food intolerance s? What about the gut micro biome and it’s correspondence to serotonin? Why aren’t their discussions about black box warnings and other potential negative side effects? I wish medication was not considered the only treatment for something as individual as mental health.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 15, 2022 @ 7:47 PM

  19. Remeron and Zoloft saved my life.
    Don’t use the word truth unless you are God.

    Comment by Terry Myers — June 15, 2022 @ 8:45 PM

  20. I find it troublesome that cognitive behavioral therapy is not mentioned in the article. It saved my life on Several Occasions. Yes, I had been in outpatient treatment for the last 52 years. I know that medications are not the sole answer for clinical depression. An example:. 3 years ago my wife of 25 years left a 3 page missive in the bathroom for me to read in the morning. She wrote that she “could not be who she wants to be, with me in the house”. I loved her so much, but on reflection, I could understand that living with me was certainly no walk in the park, so to speak. You see, I had to close my company when I reached 62, due to advancing rheumatoid arthritis and peripheral neuropathy.

    I was a successful fire investigator. My wife was appointed to a district court judgeship and we had friends (mutual, or so I believed), that were work related as I was in court as an expert witness over a 9 state area.

    I can’t help but to believe that my subsequent forced retirement, coupled with complaining about continuous pain from the R. A. and my inability to deal with losing my income and “status” of my work, which in turn manifested in heightened depressive episodes made it impossible for her to carry the burden of living with me.

    We are still friends. I asked her to not file the final documents toward the divorce, asking her to please leave the situation in as-is, since I bought another house 5 miles away, and live alone.

    I have 5 children, of which only one will speak to me now.

    So, to conclude, I have no life worth living. Your publication does a great disservice to those suffering from depression. Depression is not some type of comforting blanket we shroud ourselves in. You do not take into account relationships or CBT used in controlling the manifestations of depression.

    Instead, you cherry-pick studies supporting your position, as if we are incapable or have been to lazy to try to learn about medications for the treatment of clinical depression. Indeed, you choose to leave out the majority of the aspects of the lives of people who are doing their best to carry on each day. I find it heartless at best, and naive, certainly, to blatantly assert that depressants do not help. I know they do not “cure” depression. To date, there is no cure.

    I find that you are good at stating the obvious. Certainly no one would disagree that a healthy lifestyle aids in somewhat lessening manifestations of depression. What about those who can’t help the disease? Maybe we should just die, hmm?

    Comment by Terry Duncan — June 16, 2022 @ 7:34 AM

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