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Antidepressants Work, A Large Systematic Review Concludes


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


Depression is a very common experience, with over 300 million people currently living with its symptoms. depressionVideo_Creative/Shutterstock

There’s been an array of controversy surrounding antidepressants over the past decades, ranging from concerns about their effectiveness to fears that overprescription is turning us into a “Prozac Nation”.

A massive new study in The Lancet has sought to put these debates to rest. An international team led by the University of Oxford in the UK has carried out a huge meta-analysis of almost 120,000 people and their experiences using 21 of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.


Their verdict: antidepressants work.

“This rigorous study confirms that antidepressants have an important place in the treatment of depression,” commented Dr James Warner, a psychiatrist at Imperial College London who was not directly involved in the study.

“Depression causes misery to countless thousands every year and this study adds to the existing evidence that effective treatments are available. This study also adds clarity about how effective and how well tolerated all the common antidepressants are, and should help clinicians and patients in treatment choices.”

Their analysis considered a drug “effective” if it reduced depression symptoms by 50 percent or more. All 21 antidepressants were shown to be more effective than placebos after 8 weeks. That said, some drugs were found to be more effective than others. The most effective were agomelatine, amitriptyline, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, and vortioxetine. Like most medications, these drugs are all sold under several different brand names.


Depression is a very common experience. Over 300 million people are currently living with depression and that figure is on the rise. Just like any problem with your health, mental or physical, it's perfectly OK to reach for help and there are plenty of treatments available, among which are antidepressants.

Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the Western world. There are numerous different forms that work in different ways, however, they all revolve around the idea of increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline. While this research has been widely praised, others have been quick to remind people that antidepressants are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution, with many other effective treatments still available.

“This is good quality research and the conclusions are backed up by solid data," added Professor Allan Young, of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. "However, we should be aware that these findings only apply to major depressive disorder and are calculated from group data so individual patients may differ significantly in their responses. 

“A lot of 'antidepressants' are used for other disorders (such as anxiety or OCD) or off-label (where the drug is prescribed for something other than the original condition for which it was officially approved) and this evidence does not apply in these instances.”


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