By Alan Mozes Health Day Reporter
WEDNESDAY, April 20, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Millions of Americans take antidepressants to combat low mood. But a large new study suggests that these drugs over time may do little to improve overall quality of life.
“We found that the change in health-related quality of life was comparable or similar between patients who used antidepressants and those who did not,” said study lead author Omar Almohammed. Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.
The researchers were “surprised by the results”, he admitted.
However, “we are not saying that [antidepressants] are not helpful at all,” Almohammed noted. Quality of life, he pointed out, is just one of many measures designed to assess health outcomes.
Research suggests that patients and their doctors probably shouldn’t rely solely on antidepressants.
“We always recommend patients to continue using their antidepressants,” Almohammed said. “But they may also want to ask their health care providers to provide them with other non-therapeutic interventions, as this may have an additional impact on their quality of life.”
The Almohammed team focused on a large number of adult patients who participated in an annual health survey conducted by the US National Center for Health Statistics between 2005 and 2015.
In each of those years, approximately 17.5 million men and women surveyed in the United States were newly diagnosed with depressionat an average age of 48. Nearly 58% were prescribed an antidepressant.
The study authors did not specify which antidepressants were used by which patients. They also did not distinguish between types of depression or different levels of severity.
Nearly 9 out of 10 patients in the study were Caucasian, most (63%) were middle class or wealthy, and two-thirds were female. Women were more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than men (60% versus nearly 52%), according to the researchers.
Quality of life surveys were used to track each patient’s mental and physical health outcomes for two years after their diagnosis.
The surveys assessed physical issues such as overall physical function, physical limitations, pain, general health, energy levels and fatigue. Mental health issues were also tracked, including ability to socialize, limitations due to emotional issues, psychological distress and general well-being.
The result: After two years, those taking antidepressants reported feeling no better about physical or mental quality of life issues than those not taking the drugs, the researchers said.
Almohammed said the findings suggest that clinicians “may rely on the use of antidepressants, while underusing or underestimating the role and impact of non-therapeutic interventions.”
Yet he also pointed out that the study did not specifically explore the benefits of other types of depression treatment, such as psychotherapy or cognitive therapy. And Almohammed said the survey can’t rule out the possibility that antidepressants might be helpful in other measures of health, aside from quality of life.
The study results came as no surprise to Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale University/Griffin Hospital Center for Prevention Research and president of the preventive medicine advocacy organization True Health Initiative.
“Overall,” Katz said, “antidepressants tend to be only nominally effective, even in the short term.” Much of their impact can be attributed to a non-medicinal effect placebo effecthe added.
At the same time, Katz – who was not involved in the survey – pointed out that the study included all kinds of patients with depression, although there “may be many reasons why some people received these drugs and others not”. And these various reasons, he said, could have affected the effectiveness of these drugs.
Still, Katz pointed out that doctors’ understanding of how the brain works — and how best to treat mental health disorders — is still “pretty primitive.”
While he agreed that the study results are “not a reason for patients to forgo drug therapy,” Katz also suggested that it would be best to view the drugs “as one part — and can -not be the most important part – of a more holistic treatment plan.”
The results of the study were published on April 20 in PLOS ONE.
SOURCES: Omar Abdulrahman Almohammed, PhD, assistant professor, clinical pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacoeconomics Research Unit, College of Pharmacy, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; David L. Katz, MD, MPH, preventive medicine specialist and president, True Health Initiative, and CEO, Diet ID, and founding director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University/Griffin Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut; PLOS ONE, April 20, 2022
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