Antidepressants cause relapse says study

People who take antidepressants could be more likely to experience episodes of major depression in later life than those who use no medication whatsoever. This is the suggestion of a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which found such individuals could be nearly twice as prone to relapses.

Evolutionary Psychologist Paul Andrews, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University - an institution based by Lake Ontario in Hamilton, Canada - demonstrated that those who have taken, but then gone off, such tablets are at a 42 per cent risk of going through a bout of serious depression once again.

This compares to just a 25 per cent risk calculated for those who have never used antidepressants for their condition.

Mr Andrews explained that relapses become more commonplace the more tablets affect serotonin and other transmitters in the brain, adding: "All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. The trick is what happens in the long-term."

Dr Lucy Johnstone, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "This overview suggests that anti-depressants may disrupt the brain's ability to keep neurotransmitters in balance, thus leaving people who are suffering from severe depression more vulnerable to relapse. The implication is without anti-depressant interference, the brain would use its naturally evolved mechanisms to achieve resolution of major depression after an average of three months or so.

"We already know that there is little evidence that anti-depressants work better than placebo in milder cases of depression. If the same is true in more severe cases - and moreover if anti-depressants leave these people worse off in the long run - we should be extremely concerned.

"We also know that all types of depression are linked to life events - bereavement, relationship difficulties, trauma and so on. It is becoming increasingly apparent that evidence-based psychological therapies are the preferred way forward if we do not want to make a difficult situation even worse.

"As a clinician, I am told by clients every week: 'I know the pills are just papering over the cracks.' We need continued investment in psychological interventions if we are to offer people the help they really need."

The British Psychological Society report Understanding Bipolar Disorder can be downloaded free from this website until 12 August.