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A major study says that anti-depressants really work

After years of controversy about their effectiveness, a news study claims to have proved their worth

The argument surrounding the validity of anti-depressants in the treatment of mental health conditions can be put to rest, according to a new study that argues that medication is effective in the treatment against depression and anxiety.

The groundbreaking study, which was published in The Lancet, took six years to complete and analysed the data from over 500 trials of short-term treatment of acute depression in adults. It found that 21 common anti-depressants were more successful at treating symptoms than placebos. It’s a discovery that Professor Carmine Pariante, spokesperson for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said “finally puts to bed the controversy on anti-depressants, clearly showing that these drugs do work in lifting mood and helping most people with depression.”

Of the 21 anti-depressants, one of the most common medications fluoxetine (formerly known as Prozac) was found to actually be among the least effective, although it was better tolerated, and had fewer dropouts and fewer side-effects reported. The best-working medicine was amitriptyline, although it was the sixth best-tolerated drug among respondents. Still, the study notes that the medication proven to have the greatest effect was still down to how each individual reacts.

The study, which also took into account all the published and unpublished data from pharmaceutical companies that could be gathered, offered up recommendations as to how mental health problems should be treated. Most interestingly, it’s suggested that millions more people around the world should be prescribed medication and/or be offered talk therapies, which are proven to be just as effective in the treatment of depression.

There was also, as The Guardian reports, an accusation levied that just one in six people receive proper treatment for their mental health issues in the rich world, whereas only one in 27 do in the developing world. As John Geddes, professor of epidemiological psychiatry at Oxford University and one of the authors on the study, said, “It is likely that at least one million more people per year should have access to effective treatment for depression, either drugs or psychotherapy.”

Echoing Geddes’ comments, Rachel Boyd, Information Manager at Mind, said that despite the findings it’s important to note people may react to differently to various therapies and medication, and that medications “are not the solution for everyone and are not recommended as a first-line treatment for mild depression”.

“Anti-depressant prescriptions have been rising steadily for many years”, she added. “It’s essential that we understand the reasons behind this continued rise including how many people are taking anti-depressants, for how long, and whether they are being offered other treatments and therapies alongside. Giving people a choice of treatments is key, whether that’s drugs, talking therapies, alternatives such as arts therapy or exercise, or a combination of some or all of these.”

The new research comes in the midst of a global mental health crisis. According to the study, an estimated 350 million people are affected by depression, with the Mental Health Foundation suggesting that nearly half of all adults in the UK think that they have had a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetime.

“Someone managing their mental health problems should be treated as a whole person, and they should be able to access whatever treatment, or combination of treatments, works best for them” – Rachel Boyd, Mind

Still, despite increasing evidence that more needs to be done in the treatment of mental health, a new analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists argues that the income for mental health trusts in England is lower than it was six years ago, despite government claims of increased funding. It’s a move that has lead The Independent to accuse the government of lying about mental health spending. Likewise, reports published by The Guardian suggest that the budgets of NHS mental health trusts in England have risen by just 2.5% in the last year, a far cry from the 6% offered to acute trusts and specialists services.

As you’ll know if you’d tried to get access to a mental health service on the NHS lately, many people are often held on a lengthy waitlist. It’s a problem that’s even worse among under-18s, with The Guardian reporting that some young people have to wait over 18 months for treatment, which can lead to self-harm and dropouts in education. This comes despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s mental health reforms to focus on young people.

What is promising is that this recent study should quell any reservations people have about approaching people about their mental health and seeking help in the form of medication and talking therapies. There is still a stigma surrounding the taking of anti-depressants, which hopefully these new findings will help to squash. However, regardless of shifts in attitudes, more still needs to be done in terms of providing adequate mental health treatment on the NHS. As Boyd suggests, “Someone managing their mental health problems should be treated as a whole person, and they should be able to access whatever treatment, or combination of treatments, works best for them.” The ball is now in the government’s court to truly deliver on their promises to provide better mental health care.