Antidepressants are frequently prescribed but still critized; a perspective on causes and solutions
Background From around 1980, antidepressants (ad) have increasingly been prescribed, for longer periods of time, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (ssris). Paradoxically, their effectiveness is still doubted, especially outside the psychiatric profession.
Aim To explain increase and offer a perspective on causes and solutions, and to indicate how to reach consensus.
Method Position paper with critical analysis and synthesis of relevant literature.
Results The rise in AD prescriptions results from: 1. increased safety and ease of prescribing, 2. increased presentation and recognition of depression in primary care, 3. extension of indication criteria, 4. effective marketing strategies, and 5. effectiveness in acute phase (aad) and of relapse/recurrence prevention in continuation/maintenance phases (coad).Critics point to: 1. low added value of aad relative to placebo, 2. many drop-outs and non-responders, 3. relapse/recurrence prevention with coad works only for responders to aad, 4. relapse/recurrence after AD discontinuation often involves withdrawal symptoms, and 5. publication bias, selective reporting, selective patient selection, and suboptimal blinding, resulting in overestimated effectiveness and underestimated disadvantages.Factors that keep fueling the controversy are: 1. critics stress the net effectiveness of AD whereas proponents point at gross effectiveness which includes spontaneous recovery and placebo effect; 2. persistence of distrust in industry-funded rcts; 3. ideological positions, reinforced by conflicts of interest and selective citations; 4. lack of rcts with relevant long-term outcome measurements.
Conclusion Although consensus is difficult to achieve given the ideological component, there are options. Three factors are critically important: confer to establish which data convince the opposition, response prediction (what works for whom), and rcts with long-term functional outcomes.