Scientists punch holes in theory that SSRIs don’t work

Swedish scientists have hit back at recent claims that antidepressants don’t work, labelling the hypothesis as “bizarre”.

In the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they counter the assertion that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) outperform placebo solely or largely because of their side effects.

Their analysis of 2273 patients treated with citalopram or paroxetine found they had a larger reduction in depressed mood than the 1071 patients given placebo, regardless of whether they reported adverse events or not.

The researchers note that 20% of the SSRI patients did not suffer any adverse effects, which they say totally debunks the side-effect hypothesis.

“Our results indirectly support the notion that the two drugs under study do display genuine antidepressant effects caused by their pharmacodynamic properties,” they write.

“It’s unfortunate that the media has often described these as ineffective,” says team leader Professor Elias Eriksson, professor of pharmacology at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

While the study does not rule out the possible existence of a modest association between early side effects and antidepressant response for SSRIs, the researchers say the results “cast serious doubt on the assumption that the superiority of antidepressants over placebo is entirely or largely due to side effects enhancing the placebo effect of the active compound by breaking the blind”.

“We conclude that the 'placebo-breaking-the-blind' theory has come to influence the current view on the efficacy of antidepressants to a greater extent than can be justified by available data.”

You can access the study here.