Antidepressant medicines are one of the most extensively used therapies for depression; nevertheless, experts are still learning about their long-term effectiveness.
A new study now suggests that antidepressants may not improve people's quality of life in the long run compared to depressed people who don't use this type of medication.
However, that is not to argue people should not utilize them. In many cases, these drugs save lives. However, the discoveries are just the most recent in a long line of research that has prompted a rethinking of antidepressants.
Do antidepressants help in the long run?
The study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, is based on data from the 2005-2015 United States Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a longitudinal study that tracks how Americans utilize health services. Over the course of the study, 17.47 million adult patients were diagnosed with depression on average each year, with two years of follow-up. That's a startling figure equivalent to the population of the Netherlands or Ecuador.
Among those, 57.6 percent were treated with antidepressant medicines, and the study’s authors stated that there were no statistically significant connections between antidepressants and the change in the group of persons diagnosed with major depression who did not take antidepressants. "In other words, the change in quality of life seen among those on antidepressants over two years was not significantly different from that seen among those not taking the drugs," the authors wrote in the study.
This statement can help validate the experiences of those who feel let down by antidepressants, as for some people, these medications provide little relief from depression. They can cause unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, sleeplessness, a decrease in sexual desire, and even withdrawal-like symptoms if abruptly discontinued.
What happens if you take antidepressants for years?
The study also found that antidepressant use was connected with some improvements in mental, but not physical elements of quality of life, which means more people reported that antidepressants improved their psychological distress and wellbeing, but their physical health problems, bodily pain, and lack of vitality often persisted.
Another point the researchers emphasized is that they were unable to separately examine any subtypes or varying degrees of depression. They stated that future research should look into the use of non-pharmacological depression therapies in conjunction with antidepressants.
It should also be noted that some experts have stated that substantial conclusions from just this study cannot be drawn, as those receiving the medications were often more depressed at the start. This makes comparison unfair, they stated, insisting other studies have shown the medications to improve the overall quality of life.
However, overall, the key to improving one's quality of life seems to be pairing antidepressants with support from a psychotherapist.
"Although we still need our patients with depression to continue using their antidepressant medications, long-term studies evaluating the actual impact for pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions on these patients' quality of life [are] needed," the team stated.