A meme that continues to appear regularly in the media and in the comments section of this blog is “antidepressants are no better than placebo.” It is a false belief based on a faulty interpretation of the evidence. A new study has just come out that should put the final nail in its coffin. Antidepressants are indisputably effective when prescribed appropriately for moderate to severe major depression. Part of the confusion is that they have often been prescribed inappropriately for mild depression or sadness, where there is no evidence to support their use. They are serious drugs for a serious illness, not “happy pills.”
The “antidepressants are placebos” meme may have originated with Irving Kirsch. In a 1998 meta-analysis, he found that 75% of the apparent effects of antidepressants were placebo effects, and he suggested that the other 25% probably were too.