ssri drug placebo jama antidepressantA study just published in JAMA Jan 5, reported that SSRI antidepressants are no better than placebo for most cases of depression. The authors reviewed 30 years of data and concluded that "the benefit of antidepressant medication compared with placebo may be minimal or nonexistent in patients with mild or moderate symptoms".

Of course, this is old news, and reminds me of the famous scene in 1942 film, Casablanca, where Captain Louis Renault declares, " I am Shocked, Shocked ... to find gambling here....Here is your winnings... Oh thank you." 

Better than Placebo for Severe Depression

I should add that the study found antidepressants work better than placebo for severe depression.  This is not surprising, since virtually  any psycho-stimulant can be found useful for the most the severely depressed patient.

Is Depression Really a Medical Disease?

Medically speaking, the term "Depression" is a vague constellation of feelings and symptoms scored by a questionnaire called the Hamilton Depression Score.  

How to Score Depression as Mild, Moderate or Severe? Online Tools

There are a number of handy on-line tools for taking the Hamilton Depression Score Questionnaire.

Here is one of them:

For the short 17-item version of the Hamilton questionnaire, scores can range from 0 to 54.   Hamilton scores between 0 and 6 are normal.  Scores between 7 and 17 indicate mild depression, scores between 18 and 24 indicate moderate depression, and scores over 24 indicate severe depression.  According to the Jan 5 JAMA study, if your Hamilton score is less than 24, then placebo is just as effective as  antidepressant drugs.  That means they work about the same as a sugar pill.

Here are the Hamilton Depression Score Questions (short version):
Mood (Are you sad, hopeless, helpless, worthless?) 

Feeling of Guilt (Do you have feelings of guilt, or self reproach?)

Do you have Suicide ideas, gestures or attempts? 

INSOMNIA (Do you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep?)

WORK AND ACTIVITIES (Do you have thoughts and feelings of fatigue or weakness related to activities,  or decreased or Stopped activities or working because of present illness?)  

Do you have Slowness of thought and speech; Do you have difficulty concentrating; slow movements)?

AGITATION (Do you have Fidgeting,  Playing with hands, hair, etc,  Moving about, can't sit still.  Hand wringing, nail biting, hair-pulling, biting of lips etc)?

ANXIETY (Do you have tension and irritability, Worrying,  Apprehension, Fears expressed)?

ANXIETY: SOMATIC (Do you have dry mouth, wind, indigestion, diarrhea, cramps, belching. - Cardio-vascular : palpitations, headaches. hyperventilation, sighing. Urinary frequency - Sweating)?

SOMATIC SYMPTOMS: GASTROINTESTINAL Do you have Loss of appetite, require laxatives or medication for bowels, or medication for gastro-intestinal symptoms?

SOMATIC SYMPTOMS: GENERAL - Do you have Heaviness in limbs, back or head? Backaches, headache, muscle aches. Loss of energy and fatigability?

GENITAL SYMPTOMS -Do you have loss of libido, menstrual disturbances?

HYPOCHONDRIASIS -  Do you have preoccupation with  your health.?

LOSS OF WEIGHT -Do you have weight loss from depression.?

INSIGHT - Acknowledges or denies being depressed.  ?

Overlapping Symptoms- Is it Really Depression ?

As is obvious, many of these feelings or symptoms are somewhat subjective and rather vague, so depression scoring is not an exact science and can be manipulated according to the agenda of the research or questioner. As you can see, many of these Hamilton symptoms overlap with real medical diseases.  For example patients with inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease would score positive for the GI symptoms even though they may not be clinically "depressed".  Somatic symptoms of fatigue and muscle pain may overlap with fibromyalgia and hypothyroid symptoms.  Slowness of thought and speech could overlap with a low thyroid condition or a neurological disorder such as B12 deficiency.  Patients in chronic severe pain contemplating suicide may not necessarily indicate clinical "depression".  Obviously, these patients need pain relief rather than an SSRI antidepressant.

Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms Overlap with Many of the Hamilton Symptoms

Many women with hormonal imbalance related to pre-menopause  or post menopausal transitions will have mood disorders and symptoms which overlap with many of the symptoms on the Hamilton Depression Score. 

For example, the term Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is commonly treated with SSRI antidepressants  by mainstream primary care and OB/Gyne Docs.  Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is a manufactured term made up by the drug companies to sell SSRI drugs and in reality, attempts to redefine the original term, PMS (premenstrual syndrome).  

With the Jan 5, 2010 JAMA article, we now have evidence that Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and other common forms of hormonal imbalance are poorly served by SSRI antidepressants.  Using SSRI's is simply the wrong way. The benefit of SSRI antidepressants for this group is the same as the benefit from placebo. Rather, this group of women should be properly evaluated, and then treated with bioidentical hormones to address their underlying problem.  We have noted considerable success using cyclic natural progesterone in this group of women with PMS and other hormonal imbalances.  In my opinion, natural progesterone is a far better form of treatment with none of the adverse side effects associated with SSRI antidepressants.

Adverse Side Effects of Antidepressants - Placebos Have NONE
When placebo and SSRI antidepressants are compared and found equally effective, the next question relates to adverse side effects.  By definition, placebos have no adverse side effects.  However, this is not true for antidepressants which have the following adverse effects:  Sexual dysfunction, weight gain and sleep disturbance are the most troubling adverse effects of SSRI anti-depressant therapy. The most common side effects associated with SSRI antidepressants are nausea, headache, nervousness, insomnia and sexual dysfunction. More side effects are listed here.

SSRIs and  Suicide Risk

Another troubling adverse effect of SSRI antidepressants is increased suicide first reported by Teicher in 1990.  According to David Healy (Let then Eat Prozac), the original clinical trial data was  manipulated by moving the suicide cases from the treatment arm over to the placebo arm of the study.  This manipulated data was then submitted to the  FDA who conveniently looked the other way.  This disturbing information was presented at a Cornell University Mar 25, 2009 talk by David Healy which can be seen here on You Tube.

The Army and Military Suicide from SSRIs Antidepressant Use

Another striking finding is the unprecedented increased suicide rate in the military with  widespread use of SSRI's and other psycho active drugs in the Army.   Again this is a rather sad commentary, and another nail in the coffin for SSRI drugs as being more harmful than helpful.

Articles with Related Interest:

SSRI Drugs and Overcome Depression Naturally by Jeffrey Dach MD

Paxil, Prozac and SSRI Induced Suicide by Jeffrey Dach MD

Protect Your Family from Bad Drugs by Jeffrey Dach MD

Links and References:
Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity A Patient-Level Meta-analysis by Jay C. Fournier, MA; Robert J. DeRubeis, PhD; Steven D. Hollon, PhD; Sona Dimidjian, PhD; Jay D. Amsterdam, MD; Richard C. Shelton, MD; Jan Fawcett, MD in JAMA. 2010;303(1):47-53. 

“What makes our findings surprising is the high level of depression symptom severity that appears to be required for clinically meaningful drug/placebo differences to emerge, particularly given the evidence that the majority of patients receiving ADM in clinical practice present with scores below these levels.”
Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: February 26, 2008
A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration
Irving Kirsch1*, Brett J. Deacon2, Tania B. Huedo-Medina3, Alan Scoboria4, Thomas J. Moore5, Blair T. Johnson3 1 Department of Psychology, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom, 2 University of
Depression treatment: We need better not simply more Getting more people into treatment for depression is not enough Published on January 5, 2010
Popular Drugs May Help Only Severe Depression By BENEDICT CAREY Published: January 5, 2010
JANUARY 6, 2010.Effectiveness of Antidepressants Varies Widely  By JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN

Patients with severe depression benefit most from antidepressant medications while those with less-severe symptoms see little or no benefit, according to a new analysis released Tuesday. Researchers combined the results of six studies involving patients ranging from mildly depressed to very severely depressed as rated on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, which doctors use to diagnose patients. The analysis, comparing 718 patients assigned an antidepressant or a placebo, is published in this
Penn Study Shows Antidepressants Work Best for Severe Depression, Provide Little to No Benefit Otherwise
Antidepressants Don’t Help Mild Depression: Study
In the 17-item version, nine of the items are scored on a five-point scale, ranging from zero to four. A
Hamilton rating scale for depression 17 questions
online HMD questionaire -  quick score for depression - adjusted for layman
online HMD questionaire -  quick score for depression - classic printable version
Casablanca is a 1942 film - Captain Louis Renault I am shocked — shocked— to find that gambling is going on in here!

Problems associated with long term treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors by Chantal Moret* and Mike Isaac*
The Antidepressant Dilemma - antidepressants have limited-to-zero efficacy for those with mild depression. Yet the drugs have been prescribed to that population in very high numbers (in June 2005, as I've reported before, the International Review of Psychiatry estimated that the total amount prescribed in the U.S. alone has been to upwards of 67.5 million people, almost one quarter of the general population).
Antidepressants Don’t Help Mild Depression: Study By Ed Silverman // January 5th, 2010 // 4:06 pm

Furious Seasons :Study: Anti-Depressants Ineffective For Mild, Moderate Depression,8599,1717306,00.html
Antidepressants Hardly Help By LAURA BLUE/LONDON Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008 Time MAgazine
Antidepressant-Placebo Debate in the Media- Balanced Coverage or Placebo Hype?
A spate of articles has recently appeared in the popular media with such intriguing titles as "Maybe It's All in Your Head," "Make-Believe Medicine," "New Study of Brain Illustrates the Power of Placebo," "Antidepressants: Hype or Help?" and "Misguided Medicine: A Stunning Finding about Antidepressants Is Being Ignored," to name but a few. Journalists have found a new public-interest story about mental health that readers seem to be hungry for-the antidepressant versus placebo controversy.