The news (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and widely covered by many major media outlets) last week that antidepressant medications may not be effective for people with mild-to-moderate depression was, frankly, depressing. It's bad enough that it can take up to six weeks to determine whether a medication is effective, and that the prescribing process is often little more than trial and error, but now to hear that they're likely not going to work at all? Oy.
So I was cheered a bit by today's article in the New York Times by Richard Friedman, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. He points out that the study in question is a meta-analysis--that is, a study of several other studies. While meta-analyses can be powerful ways to leverage the results of many smaller studies, they do have drawbacks. For instance, the researchers have to first decide which studies to include. The JAMA article compiled results from only six studies, Friedman points out, with a total of 718 patients. It also focused on only two drugs: Paxil and an older, more rarely used antidepressant called imipramine.
This is not to say that the results of the JAMA study aren't valuable. But clearly the final verdict must await larger studies and include more medications. That point may not have gotten across to others like me, who tend to skim headlines and vow to come back later to learn more. The problem was, after reading the headlines I was too depressed to give the subject the attention it deserved. Until now, that is.
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