Research Shows Antidepressants Have Same Effect As Placebo Pills For 85% Of People

Antidepressants are quickly prescribed to people who are suffering from depression, but new research suggests that this popular prescription medication has the same effect on most people as a placebo pill.

By Gina Florio1 min read

We learned a few weeks ago that depression is not caused by a so-called chemical imbalance, as we have been told for many years. Public health organizations and medical doctors insisted for a long time that a lack of serotonin caused depression, which could be treated with anti-depressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). New research suggests, however, that antidepressants don't offer nearly as much benefit as we've been led to believe.

Research Shows Antidepressants Have Same Effect as Placebo Pills for 85% of People

A paper published in BMJ found that antidepressants have virtually the same effect as placebo in the vast majority of people. In 85% of individuals in clinical trials, the difference between the antidepressant and the placebo was about two points on a 52-point depression scale. Experts say this is clinically imperceptible.

There are two explanations for this minimal average difference: most people experience a small amount of improvement on the antidepressant than they would on a placebo, or a small group of people experience a larger effect from the antidepressant but that's canceled out by the larger group of people who experienced no effect whatsoever.

Only 15% experienced a larger effect from the antidepressant that they wouldn't have experienced from the placebo. “About 15% of participants have a substantial antidepressant effect beyond a placebo effect in clinical trials," the study reads.

The researchers accounted for factors such as age, sex, and baseline severity of depression when they were conducting the analysis and the trial was double-blind and placebo-controlled. The data included 242 studies of 73,388 participants between 1979 and 2016.

It's becoming clearer that depression, in the vast majority of cases, can and should be treated with lifestyle and diet. Antidepressants may not be nearly as powerful as we have been led to believe all these years.