How Effective Are Antidepressants In Treating Depression?

Depression is a word which is often overused in everyday conversation.

When we say we are feeling a bit depressed, typically we mean that we are feeling sad, melancholy or a little listless that day. This colloquial use of the word means that people without mental illness often underestimate how debilitating clinical depression can be.

Depression can make you wish you could disappear

Everyone has times in their life where they have feelings of misery and hopelessness, but clinical depression is a pervasive state which stops people from functioning normally. To be classed as major depression, a patient must report the symptoms for at least two weeks, and the emotional symptoms are frequently accompanied by serious issues such as insomnia or thoughts of suicide.

Understand this: It is not a state which a person can simply snap out of.

Talking therapies have excellent success rates when it comes to helping sufferers to manage their symptoms, but this type of treatment is not made available to everyone.

Instead, patients are far more likely to prescribed an antidepressant.

Although modern antidepressants are non-addictive and have lower incidences of side effects, many people do worry about the physical effects of taking them and would prefer not to take the drug unless the benefits truly outweigh the risks.

We actually have a post showing how food can affect your mood which you can check out to see a more natural method to drugs.

So how effective are widely prescribed medications at treating depression?


This post is for informational purposes only.​

Health Form is not an expert in any particular field of health and we highly recommend seeing your primary doctor if you or anyone you know, think you may be experiencing feelings of depression.

Please visit our Medical Disclaimer for further details.

If you are have severe symptoms or suicidal thoughts; please stop reading this immediately and contact one of the links below:

How Effective Are Antidepressants?

1650731Monitoring the effectiveness of an antidepressant drug is not as simple as you might assume.

Are antidepressants effective?

Clinical trials have shown that around a third of patients will report improvements in their symptoms, even if they are administered sugar pills.

This means that a sizable percentage of people undergoing treatment may be benefiting from the placebo effect.

Their symptoms improve because the attention from medical professionals makes them believe that they will get better.

However, between sixty and sixty-five percent of patients find that their depressive symptoms ease when treated with a drug such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

So in many cases, the placebo effect alone cannot account for the improvements. But even then, it is hard to quantify the effectiveness of a drug.

Difficulty in assessing success rate

Part of this difficulty in assessing success rates comes from the fact that there are varying degrees of depression.

While you might expect those at the milder end of the spectrum to be easier to treat, scientific studies have in fact shown that SSRIs tend to have very little impact if the symptoms are less severe. It is the patients who are classified as having moderate to acute depression who are the most likely to respond well to medication.

Even when the patient improves whilst on the medication, the long term effectiveness remains in question.

Although depression results from an imbalance of neurochemicals such as:

  • Noradrenalin
  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin

The trigger for this can be a complex combination of nature and nurture.

So when a drug works, it is artificially restoring the brain’s equilibrium without resolving any underlying reason for the disorder developing in the first place. In short, there is a risk that the depression may return once the patient has been weaned off the antidepressants.

When medication is prescribed alongside a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, this risk is minimized because the patient develops the psychological tools they need to help manage their mood. If the patient is treated with drugs alone, the risk of the depression returning within two years is around thirty percent.

There are things which can be done to lower this risk.

Relapse after use

Studies have indicated that the chance of a relapse is greatly increased if the patient stops taking the antidepressants suddenly, without medical support.

Approximately a third do so because they feel like their symptoms have improved, but an abrupt stop denies the brain the time it needs to adapt to the withdrawal of artificial neurochemical stimulation.

A further thirty percent of patients do not take their medication because of the side effects they are experiencing. In this case, it is safer to ask a doctor to prescribe a different class of drugs, rather than ceasing treatment altogether.


Antidepressants are not the right solution for everyone.

However, most people will experience some benefits as a result of taking them, even if the placebo effect may account for the improvements in some cases.

Doctors recommend that medications such as SSRIs are taken for a period of six to twelve months, then the dosage reduced gradually to minimize the risk of a relapse.

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  • ... says:

    Even a average amount of alcohol use can add to the uncomfortable side effects of medications.

    • Harry says:

      This is certainly true. It is actually worth cutting out alcohol altogether if on an antidepressant regime.

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