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Are Antidepressants Worth the Risks?

Q. Please stop criticizing the drug companies that make antidepressants. They are trying to help while you just fuss.

I took Zoloft for six years and never had any desire to commit a violent crime. This drug helped control my emotional highs and lows. Blaming antidepressants for violent behavior makes no sense.

A. Two decades ago Newsweek magazine featured a huge pill on its cover with the headline: “Prozac: A Breakthrough Drug for Depression.” Earlier this month Newsweek’s cover story was a debate over the effectiveness of antidepressants like Prozac.

It may be hard to understand why experts are arguing about the benefits and risks of antidepressants after 20 years. Part of the reason is that an analysis covering many studies suggests that modern antidepressants like paroxetine are no better than placebos for relieving mild to moderate depression (Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 6, 2010).

Many people benefit from medications such as citalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline and venlafaxine, but doctors are warned that some patients taking them may experience suicidal thoughts or “irritability, hostility, aggressiveness and impulsivity.”

We summarize the pros and cons of current antidepressants and offer a range of non-drug approaches in our Guide to Dealing with Depression.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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