Understanding The Placebo Effect of Antidepressants


Placebo effect basically means a person feels better, reports a reduction in symptoms of the illness or condition a medication is being tested for but in actuality was given a pill that had inert properties i.e. nothing that would medically help.

Understanding The Placebo Effect of Antidepressants
It’s Not All In Your Head

They were given a fake pill, not any medication. So the improvements the person reported are thought to be psychological in nature.

That’s the oversimplified version for us non-scientist types. In reality it’s a very complex issue. Here is an exerpt from a New England Journal of Medicine article:

“Placebo effects are often considered the effects of an “inert substance,” but that characterization is misleading. In a broad sense, placebo effects are improvements in patients’ symptoms that are attributable to their participation in the therapeutic encounter, with its rituals, symbols, and interactions.”

“These effects are distinct from those of discrete therapies and are precipitated by the contextual or environmental cues that surround medical interventions, both those that are fake and lacking in inherent therapeutic power and those with demonstrated efficacy.”

Source: Placebo Effects in Medicine.

Placebo Effects in Antidepressant Drug Trials

The placebo effect is studied for many things but what does it tell us about antidepressants and why do so many medical researchers, psychologists and psychiatrists think the potential for harm from these medications is greater than any possible therapeutic effect? Therefore, these medications should be used rarely if at all.

That’s just a teeny bit different than what the status quo psychiatric community led by Big Pharma promotes, yes? And if you are being treated for depression and think your doctor is treating a proven chemical imbalance in your brain possibly information that is upsetting to you.

“You mean I may never have needed this medication and all the side effects I’ve put up with and suffered from and all the additional medications I’ve been given that I’m going broke paying for are not medically warranted?”

“That I’ve been duped by medical professionals I’ve been conditioned to trust and did?”

That’s exactly the message many medical professionals are trying to get out to the public.

“Antidepressants are supposed to work by fixing a chemical imbalance, specifically, a lack of serotonin in the brain. Indeed, their supposed effectiveness is the primary evidence for the chemical imbalance theory.”

“But analyses of the published data and the unpublished data that were hidden by drug companies reveals that most (if not all) of the benefits are due to the placebo effect. Some antidepressants increase serotonin levels, some decrease it, and some have no effect at all on serotonin.”

“Almost half of the clinical trials sponsored by the drug companies have not been published. The results of the unpublished trials were known only to the drug companies and the FDA, and most of them failed to find a significant benefit of drug over placebo.”

Source: Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect.

Any Benefit Over Placebo is Clinically Insignificant

This is an important point to understand, as it is used to try and discredit mental health professionals who oppose the use of antidepressants except in rare cases where all other forms of treatment (therapy, exercise) have been tried and failed.

Positive Initial Response from Antidepressants is a Placebo Effect. Click To Tweet

The mainstream psychiatric community response has been for decades and still is, “But these medications have been proven to help those with severe depression!”.

Actually, that is not really true. It is true in a very limited sense and nothing to be shouting to the mountain tops about. The temporary improvement is not from effectiveness of the medication, but placebo.

“All of the rest of the trials were conducted on patients whose mean baseline scores put them in the “very severe” category of depression, and even among these patients, the drug-placebo difference was below the level of clinical significance.”

They even prescribe antidepressants for insomnia, though if the doctor can read and takes the time to educate him or herself about the med… would know that insomnia is a very common side effect of antidepressants.

And then when the insomnia possibly worsens and the person becomes increasingly irritable, anxious, starts acting erratically, etc. what happens? They get diagnosed with BP-2 and given more medications. All from a medication that was not medically-warranted as a treatment for their distressing symptoms in the first place.

Does that sound smart to you? Or something you would like to be subjected to or have your child become victimized by? Then read, learn and stand up against these drug company puppet physicians, unethical medical researchers and FDA officials.

Related post: Brief History of Bipolar Diagnoses – From Rare to Common.

Some People Get Better on Antidepressants so They Must Work

If you want to understand this issue clearly, understand this: When someone improves from taking an antidepressant, it is not ‘correcting a chemical imbalance’ in their brain-body. It has altered their chemical composition some but the positive effect is primarily a placebo effect.

The below is a quote from Dr. Irving Kirsch, associate director of the Placebo Studies Program at Harvard Medical School.

“People get better when they take the drug. But it’s not the chemical ingredients of the drug that are making them better. It’s largely the placebo effect.”

Source: CBS 60 Minutes Interview, February 2012

And this effect pans out as true for varying levels of depression suffered by participants in the studies i.e. is the same for a severely, moderately or minimally depressed person.

If you want to delve into this in more detail, Dr. Kirsch wrote a book after his controversial research hit the proverbial fan: “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth” (2010). It is available on Amazon here.

Positive Effect a Placebo Effect, But the Medications Cause Very Real Harm

And here is another crucial point to understand, especially if you or anyone you love is on these medications and have been told they need to take them for the rest of their lives.

That is not only not true and simply Big Pharma paid for propaganda and the advice of unethical mental health practitioners – it can lead to severe additional health problems.

“Despite all the propaganda, antidepressants such Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Cymbalta have no scientifically demonstrable effectiveness and are proven to cause suicidality, as well as violence and mania. They too ‘work’ by causing mental disabilities such as apathy and euphoria that are misinterpreted as improvements.”

Source: Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry.

The Public Has a Right to Know

The FDA approves these medications knowing full well all of the above, and then some. So how does it happen, how are we all duped?

1.   Only two clinical trials showing a significant difference between drug and placebo are required by the FDA to have a drug approved for use.

2.   There is no limit to the number of trials that can be conducted in search of these two significant trials.

That’s it.

So the drug companies just keep paying for more studies, researchers omit pertinent data and eventually… one gets through showing some minor statistical improvement.

And then an unsuspecting public gets bombared by a multi-million dollar media campaign promoting all the wonderous benefits of a medication that in actuality has little to no benefit at all.

Every onces in a while an ethical FDA offical will raise concerns about what is going on and has gone on for decades. The below is a quote by Paul Leber, M.D. who worked at the FDA from 1978-1999 and served as director of the FDA Division of Neuropharmacological Drug Products for 17 years.

“I am aware that clinical studies often fail to document the efficacy of effective drugs, but I doubt that the public, or even the majority of the medical community, is aware of this fact. I am persuaded that they not only have a right to know but that they should know.”

“Moreover, I believe that labeling that selectively describes positive studies and excludes mention of negative ones can be viewed as potentially ‘false and misleading.'”

Source: Leber, May 4, 1998.

Why Care About This Crap if it Doesn’t Affect You?

Who should really care about any of this bs? All of us. It affects all of us. At some point in our lives someone we know or a close loved one may experience a depressive episode. You don’t want to be the one in the background cheerleading them on to take harmful, useless drugs with potentially long-term devastating effects do you?

Not to mention the financial burden passed on to society by the mult-billion dollar corporations who keep developing more and more of these medications and profit immensely. Costs due to missed days at work, disability, increased need for medical and mental health care services, etc.

And if they can keep on promoting the lie of the Chemical Imbalance Theory, lie about the the lack of effectiveness and potential for harm, it will continue. In 2015 20 new antidepressant medications were being submitted for clinical trials. Source: Mental Health Daily.

Speak out when you can. Protect yourself and your family.

Cheers, Molly


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