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May 12, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

The Super Placebo? Do Antidepressants work?

Student Health Service

Recently, some New Zealand newspapers ran articles about antidepressants suggesting they do not work. Last year, one third of all students who came to the Counselling Service consulted the service related to depression. In order to help students make informed decisions about their health, the SCC is sponsoring a lecture on the effectiveness of antidepressants featuring Dr John Gregson, Consultant Psychiatrist VUW. Without effective treatment, depression can impact all aspects of a person’s life.

At a presentation John did for staff at the counselling service, John discussed his views on the placebo effect and the effectiveness of antidepressants. The following is some of what he had to say.

John believes that depression is awful for a person to experience. He reports at least 20% of women and 10% of men will experience depression at some point in their lives and without intervention are likely to relapse one or more times. John emphasized that assessments need to address the question, “Why am I depressed now?” The answer to this question can be a guide for effective change. Some symptoms of depression include: depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, significant weight gain or appetite change, sleep problems, change in motor activity, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, poor concentration or indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideas or actions. John emphasizes individuals experience depression differently.

While there are some self care behaviours that can be effective such as exercise, exposure to sunshine, limiting alcohol use, good diet, fish oil, enjoyment scheduling, and talking, John believes that biological approaches such as medication can be quite effective for a number of people. Psychotherapy is also useful. Newspaper articles provide small amounts of information about a topic. John’s breadth of knowledge of psychiatry allows for a deeper understanding of the use and efficacy of medications.

His discussion of the study reported in the papers provides some real insight into whether or not medications can be useful to help alleviate the debilitating experience of depression. He is able to translate pertinent data about the study used for the newspaper report to help others in making decisions for them about whether or not to take medications. John also talks about seeking counselling as an important strategy to effectively deal with depression.

You can learn more and ask questions at the upcoming Lunch Lecture Series with guest speaker Dr John Gregson, Consultant Psychiatrist VUW, to be held 12-1 pm Tuesday 13 May in Student Union Meeting Room 1. If you have questions, please call the Counselling Service on 463 5310.


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