Global antidepressant use is soaring. Stories such as Barber’s make a compelling case that the drugs can be helpful. Yet it seems barely a month goes by without them being dismissed in the media as “happy pills” that get people “hooked” or turn them into zombies. Experts, meanwhile, disagree over whether the drugs genuinely have the biochemical effects claimed for them and debate rages about side effects, withdrawal symptoms and the possibility of addiction. So what should we believe – and who, if anyone, should be taking these pills?
And, if this is a matter of debate about experts, even an article by some other expert telling us this is the right way to understand the experts is problematic. I may be more willing to agree to the assessment of an expert who holds the position I favor, but how do I really evaluate the claims? This is particularly true when the evidence is a matter beyond any individual’s experience. My experience of one particular patient is not indicative of the experience of 10,000 patients.
I once was discussing this issue with a very well credentialed psychiatrist with decades of experience at a world renowned institution. He said, “We give people with depression anti-depressants, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We don’t know why.”