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Aussie medicos say efficacy of antidepressants is disappointing

Australia has one of the highest rates of antidepressant use in the world. But experts warn they may not be working.

By Cat Rodie

This week a couple of Australian psychiatrists argued antidepressants might not be that effective.

It's a big statement, given Australia has one of the highest rates of antidepressant use in the world.

In the article, published in the Australian Medical Journal, Dr Christopher Davey and Dr Andrew Chanen say many users symptoms would pass with or without the medication. In short, for many a placebo would be just as effective.

“The more we've researched the effectiveness of antidepressants the more we've come to understand that they’re not very effective,” says Dr Davey.

“Perhaps too often the focus is antidepressants, but really medication is just one component of treatment and shouldn't be the entire focus,” he explains.

But 38-year-old Joanne rebuked the article, claiming she is focused, rational and generally happier when she takes antidepressants.

“Without them I am sleepy, very down on everything but most of all I experience severe anxiety and panic attacks,” she says.

Speaking with aww.com.au Dr Davey says there is a danger that antidepressants are being over prescribed as a 'quick fix'.

“Too often antidepressants are being prescribed as the first step or only step rather than looking at other treatments," he says.

“Doctors are trying to help. It’s easier to write a script for antidepressants than to refer people to see a psychotherapist," he explains.

Dr Davey notes that despite Medicare making psychotherapy more affordable, psychotherapists are not accessible for everyone who needs them.

“Psychotherapists tend to be clustered in wealthier or inner-city suburbs and less in suburban or regional areas where people really them,” he says.

For 28-year-old Tegan Churchill* it's the combination of antidepressants and therapy that keeps the black dog away.

“They help keep the fuzziness of depression at bay," says Tegan.

"They give me enough of a boost to be able to get out of bed each morning. They also help keep the pit of dread out of my stomach,” she says.

But Tegan also notes that taking antidepressants help her to engage in therapy.

“The medication brings me to a level mentally where I can see past the fog. When I am deeply depressed I can only see the negative and nothing gets through.

“It's kind of like floaties for kids. The medication doesn't do everything, but it gives me enough help that I'm not sinking completely,” she explains.

Psychologist Mady Edkins says that diet and exercise can play a vital role in overcoming depression and anxiety. However, she notes that motivation is a huge barrier.

“When people are suffering with low mood, lethargy, lack of hope and poor sleep it can be almost impossible to exercise and have good self care,” she says.

Edkins notes that medication can help to get people to a place where self-care strategies are possible.

“Medication can help the person do the things that will make them feel better,” she says.

Joanne agrees. “When I’m taking the medication I think more clearly so am able to consciously eat well and exercise,” she says.

“When I am feeling down it's like the junk food and the lack of motivation go hand in hand....it’s a vicious cycle.”

Dr Davey notes that the sharp rise in people taking antidepresants proves that there is now less stigma around depression than there used to be. However, it's important that we continue to raise awareness about depression.

“Organisations such as Beyond Blue have helped promote the idea that people should seek treatment for depression," he says.

“More people are recognising depression and trying to get help.”

What do you think? Send us an email at theweeklynews@bauer-media.com.au.

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