It was a news articles that went too largely unnoticed and it blew the whistle on one of the great non-secret secrets of modern medicine and psychiatry: The benefit of antidepressants “is hardly more than what patients get when they… take a dummy pill – a placebo.”
The cover story of the February 8, 2010 edition of Newsweek magazine was written by Sharon Begley with Sarah Kliff and cites a number of major research reports dating back to the 1950s. Most impressively, Begley and Sliff examine several meta-analysis studies – reviews of the results of large numbers of studies with large numbers of participants, including company-sponsored research projects used to gain FDA approval of new meds. In the final analysis it appears that that “antidepressants are a little more effective than dummy pills” – 1.8 points on the 54-point scale doctors use to gauge the severity of depression.
Begley and Kliff cite study after study to promote the value of the placebo – and, ultimately, the patient’s confidence in his or her prescribing physician.
Begley is the author of Train Your Brain, Change Your Mind, an outstanding introduction to the concept of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to grow new neurons (brain cells) and rewire itself, which scientists once believed was impossible. The highly readable (even for the non-scientist) Train/Change was based on the 2004 meeting of the Mind and Life Institute, prepared by some of the world’s leading researchers to introduce new concepts in science for the Dalai Lama.
To be fair, Newsweek also presents the pro-antidepressant position of Robert Klitzman, a psychiatrist, the author of When Doctors Become Patients, and director of the Master’s of Bioethics program at Columbia University.