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Postcards from Scotland

The drugs don't work - but therapy will?

A recent study shows that antidepressant medication has little clinical benefit for the majority of depressed people. The research highlights that these drugs only help a small number of the most severely depressed individuals. Some say that a good alternative would be to increase the number of talking therapists for people with depression ? is this really the most helpful solution?

The number of people suffering from depression has been rising over the last century.  Most recently, the prescribing of medicines for depression has increased, from 1.4% in 2005/06 to 3.57% in 2006/07. In total 3.65 million prescriptions for antidepressants were given in 2006/07 - and Scotland prescribes 20% more antidepressants than England.

Despite the worryingly high prescribing rate, the recent meta-analysis mentioned above found that antidepressants do not help the majority of depressed individuals.  Even the positive effects seen on severely depressed patients were relatively small, and open to interpretation.

In reaction to the emerging criticism over antidepressant efficacy Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has announced that 3,600 therapists are to be trained during the next three years in England to increase patient access to talking therapies, which ministers see as a better alternative to drugs. Though this seems like an immediate fix - will this really help with the epidemic of depression?

At the Centre, we argue that the rise in depression is partly a result of the therapy culture which dominates society at large, and popping pills or depending upon a therapist is not the answer.  Focusing too much on the self can undermine happiness and create problems for people.  

Furthermore, there is a pervasive belief that being unhappy or experiencing negative emotion is somehow wrong and to be avoided.  Holding this belief can cause people to feel more depressed and helpless when they can?t control their natural negative feelings. We will never be able to eradicate negative emotions; Harvard Professor Tal Ben Shahar recently pointed out that the only people who don't experience negative emotions are psychopaths and dead people. 

What seems most important in relation to the depression epidemic is that we foster resilience (the ability to bounce back and carry on after setbacks) so that people have the resources to overcome the obstacles in life and to carry on, and even thrive, despite these unwanted events.  Being resilient allows people to feel in control of their lives, rather than out of control and helpless.  The research shows that resilient individuals are less likely to get depressed. Taking antidepressants and people seeing therapists may deal with some more severe cases, but it does not deal with the epidemic of depression caused by the way society is at the moment.  To hear Professor Martin Seligman talk about depression click here

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