Antidepressants are commonplace yet there is much debate about their clinical efficacy. Are they merely placebos or do they have a clinical effect on the way our brains work? In this presentation, Professor Cowen investigates the evidence.
Antidepressant drugs are commonly prescribed for clinical depression but have a rather dubious public reception. Professor Ian Reid has commented that, 'antidepressants are regularly caricatured in the media as an addictive emotional anaesthetic, peddled by thoughtless general practitioners as a matter of convenience, and taken by credulous dupes who seek "a pill for every ill".' (BMJ 2013; 346: f190). There is also a perception that antidepressants, in fact, work only through placebo mechanisms and have no specific activity to relieve depression. In this presentation I will look at the evidence for the effectiveness of antidepressants and the kind of clinical situation where their use seems justified. I will also describe a new 'cognitive' theory of antidepressant action which suggests that antidepressants work through a specific effect on how the brain evaluates emotional information.