Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect every aspect of your life – from how much you weigh to how well you sleep. Millions of people take antidepressant medications to deal with their symptoms and although there's lots of evidence that these drugs help, there's also a debate within the medical community about how well they actually work.
The latest salvo in this debate comes from a study by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas who analyzed data from the six-year Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression or STAR*D study, which is considered the most important study in depression research. STAR*D, which was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, included more than 4,000 patients with major depressive disorder from clinics around the country. In other words, this isn't one of those tiny studies with questionable data.
That's why it's significant that the UT researchers found that even people who were helped by antidepressants still had some distressing symptoms, such as insomnia, sadness and concentration problems. The researchers tracked many symptoms of depression: sadness, suicidal thoughts, sleep, appetite and weight, concentration, outlook and energy or fatigue. They looked at how participants felt at the start of the trial and at the end of the antidepressant use. All the participants had as many as 13 continuing symptoms, with 75 percent reporting five or more symptoms.
The most common continuing symptoms were insomnia that caused them to wake up in the middle of the night, sadness, and decreased concentration and decision-making skills. But – and here's some good news – suicidal thoughts rarely persisted or appeared during treatment.
What this study shows that the 19 million American who suffer from depression need ongoing medical care to make sure they are getting the best help to relieve their symptoms. The UT researchers also say that the next step may be more targeted drugs that go after specific problems.