Antidepressants not a "silver bullet"

By Mare Haimona-Riki

A recent study has found that adults suffering severe depression are two and a half times more likely to attempt suicide if they are taking antidepressants compared with a placebo drug.

However, psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald stresses that it is important people prescribed antidepressants didn't panic because they still work for many people.

"This is a population-based study looking at trend, it doesn't reflect every individual case- if antidepressants are working for you, keep taking them," said MacDonald in comments to the NZ Herald.

According to the Ministry of Health, "Maori adult males are twice as likely as non-Māori males to report a high or very high probability of having an anxiety or depressive disorder".

An expert says these findings only confirm what we already know- that antidepressants are not a "silver bullet" and should only be given as a second line of treatment after therapy and with caution. 

The recent overseas study, led by Zurich University of Applied Sciences and Paracelsus Medical University of Salzburg, noticed one particular drug, Mirtazapine, which was FDA approved in 1996 and is prescribed in New Zealand. 

Of the 2,425 people who were prescribed the drug, 29 had attempted suicide and eight had died by taking their own life.

Researchers compared that with the 494 people suffering severe depression who were taking a placebo drug- a "fake" treatment like a sugar pill. 

Of those, three attempted suicide but survived.

In a statement to Te Ao Māori News, the Mental Health Foundation says, "Anti-depressants can be helpful to many people, however, they do not work for everyone and should never be seen as the total response for those living with mental distress.

"The focus needs to be on a holistic response to the person's circumstances that could include talk therapies, cultural support, peer support, practical life assistance, well-being practises and medications to help aid recovery.  Medication is just one potential part of a person’s recovery package."

(Note: please consult your doctor of health professional before making any changes to prescribed medicines).

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633

• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.