An International study team concluded antidepressants are generally safe based on an analysis of 45 meta-analyses covering the combined results from many studies. The researchers found no strong evidence of adverse health outcomes associated with antidepressant use. The team was led by a Swedish investigator at the University of Linköping.
Published recently in JAMA Psychiatry, this impressive global team conducted this study given the sharp growth of antidepressant use worldwide. The antidepressant drugs rank third among prescribed medications and fourth among sold medications representing a critical approach to burgeoning mental health-related issues. In fact, it is estimated that 10% of American adults take at least one antidepressant—a striking reality.
The study investigators, led by Elena Dragioti, Ph.D., Linköping University, Sweden considered the considerable controversy and uncertainty swirling around the use and safety profile of antidepressants. The study team embraced meta-analyses, which combine the results from many studies. Some of these studies have found strong associations between antidepressants and some adverse health outcomes, while others have not.
They Focused on the Safety—Not the Efficacy
Dr. Dragioti mentioned “As far as we know, this is the first study to assess the safety and adverse health outcomes associated with antidepressant use on such a large scale considering real-world data. However, it is important to note that our study did not evaluate the efficacy of the drugs.”
Researchers systematically assessed the evidence from 45 reviewed meta-analyses that included more than 1,000 observational studies. These are studies that observe whether there are differences between individuals who are exposed to treatment and those who are not, without any intervention from a researcher. The studies included covered different age groups, underlying psychiatric conditions, and possible adverse health outcomes.
“We found that all of the adverse health outcomes reported in observational studies that were supported by strong evidence were actually probably due to the underlying psychiatric conditions for which antidepressants had been prescribed, rather than the antidepressants themselves. Most of these studies also suffered from several biases, such as a lack of randomization,” says Dr Marco Solmi, psychiatrist from the University of Padova, Neurosciences Department, and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, Psychosis Department, EPIC lab, who co-led the study.
“Even though we have shown that antidepressants are generally safe, we should note that adverse effects must be monitored clinically during antidepressant treatment. Further, we have only limited evidence from randomized clinical trials about long-term adverse health outcomes. Moreover, we were not able to assess several newer antidepressants due to limited available data”, says senior author Dr. Evangelos Evangelou, an epidemiologist from the University of Ioannina, Greece, and Imperial College, London, UK.
Dr. Elena Dragioti, Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine and Health Sciences, Linköping University, Sweden.