Antidepressants: Most Antidepressants Do Not Suppress All Symptoms of Depression: Study

April 21, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
Antidepressant pills (L-R) Wellbutrin, Paxil, Fluoxetine and Lexapro. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Antidepressant pills (L-R) Wellbutrin, Paxil, Fluoxetine and Lexapro. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Despite being in common usage, antidepressants may not treat all aspects of the condition, such as insomnia and reduced concentration, according to results from the largest study on treating depression, now published in April’s edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center looked at how well the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), affect symptoms such as concentration, energy levels, appetite and weight, sleep patterns, sadness, and suicidal thoughts.

"Widely used antidepressant medications, while working overall, missed these symptoms. If patients have persistent residual symptoms, these individuals have a high probability of incomplete recovery," said lead author Dr. Shawn McClintock, assistant professor of psychiatry, in a press release.

Using the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) trial, the team looked at data from almost 3,000 participants, who completed the first phase on a SSRI for 12 weeks.

They found that around 15 percent of the patients did not experience an alleviation of symptoms, while 33 percent entered remission within the first 12 weeks of treatment, but continued to have some symptoms or new symptoms, in particular insomnia.

"Our findings do suggest that the use of measurement-based care techniques to identify and target residual depressive symptoms is essential to help patients return to normal function and recover from depression in the long term," said co-author Dr. Madhukar Trivedi.

Interestingly, suicidal thoughts were the least common symptom to arise or recur during treatment.

“Some people fear that antidepressant medication increases thoughts of suicide,” Dr. McClintock said. “This provided counterevidence of that.”

The study findings suggest that even though patients may have a treatment response to SSRI medications, they still suffer from a broad range of residual symptoms, and health professionals should consider treatments based on each individual’s particular symptoms.