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Television Adverts for Antidepressants Cause Anxiety

From New Scientist Print Edition

ADVERTS that claim depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, and that antidepressants correct it, are false and should be banned, say two mental health specialists.

Popular antidepressants such as Prozac and Celexa block the uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin and have been shown to be slightly better than placebo in treating depression. But low serotonin levels are no more the cause of depression than low aspirin levels are the cause of headaches, argue Jonathan Leo at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Florida, and Jeffrey Lacasse at Florida State University in Tallahassee (Public Library of Science Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020392).

“ Low serotonin levels no more cause depression than low aspirin levels cause headache ”

“It has become an absolute mainstay of popular culture,” says Leo. “But there’s very little support for this. We really don’t know what chemicals are involved.”

Wayne Goodman, chair of the psychopharmacologic advisory committee of the US Food and Drug Administration admits they have a point. He calls the chemical imbalance story a “useful metaphor” but says it is never one he uses when talking to patients. “I can’t get myself to say that.”

The Irish Medicines Board, the equivalent of the FDA in Ireland, recently banned GlaxoSmithKline from making similar claims in information for patients. Leo and Lacasse want the FDA to follow suit.

From issue 2525 of New Scientist magazine, 12 November 2005, page 7

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