Antidepressant medications probably provide little or no benefit to people with mild or moderate depression, a new study has found.

Rather, the mere act of seeing a doctor, discussing symptoms and learning about depression probably triggers the improvements many patients experience while on medication.

Only people with severe depression receive additional benefits from drugs, said the senior author of the study, Robert J. DeRubeis, a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor. The research was released online yesterday and will be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Hundreds of studies have attested to the benefits of antidepressants over placebos (taking a sham pill without knowing that the pill has no active ingredient), DeRubeis said. But many studies involve only participants with severe levels of depression.

The current analysis attempted to quantify how much of the benefit of antidepressants is attributable to actual chemical effects on the brain and how much can be explained by other factors, such as visiting a doctor, taking action to feel better or the mere passage of time.

Researchers reviewed six randomized, placebo-controlled studies with 718 patients who took either an antidepressant or a placebo. Patients were adults with depression ranging from mild to very severe, based on the Hamilton Depression Ratings Scale. - Los Angeles Times

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