Are Antidepressants Just Placebos With Side Effects?

John Horgan in Scientific American:

07-12-prozacI have first-hand experience of the devastation of depression, in myself and those close to me. Although I have been tempted to try antidepressants, I've never done so. Of course, like everyone reading this column, I know many people who have been treated with antidepressants—not surprisingly, because according to a 2005 survey, one in 10 Americans are now under such treatment. Some people I know have greatly benefited from their treatment. Others never find adequate relief, or they experience annoying side effects—such as mania, insomnia, emotional flatness or loss of libido—so they keep trying different drugs, often in combination with psychotherapy. One chronically depressed friend has tried, unsuccessfully, to stop taking his medications, but he experienced a surge of depression worse than the one that led him to seek treatment. He accepts that he will probably need to take antidepressants for the rest of his life.

We all, to greater or lesser degrees, have this kind of personal perspective on antidepressants. But what does research on these drugs tell us about their efficacy? The long-smoldering debate over this question has flared up again recently, with two medical heavyweights staking out opposite positions.

More here.