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Anti-Depressant Use and Relapse

July 31st, 2011 · No Comments

Paul Andrews, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster University, is the lead author of a new study about anti-depressants in the journal Frontiers of Psychology.

He concludes that patients who have used anti-depressant medications can be nearly twice as susceptible to future episodes of major depression. Andrews and his colleagues studied dozens of previously published studies to compare outcomes for patients who used anti-depressants compared to those who used placebos.

Andrews says anti-depressants interfere with the brain’s natural self-regulation of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, and that the brain can overcorrect once medication is suspended, triggering new depression.

Though there are several forms of anti-depressants, all of them disturb the brain’s natural regulatory mechanisms, which he compares to putting a weight on a spring. The brain, like the spring, pushes back against the weight. Going off antidepressant drugs is like removing the weight from the spring, leaving the person at increased risk of depression when the brain, like the compressed spring, shoots out before retracting to its resting state.

“We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain — and that’s what they’re supposed to do — the greater your risk of relapse once you stop taking them,” Andrews says. “All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. The trick is what happens in the long term. Our results suggest that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back. This can leave people stuck in a cycle where they need to keep taking anti-depressants to prevent a return of symptoms.”

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