- The depressive phase of bipolar.
- A highly recurrent depression, having more in common with bipolar than classic unipolar depression.
- A personality disorder, such as borderline.
- Your true personality - your "normal" baseline self - rather than an exception to your personality.
Clearly, most of you reading this should never have been put on an antidepressant in the first place. A placebo would have worked a lot better and with no side effects. At least you wouldn't be feeling worse. But maybe you're one of the "lucky" ones, with classic depression. An antidepressant for depression is just what the doctor ordered, right? Um, uh, define depression. This edited extract from a Feb blog post elaborates:
The DSM-II of 1968 viewed depression as both separate from (in the sense of “depressive neurosis”) and as part of manic-depression (in the sense of “manic depressive illness, depressed type”) and tied into anxiety (in the form of “involuted melancholia” and as the driving force of “neurosis”) as well as embedded into personality (as in “cyclothymic personality disorder characterized by depression”).
Moreover, the DSM-II distinguished between depression seen as a result of the mysterious biology of the brain (“endogenous”) and depression seen to be caused by a reaction to events (“exogenous”).
The DSM-III of 1980 replaced all that with a monolithic view of unipolar depression, separating it out from manic-depression and anxiety and personality and doing away with the endogenous-exogenous distinction. Instead, for the first time, we were treated to the famous and extraordinarily arbitrary nine-item symptom checklist.
In my book, "Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder," I cite a 2004 article by Gordon Parker MD, PhD of the University of New South Wales in support of the proposition that this one-size-fits-all view of depression results in clinical trials that indiscriminately lump all patients together, with no regard to critical distinctions that may spell the difference between success and failure.
We know for instance that an SSRI such as Paxil gets 50 percent of patients with “major depression” 50 percent better over a period of about six weeks. This is good enough for the drug companies, who now have a license to print money, but what about the patients? Who wants a 50 percent chance of success? And who wants to be just 50 percent better?
What do we know about Paxil, anyway? Does it work better on a patient whose depression is marked by sadness? If so, is it possible to target this group of patients? Maybe then we would be seeing 80 percent of these individuals getting 80 percent better.
And try this on for size. Maybe a patient whose main feature is lack of motivation (about which the DSM has nothing to say) would benefit from something else, as would depression brought on by stress (the type of “exogenous” depression axed from the DSM-III). Maybe these drugs don’t exist. Maybe Pharma would be encouraged to develop them. As Dr Parker in a 2007 piece concludes:
Depression is a diagnosis that will remain a non-specific "catch all" until common sense brings current confusion to order. As the American journalist Ed Murrow observed in another context: "Anyone who isn't confused doesn't really understand the situation."
To tie this in a bow: It's not enough that a clinician accurately diagnoses depression, as the term is at best an umbrella designation, the way "infectious disease" is an umbrella designation. Yes, an antibiotic may be useful against many types of infectious disease, but we cannot make the same claim for an antidepressant for the zillion different things going on inside our brains that we happen to lump together as depression. The best we can say for antidepressants is that they work for some individuals with DSM depression. The catch is we don't know in advance who these people are.
More to come ...
Are Antidepressants Bad for You?
Are Antidepressants Bad for You? - Part II
Are Antidepressants Bad for You? - Part III
Are Antidepressants Bad for You? - Part IV