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Feature Medicine and the Media

Pop a million happy pills? Antidepressants, nuance, and the media

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 09 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1069
  1. Kate Adlington, clinical editor, The BMJ
  1. kadlington{at}

Given the news reports, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Lancet’s recent meta-analysis was the last word on drug treatment for depression, but Kate Adlington finds that the debate is far from over

“Pop more happy pills,” screamed the Sun’s front page on 22 February. It referred to the first major network meta-analysis comparing 21 antidepressants for acute depression in adults, published in the Lancet.1 All were found to be more effective than placebo for short term treatment.2

“Antidepressants: major study finds they work,” said the BBC. “The drugs do work: antidepressants are effective, study shows,” announced Sarah Boseley in the Guardian,3 in contrast to her coverage of a previous meta-analysis almost a decade ago: “Prozac, used by 40m people, does not work say scientists.”45

Many news outlets called for more prescribing: “Antidepressants should be given to a million more Britons,” instructed the Telegraph.6 But what about …

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