Intended for healthcare professionals


Effectiveness of antidepressants

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 09 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1073
  1. James McCormack, professor1,
  2. Christina Korownyk, associate professor2
  1. 1Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UBC, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2Department of Family Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  1. Correspondence to: J McCormack james.mccormack{at}

Lots of useful data but many important questions remain

A recent meta-analysis by Cipriani and colleagues provides as good and balanced a synopsis as we will likely ever have of the results from the 522 trials of 21 antidepressants in 116 477 participants.1 The findings have been widely reported, with differing interpretations, including some uncritical acceptance of the benefits of antidepressants.2 More objectively, how should these findings inform practice?

Cipriani and colleagues are admirably clear about the limitations of included studies. They rated 82% as having moderate to high risk of bias. They also noted specific biases such as a novelty effect, whereby a medication looked significantly better when evaluated as the novel comparator in a trial than when as the older or control comparator. In addition, 78% of studies were funded by drug companies, and many other studies failed to report funding at all. It is somewhat reassuring that the authors report “funding by industry was not associated with substantial differences in terms of response or dropout rates.”

Finally, it is important to note the patient population in this meta-analysis …

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