Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Research News

Large meta-analysis ends doubts about efficacy of antidepressants

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 22 February 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k847

Rapid Response:

Words and numbers should be used with equal care

Not uncommonly, as part of the scientific community, I will express concerns about the language used in the media to present mental health issues. Yet, on this occasion I find myself concerned by the imprecise language used by the experts giving opinions on the meta-analysis on short term antidepressant prescribing (8-12 weeks) for major depressive disorder (1).

The lead authors of this systematic review, and a number of experts giving opinions on it through the Science Media Centre (2), used the general term depression and Professor Cipriani stated “Our findings are relevant for adults experiencing a first or second episode of depression – the typical population seen in general practice” (3). I agree with Dr Spence that major depression is not typical of primary care (4).

It is also interesting to reflect on the language used by some professionals in the scientific community who rightly express concern about stigma associated with mental illness. At the same time some of those in this very same community use terms such as “villains” or “demonisers” to describe individuals who share any negative experience of medication. This would seem to indicate that such experience is considered less valid.

We all need to remember that words, as well as numbers, need to be used with care and consideration. Experience, after all, is more than both.


1. Cipriani A, Furukawa TA, Salanti G, et al. Comparative efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs for the acute treatment of adults with major depressive disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Lancet 2018.

2. Science Media centre. Expert reaction to largest review of antidepressants. 21 Feb 2018

3. Rimmer, A. Research News: Large meta-analysis ends doubts about efficacy of antidepressants. BMJ 2018;360:k847 Published 22 February 2018

4. Spence, D. Antidepressants are over prescribed! 22 Feb 2018

Competing interests: I raised a petition with the Scottish parliament to consider introducing a Sunshine Act for Scotland:

25 February 2018
Peter J. Gordon
Psychiatrist for Older Adults
Bridge of Allan