Take a Tic Tac for Depression

Those suffering with depression and desperately searching for a cure might want to consider other options before resorting to antidepressant medications. True, antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil seem to work for about 75% of patients. But how do they work and at what cost? Studies show that sugar pills – placebos – work nearly as often to fight depression as the FDA approved drugs. However, placebo pills have no chemical effect on the body and no negative side effects.

An analysis in 1998 done by Irving Kirsch and Guy Sapirstein of the University of Connecticut used over 3,000 depressed patients to test several antidepressants. The patients were told they would either be given the antidepressant or a placebo – the control, or sugar pill. They were not informed of which pill they were being given. Patients improved and many showed substantial improvement. 75% of the improvement, however, was attributed to the “placebo-effect”. This means that three quarters of patients who benefited from taking the medication only recovered because they believed that it would cure them. The healing power wasn’t coming from the chemical change in their body.

The study was controversial. Kirsch was asked to use more studies in his analysis and he agreed. Available to him were published studies – those given to the FDA – as well as unpublished studies of Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Serzone, and Celexa. In total, they analyzed 47 company-sponsored studies. Instead of proving the effectiveness of antidepressants, Kirsch’s research showed that “the extra benefit of antidepressants was even less than [they] saw when [they] analyzed only published studies.” In 2002 they reported that in 82% of patients’ response to the antidepressant was the effect of the placebo. In other words, the chemical change wrought by the antidepressants was only effective in 18% of those with depression.

These and other studies have failed to prove that antidepressants are effective except for those with very severe depression. However, it is unwise to immediately stop taking current antidepressant medication. Yet it would be prudent to seek less expensive, more effective and more personal approaches to treating depression. Therapy has proven to be more successful with less possibility for relapse. If all else fails perhaps it would be best to take a Tic Tac and believe with all your might that it will help cure your depression. It’s less expensive, has no negative side effects and studies show that sugar pills work better anyway.


Begley, S., & Kliff, S. (2010). THE DEPRESSING NEWS ABOUT ANTIDEPRESSANTS. (Cover story). Newsweek, 155(6), 34-41. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.