According to recent research, patients who are on anti-depressants are more likely to undergo relapses of major depression than patients who do not use medication.
Evolutionary psychologist Paul Andrews, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior, stated in his recently published paper that individuals who have received no psychiatric medication are at a 25% risk of relapse, in comparison to the 42% or higher chance for patients who have taken and gone off an anti-depressant.
Andrews and his fellow researchers focused on numerous previously published studies in order to analyze the results of participants who began the studies on medications and were switched to placebos, participants who were given placebos throughout the trial, and participants who continued to take medication throughout their course of treatment.
According to Andrews, anti-depressants hinder the brain's natural self-regulation of serotonin and other neurotransmitters; if medication is suspended at some point, the brain can overcorrect and therefore activate a new wave of depression.
"We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain -- and that's what they're supposed to do -- the greater your risk of relapse once you stop taking them," Andrews reported
. "All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. The trick is what happens in the long term.”
“Our results suggest that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back,” continued Andrews. “This can leave people stuck in a cycle where they need to keep taking anti-depressants to prevent a return of symptoms."
Andrews reported that as a result of these findings, he believes that depression may in fact be an innate method of coping for the mind when the brain is stressed.
"There's a lot of debate about whether or not depression is truly a disorder, as most clinicians and the majority of the psychiatric establishment believe, or whether it's an evolved adaptation that does something useful," he stated.
The paper Andrews authored with his fellow researchers cited longitudinal studies which show that more than 40% of the general population may suffer from major depression at some point in their lives.
It is known that depression is usually triggered by a traumatic event, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one; Andrews stated that the brain may choose to ignore basic needs such as appetite, sex drive, sleep and social connectivity in order to focus the majority of its exertion on coping with the stress of the trauma, much akin to how the human body utilizes a fever to battler infection.
He did emphasize, however, that not every depression case is the same; severe cases, he stressed, can reach the point where they are obviously not helpful to the individual’s mental or physical health.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology