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The Dangers of a Little Knowledge

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Recently there have been a number of articles in some of the top newspapers in the United States reporting that anti depressants do not really work and that the improvements that people feel in their moods is nothing more than the "placebo effect." A placebo is a "sugar pill" used as a control in psychological and psychiatric experiments. In other words, it is a harmless pill that has no therapeutic or medicinal value. The "placebo effect" refers a person believing they feel better after having taken a sugar pill. In other words, the person who has taken the sugar pill believes they have taken a medicine and are convinced that the pill helped their mood improve. This so called placebo effect is used to support the claim that anti depressants have no value except in the way they help drug companies earn huge profits.

Of course, there are those people who read and misinterpret this type of information. Using a "little knowledge" gleaned from the newspaper and Internet, they make decisions about their health and well-being. In this case, people who might need and benefit from anti depressant medications because they are very depressed will refuse to even try them.

I remember someone from long ago who experienced extreme depression and panic but refused to try anti depressants because he read some comments on Internet community boards that these medications are addicting and that it is impossible to get off of them once you are no longer depressed. It took an extremely long time in psychotherapy and lots of effort on the part of the psychiatrist to convince this person that the medication would be safe and worth trying. He finally agreed to take an anti depressant and, to his amazement, he vastly improved, returned to social functioning and to work.

This is why I sometimes have a problem with these newspaper and Internet articles and message boards. The reasons for my "problem" is that newspapers and the Internet can provide the reader with a distorted and inaccurate view of the way things really are. For example it was more than a year ago when the press informed the public that children and teenagers who take anti depressant medications become suicidal. Despite the fact that there were very few cases of suicidal thinking among children and teens there was a sharp decrease in the numbers youngsters being treated with anti depressants. The result was that the suicide rate sharply increased for this population.

My point is not that newspaper reports should be dismissed but that patients need to consult the medical experts before making and definitive decisions. Please do not rely on "a little bit of knowledge."

The fact that large pharmaceutical companies earn millions of dollars for the medications they produce does not invalidate the usefulness of those medicines.

People greatly benefit from anti depressant and anti psychotic medications. In fact, they benefit to the degree that their quality of life vastly improves. There is a steady stream of research that documents the fact that medications combined with psychotherapy help people resume normal and well adjusted lives.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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