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Read Original Story

Antidepressants linked to major personality changes

Rating

3 Star

Antidepressants linked to major personality changes

Our Review Summary

There are a few important holes in this story. 

  • We think the story misinterpreted the study’s findings. 
  • We think any story about SSRI antidepressant medications should discuss potential harms, and this story did not.
  • We wish the story had placed the findings in context with the broader literature in regards to effects of SSRI drugs and cognitive therapy (CT) on depressive symptoms.  In the short term they appear comparable but CT takes a little longer to take effect.  Longer term – some evidence suggests CT may have a longer lasting effect.

 

Why This Matters

Many questions have been raised about the safety and effectiveness of SSRI medications for depression.  It’s not clear that this story – or the study on which it’s based – clear up many of those questions.

It’s also worth noting that the question of benefit for the personality changes is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly in American culture, being more positive and outgoing is generally perceived as a good thing. But that is not necessarily true in all cultures.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

While the story mentions how much the US spends on antidepressants and generally discusses "cost-effectiveness" questions, it never describes the cost of these medications for the individual.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

We’ve already commented in the "Evidence" criterion about how we think the story partially miscommunicated the study’s findings. In addition, the story quantified the benefits for how antidepressant use may have impacted peoples’ responses on the neuroticism scale, but not for the extroversion scale. 

And what happened on the other three traits of the five mentioned at the beginning of the story?  Yet the story goes on to talk about the potential for using all five of the "big five" traits – without any evidence to back up that projection:

  • "The study also suggests a new measure to identify people at risk of developing depression and to predict who would benefit most from a particular medication or therapy. Doctors could refer to a personality inventory that would measure a patient’s "big five" traits — neuroticism and extroversion, as well as agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness — to test a patient’s early response to a drug or psychotherapy."

For these reasons, we think the discussion was incomplete.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of the potential for harms from using these antidepressants – a significant oversight.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story stated:

"Patients who received paroxetine were more likely to have their symptoms ease than patients in the other two groups, and they showed more dramatic personality changes."
But the study stated:
 
"although no significant differences emerged between the 2 active treatment groups, paroxetine and CT (cognitive therapy) each outperformed placebo in changing depression, neuroticism, and extraversion."
So we think the story got this wrong. We have other reservations about how the benefits were described. See that criterion below.

We also wish the story had placed the findings in context with the broader literature in regards to effects of SSRI drugs and cognitive therapy (CT) on depressive symptoms. In the short term they appear comparable but CT takes a little longer to take effect. Longer term – some evidence suggests CT may have a longer lasting effect. The story also didn’t comment on the relatively short term of the study.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no overt disease mongering of depression in the story.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The story used several sources, one of whom injected some skepticism about intepreting or applying the findings.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story stuck to the findings reported in the study and, in so doing, gave a brief comparison of antidepressant medicaltions with psychotherapy.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The widespread use of the antidepressants in question is clear from the story.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story did an adequate job of placing the new results into the context of the body of work on antidepressants and personality.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

Because of the use of numerous sources, it’s clear to us that the story did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory

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