Wassup’: Some key figures on the treatment of Depression

Depression. Some may be familiar with it. Others may have heard much about it. In today’s Wassup’ post, we will be taking a closer look at some key figures that have emerged in depression research in the last decade.

Source: Cuijpers, P., Stringaris, A., & Wolpert, M. (2020). Treatment outcomes for depression: Challenges and opportunities. Lancet Psychiatry, 7(11), 925-927.

In the article, researchers pulled together systematic reviews on depression outcomes from papers published in the last decade (2011-2020). Based on those research papers, they have found that:

  • 54% of adults on antidepressants showed improvements (at least a reduction in 50% of their symptom). However, 35-40% of adults on a placebo pill (e.g. inert pill without any active ingredients) also showed similar improvements. This meant that antidepressants have an ‘effective response rate’ (response rate over and beyond placebo) of somewhere between 14-19% in adults. Simply put, antidepressants are about 14-19% more beneficial than eating an inert/sugar pill in the treatment of depression based on the study.
    • Further review of the original article by Levkovitz and colleagues (2011) showed that antidepressants had a greater effective response rate in milder depressive conditions than they do in Major Depressive Disorder. That is to say, the active ingredients in antidepressants played a greater role in treating milder depressive conditions than they do in Major Depression.
  • 62% of adults receiving psychotherapy for depression (66% if they received CBT specifically) showed significant improvements (they were in remission and no longer met the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder). However, 43% of adults who were receiving standard care for depression and not psychotherapy also showed similar improvements. This meant that psychotherapy had an effective response rate of roughly 19% as well (23% for CBT). Simply put, going for psychotherapy is about 19% more beneficial than receiving standard care in the treatment of Major Depression.
    • Closer review of the original article by Cuijpers and colleagues (2014) showed that while both psychotherapy and standard care groups had a proportion of individuals who no longer met the criteria for Major Depression, the psychotherapy group made much larger gains in symptom reduction.
  • 33% of children and young people with anxiety and depression recover in standard care (without any medication or psychotherapy).
  • 53% of adults with untreated depression enter remission in a year. Simply put, 1 in 2 adults who do not seek treatment for their depression will no longer meet diagnostic criteria in a year’s time.
    • A closer look at the original article by Whiteford and colleagues (2013) showed that 23% of untreated depression enter remission in 3 months, 32% enter remission in 6 months, and 53% in 12 months. However, in their study, the majority of depressive cases were in the mild-to-moderate range. Therefore, the same numbers may not apply to those who are severely depressed.

The researchers in the article ultimately concluded that it is time for us to rethink our treatment model for depression, taking into account the numbers and statistics in order to provide care that matches the outcomes. Perhaps in time we will see advancements in precision psychiatry, and from there treatment models that are more targeted to meet the needs of individuals.


Published by Blue. Psychological Services

Blue. is a non-commercial, non-profit initiative offering anonymous pro bono psychological consultation.

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