Common antidepressant may ease anxiety more quickly than depression


Sertraline, an antidepressant that doctors commonly prescribe, appears to work by reducing anxiety first and doesn’t start tackling depressive symptoms until weeks later.
New research sheds fresh light on how antidepressants work. This was the main finding of a study on the use of antidepressants in primary care settings in the United Kingdom.
The researchers suggest that sertraline is effective, although the method is unexpected, for those who are likely to receive a prescription for antidepressants in primary care.
Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It works by increasing brain levels of the “happy chemical” serotonin.
Symptoms of depression include the inability to feel pleasure, low mood, and poor concentration.
The study reveals that sertraline appears to have no effect on these symptoms within 6 weeks, but shows a weak effect by 12 weeks.
While impact on depressive symptoms appears to be absent, the researchers did observe reductions in anxiety together with improvements in quality of life and self-measured mental health within 6 weeks.
A recent paper on the study, which took the form of a placebo-controlled trial, features in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.
“It appears that people taking the drug are feeling less anxious, so they feel better overall, even if their depressive symptoms were less affected,” says lead study author Gemma Lewis Ph.D., who is a lecturer and researcher in psychiatry at University College London, in the U.K.
In the United States, as in the U.K., antidepressants are among the most common prescription drugs, and their use has risen substantially since the turn of the century.
Antidepressant use in the U.S. rose by nearly 65% in the 15 years leading up to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
During 1999-2002, 7.7% of people over the age of 12 years had used an antidepressant in the past month. This figure rose to 12.7% during 2011-2014.
Doctors prescribe antidepressants not only for depression but also for other conditions, such as anxiety.
Altogether, the researchers enrolled 653 people aged 18-74 years who had experienced mild to severe depressive symptoms during the past 2 years.
The recruitment took place at 179 general practitioner (GP) centers in four cities in England, U.K. The researchers point out that in all cases, neither the GPs nor their patients were sure whether antidepressants would be of benefit.

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