Antidepressants don't appear to work for most Utahns

Antidepressants don't appear to work for most Utahns

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Let me start by saying a person should never, never, never go off their medications without talking to their prescriber. It is dangerous and potentially lethal.

According to the Behavioral Risk-Factor Surveillance System, Utah is currently the happiest state in the union. It is also one of the saddest.

The study found that one would have had a better chance of enjoying permanent relief from depression by exercising alone rather than exercising and taking antidepressants.

Utah sits right in the middle of the "suicide belt," which stretches along the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming and Idaho, through Utah and Nevada and down to Arizona and New Mexico. As of 2008, the mortality rates gathered from the U.S. census indicated that Utah ranked ninth in the nation for suicides. In September 2010, the Utah Department of Health declared that Utah was the fourth greatest consumer of antidepressants in the nation with 12.71 percent of residents being prescribed antidepressants.

The problem is that these medications do not work on most of the consumers to whom they are prescribed.

In his new book "Flourish," Martin E.P. Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, dedicated a chapter to this issue titled "The Dirty Little Secret of Drugs and Therapy." Seligman said that antidepressants do work — for those with severe depression. But he added that "for moderate or mild depression, the effects were nonexistent."

Seligman said most of the consumers of these drugs fall into the latter categories, and that antidepressants are being prescribed largely to people on whom they do not work.


In the 1990s, Duke University professor James A. Blumenthal shook up the world of psychopharmacology with his study comparing the effects of antidepressants to exercise. He used three groups of depressed people:

  • Group A received antidepressants
  • Group B exercised
  • Group C received antidepressants and exercised too

All three groups experienced relief from their symptoms. The group that took antidepressants and the group that exercised had the same results.The punch line, if you will, came when they followed up with these participants six months later. The group that continued taking antidepressants relapsed into depression at a rate of 38 percent. The exercise group relapsed at a rate of only 8 percent. An even more interesting fact is the exercise plus antidepressants group relapsed into depression at a rate of 31 percent. So one would have had a better chance of enjoying permanent relief from depression by exercising alone rather than exercising and taking antidepressants.

Exercise is only one of the things we can do to alleviate symptoms of depression. There are many, many things one can do (and not do) to feel happier.

I find that most of the unhappy people I work with either in my private practice or in my class, Happiness 101, are actively feeding their depression. For instance, the average person complains 70 times a day. People struggling with depression do so much more. They are also usually very pessimistic.

Fortunately, by understanding the mechanics of pessimism, one can change their explanatory style to be more optimistic.

Become aware of unhappy habits. Make new choices and start feeling happier today.

Frank Clayton is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Salt Lake City. He specializes in happiness. He teaches other therapists and professionals about positive psychology and has been teaching Happiness 101 for over three years.

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