New Zealand Asks: “How is Your Antidepressant Working For You?”


Researchers at Auckland University have launched a study that “positions the people who are prescribed antidepressants as the experts” and which aims at asking 1000 New Zealanders “about all the different experiences that people might have had with antidepressant medications. We would like to know about what symptom relief people experienced as well as any side effects they had. We are also keen to know more about their views on what causes depression and how helpful they believe antidepressants are in addressing these.”

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. “Our approach positions the people who are prescribed antidepressants as the experts,” says Ms Gibson

    Really Ms Gibson?

    I have to wonder if these people were considered experts when they first call the agency? When they completed their assessment? When the pros and cons of psychiatric medications over alternatives was explained..were they experts then too Ms Gibson? Certainly they were the experts when they decided they didn’t want to take the medications too right? Oh, they probably didn’t get counted in this study. Where was their expertise when it was explained thay by taking these drugs they would lose their sex drive, gain 60 lbs and have a strong desire to strangle their neighbor? Maybe if I re-read the piece…

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      • Now A, in deference to you I purposely did not say the drug would cause strangulation just a desire to. Big difference. I think you’ve agreed in other posts that drugs at least can influence the behaviors we make. Your objection was with causation. The notion that once we take a pill all free will departs and we are like robots, slaves to the drugs coursing through our bodies. I’m still seriously considering your position on that.

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          A conclusion cannot be made.

          A drug might exacerbate existing propensities for certain thoughts.

          A desire to go on a cruise ship to Spain, is a desire too.

          My largest concern, is that the proponents of SSRI blamed suicide, are on a giant flight from personal responsibility, and still believe in a ‘safer’ ‘medicine’ being ‘developed’. Which by extension, one can conclude they believe despair is a brain disease. The largest and most prominent SSRI blamer on this site, also strongly believes in electroshock.

          I believe ‘drug safety’, is a waste of time and a distraction for a world that quickly needs to realize human problems in human lives are not medical problems at all.

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          • Yep. I know your position on drugs causing behavior has met with quite a bit of resistence on this site and like I said, I’m still trying to educate myself on the different views. I agree with you that problems of life/living are not best thought of as medical problems requiring medical interventions. I agree as well that personal responsibility exists and must be considered in any discussion around the impact/influence of drugs on our thoughts, behaviors, etc.

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          • I think that it is not an issue of whether a drug causes any one person to do any one thing. But there does seem to be solid evidence that SSRIs cause an increased rate of violence, whether toward self or others. It is not a 1:1 rate; it is only an increase. But the question is: if the drug is causing a demonstrable increase in these kinds of behaviors, then what other increased behaviors are there that can be construed as being connected that have not even been accounted for yet? It may well be that the “antidepressant” effect, if there is one, could come at the cost of these increased behaviors, in which case it becomes an utilitarian analysis of whether the greater benefit to the greater benefit justifies these risks.
            In fact, if one looks at the research on serotonin levels in primates, such as that by Sapolsky (and leaving aside for a moment the debate about serotonin specificity in relation to depression), it seems that serotonin levels correlate with both social status and aggression in primates.
            This is a very simplistic presentation, of course, but I think the data are there with which to make an argument that would go; artificially jiggering serotonin levels might provide benefit to some and risk to others.
            Of course, personal responsibility is always a part of things, but how that plays out in any individual is also complex. If we know that there is the risk, as there seems to be (according to the data) that some will get into trouble, then is it really fair to hold those who happen to be the ones who experience these predicted, if not precisely predictable, outcomes? Do we not at the very least, on behalf of those who may have benefitted, owe something to those who incur the cost? If there is, in fact, a greater social good to the use of these drugs, is there not some debt to those who randomly experience the downside?
            This is leaving aside completely the question of whether the antidepressants do, in fact, deliver the benefit that had been promised. That is another conversation.
            But if, as the data seem to suggest, some small percentage are experiencing a high level of aggressive impulses, as manifested in suicide or murder, and if, as might be argued, perhaps those in whom that general trend is reflective of a tendency that may have lay dormant in them that they had kept under control and so, perhaps, their failure to continue to keep that impulse under control can still be thought of as their responsibility, then at the very least it is worth considering: what smaller effects might be manifesting in a larger number of people? Competitiveness? Ambition? Drive? Achievement? Lack of Netiquette? Shoplifting? Gambling? Publication Bias?
            Getting too tightly focussed on the worst outcomes, which in any one case can be (and – so far – is) dismissed as being demonstrably directly connected to the medication, overlooks the larger trends that come with a choice that has become such a fact of life in our society.
            Substances do affect behavior. But the Vaillant study – of 600 people followed over 40 years – among others, found that social mores and archetypes play a larger role in peoples’ relationship to addiction and to substances than perhaps any other factor. So being aware not only of how substances affect people, but of how the ways that we think about substances affects the that way substances affect people, is another aspect of why the conversation that occurs here is so potentially important and – in fact – vital.
            Because it’s being honest about all this that will empower people to relate to these substances in a meaningful and adaptive way – whether it is to use them wisely or to stop using them safely. The thing that makes the substances dangerous is shutting down the conversation about them prematurely, whether the intent is to induce people to use them or to stop using them.

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