020: The Truth About Antidepressants?

In this podcast, David and Fabrice discuss recent startling and disturbing research studies by Dr. Irving Kirsch and others that suggest that the chemicals called “antidepressants” may, in reality, have few or no true antidepressant effects above and beyond their placebo effects. Dr. Burns illustrates the placebo effect with a thought experiment, and explains why it is so confusing to researchers and the general public alike.

In addition, David and Fabrice discuss additional troubling research by Dr. David Healey and others that indicates that the chemicals called “antidepressants” appear to cause a doubling or tripling of the likelihood that a depressed individual will commit suicide or become actively suicidal, as compared with depressed individuals treated with placebos. David concludes with a discussion emphasizing that the needs of marketing are in conflict with the needs of sciences, and proposes some solutions to this serious problem.

Dr. Burns emphasizes that he is only providing his interpretation of some extremely controversial studies, based on his research training and clinical experience. He urges listeners to do their own research and critical thinking on this disturbing topic, and emphasizes that many may come to different conclusions.


Suggested Reading

Antonuccio, D.O., Burns, D., & Danton, W.G. (2002). Antidepressants: A triumph of marketing over science? Prevention and Treatment, 5, Article 25. Web link:

Antonuccio, D.O., Danton, W.G., DeNelsky, G.Y., Greenberg, R., & Gordon, J.S. (1999). Raising questions about antidepressants. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 68, 3-14.

Garland, E. J. (2004). Facing the evidence: antidepressant treatment in children and adolescents. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 170, 489-491.

Healy, D. (2003). Lines of evidence on the risk of suicide with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 72, 71-79.

Jureidini, N., Doecke, C.J., Mansfield, P.R., Haby, M.M., Menkes, D.B., & Tonkin, A.L. (2004) Efficacy and safety of antidepressants in children and adolescents, British Medical Journal, 328, 879-883.

Khan A, Khan SR, Leventhal RM, Brown WA (2001).  Symptom reduction and suicide risk in patients treated with placebo in antidepressant clinical trials: a replication analysis of the Food and Drug Administration Database. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 4, 113-118.

Kirsch, Irving. (2010). The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth. New York: Basic Books.

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