The most common treatment for depression is prescription antidepressants. But a more effective treatment could be to combine the medicine with therapy sessions, a new study suggests.
Mood disorders like depression can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks like going to work or picking up groceries, in addition to affecting sleep and eating patterns.
The study was written by Steven Hollon, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and colleagues.
The authors set out to compare the effectiveness of treating depression with antidepressant medicine alone versus medicine plus therapy.
Depression is a mental condition marked by feelings of sadness that can interfere with work, sleep, eating and other daily activities.
The study included 452 patients with chronic depression being treated at university medical centers in Philadelphia, Chicago and Nashville.
Of the 452 participants, 225 were treated with antidepressants alone, and 227 were treated with a combination of meds and therapy.
Treatment lasted for up to 42 months until patients recovered from symptoms. Depression was considered to be in remission when patients went four weeks with minimal symptoms. The study authors defined recovery as 30 weeks without relapse.
Therapy sessions were once a week and lasted 90 minutes.
With the combined treatment, 72.6 percent of the patients achieved recovery. In the group receiving antidepressants alone, 62.5 percent recovered.
Adjusting for how severe and how chronic the patient’s depression was, the authors found that combination treatment was more effective in patients with non-chronic depression.
Fewer patients dropped out of the combination treatment, with 18.9 percent not completing treatment. In the medicine-only group, 26.8 percent of patients dropped out of treatment.
The authors wrote that therapy “engages different mechanisms” than antidepressants but “likely does so only in some patients.”
Identifying those mechanisms could lead to better treatment options, the study authors noted.
The study was published online Aug. 20 in JAMA Psychiatry.
The National Institute of Mental Health funded the study. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer provided prescription medicines for the trial.
Two study authors received research funding from private health care and pharmaceutical companies.