Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that antidepressant drugs do little to nothing for people with mild to moderate depression. Countering the belief that medication helps everyone with depression, Robert DeRubeis and his colleagues found that only in very severe cases of depression do antidepressants offer any sort of perceived benefit.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study clarifies the benefit of antidepressants on those with varying degrees of depression. They administered Hamilton Depression Rating Scale questionnaires to 718 people who fell all across the depression spectrum. Study facilitators gave participants either an antidepressant or a placebo for at least six weeks. Following a second evaluation, the only participants who demonstrated measurable improvements were those falling into the "very severe" category of depression.

Researchers noted that those on medication with milder cases of depression are probably finding relief from the act of speaking with their doctors about their symptoms and learning more about their conditions. Interestingly, many people with mild depression find relief in simply speaking with another person about their feelings.

Antidepressant apologists were quick to defend the drugs, citing the possibility of an elevated placebo effect due to participation in the study. Dr. Philip Wang, deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is one of them, emphasizing that if current antidepressants are not working for people on the milder end of the spectrum then drug companies must device custom antidepressants that will work for milder conditions.

The most common form of antidepressants used today are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Recent studies have shown that SSRIs are highly dangerous. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study published in the December 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine found that SSRIs increase the risk of stroke. The drugs are also implicated in causing suicidal and murderous thoughts, serious brain injuries, and death.

Those looking for some natural alternatives to SSRIs may wish to investigate L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid found most notably in turkey. Tryptophan is the only known precursor to serotonin found in the diet. Since serotonin is converted into melatonin which regulates mood and sleep patterns, tryptophan is highly effective at countering depression. Tryptophan is once again available on the market after being banned by the FDA in 1989.

Other options for treating depression include supplementation with 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP), the substance that the body creates from tryptophan, or S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe), a derivative of the amino acid methionine that can help with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.