Sertraline could potentially be prescribed to a ‘wider group’ of patients, according to a recent study of its effects on reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The primary outcomes of this trial showed that sertraline had no significant effect on depressive symptoms at 6 weeks. Secondary outcomes showed that sertraline treatment resulted in reduced anxiety symptoms, better mental health-related quality of life and self-reported improvements in mental health. These outcomes were assessed through patient questionnaires and surveys, including the Patient Health Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory-II.
‘This study gives an interesting insight into how a medication primarily used to treat depression may be improving a patient’s health in other ways in the shorter term, by reducing symptoms of anxiety, which is often associated with depression,’ said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the Chair of the Royal College of GPs.
These studies are usually performed on patients from secondary care mental health services despite the fact that depression is usually managed by primary healthcare professionals. This is the largest placebo-controlled trial of an antidepressant that was not funded by a pharmaceutical company and it was conducted on over 650 patients from primary care surgeries in London, Bristol, Liverpool and York.
The patients were referred to this study when there was clinical uncertainty about the benefit of an antidepressant for their case. This meant that there was a variety of severity and duration of symptoms in the group. Therefore, these results can be applied to cases of depression and anxiety generally, due to the mixed nature of the group.
‘They work, just in a different way than we had expected,’ said Professor Glyn Lewis, one of the researchers involved in the study. ‘We definitely need better treatments for depression, and more research, but they are effective drugs’.
The study was a double-blind placebo-controlled trial published by researchers at University College London in The Lancet Psychiatry. Due to the similarity between sertraline and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, these results could be applicable to this entire class of antidepressants.