Study finds depression drugs equally effective for people with physical health problems

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Researchers from Charité—Universitätsmedizin Berlin and Aarhus University have recently published a study in JAMA Psychiatry that addresses a critical question: Are antidepressants effective and safe for people who also have physical health issues?

The study found that antidepressants are about as effective and safe in patients with physical health problems as they are in those without these issues.

Prof. Christian Otte, Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at Charité, highlights that 20% of people with physical health problems also suffer from depression.

“Both should be treated,” he says. But until now, it was unclear how safe and effective antidepressants are for these patients, since most clinical trials for antidepressants are conducted almost exclusively in physically healthy subjects.

The team conducted a systematic review of studies from around the world, applying strict selection criteria to ensure the quality of the data.

“We identified 52 high-quality meta-analyses for 27 different physical health problems,” says Dr. Ole Köhler-Forsberg, a depression researcher at Aarhus University.

These conditions included cancer, heart and metabolic diseases, and rheumatological and neurological disorders.

Clinical Relevance

The findings are likely to have a significant impact on medical practice. Otte explains that treating depression in patients with physical health problems can improve their overall quality of life and potentially the course of their physical disease.

The researchers expect that their study will be included in the German national disease management guidelines for depression.

Despite the promising results, Otte notes a lack of large-scale studies, particularly regarding frequent combinations like cancer and depression.

“There is still a lot of research to be done,” he says, and his team is planning future projects to explore the broader impacts of antidepressants on symptoms of other physical health problems.


For patients with both depression and physical health problems, the study provides reassuring evidence that antidepressants can be a safe and effective part of their treatment regimen.

This has potential implications for healthcare guidelines and calls attention to the need for further research in this area.

If you care about depression, please read studies about More than half of people with autoimmune diseases have depression and findings of Understanding the emotional ‘blunting’ effect of common depression drugs.

For more information about depression, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

The research findings can be found in JAMA Psychiatry

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