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Talking works as well as drugs for major depression

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After five years, people who used cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – the ‘talking therapy’ – were coping as well as those who instead had opted to take antidepressants.

The drugs are certainly a cheaper option, at least initially. But when costs of changing medications, side effects or having a relapse are factored in, there’s hardly any difference between the two, say researchers from the University of Michigan.

Looking at the outcomes of the two groups, the researchers say that people who had CBT saw their symptoms improve just as much as those taking antidepressants – and a survey discovered that most people with depression would prefer to be treated with CBT or some other non-drug approach.

The problem is that only a quarter of them ever have the chance. The costs of starting CBT are higher and there aren’t enough therapists on the ground to treat people.

But if insurers could see that, in the long run, there wasn’t much difference in costs and outcomes between the two approaches, perhaps more funding could be made available to the talking therapies, the researchers add.

(Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019; doi: 10.7326/M18-1480)

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