An excerpt from MindHacks:

Psychologist Irving Kirsch, who led this new research, has conducted several previous studies looking at the effectiveness of SSRI antidepressant drugs and found similar results, although this is the first time that the study has factored in the severity of depression.

This study focused on the drugs fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), nefazodone (Serzone), and paroxetine (Seroxat or Paxil) and used the US Freedom of Information Act to request data on (mainly) negative trials that haven’t been published to complement the data set from published trials.

In this new analysis, only in severe depression did these medications show a distinct improvement over placebo, and this, the authors suggest, is because of the reduced placebo effect in the severely depressed, rather than than the fact that the medication has a differential effect in those most affected by mood disorders.

It’s important to note that the study didn’t show that the drugs had no effect in mild-moderate depression. They were all associated with an improvement in depression, but this was no different from placebo (a powerful effect in itself).

It’s also important to note that this finding doesn’t apply to all antidepressant drugs, and that it doesn’t apply to the use of these four drugs in all situations. They are also commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders which weren’t investigated in this study.

Link to full-text of PLoS Medicine paper.
Link to Times write-up.