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J Nerv Ment Dis. 2000 Dec;188(12):799-804.

Short-term spontaneous improvement rates in depressed outpatients.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University School of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, USA.


The objectives of the present report were: a) to determine the spontaneous remission rate in depressed outpatients who do not receive antidepressant medication; b) to develop a novel method for obtaining a control group that can be used to gauge the effectiveness of antidepressant medication in clinical practice; and c) to compare response rates from the present sample with outcomes of depressed patients in our practice who were treated with antidepressant medications. By using a naturalistic design, prospective assessments were made on all depressed outpatients. Twenty-five patients who met full criteria for a major depressive episode ended up not taking antidepressant medication for a variety of reasons. "Response" rates to a no-treatment trial were determined with standard outcome criteria using the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale. Eight patients (32.0%) had a positive response, 5 patients (20.0%) had a partial response, and 12 patients (48.0%) were nonresponders to a no-treatment trial. These response rates were higher than expected, but significantly lower than what we had found in a cohort of depressed patients who underwent an antidepressant trial (p = .02). Likewise, treatment-resistant patients fared better on pharmacotherapy, though this difference was not statistically significant. These results suggest that the occurrence of spontaneous remissions may be common in clinical practice, and therefore the specific short-term benefits of antidepressant medication in clinical practice may frequently be overestimated. Despite the high rate of spontaneous remission in our sample, the present study allowed us to confirm the effectiveness of antidepressant medication in clinical practice using a novel method for obtaining a control comparison group.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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