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Dealing with severe depression: What works?

July 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Severe depression impacts the lives of an estimated 14 percent of Americans. Sales of antidepressants have soared to $10 billion a year. But what is the most effective treatment? Drug companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on ads for antidepressants. A survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center of 1,500 subscribers finds they can help many people.

"Medication alone can help, but our survey shows that improvement from drugs levels off over time," Jamie Hirsh with Consumer Reports said. "Those who also had talk therapy and stuck with it for at least seven sessions had the best results."

Wini Alcorn says talk therapy combined with medication helped her overcome paralyzing depression. She now has a job she loves and has recently gotten married.

"I'm finally happy," she said. "I like where I am now. I feel like I've finally found my feet and found who I am."

Wini says she's tried to do without medication, but finds she really needs it to stay on an even keel. The side effects have been manageable, although that's not always the case.

"About a third of people in our survey who took antidepressants reported a decrease in sexual interest or function," Hirsh said.

Other side effects people experienced include weight gain, dry mouth and sleep problems.

"If you feel you can't tolerate antidepressants, the good news is that talk therapy alone helped somewhat or even a lot for almost 90 percent of people in our survey who had it," Hirsh said.

And as far as drug side effects, Consumer Reports found fewer people had them with an older class of drugs called SSRI's - medications like Prozac, Zoloft and their generic equivalents.