Estimating the smallest worthwhile difference of antidepressants: A cross-sectional survey

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Background Approximately 30% of patients experience substantial improvement in depression after 2 months without treatment, and 45% with antidepressants. The smallest worthwhile difference (SWD) refers to an intervention's smallest beneficial effect over a comparison patients deem worthwhile given treatment burdens (harms, expenses and inconveniences), but is undetermined for antidepressants. Objective Estimating the SWD of commonly prescribed antidepressants for depression compared to no treatment. Methods The SWD was estimated as a patient-required difference in response rates between antidepressants and no treatment after 2 months. An online cross-sectional survey using Prolific, MQ Mental Health and Amazon Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing services in the UK and USA between October 2022 and January 2023 garnered participants (N=935) that were a mean age of 44.1 (SD=13.9) and 66% women (n=617). Findings Of 935 participants, 124 reported moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms but were not in treatment, 390 were in treatment and 495 reported absent-to-mild symptoms with or without treatment experiences. The median SWD was a 20% (IQR=10-30%) difference in response rates for people with moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms, not in treatment, and willing to consider antidepressants, and 25% (IQR=10-35%) for the full sample. Conclusions Our observed SWDs mean that the current 15% antidepressant benefit over no treatment was sufficient for one in three people to accept antidepressants given the burdens, but two in three expected greater treatment benefits. Implications While a minority may be satisfied with the best currently available antidepressants, more effective and/or less burdensome medications are needed, with more attention given to patient perspectives.




Sahker, E., Furukawa, T. A., Luo, Y., Ferreira, M. L., Okazaki, K., Chevance, A., … Salanti, G. (2024). Estimating the smallest worthwhile difference of antidepressants: A cross-sectional survey. BMJ Mental Health, 27(1).

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