The evidence on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for major depressive disorder is unclear.
Our objective was to conduct a systematic review assessing the effects of SSRIs versus placebo, ‘active’ placebo, or no intervention in adult participants with major depressive disorder. We searched for eligible randomised clinical trials in The Cochrane Library’s CENTRAL, PubMed, EMBASE, PsycLIT, PsycINFO, Science Citation Index Expanded, clinical trial registers of Europe and USA, websites of pharmaceutical companies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Medicines Agency until January 2016. All data were extracted by at least two independent investigators. We used Cochrane systematic review methodology, Trial Sequential Analysis, and calculation of Bayes factor. An eight-step procedure was followed to assess if thresholds for statistical and clinical significance were crossed. Primary outcomes were reduction of depressive symptoms, remission, and adverse events. Secondary outcomes were suicides, suicide attempts, suicide ideation, and quality of life.
SSRIs might have statistically significant effects on depressive symptoms, but all trials were at high risk of bias and the clinical significance seems questionable. SSRIs significantly increase the risk of both serious and non-serious adverse events. The potential small beneficial effects seem to be outweighed by harmful effects.