The antidepressants have suffered a bad press of late, and no wonder. Some trigger suicide, and others have been behind terrible incidents where patients have killed members of their family or taken a machine gun and mown down their fellow pupils at school.
Trouble is, say doctors, there's no proven alternative. There is, of course, and it's hypericum (St John's wort), which has been given for years in Germany to people suffering depression and bipolar disorders. It's been proven to work when it's been tested in a range of trials, but its detractors have argued that it is effective only in very mild cases of depression.
A new study suggests otherwise, and has discovered that it works just as well as the antidepressant paroxetine (marketed as Paxil and Seroxat) among patients who are suffering moderate to severe major depression.
Researchers from Berlin University tested it on 251 adults with acute major depression, who were given a 900 mg dose every day three times a day or 20 mg paroxetine daily for six weeks. Depression among the hypericum group dropped by 14.4 points, according to a standard measure for depression levels, and by 11.4 points in the paroxetine group.