From Mad in America: A major study looked at how effective different treatments are for mental health problems. The researchers analyzed data from thousands of studies on various mental disorders and found that both medicine and therapy had inadequate effectiveness.
One of the researchers was the acclaimed and eminent Stanford University statistician and methods expert John Ioannadis. They wrote:
“Across disorders and treatments, the majority of effect sizes for target symptoms were small.”
The researchers found that most treatments only had a small effect on improving symptoms. The only treatment that had a large effect was psychotherapy for OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). The study pointed out that biases in the research could lead to researchers thinking their treatments work a lot better than the treatments actually do. Positive findings are often published, while negative results may not be shared. This is called publication bias.
They focused on the “effect size,” which measures how much a treatment helps, and not simply whether it helps or not. They looked at a range of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, and others. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was found to be particularly effective for OCD and PTSD.
However, they also found that antipsychotic drugs were not very effective for treating schizophrenia. The researchers studied 102 meta-analyses. Meta-analyses are studies of other studies. These are supposed to give us the best and clearest information about evidence behind a treatment. However, even here researchers found that nearly 50% of the meta-analyses they studied had chances of heavy bias.
Another problem was that most of the studies only look at short-term outcomes. In other words, they looked at the effect of a treatment for only a short duration such as 6-8 weeks. For e.g., a new medicine for depression would be researched for only 6-8 weeks in a clinical trial. There were very few studies that looked at whether treatments worked over a long period of time.
Overall, the study finds that there is still a lot to learn about how to effectively treat mental health problems and that more research is needed to make further progress.
This article originally appeared in Mad in America and can be read here.
This is an AI generated version shortened and edited for a South Asian audience.