Some Effects Of Childhood Trauma May Render Antidepressants Unhelpful

Over the years I have more or less been prescribed every antidepressant known to mankind without the merest hint of benefit although I have not been untouched by their possible adverse side-effects such as vivid nightmares and insomnia (I suffer both of these anyway, but some anti-depressants, I think, have worsened them).

However, the beneficial effects of antidepressants are generally agreed to be overstated anyway (this fact is far from uninfluenced by rapacious drug companies’ intensive marketing of their product) with some studies suggesting antidepressants are no more effective than placebos.

The study (Goldstein-Piekarski, Ph.D., 2016)I am about to briefly summarize may well help to cast some light upon why antidepressants have failed to help both me and countless others, and, as we shall see, the experience of childhood trauma is highly relevant.

The study in question involved participants who had experienced significant levels of childhood trauma. Eighty individuals were given a brain scan both BEFORE and AFTER an EIGHT WEEK COURSE OF TREATMENT WITH ANTIDEPRESSANTS.

During both brain scans, participants were shown images of faces with FEARFUL EXPRESSIONS and images of faces with HAPPY EXPRESSIONS. This was done in order to assess the reactivity of a brain region known as the AMYGDALA, a part of the brain that processes emotions and is known to be susceptible to both functional and structural damage as a result of severe and protracted, interpersonal, childhood trauma.


It was found that those who had experienced high levels of childhood trauma but whose amygdala was reactive to happy faces were significantly more likely to respond to treatment by antidepressants than were those individuals who had also experienced high levels of childhood trauma but had substantially reduced reactivity in the amygdala to images of happy faces.


As children living with unstable, unpredictable, and abusive parents, and where this unhappy state of affairs continues over a long period, the development of various brain areas are liable to be adversely affected. One such area is the amygdala (see above) and this damage comes about as a result of us, as children, having to be constantly on ‘red alert’ and hypervigilant in relation to even small changes in our abusive parent’s mood in case the change indicates we may be in danger. Over time, such perpetual hypervigilance produces toxic stress that can harm the brain.

At the time, this change to the functioning of the amygdala can be described as functional as it helps to protect us but, when we become adults, no longer dependent on our parents, such hypervigilance becomes dysfunctional, and one manifestation of this that we become hypervigilant in relation to the mood of people in general (we have generalized our fear of our parents on to the population at large.

However, the study shows that a subsection of those affected by childhood trauma retain their hypersensitivity to fearful faces BUT LOSE THEIR REACTIVITY TO HAPPY FACES whilst other survivors of childhood trauma RETAIN THEIR REACTIVITY TO BOTH FEARFUL AND HAPPY FACES,

As may be expected, those who retained their reactivity to happy faces were significantly more likely to be helped by antidepressants.

The researchers concluded that in the case of those whose amygdalae had been damaged by childhood trauma AND had low reactivity to friendly faces were more likely to be helped by trauma-informed psychotherapy and that such treatment should take precedence over treatment by antidepressants.

So, if, as a result of childhood trauma, we remain hypervigilant to negative expressions but fail to derive any comfort or solace from a happy, smiling, friendly face, antidepressants may not be for us.



Large Study Suggests Antidepressants Work No Better than Placebos.

The pharmaceutical industry makes over 12 billion pounds a year from antidepressant medication. Indeed, millions of adults and children take antidepressants and there are hundreds of thousands of doctors throughout the world who are happy to prescribe them.

However, it has been suspected by many for a long time that a proportion of any beneficial effect given by the taking of antidepressants is due to THE PLACEBO EFFECT (the PLACEBO EFFECT is a phenomenon whereby the patient’s BELIEF that medication will help causes any improvement in his/her condition, not the drug itself.

A simple example of this would be to give someone who has a headache a dummy pill, such as a sugar pill, and then to tell the person who took it that it will cure his/her headache. Often, the person’s BELIEF that the tablet will help him/her then causes an improvement. There is so much evidence of the placebo effect that it is now fully accepted by the scientific community – it is an excellent example of how the mind can affect the body).

A major study has now been undertaken to discover how much of any beneficial effect antidepressants have is not due to the drugs themselves, but, instead, to the placebo effect. The study was led by the academic, Professor Kirsch, from Harvard University.

His method was to take an overview of 38 studies that had already been conducted on the effects of antidepressants (psychologists refer to this as a meta-analysis). The SHOCKING DISCOVERY was that the data showed that antidepressants worked almost no better than placebos.

In other words, giving an individual an antidepressant for his/her depression, according to the extensive data reviewed by Professor Kirsch, is likely to work hardly any better than giving the individual a sugar (or ‘dummy’) pill. In fact, the difference in effect upon lessening depressive symptoms between the sugar pills and the antidepressants was found to be, by careful statistical analysis, CLINICALLY INSIGNIFICANT.

Further investigation of the data revealed that the proportion of individuals who were helped more by the antidepressants than by the placebo (and, even then, only in a very minor way) was just 10-15% (those who had the most extreme forms of depressive illness). The majority, then (85-90%), were not helped in a significant way by antidepressants per se any more than they would have been by a placebo.

Doctors have been made aware of this study, but a survey recently conducted has, worryingly, shown that over half of them did not intend to change the manner in which they prescribed antidepressants.

Whilst criticisms of Professor Kirsch’s study were made, particularly, unsurprisingly, by those who had a vested interest in the pharmaceutical industry, none of them, on analysis, have been shown to carry much weight. Additionally, a study commissioned by the NHS has SUPPORTED Professor Kirsch’s findings.

Despite these alarming findings, 235 prescriptions for antidepressants were made in the USA in 2010, and, in 2011, 47 million were made in the UK.

It is clear that there needs to be a major review of medical policy in relation to the prescribing of antidepressants and that alternative ways of treating depression now need to be considered more than ever.



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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE). is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.