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Hawking the happy pills

Drugs that increase serotonin levels are widely prescribed for depression. But their benefits have been wildly exaggerated and their side-effects underplayed

By Cheryll Barron   October 2004

Depression is an epidemic, and the best weapons against it are prescription drugs called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). We all have a substance called serotonin in our brains and low levels of it are the cause of depression. SSRIs work by bringing them back to normal. The pills have unpleasant side-effects for some people, but this is outweighed by the relief they offer from wretchedness. This has been the prevailing view in medicine for nearly two decades, during which time the prescribing of antidepressants in the US has tripled, with more than 100m prescriptions written last year.

But change…

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