Hope Is a Very Good Thing: What Is the Active Ingredient in Antidepressant Medication?

November 18, 2014

Hodges - Hope Is a Very Good Thing - What Is the Active Ingredient in Antidepressant Medication
Charles Hodges

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Charles Hodges

Hodges - Hope Is a Very Good Thing - What Is the Active Ingredient in Antidepressant Medication

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second of a four-part, week-long blog mini-series by Charles D. Hodges, Jr., M.D. These posts will follow the theme related to the use of research in our thinking about life struggles. You can read Part One at Chemical Imbalances and Depression. Dr. Hodges is a family physician who practices medicine in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Medicine, board certified in Family Medicine and Geriatrics, and is a licensed marital family therapist. Dr. Hodges is also a trained biblical counselor who has been counseling people with mood problems and other family issues for twenty-five years. You can learn more about Dr. Hodges and his book, Good Mood Bad Mood at his website here. You can also view Dr. Hodges’ plenary presentation at the Annual Conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) at their blog site here. Today’s blog is re-posted by the BCC with Dr. Hodges’ permission, and you can also read the original post on his site here.

The Active Ingredient: Hope

I do like movies! I like them most for the quotes that are just waiting to pop up when I read an article in medicine. Today’s quote came from the Shawshank Redemption. Andy was talking to Red sitting in the prison exercise yard trying to get across why Andy was not going crazy while doing life for a crime he did not commit. Andy had hope that grew from the fact that he was digging a tunnel out of prison!

The quote applies to a new research study that tells us something that many have been thinking for a long time. The active ingredient in today’s crop of antidepressant medications appears to be hope. The study was done at the UCLA Medical School and examined whether or not patient attitude toward the treatment made a difference in the outcome.[i]

The study divided individuals into three groups one of which would receive a placebo pill (looks exactly like the real thing, but does not contain the active drug) and a second which would receive the medication. The third group did not receive medication but did get supportive care. Then they questioned the participants as to whether or not they believed the medicine was going to work.

Those who reported that they believed the medication would be effective improved. They improved whether they received the placebo or the real drug. And, the difference between the groups was not large. Both treatment groups did better than those who only received supportive care. I suppose the equation would look like: faith + hope = effectiveness.
In the words of the researchers, “Supportive interaction with the subject helped them get better, and antidepressant therapy helped them get better, but I think our key finding was that patients’ belief in the effectiveness of medication was a unique factor that contributed to them getting well. So, belief in the power or effectiveness of the medication may be a contributor to placebo responses in the treatment of depression.”[ii]

Hope Is a Person

There are lots of directions to take these results. The lack of a large benefit in taking the active drug makes one wonder if the potential for side effects would be worth the risk. But I think there is more to be had in looking at how faith can help those who are depressed. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

If nothing more than faith in the effectiveness of a placebo can result in people who are depressed improving, what might happen if they had something or Someone real in which to believe?

Join the Conversation (Added by the BCC Staff)

What role do you think hope plays in your life? In your healing from life’s hurts? In your counseling ministry?


[i]“Patient Expectations Largely Dictate Antidepressant Response.” Medscape News @ Medscape.com. Pam Harrison, September 15, 2014.


One thought on “Hope Is a Very Good Thing: What Is the Active Ingredient in Antidepressant Medication?

  1. A corollary might be that how we comunicate our confidence in God’s word to our counselee is important. To the degree our speach is truly heartfelt it may better prepare the soil for the work of the Holy Spirit.

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