A survey of prescribing practices in the treatment of depression

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2002 Jan;26(1):177-87. doi: 10.1016/s0278-5846(01)00250-0.


Background: With the increasing number and type of antidepressants available to clinicians, there is a need to better understand current prescribing practices and to what degree these practices reflect research findings. The purpose of this study was to examine prescribing practices in a sample of psychiatrists attending a psychopharmacology review course and compare these results with empirical evidence.

Method: 439 of 800 clinicians asked (55%) responded to a 10-item questionnaire that was given prior to beginning the review course. Items covered three major content areas: first-line preferences in the treatment of depression, antidepressant agents most associated with certain side effects, and first-line preferences in the treatment of certain depressive subtypes.

Results: 214 (49%) clinicians indicated a belief that one antidepressant type is more efficacious than others. Of these 214 clinicians, 103 (48%) indicated selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as being most efficacious, while 53 (25%) indicated venlafaxine as being most efficacious; 378 (93%) clinicians indicated SSRIs as their first-line treatment preference. Mirtazapine (56%) was endorsed as most likely to be associated with weight gain, fluoxetine (57%) with sexual dysfunction, paroxetine (48%) with a discontinuation syndrome, and fluoxetine (52%) with agitation. For the treatment of anxious, atypical, and melancholic depression, SSRIs were the first choice of treatment (58%, 57%, and 57%), and for depression with prominent insomnia, mirtazapine and nefazadone (31% and 27%) were the first choices of treatment.

Conclusions: Despite the lack of evidence of a significant difference in efficacy between older and newer agents, clinicians perceive the newer agents to be more efficacious than the older drugs [tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)] even in the melancholic and anxious depressive subtypes. Similarly, although sexual dysfunction and agitation appear to occur at similar rates with all the SSRIs, fluoxetine was perceived to be most likely to cause these side effects. These findings are significant as they highlight the discrepancy between empirical evidence and clinical practices and suggest that other factors influence clinicians' medication choices in the treatment of depression.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / classification
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Psychiatry / trends
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors