Presentation of Benefits and Harms of Antidepressants on Websites: A Cross-Sectional Study

Int J Risk Saf Med. 2020;31(2):53-65. doi: 10.3233/JRS-191023.

Abstract

Background: Many people use the Internet for obtaining information about their medications.

Objective: To investigate whether information about antidepressants on popular websites reflects the scientific evidence and enables people to make informed choices.

Methods: Cross-sectional study using a checklist with 14 predefined criteria of 39 websites from 10 countries.

Results: All 39 websites mentioned the benefits of antidepressants. Twenty-nine (74%) websites attributed depression to a "chemical imbalance" or claimed they could fix an imbalance. Sexual dysfunction was mentioned as a harmful effect on 23 (59%) websites while five (13%) mentioned emotional numbing. Twenty-five (64%) stated that antidepressants may cause increased suicidal ideation, but 23 (92%) of them contained incorrect information, and only two (5%) websites noted that the suicide risk is increased in people of all ages. Twenty-eight websites (72%) warned patients about withdrawal effects but only one stated that antidepressants can be addictive.

Conclusions: None of the websites met our predefined criteria. The information was generally inaccurate and unhelpful and has potential to lead to inappropriate use and overuse of antidepressants and reduce the likelihood that people will seek better options for depression like psychotherapy.

Keywords: Antidepressants; benefits; depression; harms; misinformation; websites.