Antidepressant drugs and generic counselling for treatment of major depression in primary care: randomised trial with patient preference arms

Counselling versus Antidepressants in Primary Care Study Group, C Chilvers, M Dewey, K Fielding, V Gretton, P Miller, B Palmer, D Weller, R Churchill, I Williams, N Bedi, C Duggan, A Lee, G Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To compare the efficacy of antidepressant drugs and generic counselling for treating mild to moderate depression in general practice. To determine whether the outcomes were similar for patients with randomly allocated treatment and those expressing a treatment preference.

Design: Randomised controlled trial, with patient preference arms. Follow up at 8 weeks and 12 months and abstraction of GP case notes.

Setting: 31 general practices in Trent region.

Participants: Patients aged 18–70 who met research diagnostic criteria for major depression; 103 patients were randomised and 220 patients were recruited to the preference arms.

Main outcome measures: Difference in mean Beck depression inventory score; time to remission; global outcome assessed by a psychiatrist using all data sources; and research diagnostic criteria.

Results: At 12 months there was no difference between the mean Beck scores in the randomised arms. Combining the randomised and patient preference groups, the difference in Beck scores was 0.4 (95% confidence interval −2.7 to 3.5). Patients choosing counselling did better than those randomised to it (mean difference in Beck score 4.6, 0.0 to 9.2). There was no difference in the psychiatrist's overall assessment of outcome between any of the groups. 221/265 (83%) of participants with a known outcome had a remission. Median time to remission was shorter in the group randomised to antidepressants than the other three groups (2 months v 3 months). 33/221 (15%) patients had a relapse.

Conclusions: Generic counselling seems to be as effective as antidepressant treatment for mild to moderate depressive illness, although patients receiving antidepressants may recover more quickly. General practitioners should allow patients to have their preferred treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)772-5
Number of pages4
JournalBritish Medical Journal (BMJ)
Issue number7289
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2001


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Depressive Disorder
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Patient Selection
  • Psychotherapy
  • Treatment Outcome


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