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 plus hope equals 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]
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.” (Heb 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?
[i] Patient Expectations Largely Dictate Antidepressant Response, Medscape News @ Medscape.com Pam Harrison September 15, 2014.