Anti-depression drug research wins ACU ethics prize

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Dr Paul Biegler has been awarded the Australian Catholic University Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics, for his work on how clinicians should deal with the growing problem of depression.

Professor Thomas Martin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at ACU with Dr Paul BieglerProfessor Thomas Martin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at ACU with Dr Paul Biegler

In his book The Ethical Treatment of Depression: Autonomy Through Psychotherapy, Dr Biegler argued that while drugs may ease depression, doctors cannot ethically prescribe them if they know there is a drug-free option available that is equally effective.

In this work, Dr Biegler, from the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University, argues doctors have a moral obligation to prescribe cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for patients with depression.

The prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for science.

One in six Australians will experience depression in their lifetime, a figure that is replicated worldwide. Of the three-quarters of this number who seek medical treatment, about 80 per cent will receive antidepressants.

Dr Biegler said antidepressants and CBT have been proven to be equally effective in treating the common lesser grades of depression, yet antidepressants are over-represented in treatment regimes by a factor of three to one.

The former medical practitioner argues that while drugs may ease depression, they fail in the moral domain because they simply treat the disease rather than the ‘whole’ person.

He argues that CBT gives someone who suffers from depression insights into the nature and mechanisms of the disease that drugs cannot

It also helps sufferers identify stressors, shown to be causal in about 70 per cent of depressive episodes, and teaches coping strategies focused on the stressor and the resulting emotional distress.