The stock market, antidepressants and facts

Sunday , February 25, 2018 - 4:00 AM

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

So my last two columns have each been challenged. First, my column on the $3 trillion loss in the stock market  in early February prompted a letter to the editor from Richard Copp, who correctly pointed out that one line in my column was incorrect. I wrote that “last week, in just one day, all of the stock market gains over the last year were wiped out.” My error was to use the term “year” when I should have used the term “2018” or even more correctly, “three months,” since the drop sent the stock market back to November, 2017 levels. My mistake was misleading and weakened my overall argument.

I'd like to sincerely thank Mr. Copp for pointing out the error. I’ve made several over the years, and I’m always grateful when people speak up and help me correct mistakes. It's valuable for both me, and you, the reader, for a couple of reasons. First, it assures I use correct and factual information in our public discussions, and second, it affirms that the assertions I make in my columns remain focused and objective.

To clarify, I’ll use the column commented on by Mr. Copp. I asserted that those who live inside the financial bubble mindset — those who make money off of money — don't have much rapport with those outside that bubble. Now, let’s go to Mr. Copp’s correction of what I wrote: The drop in the stock market only represented a three-month correction back to November 2017. This is an even stronger argument for my main point because it is factual, and therefore illustrates better how the financial mindset can cause a disconnect from real life.

Based on Mr. Copp’s correction, from November 2017 to just before the drop in February of 2018, the stock market created $3 trillion. Did your house payment decrease? Any new roads built? Did the price of cars drop? Did the deficit go down? Did your interest rates improve? Where is this money? Where does all this money come from that so easily appears and disappears, and how does it impact those of us who live outside Wall Street? Oh, that's right: the stock market invests in corporate profits. Did we see a $3 trillion increase in corporate profits in the last three months? Of course, the answer to all the questions above is “No.”

As I write this Thursday morning, the financial pages are awash with concerns that the bond market is showing higher yields and the stock market is now reacting negatively. Remember, stock sales are a step removed from the actual business of business. When you go to a store, it's simple: you hand the cashier your purchase, they take your money, then you walk out of the store. But the stock market is a different world. It's a phenomenal way for companies to create revenue and build their businesses, while spreading the risk in order to mitigate the potential losses, should there be any. Things go awry, however, when this system shifts from financing and promoting business into a gambling game of finance disconnected from reality.

As I watch my 401k portfolio, I remind myself that the real strength and value is in the companies I’ve invested in, not in the arbitrary numbers that flash across my news feed from day to day. .

Which brings me to last week’s column and the headlines out of England. The Lancet published a new study on the effectiveness of 21 antidepressants. Here's a smattering of the headlines: “Antidepressants Work, Major Study Says,” and “The Drugs Do Work: Antidepressants are Effective Study Shows.” My column last week asserted that medical science doesn’t know the root physical causes of illnesses like anxiety and depression, and ineffectual drugs with harmful side effects are peddled, even though we don’t fully understand the etiology (cause or causes) of the disease.

This is a great example of how catchy headlines hijack the important conversations we must have. I wish subheadlines had been offered, ones containing other information from the same study I decided to read instead of the news articles, since the various headlines I'd read seemed to contradict what I'd asserted last week. The first and most prominent subheadline should have been: “Antidepressants Don’t Work for Children or Adolescents.” Wouldn’t you want to know that information before you give your child psychiatric medications?

The next subhead would be a confirmation of what I wrote last week, in which I asserted the cause of depression is not a chemical imbalance in the brain: “Antidepressants Sorta Work, but We Don't Know Why.” According to the Lancet study, the two most effective antidepressants are not SSRIs or SNRIs, but tricyclics (TCAs), which have been around since the 1960s. The study showed that while all the antidepressants tested higher than a placebo for efficacy, over half the drugs performed worse than placebo for acceptability. To put this back in terms of my tobacco-promotion analogy: cigarettes tested higher than a placebo for creating a sense of "calm and wellbeing" in the user (the nicotine high), while cigarettes performed worse than the placebo in terms of overall negative side effects. To simplify, yes, cigarettes have positive effects on the human brain, but the negatives far outweigh the positives.

I did some research of my own, and found a 2009 study on the National Institute of Health Site that strongly suggests opioids have the potential to be a highly efficient antidepressant. When given proper dosages and not abused, this assertion isn’t particularly surprising. Opiates, opium, have had a long, distinguished history for treating depression even up until the 1950s. The drug of choice for people suffering from severe "melancholy" in the Victorian era? Laudanum, a potent, yet effective, mixture of morphine and alcohol easily available from the pharmacist.

Let's not forget the most popular (and extremely effective) antidepressant used in and through the 1930s to the 1950s: amphetamines. I’d love to see the Lancet add amphetamines and opiates into its study comparisons, and see how today's antidepressants fare. My guess is the two drugs would be even higher in efficacy and lower in acceptability.

Bottom line, I could be wrong. If I am, show me how I'm wrong using facts, like Mr. Copp did. Then, let's continue the dialogue.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward.

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