Words and numbers should be used with equal care

I have submitted the following to the BMJ in response to this research news: Large meta-analysis ends doubts about efficacy of antidepressants

Not uncommonly, as part of the scientific community, I will express concerns about the language used in the media to present mental health issues. Yet, on this occasion I find myself concerned by the imprecise language used by the experts giving opinions on the meta-analysis on short term antidepressant prescribing (8-12 weeks) for major depressive disorder.

The lead authors of this systematic review, and a number of experts giving opinions on it through the Science Media Centre, used the general term depression and Professor Cipriani stated “Our findings are relevant for adults experiencing a first or second episode of depression – the typical population seen in general practice”. I agree with Dr Spence that major depression is not typical of primary care.

It is also interesting to reflect on the language used by some professionals in the scientific community who rightly express concern about stigma associated with mental illness. At the same time, some of those in this very same community use terms such as “villains” or “demonisers” to describe individuals who share any negative experience of medication. This would seem to indicate that such experience is considered less valid.

We all need to remember that words, as well as numbers, need to be used with care and consideration. Experience, after all, is more than both.