Partial Response, Nonresponse, and Relapse With Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in Major Depression: A Survey of Current "Next-Step" Practices

Background: Many patients treated for major depression require more than one antidepressant trial to achieve or sustain response. However, the literature provides few treatment algorithms or effectiveness studies that empirically support "next-step" options available to clinicians. We conducted a survey of psychiatrists and other medical specialists who treat depression to ascertain what clinicians actually do when faced with patients who suboptimally respond to an adequate course of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) therapy.

Method: Attendees at a psychopharmacology course (N = 801) were queried about their top choices for antidepressant-treatment nonresponders: a minimal responder after 4 weeks of adequate SSRI treatment, a partial responder after 8 weeks of adequate SSRI therapy, a nonresponder after 8 weeks of adequate SSRI therapy, and a relapser on long-term SSRI maintenance therapy. Choices included raising the dose, augmenting or combining with another agent, switching to a second SSRI, or switching to a non-SSRI agent.

Results: 432 (54%) of the surveys were returned. Raising the dose was the most frequently reported next-step strategy for a patient with minimal response after 4 weeks of adequate SSRI therapy, partial response after 8 weeks of adequate SSRI therapy, and relapse on long-term SSRI therapy. Switching to a non-SSRI agent was the most frequently chosen option for nonresponders to an adequate trial of SSRI therapy.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that clinicians select different next-step strategies when patients are nonresponders versus when patients are partial responders or relapsers.

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61(6):403-408