Augmentation therapies for treatment-resistant depression: systematic review and meta-analysis

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Depression is considered to have the highest disability burden of all conditions. Although treatment-resistant depression (TRD) is a key contributor to that burden, there is little understanding of the best treatment approaches for it and specifically the effectiveness of available augmentation approaches.

We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to search and quantify the evidence of psychological and pharmacological augmentation interventions for TRD.

Participants with TRD (defined as insufficient response to at least two antidepressants) were randomised to at least one augmentation treatment in the trial. Pre-post analysis assessed treatment effectiveness, providing an effect size (ES) independent of comparator interventions.

Of 28 trials, 3 investigated psychological treatments and 25 examined pharmacological interventions. Pre-post analyses demonstrated N-methyl-d-aspartate-targeting drugs to have the highest ES (ES = 1.48, 95% CI 1.25–1.71). Other than aripiprazole (four studies, ES = 1.33, 95% CI 1.23–1.44) and lithium (three studies, ES = 1.00, 95% CI 0.81–1.20), treatments were each investigated in less than three studies. Overall, pharmacological (ES = 1.19, 95% CI 1.80–1.30) and psychological (ES = 1.43, 95% CI 0.50–2.36) therapies yielded higher ESs than pill placebo (ES = 0.78, 95% CI 0.66–0.91) and psychological control (ES = 0.94, 95% CI 0.36–1.52).

Despite being used widely in clinical practice, the evidence for augmentation treatments in TRD is sparse. Although pre-post meta-analyses are limited by the absence of direct comparison, this work finds promising evidence across treatment modalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-51
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date20 Nov 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Nov 2018


  • Treatment-resistant depression
  • Augmentation
  • Psychological Therapy
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Systematic Review


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