The Efficacy of Divalproex Sodium in the Treatment of Agitation Associated With Major Depression

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Agitation is both a feature of major depression and a common side effect of antidepressant treatment. Depressive agitation correlates with overall severity of illness and suicide risk, whereas treatment-emergent agitation may contribute to early discontinuation of pharmacotherapy. Thus, agitation merits investigation as a treatment target in clinical depression.


In this study, adults with major depression were evaluated for change in agitation and other mood symptoms during adjunctive treatment with divalproex sodium. Twelve patients on antidepressants, who met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria for major depression, were given low doses of divalproex sodium and evaluated repeatedly for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and agitation. Agitation severity was evaluated using the Overt Agitation Severity Scale and the Stanford Scale for Agitation Symptoms. Mood symptoms were assessed with the Hamilton Anxiety and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scales.


Nine of 12 patients completed 4 weeks of treatment. All agitation scores decreased sharply, whereas depression (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale) and anxiety (Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale) symptoms decreased only modestly. Decreased agitation was not merely a function of decreases on the Hamilton Depression or Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scales. Relatively low doses of divalproex sodium appear to be useful in the treatment of agitation associated with major depression.


The observation that decreases in agitation were not simply an artifact of overall change in depressive or anxiety symptoms is in keeping with the previous clinical impression that divalproex sodium has a specific effect on depressive agitation. Controlled clinical trials are needed to fully evaluate the utility and symptom specificity of divalproex sodium in depression.

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