Efficacy data were available from 405 severely depressed patients (baseline 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression-HAMD scores ≤25) participating in randomized, double blind, amitriptyline-controlled studies of mirtazapine. Main efficacy variables were changes from baseline in the group mean 17-item HAMD scores and responder rates. Secondary efficacy variables were changes in depressed mood item on the HAMD and in factors derived from the 17-item HAMD scale. Treatment with either mirtazapine or amitriptyline resulted in robust reductions of baseline HAMD scores and in similar and high percentages of responders. Both drugs produced favourable effects on depressed mood and on symptoms commonly associated with depression, such as anxiety, sleep and vegetative disturbances. There were neither statistically significant nor clinically relevant differences between mirtazapine and amitriptyline at any assessment point nor at endpoint. The results demonstrate that the new antidepressant mirtazapine and the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline are equally effective in the treatment of severely depressed patients.