Psychiatrists call for warnings over antidepressant withdrawal

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By BBC Health news

Patients suffering severe symptoms when they come off antidepressants too quickly need more help and support, the Royal College of Psychiatrists says.

Current guidance suggests that most people should be able to withdraw from the drugs over four weeks.

But psychiatrists say some patients taking the pills long-term can experience serious side effects that can last much longer.

National clinical guidelines are currently being updated.

Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said she wanted to see the guidelines “more in keeping with what we’re hearing from some patients – and GPs – about the range of experiences of coming off antidepressants”.

The number of prescriptions for antidepressants in the UK nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017, from around 40 million to more than 82 million, a report by the College shows.

At the same time, data shows an increase in depression among adults and children.

A normal course of antidepressants should last at least six months, and in patients at risk of a relapse for at least two years. But there is evidence that some patients are prescribed them for longer than this, the report says.

‘Honest debate’

Dr Adrian James, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Today programme that severe depression “caused a great deal of distress and suffering” and it was important to seek treatment.

He said antidepressants could be very effective for treating moderate to severe depression in combination with psychological therapies.

“But like all drugs, there are side effects,” he said.

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