Today I welcome the new patient information leaflet, entitled ‘Stopping Antidepressants’, published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
The leaflet distills many years of work by researchers, campaigners and the prescribed harm community, which has jointly challenged previous understandings of antidepressant withdrawal as being a relatively benign experience for most people.
Instead, the leaflet now follows the updated NICE guidelines in recognising that while withdrawal symptoms can be mild and relatively short-lived for some, for many others withdrawal can be severe and protracted, lasting for weeks, months or beyond. The leaflet also usefully acknowledges that we cannot predict at the outset of prescribing who will suffer more serious withdrawal, which of course implies that each person must be informed, before starting an antidepressant, of the potential for severe withdrawal. Offering such informed consent is especially important given, as the leaflets accepts, that ‘between a third and half of people’ who take antidepressants will experience withdrawal to some extent. This means antidepressant withdrawal in the UK is a widespread phenomenon given that 17% of the adult population was prescribed an antidepressant last year, even if we accept the lower and contested estimation of one third (contested, since the lower estimation is based on flawed company trials, methodologically designed, in my view, to minimise withdrawal).