True side effects of coming off anti-depressants to be investigated

Coming off anti-depressants can be a terrifying prospect for many struggling with their mental health.

Some fear side-effects such as severe mood swings, or worry about coping without the pills at all.

Antidepressants come in many forms, including commonly prescribed SSRIs like as citalopram, sertraline and fluoxetine.

According to the latest available statistics, more than eight million people in the UK are prescribed antidepressants to help cope with depression or anxiety.

The drugs work by altering people’s mood and changing their patterns of thinking.

Psychologists at Bath University are now working to improve help for people withdrawing from antidepressants – and are recruiting volunteers for a ground-breaking new study.

Lead researcher and PhD student, Raqeeb Mahmood said the area was ‘understudied’ in the field.

He told ‘Antidepressant withdrawal is a hugely important and yet understudied area of healthcare and patients regularly report that their withdrawal is not properly managed or understood by their doctors.

‘We only have a limited understanding of what happens once patients stop taking their antidepressants.

‘As far as we know, no studies have followed patients as they withdraw from SSRI antidepressants to see how their moods, withdrawal symptoms and thinking patterns change on a day-by-day basis.

‘Therefore our study has the potential to inform the management of depression and antidepressant withdrawal in the NHS and the findings will be relevant to both antidepressant users and clinicians.’

As well as depression, antidepressants can be used to treat bulimia, panic disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and serious phobias.

Estimates suggest that up to half of all patients on treatments such as SSRIs might be able to stop their medication once they have recovered.

Yet for others, withdrawal can be linked to an increased risk of relapse.

Bath University researchers hope to improve the evidence surrounding what happens when people stop taking antidepressants once they feel better mentally.

News of the study has already been praised by leading mental health charities and organisations.

Aisling Traynor, head of advice and training at Rethink Mental Illness, hopes the study will improve how we look at mental health as a whole.

She told ‘Antidepressants can play a crucial part in helping people experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, enabling them to do the everyday tasks and hobbies which may have previously felt unbearable, and providing the space to explore other treatments and activities that support their recovery.

‘If and when someone feels ready to stop or reduce their medication, they should always speak with their GP so they can create a plan to do so safely.

‘We know there can be understandable concerns about the withdrawal symptoms which some people experience, and we welcome any research and investment to improve knowledge around what they can expect and how they can be supported to stop their antidepressant as safely as possible.’

Working with patients’ GPs, the team from Bath want to speak to people thinking about or in the process of coming off SSRI antidepressants like sertraline, citalopram, or fluoxetine (Prozac).

They are also aiming to recruit people who are continuing to take antidepressants.

Through a series of tasks and interviews over a six-month period, they will examine how antidepressant withdrawal impacts their mood and cognition: how people react to emotional and social information.

They will also measure common antidepressant withdrawal effects, like sleeping problems or having an upset stomach.

Mr Mahmood added: ‘We recognise that for many people, antidepressants are vitally important and essential for their everyday functioning.

‘For others, we know there is sometimes a desire to stop taking their medication but that’s often met with a lack of evidence about how best to manage this process.

‘Through the study, researchers want to build that evidence base so that more people in the UK and around the world who are considering coming off antidepressants – and the doctors supporting them – have a greater understanding of how they might be affected and how long the effects may last, so they can make informed decisions.’

Crucially, to participate in this study patients must have the support of their GPs.

Join the research study by clicking here.

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