My name is James and I live in South Wales in the UK with my wife and daughter. I have been taking an antidepressant, Mirtazapine, for six years and for the last 18 months, I have been attempting to slowly withdraw. It is the single most gruelling, most challenging experience of my life and one I was in no way prepared for by my prescriber.
In 2011, I was working in the Civil Service in a job that I enjoyed, I had just become a father and I was sociable and outgoing. Towards the end of that year, pressures began to build up, I was struggling with stress at work and I was also struggling with the pressures of being a new father. I went to my GP and was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed anxiety and depression and prescribed an atypical antidepressant: Mirtazapine. I was told that I had a chemical imbalance that the antidepressant would correct and that I would probably have to rely on medication for life.
After a couple of years of treatment, I decided that the antidepressant was doing me more harm than good and I wanted to stop. The advice of my local GP was “just take half a tablet for a week then stop” and that’s what I did. I found the experience of trying to stop my anti-depressant deeply unpleasant. I made repeated attempts to reduce, only to suffer with insomnia, nausea, increase in number and severity of panic attacks, restlessness and agitation.
My Doctor told me that what I was experiencing was a return of my original symptoms, but I didn’t agree because many of the withdrawal symptoms had never been a feature of my anxiety or depression. Eventually I managed to reduce to the lowest possible dose available in pill form but I wasn’t able to reduce further. I asked for a liquid version of my medication so I could taper my dose but it was too expensive for my local health service to provide.
During this time I made several attempts to get back to work but none were successful. I eventually accepted voluntary redundancy in 2013.
Most recently and after moving to Wales from England, I have been able to secure my local doctors agreement to commence tapering with a liquid version of my medication. Tapering with a liquid is not painless, I have struggled to transfer on to the liquid and each drop of 10% is extremely challenging. Four days after each reduction, I experience nausea, dizziness, fatigue, tinnitus and headaches. This gradually eases but it is also highly variable in nature, some days I can function, other days I am forced to rest. This has had a huge impact on my family, my wife feels like she has lost her husband and my daughter wonders what has happened to her father.
My prescriber at no time gave any indication that this antidepressant would be difficult to stop or that I may experience withdrawal symptoms even when taking care to slowly and carefully reduce. Even worse, most doctors I have consulted over the last few years have denied that withdrawal is possible and sought to downplay my experiences. I feel that my health and wellbeing has been significantly and detrimentally affected by antidepressant withdrawal.
One day I started to wonder, the pharmaceutical companies manufacture most of these drugs in a wide variety of doses, how difficult would it be to be to create “tapering kits” to help people taper off at the end of treatment? It seemed so simple and obvious to make smaller dosages available to help people taper off the drugs. It was this that led me to create my petition and this website.
I created, produced and hosted the Let’s Talk Withdrawal podcast which aimed to share both expert views and the lived experience of those who have taken and withdrawn from a range of psychiatric medications. Since July 2017, I have hosted and produced the Mad in America podcast, where we interview leading figures in the field of critical psychiatry and those with lived experience of the psychiatric system. To subscribe to this podcast in Apple iTunes click here
My sincere hope is that we can reach a point where users of these drugs who have come to the end of treatment and wish to stop, can do so in a controlled, safe and well-managed way, with the support of their local health service and the relevant drug manufacturer.
For recent TV, radio and podcast interviews, click here.