For some people, the challenge of long-term problems after coming off antidepressants is so difficult to navigate that it ultimately undoes any benefit that might have been experienced during treatment. This is reason enough to pause before prescribing.
It is important that media reporting of the increasing use of psychiatric drugs does not downplay the risk by saying the drugs are not addictive, but clarifies that, for some people, dependence can be a result of using the drugs exactly as prescribed.
Today, Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has received a petition signed by 12,300 people calling for him to take specific action to help resolve the problem of dependence and withdrawal from prescribed medications.
Both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have been debating the issues surrounding the overuse of psychiatric drugs. They have been encouraged into action by petitions launched by those with lived experience and therapists who have witnessed first-hand the terrible difficulty that some people can have coming off psychiatric drugs.
Mark Horowitz and David Taylor’s Lancet paper and the work undertaken by John Read and James Davies, when taken together provide a radically different view of withdrawal than that which doctors in the UK are giving to their patients.
It pains me greatly that the personal experience of many thousands of people is dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ and therefore not fit to be part of the evidence base. Arguably, anecdotal experience is often far less compromised than supposedly sterile controlled trials. The motivation for people reporting withdrawal experiences is to seek help, support and understanding, not, like so many ‘researchers’, to sell drugs.
I feel that we need to decouple legitimate critical views of medical treatment or therapy from the propensity to feel shame and guilt about that treatment. Medical science makes progress precisely by being self-critical and self-analytical, not by accepting blind faith and rejecting all criticism. Most new and novel treatments or therapies have arisen because of dissatisfaction with previous methods of treatment. If we stop questioning ourselves in health and well-being we will not progress and part of that questioning needs to be by people who experience difficulty, not just by those who benefit.
Psychiatric drugs can’t address isolation, poverty, inequality, racism, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, sexism, etc., but they can mask those things. Perhaps that is why they are so successful. The blame is placed on us, the patient, for being broken because it obviates the need for powers that be to take any action to address those underlying causes of distress and suffering.
One year ago, on May 12th, 2017, I swapped from an antidepressant tablet to a liquid formulation with the intention of coming off the drug slowly and carefully. This is my third attempt to stop an antidepressant that I have been taking for five years. Since doctors remain either largely unaware, or unwilling to admit how problematic withdrawal can be, I relied on the internet for advice. In my experience, unless you have been through this process you really are in no place to safely advise others.