New research being led by a team of psychologists at the University of Bath hopes to provide evidence to improve the clinical care of people in the process of withdrawing from antidepressants.
According to the latest statistics, more than 8 million people in the UK are prescribed antidepressants to help cope with depression or anxiety. These drugs work by altering people’s mood and changing their patterns of thinking. Yet many patients remain on antidepressants over the long-term, which can come with negative side effects.
Estimates suggest that up to half of all patients on antidepressants might be able to stop their medication once they have recovered, yet for others withdrawal can be linked to an increased risk of relapse. Latest information published from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests antidepressant withdrawal should be done in stages.
The new study hopes to improve the evidence surrounding what happens when people stop taking antidepressants once they feel better and are no longer depressed. A control group of people who will stay on antidepressants over the same period are also being recruited for comparison purposes.
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.
Lead researcher and PhD student, Raqeeb Mahmood explained: “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 this study, we 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. To find out the full eligibility criteria and register interest in taking part, please visit: https://www.bath.ac.uk/campaigns/join-our-research-study-about-the-effects-of-antidepressant-medication-withdrawal-and-maintenance/.