RCPsych Response to recent media coverage about antidepressants

Statement / comment
25 July 2017
In response to The Sunday Times article 23 July 2017 “A dribbling suicidal mess until I kicked the kill pills” and Panorama’s “A Prescription for Murder?”, Professor Wendy Burn said:

“Misconceptions about antidepressants cause undue nervousness about using medications that are depicted as having life-threatening side effects. The reality is that antidepressants are taken by millions worldwide without any negative consequences, or with only mild side effects.

“For many milder episodes of depression talking therapies will be recommended as the first line of treatment. For moderate to severe depression, antidepressants are an evidence based treatment. Their prescription should be reviewed regularly in line with clear national guidance. We know that more of the people living with mental illness now seek medical advice and we believe this explains the increase in the number of people being prescribed antidepressants. For many, these drugs have had a beneficial effect on mood and have helped reduce suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

“In all treatments – from Cancer to heart disease - medicines which do good can also do harm. This applies in psychiatry. Current evidence from large scale studies continues to show that for antidepressants the benefits outweigh the risks, which is why it is important to highlight that the experiences raised by case-studies in the recent media coverage is extremely rare.

“Any patient who is unsettled by this media coverage, or feels pressurised to stop taking an antidepressant drug, should not abruptly discontinue their prescribed treatment. Instead, they should make an appointment with their family doctor or mental health professional to discuss any concerns they might have. They should together make a joint decision about whether to continue antidepressant treatment.

“This decision should be made on their own individual experience and should be informed by how effective their treatment has been in helping to reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms, any side effects which might have occurred, and the risks of a recurrence of illness, if treatment is stopped prematurely.”

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