Study finds coming off antidepressants may not cause relapse

pharmafile | September 30, 2021 | News story | |   

Researchers from the universities of York, Southampton, and Bristol, UCL, and McMaster University in Canada, have been investigating the impacts of coming off antidepressants, finding that gradual withdrawal reduces the chance of relapse.

The study recruited 478 adults from 150 GP surgeries across England, and all had been taking anti-depressants for at least two years and felt ready to come off them.

They were separated into two groups – in one, people continued to take their medication while in another, their drugs were tapered off over three months – and followed up for a year.

The study’s findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, show 44% of people who gradually stopped taking their anti-depressants did not have another bout of depression in the following year. Of people who continued to take their medication as normal, 61% did not relapse.

Prescriptions for antidepressants have more than doubled in the past 15 years, mainly due to that fact that people are taking them for much longer. Researchers from the universities said their aim was to find out who was benefitting from the drugs and also explore how effective they were over a long time period.

Study author, Dr Gemma Lewis, from University College London, said: “Our findings add to evidence that for many patients, long-term treatment is appropriate, but we also found that many people were able to effectively stop taking their medication when it was tapered over two months.”

The researchers stressed it was important to consult a doctor before doing this, they also said psychological therapies could help prevent a relapse.

Prof Glyn Lewis, also from UCL, said: “Anti-depressants are effective but, like many medications, are not ideal for everyone.”

The research team does not know why some people seem able to come off their anti-depressants and some cannot, but predicting who can stop them safely is the next challenge.

With prescriptions for anti-depressants increasing, there are concerns that more and more people could end up taking them for life, and the risks of long-term use are still unclear.

Study author, Prof Tony Kendrick, from the University of Southampton, says long-term use in people over 65 may be leading to more falls, strokes, and seizures. However, the overall risks are low and it is not yet known whether it is the drugs causing these issues, or underlying health problems.

Younger middle-aged patients reported far fewer side-effects from taking anti-depressants for many years.

Kat Jenkins

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