In England, the prescribing of antidepressants, primarily the newer generation antidepressant classes, has steadily increased over recent years. There is ongoing debate about how the efficacy of these drugs is viewed, their place in therapy and the harms associated with stopping them. Much of the evidence of their efficacy comes from short-term placebo-controlled trials which tend not to include outcomes that are of greatest relevance to patients, such as social functioning or quality of life, but rather restrict outcomes narrowly to symptom measures. On such measures these studies do not demonstrate clinically significant differences from placebo for depression. A range of adverse effects are also recognised, often greater in naturalistic studies of long-term antidepressants users than those measured in short-term efficacy studies, including emotional numbing, sexual difficulties, fatigue and weight gain. There is increasing recognition that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants are common and that these symptoms can be severe and long-lasting in some patients. Recent guidance on how to stop antidepressants in a tolerable way has been presented by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. We believe that increasing awareness about the difficulty that some patients have in stopping antidepressants should lead to more cautious prescribing practice, with antidepressants given to fewer patients and for shorter periods of time. This article discusses the perceived benefits and harms of antidepressant use.
- mental health
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