Stopping use of antidepressants should be done under the care of medical experts and use should be reduced slowly, as opposed to “cold turkey”, according to new guidelines from the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The new recommendations mark the first update in 11 years, an important move in helping the millions of people who suffer from depression in the UK alone.
NICE’s body of experts convened on the issue recently, and decided a tapered approach to reducing antidepressant use minimizes the risk of withdrawal symptoms.
According to the Office for National Statistics, around one in six Britons will face moderate to severe depression at some point in their life, many of whom will trial antidepressants as a result. Usually in the form of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), these drugs prevent serotonin from being removed from synapses in the brain, increasing levels of this neurotransmitter.
Quitting SSRIs cold turkey, in which use is stopped altogether in one go, has been known to cause adverse effects for a number of years, but medical guidelines in the UK have trailed in reflecting this.
Now, GPs will be advised to tailor plans to individuals with depression who come to them asking to stop using antidepressants.
"In many cases, people experience withdrawal symptoms, and the length of time it takes them to safely come off these drugs can vary, which is why our committee's useful and useable statement for a staged withdrawal over time from these drugs is to be welcomed,” said Dr Paul Chrisp, who manages the guidelines set out by NICE, in a statement to the BBC.
The guidance also includes extra consideration for people from ethnic minorities with depression, after data in 2021 showed people from mixed, Black, Black British, and Asian British households were less likely to complete a treatment course for depression.
Antidepressant use is now at an all-time high in the UK, after data from 2022 showed 8.3 million people are taking them; this was the sixth year in a row that antidepressant use has risen.