Survey gathers insights into withdrawal effects from stopping antidepressants

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for a variety of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders, with one in seven Australians currently using these drugs.

But weaning people off these medications can come with serious withdrawal symptoms, including for those in Brimbank.

University of Adelaide researchers are taking a closer look at the problems some people experience when stopping antidepressants, with the aim of using the research to improve services and supports for patients.

Mental health specialists from the University’s Critical and Ethical Mental Health (CEMH) research group are asking Australians who have stopped taking antidepressants, or are trying to stop, to share their real-life experiences through completing a brief online survey.

University of Adelaide Professor Jon Jureidini said, “More than 50 per cent of people who stop taking antidepressants will experience withdrawal effects.

“For up to half of those people, the withdrawal effects are severe. They can include symptoms such as depressed mood, anxiety, fatigue and brain zaps, which can be misdiagnosed as a return of an underlying mental health condition.”

People who experience such problems are often told that this is a sign they need to continue this medication, leading to unnecessary long-term prescriptions.

Many of these patients report that their doctors are not well informed to help them and they feel they are not heard.

“By investigating real-life experiences with withdrawal, we hope to obtain a better understanding of what resources people might need to help them stop the medication safely and easily. This could include upskilling of the health workforce and the establishment of specialised withdrawal clinics,” he said.

Suddenly stopping antidepressants is not recommended as it can increase the chances of suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

Instead, people wanting to stop antidepressants are encouraged to seek medical advice about gradually reducing the dosage.

SA Lived Experience Leadership & Advocacy Network is partnering with the University to carry out this research, which coincides with the screening of a BBC Panorama documentary, The Antidepressant Story, on ABC TV’s Four Corners program on Monday, August 28.

Participants in the survey must be over 18 years old, an Australian resident, and have experience of taking and stopping or trying to stop antidepressants.