Many people who have taken anti-depressants for at least two years may be able to stop them without relapsing, but most will still need long-term treatment, a UK study suggests. Prescriptions for the drugs have more than doubled in the past 15 years because people are staying on them for much longer. But it’s not clear how well they work over many years. The researchers say they want to find out who is benefitting and who isn’t. Their findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, show 44% of people who slowly 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.
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 said it was important to consult a doctor before doing this. They also said psychological therapies could help prevent a relapse, although there was often a waiting list..
The 478 adults involved in the study were recruited 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. Of those who stopped taking anti-depressants, 56% said they relapsed or felt depressed again for more than two weeks at some point. They were also more likely to experience symptoms of withdrawal, which could be confused with a relapse and may mean some people need to come off the drugs more slowly, thehttps://www.bbc.com/news/health-58735841
researchers said. Despite this, only half chose to start taking anti-depressants again, and by the end of the study, 59% of the group who had stopped the drugs were no longer taking any depression medication. Even in the group which continued taking their medication, more than a third said they felt depressed at some stage. 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.