The journal Therapeutic Advices in Psychopharmacology published, on the 18th January 2021. ‘The role of Facebook Groups in the management, and raising of awareness of, antidepressant withdrawal: Is social media filling the void left by health services?’
A recent enquiry by Public Health England established that antidepressant withdrawal is experienced by about half of people who try to reduce or come off their medication. It can be a debilitating, long lasting process, often made worse by the lack of medical support and understanding.
There are currently no NHS services specifically designed to assist people to safely withdraw from antidepressants or other psychiatric drugs. The research paper reports on 16 Facebook support groups raising awareness of, and supporting individuals tapering off, antidepressants. The 16 groups had over 67,000 members. Membership was found to be growing at about 28% annually, and was more than 80% female. The groups included in the research are probably the tip of the iceberg.
Lead author, Dr Ed White, who himself suffered severe and very frightening withdrawal symptoms after trying to stop the antidepressant venlafaxine, commented:
‘I was alarmed when I found tens of thousands of people online seeking help with stopping antidepressants, many of who are in a perilous state after being tapered too fast by their prescriber.
Online peer support has become such an important avenue of care for people suffering antidepressant withdrawal and needing guidance to safely taper of these medications in the absence of medical backup from Doctors’.
Co-author Professor John Read, of the University of East London, is an advisor to the Medicines Policy Unit of NHS England and NHS Improvement, which is coordinating the implementation of Public Health England’s recommendations for ‘Improving the support available from the healthcare system for patients experiencing dependence on, or withdrawal from, prescribed medicines.’ He is also chair of the International Institute for Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal Professor Read commented:
‘Millions of people around the world have been crying out for help getting off psychiatric drugs for decades and supporting one another in the meantime.
It is very encouraging that the NHS is now planning to provide long overdue support for people struggling to withdraw from antidepressants, benzodiazepines and other prescribed medicines.’
INCREASED PRESCRIBING DURING PANDEMIC
Even before the pandemic, one in six people in England were prescribed antidepressants annually, with even higher rates for women and in deprived areas. Professor Read added:
‘The huge increase in antidepressant prescribing during the pandemic is alarming. These drugs are not recommended for mild or moderate depression, and certainly not for grief from the loss of a loved one, or economic hardship. Very few people are told about withdrawal effects when first prescribed antidepressants. So we are creating problems for thousands of people in the future without them even knowing about it. We can expect even faster growth in these online support groups in the coming months’