Australians are taking antidepressants longer than necessary prompting calls for more research and guidance for GP’s.
Guidelines typically recommend that antidepressants be taken for up to 6 to 12 months if there’s no risk of relapse.
But the average duration for adults on antidepressants is four years.
“Once they’ve been prescribed an antidepressant they often stay on them for many many years,” Professor Mieke van Driel, Emeritus Professor of General Practice at the University of Queensland told 9News.
“We’re learning more about the long-term effects of being on them for a long time, such as problems with emotional numbing,” she said.
Other long-term effects include weight gain, sleep disturbance and diarrhoea.
A new Cochrane review found that there is not enough robust evidence to identify safe and effective approaches to stopping the medication.
The review found that the key challenge for researchers, mental health professionals and patients is to separate the withdrawal symptoms from having a relapse.
Withdrawal symptoms include cognitive impairment, dizziness, tremors and sexual dysfunction.
But they can also include poor sleep, low mood, anxiety and changes to appetite which are symptoms of someone experiencing a relapse.
“Patients are really fearful of stopping because they don’t want to go back to that dark place where they were before and the GP’s are the same,” said Professor van Driel.
The review calls for urgent research to better inform GP’s and patients.
“Ultimately, we really need more studies about discontinuing antidepressants – especially in primary care given that’s where most prescribing takes place – before we can make more definitive conclusions,” she said.