UK guidelines on antidepressants updated following research by Roehampton academic

  • Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dr James Davies' research has demonstrated that antidepressant withdrawal is far more common than previously believed

Image - UK guidelines on antidepressants updated following research by Roehampton academic

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has updated its guidelines around antidepressant withdrawal, following research and campaigning by Dr James Davies, of the Department of Life Sciences.

The move to change the guidelines followed on from a statement by the Royal College of Psychiatrists earlier this year, which for the first time accepted that some patients who use antidepressants experience severe and long-lasting withdrawal symptoms when they stop using them. Last month, Public Health England (PHE) published the culmination of over five years' work by Dr Davies and the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry, focusing on dependence and withdrawal problems for several types of drugs, including antidepressants. The PHE review recommended updating ‘clinical guidance for medicines which can cause problems with dependence and withdrawal, and improving training for clinicians to ensure their prescribing adheres to best practice’.

While previous guidance from NICE stated that withdrawal symptoms were usually mild and short-term, the updated guidance now reflects the latest evidence showing that effects can be severe and last for months or more.

While Public Health England has not yet put a figure on the number of patients who may experience withdrawal symptoms, Dr Davies' previous research suggests that around half of patients suffer some withdrawal symptoms when coming off antidepressants. A joint declaration of support for new withdrawal services from the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Medical Association and the British Psychological Society, is expected to be issued in the coming weeks.

Dr Davies said ‘Now severe and protracted withdrawal has been officially recognised, we must never again misdiagnose withdrawal as relapse or deny the patient is in severe pain. We must also now press ahead with withdrawal services and a helpline for those who have become dependent on these and other prescribed drugs’.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence, co-founded by Dr Davies and currently chaired by Sir Oliver Letwin, will continue to work for the implementation of the new guidelines, including better support services and education for both medical practitioners and the general public.

The University of Roehampton's Department of Life Sciences is home to the Health Science Research Centre, which conducts research in areas including neuroscience, nutrition, human metabolism, immunology, cell biology and microbiology.