World Mental Health Day: Cycle of anti-depressants proves difficult to break

UK study finds doctors continue to prescribe anti-depressants despite no improvement in mood

A UK study found many patients taking the same drug at the same dose for more than two years continued to have significant depressive symptoms. /AFP
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Anti-depressants are being prescribed in huge volumes worldwide to treat chronic mood disorders when other alternatives are being ignored.

The use of medication to treat depression or anxiety has soared by 65 per cent in America, and in England almost 60 million prescriptions are handed out every year.

Many patients have been taking the same drug at the same dose for more than two years, despite continuing to have significant depressive symptoms.

A recent study by the Centre for Academic Mental Health at the University of Bristol found options such as switching or combining antidepressants, or offering alternative therapies were often not pursued in general practice.

In the UK study, most patients whose depression had not responded to antidepressants continued to take the same medication, often at the same dose for a year.

Patients reported visiting their GP eight times over the 12-month follow-up period, on average, for other health conditions and reported getting their drugs via repeat prescriptions.

Less than 20 per cent of patients had received some form of counselling or ‘talking therapy’ over the 12 months, with very few receiving a course of cognitive behavioural therapy or having been referred to secondary care.

Anti-depressants, like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have proven effective in altering the chemistry of the brain by blocking the absorption of brain chemicals that regulate mood.

In the UAE, anti-depressants are a controlled drug, mainly prescribed by psychiatrists.

Although exact figures are not available for the level of UAE drug use, experts have said patients should be treated on an independent basis to first understand the most appropriate course of treatment.

“A psychiatrist would be best qualified to prescribe an anti-depressant or any-anxiety medicine, but every patient is different and should be treated independently,” said Aamnah Husain, a counselling psychologist at the German Neuroscience Centre, Dubai.

“Patient resources may also differ, and it could depend on their family network, friends or school environment on how strategies are used to change how they are feeling.

“There is a genetic side to depression and how predisposed people are, so that will impact any course of treatment prescribed by a physician.”


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Recent UK research published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviours found 56 per cent of patients who stopped or reduced their anti-depressants experienced withdrawal symptoms.

Those symptoms lasted for at least three months in a quarter of those evaluated in 24 existing studies in the UK.

“This new review of the research reveals what many patients have known for years — that withdrawal from anti-depressants often causes severe, debilitating symptoms which can last for weeks, months or longer,” said Dr James Davies, one of the study authors.

Almost 30 clinics offer mental health services in Dubai Health Care City. Last year, more than 16,000 patients visited those clinics.

From October 10-17, clinics in DHCC will be offering complimentary consultations to patients to show what alternative therapies are available and to offer the best advice on treating mental illness.

To inquire about appointment scheduling, call 800-HEALTH.