NICE advises staged withdrawal of antidepressants

  • Date: 19 January 2023

NICE has published draft guidance advising that adult patients with depression who want to stop taking antidepressants should have their dose reduced in stages to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.

The new draft quality standard sets out priority areas for quality improvement for the care of adults with depression and includes a statement to help adults who want to come off the medication permanently.

Reducing the dose of an antidepressant in stages over time, known as ‘tapering’, has been shown to reduce withdrawal effects and long-term dependence on the medication.

Around one in six UK adults (17 per cent) aged 16 or over experienced some form of depression in summer 2021, which is up from the 10 per cent of adults between July 2019 to March 2020 before the pandemic. An estimated 21.4 million antidepressant drugs items were prescribed between July to September 2022 according to data from the NHS Business Services Authority.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “There are millions of people taking antidepressants. If an individual decides they want to stop taking this medication, they should be helped by their GP or mental health team to do that in the safest and most appropriate way.”

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “These new guidelines are a positive step forward which will help countless people come off antidepressants across the UK safely.

“The prescribing numbers for antidepressants have been consistently trending upwards in recent years. Clinicians treating someone who is taking them should regularly review whether they are still providing benefits or might no longer be needed. They should also inform the patient about the advantages and risks of reducing their dose so that they can take part in the decision-making process.”

NICE is inviting feedback on quality standard: Depression in adults update

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