People who stay on antidepressants for years may be better off than those who stop and start their usage, according to new research reported in The Times.
Considered the first study of its kind in years to look at the long-term use of antidepressants, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it found not only are long-term users less likely to suffer a relapse in their condition but there were other benefits to staying on their medication.
The research revealed long-term antidepressant users had a 39 per cent chance of their mood relapsing, compared with 56 per cent who relapsed within a year of halting their medication. All of those who participated in the study had been taking antidepressants for at least nine months, with 70 per cent of those on the drugs for more than three years.
University College of London Division of Psychiatry head and study lead author Glyn Lewis said the study “convincingly demonstrated” that there was a benefit to staying on antidepressants long-term. “I would say that it supports the idea that the way antidepressants are being used at the moment is appropriate and is overall benefiting patients,” he said in The Times report.
Almost two in three of the study participants – who ranged in age from 18 to 74 – were females, while 95 per cent were white, and had an average age of 54. At the start of the study, those who participated recorded they felt well enough to halt their medication use.
Australia has one of the highest rates of antidepressant use in the world, with an estimated one in eight Aussies on some form of mood-improving medication. Latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal 4.4 million people received mental health-related prescriptions in 2019-20, and $10.6 billion was spent on mental health in this country from 2018-19. Tasmania had the highest rate per thousand people of mental-health-related prescriptions filled.
Depression has become a much more open subject among the community in recent years, with Hollywood actors such as Goldie Hawn revealing they too have battled their own demons in the past. Closer to home, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also revealed last year that he had suicidal feelings after losing the Liberal leadership in 2009.
University of Southampton Professor Tony Kendrick, who also worked on the study, said he was “cheered” by the research results, according to The Times. “We know now that the risk of relapse is reduced by staying on your antidepressant,” he said.
But Kendrick said it was important to note that not everyone who kept using antidepressants was free from relapse, nor did everyone who stopped taking their medication relapse. “It’s very reasonable if you’re taking long-term antidepressants and you’re unsure if you want to stop them, to discuss with your doctor or other prescriber the possibility of coming off them,” he said.
Other studies have found a range of things that can be used to treat depression, including probiotics.
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