The Herald (Glasgow)
Anger over ‘dangerous claims’ by psychiatrists
By Helen McArdle
March 12, 2018

Psychiatrist David Baldwin

Psychiatrist David Baldwin

MENTAL health experts have accused leading psychiatrists of making a “potentially dangerous” claim that most patients’ withdrawal symptoms have disappeared within two weeks of stopping antidepressants.

A letter signed by dozens of psychiatrists, academics and patients, including in Scotland, has called on the president and the chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to issue an urgent correction.

They said the goal of their complaint “is to correct a potentially dangerous misleading public statement”.

It comes after Professor Wendy Burn, RCPsych president, and Professor David Baldwin, chairman of its psycho-pharma­cology committee, claimed “in the vast majority of patients, any unpleasant symptoms experienced on discontinuing antidepressants have resolved within two weeks of stopping treatment”.

Within 48 hours of their letter being published in The Times, the college’s own report, Coming Off Antidepressants – which contradicted this claim – had been pulled from the RCPsych website.

This document, based on a survey of 800 antidepressant-users carried out by the college, stated that withdrawal symptoms were experienced by the majority (63 per cent) of patients, generally lasted for up to six weeks, and that a quarter reported anxiety lasting more than 12 weeks.

Critics said the college had deleted the report to “prevent the public seeing evidence that contradicts your claim”.

Marion Brown, a psychotherapist from Helensburgh who is petitioning Holyrood to improve the support available to patients harmed by dependence on prescription pills including antidepressants, said the professors’ letter was “absolutely shocking”.

She added: “The Royal College of Psychiatrists either have no idea of the problems these drugs, and antidepressants in particular, are causing, or they do know and they’re trying to not know – a wilful blindness.”

The letter of complaint, submitted by Dr John Read, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of East London, is signed by him and 29 psychiatrists, academics and patients who have suffered years of anti-depressant withdrawal symptoms.

Signatories include Dr Peter Gordon, a psychiatrist from Stirlingshire, and Ann Kelly, from West Dunbartonshire, who have spoken to The Herald about severe pain, mobility problems and visual disturbance despite taking two-and-a-half years to taper coming off antidepressants.

The letter argues the two-week claim “is not evidence-based, is incorrect and has misled the public on an important matter of public safety”.

They add that “people may be misled by the false statement into thinking it is easy to withdraw and may therefore try to do so too quickly or without support”.

A spokesman for RCPsych said: “We received a formal complaint from Professor John Read on March 9 and we are currently investigating this. In line with our College policy, we are treating the complaint as confidential.”


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David Baldwin