Prescriptions for anti-depressants has increased by 48% in Scotland over the last 10 years. If you’re currently taking, or are about to start taking, psychiatric medication then it’s important to know how it works, how it might help and what happens when you want to stop taking it. With that information you can decide if it’s what you want or if there’s a better alternative.

Joanna Moncrieff is a Professor of Critical and Social Psychiatry at University College London. She’s the author of A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Drugs. In the book she explains that although psychiatric drugs are useful to some people in some situations, they must be taken with caution.

The fundamental misconception that has driven the marketing of psychiatric drugs since the 1960s is that they work by correcting an underlying biological abnormality in brain function – often talked about as a chemical imbalance – thus the drug has a ‘normalising effect’. However, there is no evidence to support this idea. On the contrary, as Prof Moncrieff describes, the evidence we do have tells us that:

  1. as psychoactive substances, prescribed psychiatric drugs (which includes antidepressants) change the normal state of our body and brain – our cognitive and physical functioning and our behaviour – and no-one fully understands what those changes are
  2. they continue to have lasting effects on our body and mind even when we’ve stopped taking them which makes withdrawal complex and difficult. The symptoms of withdrawal are often mistaken as the re-emergence of the ‘illness’ symptoms the drug was designed to ‘cure’ in the first place.

There is an excellent guide for therapists to help us support clients to make decisions around taking and withdrawing from psychiatric medication: Guidance for Psychological Therapists – Enabling Conversations with Clients Taking or Withdrawing from Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs. If you’d like to explore this matter further, then please get in touch.

Published by Dr Esther Walker

Esther is a counsellor and massage therapist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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