London, UK – A formal complaint of misleading the public on a matter of public safety has today been lodged with the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) against its President, Professor Wendy Burn, and the Chair of its Psychopharmacology Committee, Professor David Baldwin.
Burn and Baldwin stated, in a letter to The Times on 24 February, that: ‘[for] the vast majority of patients, any unpleasant symptoms experienced on discontinuing antidepressants have resolved within two weeks of stopping treatment’.
A formal complaint disputing this claim has been signed by 30 people, including 10 psychiatrists and 10 people who have experienced withdrawal effects from antidepressants for between 11 months and 10 years.
It states: ‘To mislead the public on this issue has grave consequences. People may be misled by the false statement into thinking that it is easy to withdraw and may therefore try to do so too quickly or without support from the prescriber, other professionals or loved ones… Such irresponsible statements bring the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the profession of psychiatry (to which some of us belong), and – vicariously – all mental health professionals, into disrepute.’
The complaint cites several research papers documenting that withdrawal effects often last far longer than two weeks. These include a survey of more than 800 antidepressant users conducted by the RCP itself, which found that withdrawal symptoms were experienced by the majority (63%), generally lasted for up to six weeks and that a quarter reported anxiety lasting more than 12 weeks. These survey results contradict Burn’s and Baldwin’s letter yet were removed from the RCP website within 48 hours of the misleading statement being made in The Times.
Professor Sami Timimi, professor of psychiatry and member of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry commented: ‘It is shameful that the official body that represents my profession throws about dangerous and misleading statements like this that lack a credible evidence base. We should be warning people about the terrible experiences of withdrawal that patients may experience, not giving false reassurance.’
Professor John Read of the University of East London said: ‘It is unethical to minimise how very difficult many people find it to come off these drugs. Furthermore the RCP cannot rely on pharmaceutical industry-funded research when addressing the public on matters of drug safety, as we know it is susceptible to bias. In addition, the Chair of the Psychopharmacology Committee should not be in receipt of pharmaceutical industry funds if they are to restore public trust.’
Another signatory to the complaint, James Moore, from Monmouthshire, added: ‘I have experienced antidepressant withdrawal effects for the better part of a year now. I had no prior warning of the difficulties I would endure and it has been shocking to find how little support there is for people who have taken their drugs as prescribed but ended up in difficulty. Sadly, I know from the many messages I receive that I am not alone in this struggle.’
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