LETTER: Antidepressant Withdrawal: why has it been ignored for so long?

A letter regarding the PJ  PODCAST, 26 August 2021: Antidepressant withdrawal: why has it been ignored for so long? – The PJ Pod | Podcast on Spotify. 
— By Marion Brown, James Moore, Peter Gordon, Ed White, Alyne Duthie  
As patient campaigners on the topic of antidepressant withdrawal issues, we heartily welcome this PJ podcast. Most especially we welcome that the problems are at long last being recognised and discussed amongst the medical professions.   
We would like to share some ‘patient voice’ reactions and twitter comments posted in response the podcast: 
We are bemused to recognise the extent of apparent ‘reframing’ of what has actually been happening.  It was positive that Adele Framer was given airtime and she did her best to provide much needed balance.  The professional tone struck, however, was one of minimising her experience and focussing more on others behaviours than critically analysing prescribers’ professional standards. 
Wendy Burn said she was ‘surprised’ about the reaction to her Burn/Baldwin/RCPsych Feb 2018 Times letter.  David Baldwin and Wendy Burn’s colleagues at the Royal College of Psychiatrists most certainly knew about the issues, which had been the subject of important BMA research work, reported on October 2015, and the BMA’s further ‘calls for action’ on Prescribed drugs associated with dependence and withdrawal (bma.org.uk). David Taylor has said elsewhere that these issues have been known about for many years, and were actually logged by a helpline at the Maudsley Hospital – which was closed.
Comments on Twitter: 
“No mention here of all the polite and reasonable interactions that went on. No mention of the behind the scenes work to provide the knowledge that psychiatry should have had about withdrawal. The ‘scientology’ card played again. Extremely disappointing.” 
“I know that people severely injured by withdrawal that have tried to contribute despite their difficulties but it all seems to come down to ‘trolling’ instead of people being allowed to express the harm, the personal loss, the abandonment, the pain” 
—James Moore (James has been campaigning since 2016 and took part in personal communications, a meeting with Wendy Burn 2019 and this 2020 Podcast: Stream Stopping antidepressants: Exploring the patient’s experience by The Royal College of Psychiatrists | Listen online for free on SoundCloud
“As a whole, I thought the podcast was quite good, but you are right that certain elements spoiled it and made a mockery of the other participants contributions.”
—Dr Ed White (Ed is campaigner and author of Tapering antidepressants: why do tens of thousands turn to Facebook groups for support? | British Journal of General Practice (bjgp.org
We were also bemused to hear Chris Johnson from Scotland confidently describing his claimed expertise on the topic of antidepressant withdrawal, going back to 2004.  Chris Johnson and his colleagues have been most reluctant to recognise those of us who have been trying for years to share our concerns as ‘expert/informed/educated patients’ – especially about antidepressants and antidepressant dependence/withdrawal issues.  Peter Gordon has been questioning this for some time: ‘Antidepressant use: changing patterns, cost and clinical effectiveness’ – Hole Ousia. Chris Johnson, currently on the Scottish Government Short Life Working Group: prescribed drug dependence, has now acknowledged existence of our own formally published ‘patient-voice’ research work based on our 2017 Public Petitions raised at the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments: The ‘patient voice’: patients who experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms are often dismissed, or misdiagnosed with relapse, or a new medical condition – Anne Guy, Marion Brown, Stevie Lewis, Mark Horowitz, 2020 (sagepub.com)  
Unfortunately, what Chris Johnson confidently outlines in the PJ podcast as his own ‘typical’ examples of ‘antidepressant withdrawal’ cases is a drastic downplaying of the issues faced by countless people whose experiences have been very different – many indeed catastrophic. 
“I found this part of the podcast to be the most worrying, setting patients [and indeed prescribers] up to have unrealistic expectations from an overly fast tapering regime. We have to make it clear that while some people can get off their AD relatively quickly, for others this would be dangerous advice.” 
—Alyne Duthie (Alyne is a Scottish campaigner and researcher: Letters: Antidepressants are not at all as benign as we might wish them to be | HeraldScotland)  
 “If there is a message for #pharmacists, its that ..
  • #Antidepressant withdrawal is real
  • It is far more common than assumed
  • It can wreck lives if mishandled
  • Pharmacists should learn all they can about it by talking with people taking the drugs, not reading sanitised papers.”  James Moore 
Perhaps a future episode of the PJ podcast could be devoted to airing real patient experiences without the professional overtones of this particular interview? 


  1. 22 September 2021: We have received a reply from Pharmaceutical Journal:

    Dear Marion and colleagues,
    Thank you for this submission and for your interest in our podcast.

    We have considered this letter alongside our editorial policies and procedures, and unfortunately would not be able to publish it at this time. We only accept submissions that have not been published elsewhere and I believe that this has already been published on another website and shared on social media.

    However, I have forwarded the letter to the editor involved in this podcast and it will influence our coverage of this issue going forward. We aim to explore important issues regarding medicines and pharmacy from all angles and, as you highlight, the voices of patients are absolutely crucial as part of this.

    I want to take this opportunity to wish you well in your work raising the profile of this issue. We will be in touch if we decide to revisit this issue going forward in a future podcast.

    Best wishes,

    Sheralyn Bone | Chief Subeditor
    Royal Pharmaceutical Society
    Direct: +44 (0) 207 572 2235 | Email: [email protected]
    66-68 East Smithfield, London, E1W 1AW