In addition to understanding the objective effects of withdrawal, it is also necessary to understand the subjective impact that withdrawal can have on the lives of individuals. It is important to be particularly mindful of how debilitating – physically, psychologically and relationally –withdrawal, in some cases, can be.
A recent survey of 319 people using services in England, all self-identifying as experiencing varying degrees of antidepressant withdrawal, showed that half reported being incapacitated in some way by the experience, with their capacity to perform basic daily tasks being impaired.1 A full (27), reporting more extreme withdrawal reactions, indicated that the experience had ‘ruined their lives’ or had led them to ‘lose everything’. Many individuals also reported that their reactions had a significant impact on their ability to work. Decision-making, memory, concentration and communication skills were also affected, to varying degrees, leading some participants to take time off or struggle through in a ‘brain-fog’ or a ‘zombie-like’ state.1 As a result, many participants experienced some level of financial loss, while many experienced a significant lowering of their confidence and self-esteem.
Withdrawal can have far-reaching consequences, extending beyond those personally impacted to affect families, friends and associates. In the same survey, some individuals reported that withdrawal undermined their ability to support and take sufficient care of others, including their children. They also reported that their ability to engage socially was significantly impaired, leading to increased isolation.
A lack of understanding by family members about withdrawal reactions can also place further strain on relationships. When withdrawal is perceived as an ‘over-reaction’ this can lead to a breakdown of mutual trust and understanding. Alternatively, a decrease in self-care can also lead to heightened dependency on others, again compounding relational strain.
At its most extreme, then, withdrawal can lead to family break-ups, job losses and unemployment, reliance on state benefits, bankruptcy and even suicide.2 While this study cannot be said to represent all those taking antidepressants, or even all those who experience withdrawal, it nevertheless indicates that for some, withdrawal can be a highly destructive experience, adversely impacting families and beyond.
1. Davies, J., Pauli, R. & Montagu, L. (2018). Antidepressant withdrawal: A survey of patients’ experience (an APPG for PDD Report).
2. Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry (2014). Unrecognised facts about modern psychiatric practice. Available online: http://cepuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Unrecognised-Facts-about-Modern-Psychiatric-Practice.pdf.