Depressed woman

NICE sets out new guidelines for treating people with depression

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has taken action to set out its updated guidance for healthcare professionals when they are treating somebody with depression.

NICE’s independent advisory committee has recommended that those who are suffering from depression and want to stop taking antidepressants, should be supported to do so gradually, in the safest and most effective way possible.

Reducing the dosage of antidepressant in stages helps to warn off withdrawal effects and long-term dependence. As part of its guidance, the committee advises that any remaining withdrawal symptoms should be either completely resolved or tolerable before moving onto the next dosage reduction.

According to the Office for National Statistics, approximately 17% of UK adults aged 16 and over experienced a form of depression during the summer of 2021, with further NHS Business Services Authority data estimating that 21.4 million antidepressants were prescribed between the July and September of 2022.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “There are millions of people taking antidepressants. If an individual decides they want to stop taking this medication, they should be helped by their GP or mental health team to do that in the safest and most appropriate way.

“In many cases people experience withdrawal symptoms, and the length in time it takes them to safely come off these drugs can vary, which is why our committee’s useful and useable statement for a staged-withdrawal over time from these drugs is to be welcomed.

“But it should be stressed there is no one-size fits all approach to coming off antidepressants. The way it should be done has to be down to the individual and their healthcare professional, to agree a way which it can work and only when side-effects can be safely managed. Our guideline on depression signposts to information produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists which can offer practical advice to help people safely come off this medication.”

The committee also recommends that those with depression from ethnic minority backgrounds should be given support to access the relevant mental health services.

This comes after research indicated that those from ethnic minority backgrounds were much less likely to access mental health services than others – data showed that just 57% of people from mixed, Black, Black British, Asian, or Asian British backgrounds completed a treatment course for depression, compared to 64% of people from a white family background.

NICE has therefore suggested that adults be given a choice of how they would want to access mental health services and that they are delivered in a culturally appropriate way.

Dr Chrisp went onto say: “It is clear from the data that there is a disproportionate number of adults from a minority ethnic family background who are not completing treatment via IAPT services. As a healthcare system we need to look for innovative ways to help people from these family backgrounds to get the help and support they need which is culturally appropriate to them.

“I hope that our statement will help ensure adults with depression from minority ethnic family backgrounds are supported to access mental health services and tackle this avoidable health inequality issue.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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