NHS figures show antidepressant prescriptions in England doubled in the last decade, with more than 70 million handed out in 2018.
By Katie Spencer, news reporter (sky news)
Long-term antidepressant users are risking permanent damage to their bodies, according to leading medical experts.
Dr Tony Kendrick, a professor of primary care at the University of Southampton, says more urgent action needs to be taken to encourage and support long-term users to come off the medication.
"By the time we find out what the effects of long term use are it may be too late to help those people, the effects could be permanent.
"If it does cause an increased risk of stroke or seizures or effect on the kidneys, these things may only come to light as you get older and it may be very difficult to treat those."
Antidepressants are meant to be taken for nine months for a first episode of depression and for a maximum of two years for those experiencing further episodes. But increasingly more of us are staying on them for longer.
NHS figures show that antidepressant prescriptions in England doubled in the last decade. More than 70 million were handed out in 2018.
Dr Kendrick says: "If you're at risk of recurrent relapsing depression, then you may well benefit from taking antidepressants long term, but beyond two years there's not a lot of evidence it's keeping you well after that."
"We're seeing some of the longer-term side effects. Generally most people are okay on them but a few people can get bleeding from the stomach, they can get bleeding in the brain so they get strokes, they can get epileptic fits.
Dr Kendrick said scientists are not exactly sure how the antidepressants work and therefore what long-terms effects they might have.
Some long-term users have accused the medical community of dismissing or downplaying withdrawal symptoms, which can include anxiety, pain, palpitations, insomnia and brain zaps and last anywhere from months through to years.
While there are many patients who don't experience problems coming off SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), others can suffer extreme and longer-lasting effects prompting some to restart their medication either because the pain is intolerable or out of concern that it's a sign that their depression is coming back.
Dr Joanna Moncrieff, a senior clinical lecturer at University College London, believes the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms should be seen as an "indication that the drug has changed the body" in a way that could be long- lasting.
"We know that with some other drugs, like antipsychotics for example, they can change the brain in an irreversible way that does not go away.
"The fact that antidepressant withdrawal can be so prolonged suggests that the drug has changed the brain and that those changes are taking a very long time to return to normal and it may be the case that sometimes they don't go back to normal."