SCOTLAND’S mental health minister has given evidence to MSPs in response to a Helensburgh campaigner’s call for a rethink on the prescribing of anti-depressants.
Therapist Marion Brown’s plea for health professionals to consider alternatives to prescription medication was considered by the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee.
The committee heard evidence from the Scottish Government’s minister for mental health, Maureen Watt, at the January 18 hearing, as well as a policy officer from the government’s mental health and protection of rights division and from Dr John Mitchell, the government’s principal medical officer and psychiatric advisor.
Ms Brown is the founder of Recovery and Renewal, an independent self-help group founded in Helensburgh in 2013 with the aim of supporting people recovering from the effects of drugs such as anti-depressants and benzodiazepines.
She says there is a lack of support for patients coming off benzodiazepines – whose withdrawal symptoms have been described as “worse than heroin” – and that prescribing rates for anti-depressants are rising exponentially despite limited evidence of their benefits.
Ms Watt told the committee on Thursday: "Prescribing often involves not just drugs. Although we will ensure that people who need medication will continue to receive it, we are committed to improving access to psychological therapies that increase choice and best accommodate patient preference.
"As part of our 10-year strategy, we are taking a range of actions to transform mental health services in Scotland to respond to that need."
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Ms Brown said: “Because the side effects, tolerance effects and withdrawal effects of these medicines are not medically recognised for what they are, when patients develop these related effects/symptoms they are often prescribed other medicines and then polypharmacy confounds and complicates the problems further.
“Patients are repeatedly told to go back to their GPs and local health boards if they experience problems and are dissatisfied.
“Individual personal experiences show how far this has got them. If patients cannot get any acknowledgement from their GP that, for example, prescribed benzodiazepine and/or antidepressant dependence or withdrawal is the cause of their wide-ranging, debilitating and confusing symptoms, how can affected individuals hope to get any appropriate advice, care, tests or necessary treatment?
“It has become abundantly clear that currently patients are consequently suffering very serious harm, disability or even death/suicide.
“This is a public health issue as acknowledged by the BMA. The current policy on prescribed drugs associated with dependence and withdrawal is completely inadequate.”