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England’s only antidepressant withdrawal helpline to close after funding pulled

Researchers found workers whose pay is dictated by their performance are prescribed more antidepressants and have a higher rate of poor mental health (PA) (PA Archive)
Researchers found workers whose pay is dictated by their performance are prescribed more antidepressants and have a higher rate of poor mental health (PA) (PA Archive)

England’s only NHS helpline for those coming off antidepressants is to close after its funding was withdrawn.

Despite its name, the Bristol Tranquilliser Project takes calls from across the country and has become a de facto national helpline.

The helpline will now close at the end of September, meaning no nationwide service will now be available after NHS England announced local services should offer support for those trying to come off antidepressants in March.

The NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB) said alternative provisions exist and that the project was never commissioned to be a national helpline.

The project focuses on people struggling with symptoms from reducing their dose of an antidepressant, it also helps people taking sleeping pills and other prescription medication - over eight million adults across the country took a form of antidepressant last year.

Manager of the project, Jayne Hoyle, told the BBC the service often speaks to those in “extreme distress”, adding: “The first thing they experience is relief, because we say ‘this is withdrawal from your medication...this is what you need to do’.”

Official guidance for doctors recommends that those trying to get off antidepressants should do so in stages but does not provide a specific timeframe.

Stuart Bryan was one of those helped more recently by the soon to end service when he tried to wean himself off his antidepressant but developed symptoms he’d never had while on the drug.

“I was never once told about any possible withdrawal issues. If I’d been told that, I would have had a different approach to it all,” Mr Bryan said.

“I was pretty shocked to hear about the Bristol Tranquilliser Project closing down. They were keeping people alive.”

When asked NHS England said anti-depressant provisions are arranged locally depending on the needs of the local population and therefore do not operate on a national basis.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting people with their mental health and we’re going further and faster to transform our country’s mental health services, with up to an additional £2.3 billion being invested annually until 2024 to expand services so an extra two million people can get the mental health support they need.

“The decision to prescribe a particular product is a clinical one and should always be based on the patient’s medical needs and best interests.”

For information on coming off antidepressants visit the NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Leap For PDD websites for information.

If you have been affected by this story, and need advice and support, you can speak to a trained advisor from the Mind mental health charity on 0300 123 3393 or email info@mind.org.uk.