My email to all MSPs who contributed.
Thank you to all who took part in today’s debate on Mental Health. Patients in the online prescribed dependent and harmed community like myself were watching with interest. We too share the very many concerns about mental health services in Scotland. We watch with dismay the campaigns to raise awareness and reduce stigma, telling people to seek help for mental health issues knowing full well that the help may well not be there when they seek it. We also know that the majority will be prescribed medication, most commonly antidepressants. We were disappointed to hear Annie Wells state that one in twelve people in Scotland take antidepressants. We would have hoped that she would have had an accurate figure in such a debate. There are approximately 850,000 patients on antidepressants, perhaps the figure is now even higher. That is one in six of the population and closer to one in five of the adult population. Brian Whittle then repeated the one in twelve figure and I note that the Minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt did not intervene at any stage to correct it.
We were pleased to hear Tavish Scott mention one patient who had difficulties accessing appropriate advice about antidepressant side effects when she became pregnant. However, we were deeply disappointed that once again the issues of antidepressant dependence, withdrawal and resulting iatrogenic harm were simply ignored. Prescribed drug dependence is a mental health issue, it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual which outlines all psychiatric diagnoses. I hope that all MSPs are now aware of petition PE01651 on prescribed drug dependence, brought last year by Marion Brown.
This petition has received an unprecedented number of patient submissions, most of them harrowing stories of drug dependence and harm. The reason this petition was brought was because patient concerns are often ignored or disbelieved by doctors because they do not recognise the many adverse effects of antidepressants. Patients in Scotland and across the UK have campaigned long and hard to bring these issues to the attention of politicians and the medical profession. If it were not for our campaign, the issue would have been ignored. I draw attention to the words of Prof Dee Mangin in Canada who says patients are the experts in antidepressant withdrawal and this certainly is the case. It is patients who have raised the alarm about these drugs, it has not been the medical profession.
We have battled long and hard for recognition of this issue and now our voices are finally being heard in one country at least. We had hoped it might just be Scotland. We have liaised with the BMA in London and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prescribed Drug Dependence at Westminster. We welcome the Public Health England Review of prescribed drug dependence but are dismayed by the fact that patient voices will once again not be heard. We continue to seek a public inquiry at UK level. We have battled against misinformation emanating from leading UK psychiatrists who claim that antidepressant withdrawal is short-lived and self-limiting. I personally work full-time on this campaign despite being mostly in bed.
Whilst we would all agree that prevention is fundamental in mental health as in physical health and that young people should be given all the help and support they need, it is not good enough to ignore the pressing needs of the very many patients now dependent on antidepressant drugs and those harmed by them. Unless there is dedicated withdrawal services, many of these patients will be on antidepressants for life, to the detriment of their long-term health.
I repeat that one in six people in this country are prescribed antidepressants, at the latest count and closer to one in five adults and I have no doubt it is still rising. Every single one of those patients has two choices … to taper off the drugs at some point or stay on them for life. The current NICE tapering guidelines are not fit for purpose and neither are the guidelines on depression. These are combined in a single document and are now under review.
Patients in the prescribed harmed community have been ignored for far too long. We are ignored by our doctors because they have no idea what is wrong with us, most of the time. We have been ignored by Ministers at Holyrood and at Westminster. However, due in part to continued pressure from our community there is now a review in England and belatedly a parallel review in Scotland. Without petition PE01651 I doubt this would have happened. A similar petition is being considered in Wales.
I conclude by urging every MSP to take these issues seriously and to speak out on our behalf. We are part of the mental health community and many of us have lost decades of our lives to these drugs. Do not ignore us, we do not deserve it. Our voices matter as much as any other patient group with mental health issues. It is not good enough to focus only on those seeking help for mental health issues, services need to be provided for those who have been in the system for some time and are now shackled to drugs they do not need or want.