Vital NHS Antidepressant Withdrawal Helpline Faces Closure Amid Funding Cut


Amidst concerns of heightened distress, England’s sole NHS helpline assisting individuals through antidepressant withdrawal faces imminent closure due to the withdrawal of funds by the health service. Earlier in the year, local health services were mandated by NHS England to back individuals grappling with discontinuation of these medications. However, with the Bristol Tranquilliser Project (BTP) soon to be defunct, there will no longer be any nationwide service to do so, according to its head.

The local NHS claims that alternate provision exists and that the project, funded by the NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board, was primarily designed to provide support just within the Bristol region. Consequently, it will cease operation by the end of September.

Last year, over eight million adults depended on an antidepressant. The BTP, reaching out to people across the nation despite its narrow naming, not only assists individuals consuming sleeping tablets and other prescription drugs but dedicates half of its operation to help those wrestling with symptoms upon reducing their dose of antidepressant.

When people search for the service, they are often in significant distress, according to Jayne Hoyle, the project manager. Their GPs have seen and referred them to specialists, and it is common for them to feel relief when they realise that they are dealing with withdrawal symptoms from their medication.

Withdrawal can occur when medication a body has acclimated to is discontinued abruptly, leading to symptoms like anxiety, low mood, fatigue, shaking, and dizziness, many of which can impersonate other illnesses. While the official guidance for doctors recommends a gradual reduction in the dose of medication, no specific timeline is mentioned. Hoyle posits that numerous GPs may be advising patients to cease medication prematurely. The BTP has found itself eventually acting as a national helpline, volunteers and clients agree, due to the paucity of similar support present elsewhere.

Angela Clayton, who stopped taking antidepressants in 2001 and later volunteered for the project, took more than a year and a half to regain her normal self. She mentions how the “very frightening” withdrawal process can induce nausea, fatigue, and severe anxiety and depressive symptoms. She sought validation from someone who had a clear understanding of the situation. She observes that the journeys of her hundreds of clients reflect her personal experience from two decades ago, with many unable to access needed information until they discovered the helpline.

In a similar vein, Stuart Bryan, who felt symptoms he had never experienced from issues he prescribed the drug for amidst discontinuation, expresses shock over the possibility of the BTP shutting down, crediting them with “keeping people alive”.

On the political front, Luke Montagu, a member of a cross-party group advocating for a national helpline to assist individuals withdrawing from prescription drugs, expresses amazement at the lack of a service to aid these individuals. Despite increased awareness of the issue, he criticises the government for neglecting to sufficiently fund and implement these services.

Meanwhile, a document published by NHS England in March highlights the necessity for services to support individuals withdrawing from prescription drugs, including antidepressants. However, funding has been withdrawn as the local board claims to have identified other services that provide equivalent or enhanced support, likely referring to a service for painkillers and sleeping pills but not antidepressants. The Department of Health and Social Care has recently declined a proposal to fund a national helpline.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here