More than a quarter of patients on antidepressants in England – about two million people – have been taking them for five years, the BBC has found.
This is despite there being limited evidence of the benefits of taking the drugs for that length of time.
A doctor who runs an NHS clinic helping people off the pills says withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for some to stop taking their medication.
Withdrawal guidance was updated in 2019, but he says little has changed.
More than eight million people in England are on antidepressants – which are prescribed for depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder and other conditions. That’s one million more people than five years previously, NHS prescribing figures show.
The new figures on long-term use – for the period 2018-2022 – were provided to BBC Panorama by the NHS, following a Freedom of Information request. The data gives an overall picture but does not reflect the circumstances of individual patients, some of whom could be on antidepressants long-term for good reason.
The investigation also uncovered evidence that a leading drug company attempted 27 years ago to conceal possible withdrawal effects that one drug could cause.