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Most patients taking antidepressants are unaware of side effects

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Nearly half of all prescriptions issued by general practitioners (GPs) in the UK are in one way or another related to neuropsychiatric disorders. However, Mind, a non-profit psychiatric organization, has published a new study showing that less than half of GPs have special training in psychiatry.

This leaves thousands of patients on psychotropic drugs unaware of the potential side effects. There is an urgent need for the National Health System to support advanced training programs for general practitioners in the field of mental health in order to ensure a decent quality of medical care.

At present, comprehensive, including practice, training in psychiatry is not mandatory for GPs in the UK, despite the fact that at least 40% (a huge proportion!) of all appointments are related specifically to mental health problems. The results of the study suggest that only 47% of general practitioners who completed their professional education in 2017 chose an additional elective in psychiatry – to be prepared to diagnose and treat the mental disorders that so many patients present with.

The statistics are alarming, especially when considering that the number of psychological and psychiatric consultations is constantly growing, and the lack of highly specialized knowledge and experience among GPs leads to the use of psychotropic drugs by people who are not warned about potentially devastating side effects, such as suicidal thoughts.

In 2018, Mind undertook the annual Great Mental Health Survey, and only 21% of respondents with mental health problems reported that they were clearly explained the side effects of prescribed drugs. This means that four out of five patients are not sufficiently informed about side effects or not at all.

In addition, the specialists of “Reason” found that more than half of the respondents (53%) did not receive sufficient information even about the purpose for which they were prescribed this or that drug.

Obviously, this level of communication between general practitioners and patients seeking help with psychopathological symptoms is unacceptable and unacceptable. Probably, to a large extent, the current situation is indeed due to the lack of sufficient training of GPs themselves in this area; be that as it may, but the consequences of incomplete informing patients are numerous and sometimes very serious.

“Reason” urges in every possible way to support the desire of GPs to receive additional specialized training in the field of psychopathology and psychopharmacology, providing doctors with more opportunities in this regard, in order to ensure high-quality medical care for people with mental problems.

It is emphasized that drug treatment is not the only key to solving such problems, and that other therapeutic strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, are in some cases more effective than drugs. But the ability to correctly navigate the situation and choose the best approach to treatment can be formed in GPs only in the course of targeted professional (theoretical, methodological, clinical and practical) improvement.

The vast majority of the means used in psychiatry are not harmless and universal, and cannot be recommended to all patients indiscriminately; such drugs often have severe side effects, and the patient should immediately report any undesirable effects to the doctor, which will allow the treatment regimen to be adjusted.

Antidepressants alone were taken by 7.2 million Britons in 2017-18, about a sixth of the adult population. In addition, millions of people take drugs for anxiety, sleep disorders and other mental health problems. Given the huge number of people who receive prescriptions for drugs in this group, it is clear that insufficient information about side effects can have a very negative impact on a significant part of the population. A far from complete list of such effects includes suicidal tendencies (this is in people, we note, who already suffer from a low mood background), hypomanic states, psychosexual disorders, diabetes, attention deficit, etc.

In general, the results of the survey conducted by “Reason” clearly indicate the need for significant efforts and special measures on the part of the NHS (National Health System of Great Britain) in terms of increasing the preparedness of general practitioners to provide neuropsychiatric care.

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