“Let’s Talk Withdrawal” Podcast

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Podcast? What podcast?

Being in antidepressant withdrawal, I had come to feel very isolated and alone recently. So much so that even the kind, lovely, supportive people in Facebook groups and my long-suffering family could give me little comfort. What I needed, I thought to myself, was to hear real experiences of people who, like me, have struggled with the very drugs that they believed were going to help them. So, off to iTunes I went. My search yielded a single interview, from January 2017, which I eagerly devoured. What then?

Fortunately, regular bouts of insomnia give me ample thinking time. It’s time to create a podcast, I thought — one that raises awareness of an issue that I believe is shared by many people but rarely spoken of.

Five years before this, I had ‘hit the buffers.’ I was under a great deal of strain at work, I was a new father and I struggled with phobias. The result was that my anxiety became unmanageable and pretty soon I was unable to work and housebound with fear. Like many, hoping to escape my emotional distress, I visited my doctor and was given the standard lecture: “You have a chemical imbalance, here’s an antidepressant, its like insulin for a diabetic, you’ll have to take it for life.” I walked away with the tablets not knowing what I was getting myself into. It’s now five years later, and I am still on my antidepressant, although not by choice. I feel stuck and trapped, I have tried to withdraw but not been able to. I have asked for my doctor’s help, only to be told, “There is no such thing as withdrawal.”

This is primarily what led to me feeling so isolated and ignored. My response was to start campaigning to raise awareness about the number of people who struggle to stop taking their psychiatric drugs. First came a petition, then a few radio and TV interviews and, most recently, the podcast.

Let’s Talk Withdrawal: the truth about antidepressant drugs and mental health

Launching a podcast seemed like a good fit for me in many ways, and a huge challenge in others. Prior to my difficulties, I was a keen musician, so I was familiar and comfortable with the technical side of audio arrangement and production. The challenge came when conducting interviews.

My first interview was with Professor John Read from the University of East London. I was terrified — this was the biggest thing I have done for years and years. I wasn’t at all professional, but Professor Read was gracious enough to answer my naive questions with authority and empathy.

Next came Claire, a young woman who had been prescribed an antidepressant at the age of 16 and had been left on them, with no proper review or intervention, for 19 years. Claire described her experiences of trying to withdraw and her battle with discontinuation syndrome once she had stopped. She was powerful and passionate and I don’t mind saying that I finished that interview in tears. Even given her awful experiences, Claire was making progress every single day and she had clearly lost none of her spirit or her fight. I found this uplifting and motivating. So much so that I am now in the process of withdrawing myself.

Since then I have interviewed many people, both those with lived experience and experts who are critical of the over-medicalised and overmedicated approach to mental health. There is a common thread in all the interviews: despite their painful experiences and personal challenges, their desire is to reach out to help and support others. That is motivating, inspiring and uplifting.

The podcast so far has been many things for me: an incredible learning experience, at times a source of stress but mostly a great source of comfort. To hear real people and experts describe a world that is so different from the world that my doctors and psychiatrists have drawn out for me was liberating. This realisation was initially frightening, but soon became exciting as I found I was no longer contained by my ‘diagnosis box.’ With new understanding comes new opportunity, and I see the podcast as very much a part of this.

While putting the podcast together, I have learned that many of the things that I had accepted as ‘fact’ from my doctors are really just beliefs, and many of these are limiting beliefs, too. An example of this is the ‘chemical imbalance theory’ as an explanation for psychological difficulties. Human experience is vastly complex, and to reduce all this richness to a state of chemicals and neurotransmitters seems deeply flawed. Through that lens, I am a deeply flawed human being, and all the better for it.

In terms of my own views about psychiatric medications, I do believe that they have a place in mental healthcare, but they are used indiscriminately and there is a real lack of ‘informed consent’ where prescribing is concerned. In my own experience, medication requires strict adherence both physically and mentally — it is an uncompromising, one-size-fits-all, reductionist approach that is so different from the myriad shades of colour that we all experience, either in a steady state or while experiencing trauma or emotional distress. While I feel that medications have hampered my own recovery, I would never try to convince someone who felt they were getting benefit from their psychiatric medication to stop taking them; it is a deeply personal choice.

Response to the podcast has been fantastic — I haven’t had so many emails and so much feedback since I was working. I have heard from many people who, like me, felt lonely and isolated but were thrilled to hear people say things that resonated with their own experience. A member of the Surviving Antidepressants forum wrote: “I enjoy re-playing the lived experience podcasts sometimes just for ‘company,’ as withdrawal is a very isolating journey and hearing these voices of resilience really helps.”

In its first seven weeks, the podcast has been downloaded over 7,000 times and I am so grateful to every single person that listens. I’d love you to listen in too, whether you have had any contact with psychiatric drugs or not. It’s powerful and moving to hear the real experiences of people who, like me, reached out for help but were given pills rather than understanding.

I can honestly say that I no longer feel so isolated, no longer so contained and lacking direction or purpose. The podcast for me is the boldest step I have taken in many years, but I’m really glad that I took a risk and stepped out of the shadows.

The podcast is free to listen to and can be found here in iTunes or by searching for Let’s Talk Withdrawal. Non iTunes users can visit http://jfmoore.libsyn.com where every episode is free to listen to and download.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. James, your podcast is compelling, valuable and informative.

    I have now been studying psychotropic drug toxicity (and the “marketing masquerading as medicine” which has so profoundly mis-informed prescribers) – for longer than my undergraduate medical training.

    It is evident that General Practitioners and Specialists have been left with a void in their knowledge, skills and awareness in the toxicology of these alleged medications.
    Few have heard of akathisia induced on commencing, changing or withdrawing from SSRIs.
    How then can they be expected to diagnose and manage this life threatening and most serious of the wide range of psychotropic ADRs?

    I have seen the intense suffering of akathisia mis-diagnosed as psychotic depression and exacerbated by the catastrophe of immediate incarceration and enforced drugging with fluoxetine and olanzapine.
    This of course exacerbating both the akathisia and the unrecognised risk of irreversible injury and death.

    It would appear that the training and experience of those responsible for such human destruction does not afford them the skills to differentiate between an iatrogenic toxic delusion and a “functional psychosis”.

    It must be hoped that the recent positive verdict in the Dolin v GSK case may improve medical awareness of SSRI induced akathisia and its resultant suicidal ideation and tragic completion.
    The Court transcripts provide insight into how this knowledge deficit has been created and maintained.

    Should a greater awareness and understanding be forthcoming, your podcast would, in my personal opinion,
    (as a hospital consultant who trained future general practitioners for over thirty years) – be an excellent discussion, teaching and learning tool in both General Practice training and continuing medical education (C.M.E.)
    The latter remains, apparently, largely under corporate command and control. A situation which perpetuates the myth of the “chemical imbalance”.

    Thank you for this valuable opportunity to further address such a dangerous and profound failure in our duty as doctors to prescribe safely and with appropriate and adequate knowledge of adverse drug reactions.

    TRM 123. Retired Physician. UK.

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    • Hi TRM 123, thank you so much for your feedback and for your support with the podcast. To hear that it speaks to medical professionals as well as those with experience of taking these drugs is very important to me. As you say, the gulf in knowledge is truly worrying, especially given that these drugs are so widely available and now routinely prescribed ‘off label’ for insomnia, headaches, chronic pain and even now bed wetting in the very young. If these drugs were mostly benign then it would be less worrying but adding together the adverse effects (which, as you say, can be life changing or even fatal) the dependence/withdrawal issues and the evidence coming to light of poorer long term outcomes and it becomes crucial that we educate and raise awareness in the hope that people can make an informed choice about treatment. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, we need many more open minded Physicians like you.

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      • James, I listened to your excellent discussion with
        Dr. Joanna Moncrieff yesterday. Thank you to both.
        Another courageous, compelling and valuable asset to give hope and encouragement to all those injured, dependent and damaged by psychotropic prescription drug toxicity, ADRs and withdrawal, as well as humiliated by prescriber-denial.

        I hope that vocational trainees in general practice might be encouraged to discuss and debate these podcasts.
        Such an opportunity might address a potential void in knowledge, skills, awareness and attitudes.

        They were amongst the most committed and gifted young doctors throughout my consultant practice over 34 years.

        I hope that I contributed to their professional development during a hospital SHO post designated to the training of future General Practitioners.
        They taught me a great deal in return, and broadened my awareness and understanding of general practice.

        Your interviews may be of greater value to them, to their patients and their colleagues in primary care than Pharma dominated “education”.

        TRM 123. Retired Physician U.K.

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  2. Any doctor who tells you all your emotional pain is caused by a chemical imbalance is either an ignoramous or a liar. They also lie about how safe and nonaddictive it is.

    Not only do they keep away from their toxic brain drugs themselves but they warn you not to flush leftover pills down the toilet. Why not?

    These “safe and effective medications” are harmful to the sewer’s ecosystem. Remember, to your shrink, your brain is less important than stuff growing in the sewer!

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    • Hi there FeelinDiscouraged, thank you for taking the time to write, I’m so sorry to hear that you feel stranded, I can completely sympathise and, everyone is allowed a bit of a rant now and again!. I do hope you can listen in to some of the podcasts, while it’s not the same as having someone there with you, I find it a source of comfort at times. Best wishes. James

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  3. Hi James, my doctor told me the same thing, “there is no such thing as withdrawal” and “don’t believe internet horror stories”. The thing that frustrates me the most is the confidence many doctors make these assertions with. How can they be so confident about something they are so wrong about? I think Mark Twain was right: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    I’m really glad you had the courage to start this podcast. I think the more awareness we can get about these problems the better and your podcast is a significant contribution.

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    • Hi andy013 thanks so much for writing. I really am struggling to work out whether doctors actually know about this and just don’t want to admit the problems or whether their patients are not telling them. With my own doctor my experience of withdrawal was written off as “a return of my depression and anxiety” even though it was very different. There is also a worrying trend in the UK to label these kind of problems as merely psychological in origin. While there is clearly a psychological component, there is most definitely a physical impact too and one that can be severe and protracted. I am hopeful that the podcast can play a small part in raising awareness of these issues and I very much value your input. Thank you.

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      • hi, james. i’ve listened to some of the podcasts and you’re doing a great job, and talking to some of my favorite people !
        in response to above- it is so very difficult to imagine that doctors in general are clueless about what they are prescribing. just transfer that concept to any job- can you imagine a mechanic, or a baker, or an accountant- or anyone , in any profession, knowing so little about how his/her tools work and function. it just does not add up!
        i also want to encourage you to continue your withdrawal, and to know you CAN do it. anyone can. you will never own your own mind until you are free of the poisonous drugs, that cure nothing and address no medical issues and cause brain dysfunction and are no better than illegal drugs. in my family, the nightmare and destruction lasted a good ten years but now my husband is finally legal drug free and living a full life. just not possible while stuck in the “system”. thank you for all you do. sending wishes of continued healing and all good things your way! all the best, -erin

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        • Hi Erin, thank you so much for your support and your encouragement, it means a great deal. That’s what I find amazing is that so many people are willing to help and support others and provide the help that we just don’t get from the medical profession. Prescribing is easy, but where’s the long term support, we are very much left to fend for ourselves aren’t we. I’m so pleased to hear that your husband is past the drugs now, that’s an amazing achievement. I am certainly gaining a great deal of strength from the podcast and from the support of people such as yourself, thank you so much. best wishes. J

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    • I’ve come to the point where I no longer believe most doctors when it comes to psych drugs. Not all internet “horror stories” are true. But I am more apt to find good info on psych drugs online than from a doctor.

      I remember my shrinks told me my neuroleptics weren’t behind my seizures. My zoloft wasn’t making me sleep all day. And risperdol didn’t cause weight gain.

      Recently I read an article in the American Psychiatric Association journal that the “chemical imbalance” story was all a lie. (But Dr. Pies excused lying to patients because they might not take those nasty drugs if they knew there was no reason to do so!)

      I will never trust a shrink again. Nor do I feel obliged to be honest with any of those glorified drug dealers again. Right now I don’t even trust my GP because he’s a naive fool, having swallowed the psychiatric bait hook, line and sinker.

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      • Couldn’t agree more.

        Here are some words I wrote while trying to distract myself from my regular early morning horrors due to withdrawal from Mirtazapine and Diazapam.

        Inner trembling, panic , fear,
        Compelling urge to end my life,
        How long will this torture last?
        Another benzo or the knife?
        Incentive orientated how they plot,
        To fill the medicine spoon,
        And Doctors Frankenstein and Shrink
        Dance to their masters’ tune.

        All the best to you and all of those going through the hell of withdrawal.

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  4. A good case can be made for anxiety and depression being linked to systemic inflammation. To treat systemic inflammation, diet and exercise are very important. For diet, on the good list are omega-3s in fish, curcumin as in turmeric, ginger, and probiotics to alter gut microbiota. On the bad diet list are high-fructose corn syrup, saturated fatty acids, and foods (bread and ice cream) containing shelf life extenders. Yoga and mediation are also helpful.

    There are rather extensive literatures on each of the above. See my blogs on this website or on my website littrellsneuroscienceofwellbeing.org. A rather technical paper on this topic by me is available at frontiers in psychology website. I also have a book out on this topic, Neuroscience for Psychologists and Other Mental Health Professionals.

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    • Thanks so much for your comments Jill, I will definitely read up and I am keen on the podcast that we get time to talk about alternative approaches that may help people in withdrawal or after they have stopped their psychiatric drugs. Perhaps we could chat for the podcast one day? Best wishes. James

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  5. Thank you.
    I have been on Prozac for years and if you ask me, I don’t think it works at all.
    Since the kick off of my sophomore year, everything gets up-side-down. But I’m not going back to that zoo which looks like a hospital, I don’t want to see those who treats people worse than animals.
    Then one day I just feel too tired to trust in that stuff and quit.
    I become worse and everyone put the blame on me.
    I know it’s all my fault…but anyway thanks for your kind sharing.

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    • Thanks, >pheobe_16FeelinDiscouragedbeyondmeds.com<, too, as another great site I think you will get a lot of great benefit from.
      (It's really NOT your "fault", you know. There's too much guilt, blame, and shame, and it's too often TOXIC.)
      I'm looking forward to seeing MORE from you here at MiA! ~Bill./

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  6. Great podcast, and thanks for speaking out about this societal problem. I had the common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome misdiagnosed as “bipolar.” Then suffered through three and a half years of torture, as my doctors created anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning by combining the antidepressants and/or antipsychotics, over and over again.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxidrome

    Thankfully, I never bought into their “genetic” DSM theories, since I had no family history of mental illness and knew I had only been made sick after being given drugs, although I was also aware of the dangers of going off the drugs on my own. It was shocking to me that it took the doctor so long to wean me from the drugs.

    And absolutely, informed consent should be improved, initially my PCP claimed the antidepressant was a “safe smoking cessation med” and she claimed a dangerous “dirty” opioid was a “safe pain killer.” Not. But I eventually was handed her medical records and realized my PCP was a dangerous paranoid, who was paranoid of a non-existing malpractice suit, because her husband had been the “attending physician” at a “bad fix” on a broken bone of mine. I’m pretty certain she and her husband were kicked out of that medical practice shortly thereafter, since they did start up a different practice shortly thereafter, and one of the nurses followed my family to our next two PCPs, and worked to protect us. The medical community does collude to cover up their ignorance and mistakes, and it is amazing how brainwashed and/or unethical today’s medical community truly is.

    Best wishes on your healing journey, James.

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    • Thanks so much for your feedback Someone Else, I am so sorry to hear of your experiences. So many doctors are not at all up to speed on these issues, you think that given the amount of these drugs that we are prescribing that they would be inundated with people seeking support. It’s difficult not to be cynical about this given the harm that is being caused based on myths and downright fabrications about the origins of mental illness. I hope the podcast at least helps to raise some awareness so that people who have yet to come into contact with psychiatric medications can make that informed choice that we were denied. Best wishes to you too and thanks so much for listening.

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    • Thanks so much for your feedback Dr. Purssey, Rob Whitaker was very generous with his time, very gracious in responding to my questions and it was an amazing experience to be able to interview him. I’m very pleased to hear that you found the interview engaging.

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  7. Hello James
    I am a pharmacist who take an interest in psychiartric drugs and have just found your podcast and listened to David Healy and Joanna Moncrieff, have read bokks by both of them so was really interesting to hear them talk.
    Am looking forward to listening to all of them.
    Well done keep up the good work!
    Cheers
    Chris

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    • Hi Chris, thanks so much for taking the time to comment and to listen to the podcast too. The most helpful and considered advice I have ever recieved about my own psychiatric medications came from Pharmacists rather than doctors or psychiatrists. I think Pharmacists are a very valuable source of information and knowledge on the medications and could be given more of a role in helping patients avoid withdrawal difficulties. I’d be very interested in any feedback on the other interviews. Best wishes. James.

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