I have changed anti-depressant medications, and it was an awful experience. I have since found out that the standard New Zealand practice for changing SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor) medications is different from that of the rest of the world. Australia advises a withdrawing period of 4-7 days, waiting 3 days before starting the new medication. America is on the most cautious side of the scale, reducing Zoloft over a period of 4+ weeks, waiting 7 days then introducing Escitalopram.
In New Zealand we just switch straight to the new one immediately. Going cold-turkey from Zoloft is risky and difficult, particularly if the dose is high and has been taken long term. Withdrawal can take several painful weeks. I thought it was unusual, so I made a point of asking the doctor if that was correct. She told me that because they’re both “short-acting” drugs an immediate change is suitable. This is so unique to New Zealand, that it is even mentioned as a side-note in the official UK GP Guidebook. I have my suspicions that it is likely to be about money. In New Zealand we have a heavily subsidised healthcare system. In my area, I can see a GP for $17 and get prescriptions for $10, and three months worth of meds for $5, the government foots the rest of the bill. It’s pretty sweet. But it’s not perfect.
I believe the reason that the method for switching SSRI’s is an over night change, is because weaning means more doctors visits, more prescriptions as each week is a different dosage, and therefore more cost to the Ministry of Heath. So people are suffering unnecessarily, because it’s cheaper. And I mean really suffering.
I was unable to function. It felt like I was moving through treacle, my head was spinning. I couldn’t make sense of anything. The simplest things were baffling. I was profoundly sad, and tired. At first, I couldn’t do much more than lay down and cry. There were times when I was detached from reality that I felt like I was an observer, watching the world from the outside. My responsibilities as a mother became monumental hurdles.
It’s been six days now, and I’m still feeling pretty run-down, but it’s getting better every day. I have learned a valuable lesson and I will never, EVER make a cold switch again. Always insist on tapering off SSRI’s