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Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 00:19 GMT


Mentally ill ignorant about drug side effects

Patients say they were not warned of the side effects of drugs

A huge majority of people who have suffered side effects from psychiatrics drugs have not been given adequate information by their doctors, says a survey by Mind.

The mental health charity says 80% of 622 patients who experienced adverse side effects from drugs said their doctors had not given them enough information about the risks.

Seventy-five per cent said they were not warned about side effects.

And almost half of the 77% who told their doctor about their problems with the drugs said the doctor had not been helpful.

The report also found that some patients were taking dangerous combinations of drugs.

One woman had been given four anti-psychotic drugs in the space of three weeks.

Mind says the findings show "poor and woeful prescribing practice by doctors and psychiatrists".

But psychiatrists argue that the sample is biased and that many people do not remember what they are told in the consulting room.


The report, Psychiatric Drugs - Users' Experience and Current Policy and Practice, covers all types of psychiatric drugs, from antidepressants to strong anti-psychotic drugs.

Most of the side effects related to the stronger drugs, but popular antidepressants such as Prozac accounted for 33%.

Side effects ranged from dangerous to uncomfortable. The most common included weight gain, blurred vision and muscle and movement problems.

Seventeen per cent of complaints about movement and muscle problems came from people taking antidepressants, although they are not usually associated with this type of adverse reaction.

The number of people taking antidepressants in the UK has shot up by 69% since the early 1990s, with prescriptions for some types, such as Prozac, rising by 214% since 1992.

Information, not threats

Mind wants doctors to give more information to patients about drugs, avoid dangerous cocktails of drugs and offer alternatives, such as counselling.

[ image: Some doctors have a
Some doctors have a "woeful" prescribing practice, says Mind
Melba Wilson, Mind's policy director, said: "If the government's goal is to encourage people to continue taking their medication, the way to do it would be to improve the information people are given about the drugs, and enhance their relationship with doctors.

"Using threats and forced treatments will not work."

However, Dr Philip Timms of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) says the Mind survey is likely to be "skewed".

He said people who are members of Mind are likely to have suffered bad experiences.

But he acknowledged there was a communication problem between psychiatrists and patients.

However, he said communication failures affected the whole of the medical profession.

This was due to lack of time spent with patients and the fact that many patients forgot what they were told in consultations.


Dr Timms has been working for the last few months on a series of factsheets for patients, relatives and psychiatrists which he hopes will improve communication.

The factsheets contain suggested questions for patients and relatives to ask psychiatrists and spaces for them to write down the answers as an aide-memoire.

The leaflets cover areas such as the side effects of drugs, alternative treatments and what the symptoms of particular mental illnesses are.

They will be sent to RCP members in the next two weeks and Dr Timms hopes to set up a pilot study to see whether they are effective.

The idea for the leaflets came from the Zito Trust, a mental health charity set up after the killing of Jonathan Zito by a community care patient who had not been taking his drugs.

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