Background: Tapering and discontinuing antidepressants are important aspects of the management of patients with depression and should therefore be considered in clinical practice guidelines.
Objectives: We aimed to assess the extent and content, and appraise the quality, of guidance on tapering and discontinuing antidepressants in major clinical practice guidelines on depression.
Methods: Systematic review of clinical practice guidelines on depression issued by national health authorities and major national or international professional organisations in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Ireland and New Zealand (PROSPERO CRD42020220682). We searched PubMed, 14 guideline registries and the websites of relevant organisations (last search 25 May 2021). The clinical practice guidelines were assessed for recommendations and information relevant to tapering and discontinuing antidepressants. The quality of the clinical practice guidelines as they pertained to tapering and discontinuation was assessed using the AGREE II tool.
Results: Of the 21 included clinical practice guidelines, 15 (71%) recommended that antidepressants are tapered gradually or slowly, but none provided guidance on dose reductions, how to distinguish withdrawal symptoms from relapse or how to manage withdrawal symptoms. Psychological challenges were not addressed in any clinical practice guideline, and the treatment algorithms and flow charts did not include discontinuation. The quality of the clinical practice guidelines was overall low.
Conclusion: Current major clinical practice guidelines provide little support for clinicians wishing to help patients discontinue or taper antidepressants in terms of mitigating and managing withdrawal symptoms. Patients who have deteriorated upon following current guidance on tapering and discontinuing antidepressants thus cannot be concluded to have experienced a relapse. Better guidance requires better randomised trials investigating interventions for discontinuing or tapering antidepressants.