Present guidelines for the prescribing of antidepressant medication, with particular reference to the duration of treatment, are unclear (BNF, 1989). Evidence suggests that continuation of treatment for at least six months is valuable in the prevention of relapse of the acute illness (Mindham et al, 1975). Other workers have demonstrated a prophylactic effect similar to lithium over a three year period in patients with unipolar depression. There is, however, a paucity of information about the benefits (or lack of benefits) of longer term maintenance treatment. This study focuses on a population of a type which has been previously studied elsewhere – of patients in general practice receiving long-term (greater than one year) antidepressant medication. The implications of this to the psychiatrist and general practice–psychiatry liaison are discussed.
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