Did anti-depressants cause I’m A Celebrity’s Brian Conley's jungle exit?

Brian’s decision to come off anti-depressants after taking them for 15 years sounds drastic, and the effects on his body and brain will have been too – we asked a psychologist to explain what happens

Comedian Brian Conley revealed today that he chose his trip to the jungle for the TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get me out of Here, to come off the anti-depressant medication he’s been taking for 15 years.

The 51-year-old left the show due to health problems. In an interview on ITV’s Daybreak, Brian explained that he suffered from malnutrition and exhaustion on the island and was taken to an Australian hospital to recover.

The singer/comedian/actor revealed that he stopped taking his anti-depressants despite producers insisting he continued in order to appear on the program.

“I thought surely they must see the logic. I’ve taken this tablet for 15 years, I’ve even had people say ‘Brian, I don’t think you need it now’."

The idea of going cold turkey after 15 years of any medication sounds alarm bells, so we asked Dr Ayman Zaghloul, consultant psychiatrist at Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust, what effect coming off anti-depressants can have.

 “Stopping anti-depressants suddenly can have a severe effect on the brain as it tries to rebalance its hormones, leading to side effects including dizziness, nausea, fatigue and irritability,” explains Dr Zaghloul. “And that also leaves the person open to a recurrence of depression.”

“Withdrawal effects may occur within five days of stopping treatment and are usually mild and self-limiting, but in some cases they may be severe.”

He also explained that withdrawal can be more intense if medication is stopped suddenly in people who have been taking the medication for a long period of time – as Brian has.

“The dose of anti-depressant medication should be reduced slowly under medical supervision over at least four weeks or longer if the patient starts to experience withdrawal symptoms,” explains Dr Zaghloul, which may be why Brian’s health took such a turn for the worse.

“It’s important when reducing the intake of anti-depressants to have a strong support network that includes medical supervision. Remaining in a familiar environment and avoiding stress and upset is also very important so choosing a hostile and strange environment, such as the jungle, as a place to stop taking anti-depressants is a very risky strategy.”

But Brian is keen to stay off medication for depression, saying on Daybreak, “I feel very proud that I got through it, and it’s actually made me a much stronger man and you’re looking at someone that doesn’t need anti-depressants and I realise that now.”

It’s early doors but we wish him well.