Science Isn't Golden

Matters of the mind and heart

Full Disclosure Needed About Psychiatric Drugs That Shorten Life

Research Shows Some Psychiatric Drugs Decrease Lifespan


©2011 by Paula J. Caplan All rights reserved

Research Shows Some Psychiatric Drugs Decrease Lifespan

Those in emotional pain long for that pain to stop, but that longing makes them more susceptible to pitches for products that allegedly will help but can do great harm. People who have been labeled seriously mentally ill are dying 15 to 25 years earlier than normal [1], and it is clear that this is largely because of the effects of the drugs they are given. [2] It's alarming enough when makers of deodorant, for instance, conceal the risks attendant on using their product; how much more reprehensible it is when marketers play not on the fear of having body odor but on the intense suffering of those who are likely to be advised to take powerful psychiatric drugs.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Before proceeding, it is essential to state that I believe that suffering people have the right to try anything to ease their pain, as long as two criteria are met - and they almost never are. Those criteria are:
(1)The person recommending a treatment must learn about and disclose to the patient everything that is known about the potential benefits and potential kinds of harm that that treatment carries.
(2)The person recommending a treatment must learn about and inform the patient about the whole array of things that have been helpful to those who have suffered in similar ways (not just the traditional, medicalized approaches but all approaches).

The concern about life-shortening medications applies beyond those who are clearly deeply troubled. A disturbing creep (more nearly, a leap) in the readiness with which professionals prescribe powerful psychiatric drugs and on the basis of decreasing indications that these drugs might even help has characterized the mental health field in recent decades. [3] As a result, what the drug companies call "antipsychotic" medications have been increasingly prescribed for people who show no signs of being out of touch with reality. A recent CBS story revealed that residents of nursing homes were being prescribed these drugs for no justifiable reason and that people were dying as a result. [4] Even some well-meaning therapists or family doctors have been known to prescribe these strong drugs for people whose suffering worried them, despite the fact that there was little or no reason to think that the drugs would help their particular kinds of pain.

Even if these drugs were rarely prescribed (which they are not) and only for those whose suffering fit certain criteria, anyone who is advised to ingest medication has a right to know the whole story about what might happen if they do so. It has been a well-kept secret that the drugs called antipsychotics carry a high risk of shortening life. And when evidence is presented that they carry this risk, many people find it hard to believe that that can be so; they assume that the Food and Drug Administration would never have allowed the chemicals to go on the market if that were true. Most people are not aware that the FDA does not require drug companies to provide evidence of drugs' effectiveness or harm over the long term. Indeed, drugs have often been approved on the basis of studies of only a matter of weeks or months.

In any case, the alarm must be sounded that such drugs dramatically shorten life span, often by decades, and the risk is even higher for patients taking more than one such drug.[5] Wouldn't you want to have the chance to choose whether to take something that might reduce your emotional pain but has a high risk of shortening your life by many years or instead to try other approaches?

The shortening of life is, of course, not the only problem caused by some medications. The dangers of failing to educate people about the effects of psychiatric and other drugs and about other options appears in the following first-person story, which arrived in my email inbox as I was writing this essay. Patrick Risser, who recently received the Voice award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration of the federal government for his advocacy work, has kindly given his permission for me to include his story here and to give his contact information:

I was hospitalized in state hospital for the worst depression I'd ever experienced. I'd been hospitalized several times before but this was the worst. I was seriously suicidal and with all the precautions they took, I didn't see any easy way out. I'd had three heart attacks and I decided that the easiest way to die was to exercise my right to refuse medication(s) including my heart medicine. I quit taking all medications and then, miraculously I started to recover. Within weeks, I was well enough to leave the hospital. I fought and with assistance from an attorney, I received the right to leave. Afterward, I went through the PDR (Physician's Desk Reference) and looked up the medications. It turns out that one of the major effects of Inderal (a beta-blocker for my heart) is serious depression. Unfortunately, none of the psychiatrists ever looked beyond my behavior for a physical cause for my depression. My life was saved, perhaps literally, by being non-compliant and treatment resistant. I suspect that my heart problems were a result of my being compliant with over ten years of psychiatric medications that included Stelazine, Navane, Sinequan, Imipramine, Cogentin, Valium and Benadryl as a daily cocktail. I now warn people that compliance can kill (people receiving public mental illness services are dying over 25 years younger than the general population) and non-compliance can save lives.
Patrick Risser patrickrisser@gmail.com, http://www.patrisser.com/


[1] Colton, C. (2006). Congruencies in increased mortality rates, years of potential life lost, and causes of death among public mental health clients in eight states. Preventing Chronic Disease 3 (April).
[2] Joukmaa, M.; Heliovaara, M.; Knekt, P.; Aromaa, A.; Raitasalo, R.; & Lehtinen, V. (2006). Schizophrenia, neuroleptic medication and mortality. The British Journal of Psychiatry 188: 122-127 http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/188/2/122.full
[3] Caplan, P.J. (2011). When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
[4] http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7365533n
[5] Joukamaa et al., op. cit.

 

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is an Associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and former Fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program. more...

Subscribe to Science Isn't Golden

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?