I just read such a depressing book that it would make just about anyone need an antidepressant if it wasn’t for the fact that the book itself debunks the entire psychopharmacological industry in such a convincing way that it would be maddening if it weren’t so saddening. Especially for those of us who got taken in by what can arguably be called a conscious and intentional conspiracy on the part of Eli Lilly and other big pharmaceutical companies to seduce an unwitting public into a medication merry-go-round, with the aid and paid help of the psychiatric establishment.
Robert Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America is a must-read it if you are currently seeing a psychiatrist for meds consultations. I would also highly recommend that you request your doctor read it as well, because many physicians have been duped along with the rest of us, sold on a biochemical model of psychiatry that has now been demonstrated to have no scientific basis.
How many of us, back in the late 80s, remember the glossy photo of the single, green and white pill plastered on the cover of Newsweek—Prozac—touted as the “A Breakthrough Drug For Depression,” and how many of us immediately ran out to ask our doctors or psychiatrists for a prescription? Well, about 650,000 of us per month, at that time; that’s how many. A multi-billion dollar industry kicked into gear practically
Yet what was not reported in Newsweek or in the countless other articles and books that began appearing at that time, was that most of those very articles and books were funded by the pharmaceutical companies themselves, in a massive branding effort to sell the public and psychiatrists alike on a bio-pharmacological model of mental health: the idea that psychological difficulties were the result of chemical imbalances in the brain which could be corrected by medication. It was time for us to get off the couch, quit our bellyaching, and head to the pharmacy for the “magic bullet.”
Countless patients seeking help were informed at that time that, “Your depression is a disease like any other, and you need medicine.” The most popular refrain many of us heard was, “If you had diabetes, you would take insulin, wouldn’t you? And you’d recognize that you needed to take it FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Well this is no different.”
But the plain facts of the matter were, and are, that it is different. Much different. But it seems psychiatry as a profession had been falling into disrepute, and was also facing increasing competition for patients with non-medically trained psychotherapists, counselors, and alternative practitioners. It desperately needed to up-level its reputation to something that more closely resembled medical science, which, as it turns out, it did not. Not if by science you mean demonstrable and repeatable results in a lab with clear causes and effects.
The psychiatric world recognized that its edge lay in the fact that psychiatrists had medical training, and they therefore simply needed to have the same “scientific” tools of diagnostic assessment and prescriptive cures as the rest of medicine. The pharmaceutical companies began using psychiatrists and physicians as their spokespersons, training and paying them—handsomely—to speak to both the public and the media in order to sell the world on the bio-pharmacological model of mental illness—that it is a physically-based, chemical problem in the brain for which their products were the cure—even if it meant distorting the empirical data in order to back up their claims, for time and again the research and laboratory evidence flew in the face of their purported “scientific” conclusions. (My own psychiatrist confessed to me recently that based on current statistics, he would need to prescribe Paxil to nine patients in order to hope that possibly one of them would be helped, and even then, only minimally more than a placebo.)
In the case of Prozac, for only one example, Eli Lilly had to do somersaults around the research in order to get the new wonder drug even approved by the FDA in the first place, let alone demonstrate that it had any positive impact, meanwhile burying all the studies that showed no “clinically significant” advantage over placebos, as well as hiding the reports of “increased incidence” of violence and suicide in study subjects. (Much of this didn’t come out until Irving Kirsch, researching his equally astonishing book, The Emperor’s New Drugs, invoked the Freedom of Information Act in order to demand that the FDA release the results of all the failed studies.)
But Whitaker’s central point is that despite all of the “revolutionary” new psychiatric drugs discovered in the last decades, the numbers of people officially diagnosed and medicated for various forms of mental illness has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions, and now also includes millions and millions of children. (Remember that kid in kindergarten who used to keep getting up during naptime? Apparently he had A.D.D. And the goofy kid who would throw crayons at the girls? Bipolar. They’ve started diagnosing two-year-olds for Bipolar now, effectively dooming them to a lifetime on medications that are not only ineffective, but actually cause further difficulties as well as dependence.)
It wasn’t very long ago that the people we might have considered to be “shy” were suddenly revealed to be suffering from “Social Anxiety Disorder,” and Paxil was the readymade answer, especially since it had stopped selling well as an antidepressant alone. The pharmaceutical companies, in collusion with the psychiatric establishment, literally found new disorders for which they could provide the latest cure. Whitaker makes the case for the drugs themselves literally creating the epidemic of mental illness, rather than the other way around. The tail wagging the dog.
Meanwhile, the epidemic of mental illness continued to rise as more and more people were prescribed drugs for their imbalanced brains which not only didn’t truly correct the imaginary imbalance, but in most cases, actually caused imbalances in brain chemistry that would then be addressed by the introduction of additional drugs so that many people wound up with a drug cocktail, taking anti-anxiety agents to counteract the side effects of antidepressants, mood stabilizers to even out the ill effects of the previous two medications, a sleeping pill to help with the drug-induced insomnia, and on and on, often resulting in a life-long dependence on one or more meds, meanwhile ignoring the most glaring and startling fact of all: Statistics revealed that those who never started on any of the drugs in the first place fared better over the long haul than those who had been exposed to the drugs.
Mental illness in America, says Whitaker, can thus be seen largely as an iatrogenic phenomenon; that is, a disease caused by the cure itself, a drug-induced epidemic, the solution to which has been to prescribe more drugs and have patients remain on them for longer periods of time, often beginning in childhood and lasting a lifetime. And meanwhile, investors in Eli Lilly and the rest have been laughing all the way to the bank, not to mention their hired-hand psychiatrists on their way to their latest all-expenses paid junket to sell their wares to their colleagues.
During Prozac's "hey-day," before it went generic, Eli Lilly's value on Wall Street, says Whitaker, went from $10 billion to $90 billion, and its employees and executives, in addition to their salaries and bonuses, took home $3.1 billion in stock options. And for one of the more over-the-top examples of a physician being paid to push the drugs, Dr. Charles Nemeroff, chair of the psychiatry department at Emory University, "earned at least $2.8 million as a speaker and consultant for drug firms." He also happens to be the coauthor of the American Psychiatric Association's best-selling Textbook of Psychopharmacology. These are just the tip of the iceberg of all the corruption Whitaker details in his book. (Nemeroff was dismissed by Emory for failure to disclose his kickbacks.)
Now, what if you are someone who is certain that these medications have helped you, possibly even a great deal? Then count yourself as one of the lucky ones, and I wouldn't suggest rocking the boat. But it would still be useful to be informed by Whitaker's book, and to just know that you're in the fortunate minority.
To conclude, just consider this for a moment: If any normal, sane human being truly listened to a television commercial for, say, Abilify, would they not conclude that either the vast majority of the viewing audience was completely wacko or more likely, that they were witnessing a Saturday Night Live skit? You know the ad I’m talking about (I’m paraphrasing):
“Ask your Doctor if Abilify might be for you. Side effects may include life-threatening increases or decreases in blood pressure; liver, renal or pancreatic failure; thoughts of violence or suicide; dizziness, nausea and the inability to breathe; severe insomnia, loss of appetite or unusual weight gain; sexual dysfunction, stroke, cardiac arrest or sudden death. Abilify, it could SAVE YOUR LIFE!”
I mean, is it me? Seriously? It has to be a joke, right? No, it isn’t, and that’s what is frightening. As for me, in the interest of full disclosure, since 1985, for periods ranging from one night to several years, I have experimented with Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Buspar, Trazadone, Seroquel, Abilify, Lamictal, Sinaquan, Pamelor, Serzone, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, Ambien, Ritalin, and Adderall. I'm probably forgetting some. I currently have prescriptions for Adderall, Valium, and Ambien, all of which are indicated on an "as-needed" basis. But as my psychiatrist shared with me in a moment of candor last time we talked about all this, “Over and over again, through the years, I have been heartbroken by pills.”