Scaremongerers of the World Unite

At a meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Brighton in June 2011, Dave Nutt, a professor of psychiatry at Imperial College London issued a call to arms to his audience at a plenary lecture to defend psychiatry which in Dave’s view meant defending psychopharmacology. On a slide entitled ‘No Psychiatry Without Psychopharmacology’ he outlined the threats from treatment deniers like Irving Kirsch and Joanna Moncrieff whom he claimed argued drugs don’t work. Psychiatry is also apparently threatened by illness deniers who claim that addiction or shyness are just lifestyle options.

Then labeling and libeling me a Scaremongerer, he claimed psychiatry was threatened by me. The first point to note is that I was not held to deny the reality of illness nor held to say that treatments don’t work.

As regards the risks of drugs, pharmaceutical companies are quick to sue people who claim that treatments have risks if they cannot back up their claims with evidence. As we have seen in the first post in this series almost everything I write or say at meetings is scrutinized with a view to suing me. Calling someone a Scaremongerer, as a matter of logic, should be all but an oxymoron – such a beast cannot exist. The only risks that can be mongered are ones that are real. If these risks are real, should they be regarded as scares?

If the argument is that it is fear that is being mongered, pharmaceutical companies monger fear the whole time. Leave your child’s depression untreated and she will grow up to be alcoholic, a drug abuser, will have a failed career and marriage and ultimately commit suicide. Leaving your anxiety or depression untreated while pregnant and your child is likely to be born with a birth defect.

If medicine is going to save itself, if it is going to remain a profession, it is time to embrace the duties given it in 1951 and again in 1962 when drugs were made available on prescription-only (see Pharmageddon). Doctors warn people about the risks of over-the-counter products – like patent medicines or tobacco. Prescription-only medicines are prescription only precisely because they are riskier than over-the-counter drugs. If they are no riskier than alcohol or nicotine, which people can manage on their own, why have them on prescription-only. Doctors are there to quarry information out of pharmaceutical companies about these risks – not to be a risk-denying conduit for drugs.

Dave, who I used to think of as a friend or at least a colleague, has form in this area. He has instigated investigations of me by the General Medical Council (see, aimed it would seem at getting me debarred from practice.

After this lecture, I sent an email asking for the slide branding me a scaremonger – it’s one to treasure – but he didn’t respond.

Dave has another role which is agitating on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry – making regulations less onerous and the environment more company friendly so companies don’t move jobs elsewhere. Mickey Nardo has commented on this The only quibble I have with this portrayal of Dave and others is as some Greek chorus; I can think of better analogies.

But if Dave as a spokesperson for Pharma has taken one line, the question is has he inadvertently crystallized what doctors should be doing? The thrust of a series of recent posts here (Pills and the Man, If Pharma made cars, We need to talk about doctors, Professional suicide) is that if doctors cannot be identified as the people who know about the risks of drugs, they are likely to go out of business. They should be scaremongerers in other words.

Now is the time for doctors to come out of the closet. We urgently need to develop Scaremonger Pride to match Black, Gay and Mad Pride.

I’m open to nominations for a Dave Nutt Prize for most effective Scaremongering of the Year for 2011 and would urge everyone to keep track of possible nominees for 2012. You can nominate the person who in your opinion did the most to alert others to a hitherto unknown or poorly recognized substantial risk from some treatment. Anne-Marie or Rosie Meysenburg would be good candidates for 2011.

(also see DN slide).

Readers can also view my blog posts (Scaremongerers of the World Unite) and find further information at or visit my Facebook page.


  1. I nominate Gianna Kali of Beyond Meds.

    From her blog:

    This blog is, in part, a documentation of my journey off psychiatric medications as well as an introduction to alternative forms of care for mental health disorders regardless of whether one is on medications, off medications, or coming off medications.

    This blog also serves as a source of critical information about psychopharmaceuticals.

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    • The doctors are fearing for their jobs and their income. Psychiatric patients are not the only ones who have to be compliant, so do the psychiatrists working for the NHS. They have a lot of guide lines (NICE for one) to follow to protect themselves even if they think that these guidlines are wrong. I wonder how free the psyciatrists are to treat their patients as they see fit themselves. There is always some authority breathing down their neck. Not many dare to speak out

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      • You know what? I don’t feel one damned bit sorry for psychiatrists! I wonder why some people feel the need to take up for them; let them take up for themselves. They decided to make their bed with Big Pharma, now let them lie in it. I say that the world can get along without psychiatrists period. Many of them have no problem with drugging babies and small children and anyone brave enoguh to speak out against racism and slapping nonsensical and nonscientific labels on people. They label and attack anyone who calls them into question and demands proof of their broken brain theory. I agree with the Queen of Hearts; off with their heads!

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        • I don’t feel sorry for the psychiatrists either, I only wonder what makes them act the way they do. How come they are so blind, ignorant and why they believe the things Big Pharma tells them. When my son ended up in the care of 3 different consultant psychiatrists working for the NHS, I was amazed that I knew more about the side-effects and withdrawal symtoms of the drugs they prescribed than the so called specialists themselves.

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          • On second thoughts, I do feel sorry for some of the psychiatrists trapped in the British system; the ones I had to deal with didn’t drug babies.They were all three of them nice people, keen to help. The problem was that they found hard to believe what I was telling them because they had been taught something else at medical school.The young consultant in charge of my son’s case in hospital was only in his early thirties and willing to listen but he was over-ruled by more senior consultants who felt threatened by me.

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  2. I would like to nominate Maria Bradshaw of who lost her son Toran due to a Prozac induced suicide.

    Despite the fact that New Zealand were living in the dark ages where suicide was concerned and that she could be fined for even mentioning that Toran died by suicide, she has single-handedly brought NZ into the 21th century.

    One NZ minister actually suggested that communities might show their “disgust” about suicide, by not celebrating suicide victim’s lives, instead he thought it would be a good idea to bury them at the entrance of the cemetery. What an idiot.

    She is a force to be reckoned with, has helped hundreds of bereaved families (including mine) and has tirelessly publicised the dangers of SSRI’s in NZ.

    The NZ Government had no choice but to consider her approach to suicide prevention, the dangerous adverse effects of medicating children and the ‘abusive’ coroner system when she met with the NZ Prime Minister last year.

    So I nominate Maria for the Dave Nutt Prize. Sorry I know she’s not a doctor either but it’s extremely hard to find any doctor who will go up against the ‘industry’ or their colleagues. You’re in the minority Prof. Healy.


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