Psychologist and Professor Amber Gum has published the story of her personal journey of rethinking psychotropic medication in a special issue on “The Politics of Mental Health” in The Journal of Medicine and the Person. Influenced by Mad in America and the work of Robert Whitaker, Gum became aware of evidence that “suggests that psychotropic medications are less effective and more harmful than most believe” and now hopes to encourage other mental health professionals and researchers to engage in open-minded, critical self-assessment of standard practices.
“Over the past few years, I have reconsidered the evidence base for psychotropic medications,” Gum begins. “Although not widely publicized or recognized, persuasive evidence suggests that psychotropic medications are less effective and more harmful than most believe.”
Gum has decided to disclose her personal experience of realizing and processing information that is unsettling and disruptive to her professional identity in an effort to guide other mental health professionals toward an open-minded reconsideration of the evidence regarding psychotropic medications.
Gum credits her initial exposure to the counter-narrative on psychiatric drugs to news articles on madinamerica.com about “peer-reviewed research articles published in respected journals by researchers at respected institutions.” The news stories on psychotropic medications, Gum writes, were “the first inkling that something in my worldview might be amiss.”
Prompted by what she had read, she began reading Anatomy of an Epidemic with skepticism but, because the book was “heavily reinforced” and well-researched she “began to recognize that [Whitaker’s] thesis had merit and deserved further examination.”
“In summary, once I began to scratch below the surface, I discovered a compelling body of empirical research indicating that: (a) psychotropic medications are not very effective, overall; (b) short-term adverse effects are fairly common and can be severe; and (c) the brain’s compensatory mechanisms may paradoxically worsen the original problem and lead to chronicity, new problems (including suicide, homicide and violence, mania, psychosis, apathy, cognitive impairment), and polypharmacy.”
This realization led to the experience of cognitive dissonance. She reports feeling heartbroken when this evidence base prompted her to consider the magnitude of the harmful effects.
“These effects include unfathomable tragedies like highly publicized mass violence or suicide,as well as more common results, such as boisterous or abused children muted by stimulants, couples who drift apart due to sexual effects and apathy induced by SSRIs, or children and adults battling obesity and diabetes caused by antipsychotics.”
She concludes by emphasizing two goals: (1) “encouraging open-minded, critical examination of the research literature and your reactions to it;” and (2) “engaging in empathic discourse—examination and discussions in which we all become more cognizant of our cognitive dissonance and biases and compassionate about the ramifications for all of us if we reduce psychotropic medication use.”
Professor Gum recommends the following list of resources for those who are beginning to examine the evidence base for psychiatric drugs.
- www.madinamerica.com Mad in America
- www.cepuk.org Council for evidence-based psychiatry
- www.criticalpsychiatry.co.uk Critical psychiatry network
- www.bmj.com/too-much-medicine British medical journal too much medicine campaign
- www.rxisk.org RxISK—making medicines safer for all of Us
- www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm085729.htm US FDA medication guides
- www.deadlymedicines.dk Deadly medicines and organized crime (Peter Gøtzsche, M.D., internist)
- www.breggin.com Psychiatric drug facts with Dr. Peter Breggin (psychiatrist)
- www.davidhealy.org David Healy (psychiatrist)
- www.joannamoncrieff.com Joanna Moncrieff (psychiatrist)
- Research methodology and reporting
- www.cochrane.org Cochrane Collaboration
- www.consort-statement.org CONSORT transparent reporting of trials
- www.prisma-statement.org PRISMA transparent reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses
- www.clinicaltrials.gov Registry of clinical trials and protocols
- www.projects.propublica.org/docdollars/ Dollars for Docs (payments from industry)
Gum, A. M. (2015). Changing my mind: one professor’s story of rethinking psychotropic medication. Journal of Medicine and the Person, 13(3), 187-193. (Abstract)