Robert Whitaker: The Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America


This week we talk to journalist and author Robert Whitaker. For many of us, Robert needs no introduction as he is well known for his award winning book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, which was released in 2010. Anatomy of an Epidemic is arguably the definitive account of the realities of psychiatric drugs and completely lays bare the astonishing rise in mental ill health despite the availability of psychiatric drugs.

Robert has been a medical writer at the Albany Times Union newspaper, A journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of publications at the Harvard Medical School. Besides many papers, journals and articles, Robert has written five books which include Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and The Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill in 2001, Anatomy of an Epidemic in 2010 and Psychiatry Under The Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform published in 2015.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Robertā€™s background and how that led to his interest in medical writing
  • How using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests allowed Robert to see the full facts behind clinical trial data
  • A report from the World Health organisation that made Robert question the narrative of progress in Psychiatry
  • That when you dig into the psychiatric literature, you find that the burden of mental illness has increased dramatically after the adoption of a disease model
  • How the medical community reacted to the book, Anatomy of an Epidemic
  • How Robert wanted to know how psychiatric drugs affected people over the longer term and not just for the target symptoms
  • How early reviews of the book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, tried to make out it was dangerous
  • That, on the whole, psychiatric drugs increase the chronicity of mental illness
  • How we came to invent drugs for mental health issues when we have little to no understanding of the basis of these conditions
  • That, when you take psychiatric drugs, your brain changes and that is what leads to long term harm and dependance/withdrawal effects
  • What led to the chemical imbalance theory and how it fell apart
  • That the risk to benefit balance of psychiatric drugs should be explained by the prescriber when drug therapy is started
  • How we have medicalised distress
  • Why psychiatric drugs are not ā€˜magic bulletsā€™
  • Why some doctors and psychiatrists turn a blind eye to the harm that medications do
  • How the Mad in America organisation came to be