John Read: The Epidemic of Psychiatric Overprescribing


This week we talk to Professor John Read from the University of East London about the overuse of psychiatric medications and the alarming growth in the prescribing of antidepressants, benzodiazepines and other psychoactive medications.

Professor Read worked for nearly 20 years as a Clinical Psychologist and manager of mental health services in the UK and the USA, before joining the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in 1994, where he worked until 2013. He has served as Director of the Clinical Psychology professional graduate programmes at both Auckland and, more recently, the University of Liverpool. He has published over 120 papers in research journals, primarily on the relationship between adverse life events and psychosis.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The fact that the medical profession are not that interested in what has happened to someone, preferring to label with a diagnosis and then medicate.
  • That we overmedicate, we medicate too quickly and we medicate with no idea of how to help people withdraw at the end of treatment.
  • The black hole in research on withdrawal and a lack of any real support options for people trying to withdraw from their psychiatric medications.
  • The Gothenburg conference on psychiatric drug withdrawal and Professor Read’s participation.
  • That the largest study of its kind found that only 1% of those taking antidepressants were told about potential withdrawal by their GPs or Psychiatrists.
  • The setting up of withdrawal training programmes for doctors, medication users and their families..
  • How pharmaceutical marketing and lobbying has convinced the public, MPs and the medical profession that mental health issues and emotional distress are medical problems when they are not.
  • The myth of the chemical imbalance.
  • The fact that psychiatry has sold its soul to the pharmaceutical companies.
  • The worrying increase in antidepressant prescribing (in the UK, a doubling within a decade to 63 million items in a single year).
  • How we can improve the safety of psychoactive prescribing.
  • That we need to remember the ethical principle of informed choice where the prescribing of these powerful mediations is concerned.
  • Polypharmacy is rife in prescribing, of all the people who are on antidepressants, 60% are on at least one other drug and 40% are on two other drugs.
  • That we should move to a social model of emotional distress rather than a diagnostic and medicalised approach.
  • The groundbreaking ‘Hearing Voices’ movement.

Papers discussed in this episode

Long-term antidepressant use: patient perspectives of benefits and adverse effects

Psychological side-effects of anti-depressants worse than thought

Relevant links

Seven percent rise in prescriptions for antidepressants in England