Here at MIA, we’ve shown how biological psychiatry is a harmful scam. But there’s a missing piece to the puzzle. Psychiatry understandably used to be a feared, avoided profession (the men in white coats who come and take you away, lock you up, tie you down, and lobotomize, shock, or drug you). But then it began to have voluntary clients. And since 1990, hordes of Americans have been knocking down psychiatry’s doors for its miracle pills, desperately wanting immediate relief from depression/anxiety. Isn’t it this huge rise in demand for medicine for distress that created and fed this giant monster?
If so, then to defeat it, we need to solve these mysteries:
How can anyone trust or submit to psychiatry after seeing its cruel, horrific “treatments” (which are still used today) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Why do people believe an idea as unverified and illogical as psychiatry’s chemical imbalance theory — that painful feelings are brain diseases rather than normal reactions to life issues? Why do people rush to try new pills despite all the side effects cited in their ads? Why was the news that antidepressants are placebos ignored? Why are obviously made-up diseases like Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (a synonym for childhood) taken seriously? Why do parents willingly drug their kids… with speed? Why did benzodiazepine use spike despite people knowing they’re addictive? Work injuries have steadily fallen,1 so what’s driving so many Americans to risk taking heroin in pill form (opioids)?
One possible explanation is that new, improved medications were developed. But Ritalin became available for ‘ADHD’ kids in the 1960s, yet didn’t catch on and become the gold standard until the 1990s. Similar stimulants were around since the 1930s and were popular in the ‘50s/60s, but faded when their addictiveness became known.
Vicodin, America’s most dispensed medication of any kind every year 2005-2014, was introduced in 1978, but also didn’t catch on until the 1990s. Other opiate pain medicines were available here since the 1800s, but were never widely sought since they were long known to be addictive/lethal.
Benzodiazepines, namely Valium, were available since the 1960s. Their close cousins, the barbiturates, were around since the ‘30s. Each faded in use in the ‘70s after their addictiveness became known. But in the ‘90s, Valium’s use jumped along with Xanax, which had come out in 1981. Since benzos/barbs act on the same brain receptors as alcohol, they’re actually in a drug class that goes back thousands of years.
Antidepressants as effective as Prozac were introduced in the ‘50s but never became popular. Yes, Prozac is the first serotonin reuptake inhibitor, but this is incidental; it has nothing to do with how it works — it’s a placebo.2 SSRIs do cause side effects via their serotonin action, however, drugs aren’t classified by how they cause side effects but by how they work. So all antidepressants belong in the same placebo class, as do antibiotics or vitamins when used on non-ill clients to appease “unjustified demands for medicine,” as most doctors admit doing.3 Placebos like snake oil also go back to the 1800s, when smooth-talking docs peddled miracle elixirs at traveling medicine shows, and paid actors to pretend to be cured by them. People attended for the free entertainment which was sponsored by the elixir’s maker/seller, just as drug ads sponsor today’s TV/online entertainments. These elixirs, like today’s, often contained alcohol, opium, or stimulants (cocaine) to hook clients.
So there aren’t really any new medicines, just the same old ones repackaged and given new names. They have been marketed more slickly and heavily; this is part of why they’re more sought after. But for marketing to work, there must be demand for a product. The high demand for mind-numbing chemicals since 1990 still must be explained, especially since it’s for illicit as well as licit ones.
Psychiatry’s inventing new diseases out of thin air also isn’t new. The DSM has been at this since 1952; it just took 40 years to catch on. Very similar versions of ADHD, depression, bipolar, anxiety, etc were included in it from its inception. Before the DSM, psychiatry created illnesses like neurasthenia to medicalize distress, but few bought it. And biological psychiatrists have been trying to sell the idea that “mental illnesses” are physical, and caused by chemical imbalances, since the ‘50s.
If it’s not due to newly discovered drugs or diseases, is it due to life here becoming more stressful and traumatic? Maybe it has in some ways, but not overall. People from all over the world are desperate to come to the US for our prosperity, orderliness, safety, and security. Crime, child abuse, and domestic violence have fallen. The draft ended, then the Cold War too. Income taxes were cut and credit loosened, enabling most Americans to buy cars and solid homes with water/heat/electricity.
A perennially strong dollar enables our government to borrow/print/spend lavishly on us without causing inflation. Its generous safety nets, used by a majority of us, include social security, food stamps, unemployment, and Medicare/Medicaid. Federal funds support the rising number of non-workers replaced by automation/outsourcing. Other nations make cheap products for us (washers/dryers, disposable diapers, digital assistants, etc) that make life easy here. Just a few clicks on a computer and it’s at our door. Immigrants clean and maintain many Americans’ properties for them. It’s a short trip to a cheap fast food restaurant, or to a supermarket always stocked with many foods like TV dinners you pop in a microwave. Our modern farms reliably and efficiently produce plenty of food. Never before was there a place where so many had so much. People elsewhere still struggle to survive from childhood on, toiling all day in factories, living in hovels, and fending for themselves with shortages, violence, and chaos.
Could this overall ease itself be the reason? When people struggle all day to stay alive, this is all they can afford to think about. There is no time/luxury to ponder their lives and what is wrong in them — their disappointments and failures, whether they feel fulfilled or regretful, dissatisfied with their relationships or their job, annoyed by their kids, or fearful about getting old and dying someday. They likely don’t have the time/luxury to evaluate their emotional state — to dwell on the fact that they experience painful emotional or physical sensations. More free time also means one can afford to try psych/pain ‘meds’ even if they impair functioning. All this explains Valium’s popularity with 1960s middle class housewives: as they became less busy due to modern conveniences, they found that “the pursuit of happiness is such a bore.”4 Maybe it’s human nature to take things for granted, to never be content, and always struggle with tensions, whether from risks to survival or from dissatisfaction with aspects of one’s life (if survival is secure).
But something else is going on in the last 30 years. Many people seem less tolerant of distress, and are demanding that doctors relieve it for them. Maybe our society (the aid/protection given by our government, our corporations’ life-easing inventions, and our advanced healthcare’s curing of real illness) took such good, quick care of all their needs and wants that they now unrealistically expect it to also take care of all their painful sensations. Maybe they became so used to depending on these authorities’ products and services that they’ve forgotten how to adaptively rely on themselves. Maybe they’ve successively handed over personal responsibility/volition in most life areas to the government, technology/automation, immigrant workers, and workers abroad, and are now handing over the last remaining area, by hiring MDs to manage their thoughts and feelings (and their children’s behavior) for them. By process of elimination, this is the best way to answer the riddles I earlier posed.
I don’t excuse MDs for fabricating diseases to justify being greedy drug dealers. But if the above is true, then aren’t they giving purely voluntary clients exactly what they went there for? A diagnosis of an involuntary illness and medicine for it, allowing them to relinquish responsibility for coping with their troubles, which is now their doctor’s job. They had to know they’d be given a label and a drug to go with it, since that’s what doctors do. I believe that ignoring this crucial puzzle piece is hindering our fight. Psychiatry feeds off people surrendering their free will and abdicating their personal responsibility; it’s time to starve it to death.
- News Release: Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2017, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Nov 8, 2018. ↩
- Kirsch, I. The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, Basic Books, NY 2010. ↩
- Kermen, R, et al. “Family Physicians Believe the Placebo Effect is Therapeutic but Often Use Real Drugs as Placebos,” Family Medicine, 2010,42(9)636-42. ↩
- Jagger, M, Richards, K. “Mother’s Little Helper” Rolling Stones, Aftermath, 1966. ↩
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.