We Must Hear Marianne Williamson’s Message About the Overuse of Antidepressants

Kenneth F. McCallion
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Following the recent CNN Democratic debate, the internet practically exploded with interest in Marianne Williamson and her views. Google trends showed that she appeared in the most searches after the debate in 49 of the 50 states. This increased interest immediately led to a mad scramble by mainstream journalists and opinion writers to try to drive a stake through the heart of Williamson’s quixotic campaign before it gained any more traction. Articles such as that by Brian Boyle of the LA Times darkly predicted that “we’re all probably doomed” if Williamson were to succeed in her quest to drive Trump’s “dark psychic forces” from the White House.

On August 1, CNN’s Anderson Cooper had Williamson on his show in what could have been a very informative discussion on the massive overprescription of antidepressants in the United States, possibly the most severe drug crisis facing the country today — with the possible exception of the opioid crisis. Instead, Cooper seemed intent on totally trashing Williamson’s legitimate message regarding the dangers of overuse of antidepressant and psychotropic prescription medications by focusing on one or two perhaps ill-advised statements that Williamson had regretted making in the past, including a reference to clinical depression as a “scam” and a statement referring to antidepressants as merely “numbing our pain.” Cooper also dredged up her promotion of an article on the death of Robin Williams that had been written by a group affiliated with the Church of Scientology, which strongly opposed psychiatry in general and almost all medications in particular. However, what Williamson was agreeing with in the article was the relatively non-controversial position that antidepressants are “helpful for some, but harmful for others.”

To be sure, Cooper started the segment by noting that Williamson has been outspoken regarding the “legitimate” issues of overprescription of antidepressants, the aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, and their potential harmful side effects. However, he then spent the balance of the segment taking Williamson to task for suggesting that antidepressants may cause harm by “numbing” or “masking” emotions. Williamson denied promoting that message, but did articulate her core message that too many doctors are treating the “normal spectrum of human despair” with antidepressants, adding that, in her view, “we have lost our sense that there are times when sadness is part of life.”

Instead of blindly attacking and dismissing Williamson’s views as “kooky” or so outside the mainstream that they should not be taken seriously, it should be noted that there is growing recognition in the psychology and psychiatric fields that psychotherapists and other mental health professionals have been far too quick to view patients from a purely psycho-pharmacological perspective. Several reputable studies have confirmed what experts have long suspected, which is that powerful antidepressants and psychotropic medications are often prescribed far too quickly, without a proper diagnosis and without taking into full consideration the potential dangerous negative side effects and addictive qualities of such drugs.

In 2002, researchers at the Rand Corp. surveyed close to 700 adults who were taking antidepressants, but fewer than 20% met the criteria for clinical depression, and fewer than 30% of those receiving medication had any symptoms of depression at all. Put another way, more than 70% of patients in the survey presented no medical need for antidepressant treatment, and an additional 10% had insufficient symptoms to warrant the American Psychiatric Association’s official DSM diagnosis of depression.

In June 2012, an article in the American Psychological Association noted that a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that “patients often receive psychotropic medications without being evaluated by mental health professionals,” and that many Americans are being prescribed powerful antidepressants and other medications without a proper diagnosis. These patients are often unaware of other non-drug treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, that might work better for them without the risk of dangerous side effects. In 2016, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study based on a review of 100,000 prescriptions for antidepressants written by about 160 doctors for 20,000 people, reaching the conclusion that the massive increase in the use of antidepressants over the past two decades is due, at least in part, to the fact that primary care physicians are prescribing antidepressants for non-depressive indications, including the unapproved and off-label use for non-depression related indications that have not been evaluated by the FDA and other regulatory agencies.

Despite the sharp upward trend in antidepressant prescriptions, there are a relatively small number of physicians, therapists, members of the clergy who provide counseling services, and spiritual advisors (such as Ms. Williamson) who believe that non-drug related therapy, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or “talk therapy” as it is often referred to, is the most effective and least dangerous tool to provide treatment to their clients or patients. As Ms. Williamson and others have often repeated, if an individual is benefitting from the use of antidepressants, they are delighted, but they do not believe that the use of such prescription drugs is the appropriate course of treatment for everyone who seeks counseling or is coping with serious unhappiness, anxiety or depressive symptoms. However, these “non-drug” therapists are the exception, rather than the rule, and, as Williamson stated in the CNN interview, “We’re living in a society now where somebody is going through just a normal breakup, and somebody says, ‘You should be on something.’”

In one medical malpractice case that I handled for the family of their deceased son, the young man of college age was prescribed nearly two dozen antidepressant and psychotropic medications, even though the medical providers who were prescribing these medications to him never conducted any psychological testing to determine whether, in fact, he was clinically depressed. It was later discovered through a comprehensive battery of psychological testing that he did not have any mental problems but, rather, may have had some organic and neurocognitive problem related to a bout with Lyme’s Disease that he suffered from as a young child. In other words, the massive doses and chemical cocktails that he was forced to take during several hospitalizations were wholly inappropriate and unnecessary, and caused classic side effects, such as extreme agitation and severe akathisia (literally, inability to sit), extreme mental anguish, self-violence, suicidal ideation and, eventually, attempted suicide.

Two of the drugs the patient was required to take — Celexa and Zoloft — carried a “black box warning” on the label as required by the FDA. This warning cautioned that, based upon various studies, the drugs may increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and adolescents (under 25). Nevertheless, the medical providers insisted that the young man continue to take these and other prescription medications with dangerous side effects. When the patient began making progress with a therapist who specialized in talk therapy that did not rely upon any prescription medications, the other doctors who were prescribing the antidepressants for him ordered that such drug-free therapy cease since it was supposedly interfering with his pharmacologically-based treatment.

Eventually, the young man’s downward spiral resulted in him dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire, resulting in severe burns over 90% of his body. He lingered near death for six months in a hospital ward before he eventually died.

Tragically, this case that I worked on is not an isolated incident, and although some of Marianne Williamson’s rhetoric on the subject of the overuse of prescription medications may be over the top, the topic deserves much more public attention and debate, since it is a crisis throughout our country as real as the opioid epidemic.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Depressants specifically used by psychiatry is an attempt to limit its responsibility for human suicides. Exactly how a plane throws false targets. To be more precise, you must be deeply involved in psychiatry (as a researcher or a doctor) to really believe that low-quality narcotic drugs can lead to suicide (not a restriction of liberty or treating you as a sick person (with asthma or diabetes) *how often do psychiatric researchers compare*, or stuffing you with fake antipsychotic pills, which limits your mobility. At the moment there is no need for quality information, it’s like trying to find the truth in the propaganda news channel. So that you can easily declare any nonsense and seriously discuss it – is it true or not.

  2. A friend of mine in London, Uk, is a qualified CBT practitioner, and according to him it’s not possible to be depressed without engaging in depressed thinking.

    I don’t know whether this is true or not, but he himself comes from a background of ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’, and over the years that I’ve known him he seems to have become happier and happier.

  3. “As real as the opioid epidemic.”

    Perhaps the epidemic of patients being cut off by doctors and having to turn to the streets, resulting in an explosion of fentanyl and herion-laced-with-fentanyl deaths. Back in the 2000’s when doctors were accused (rightly so) of handing opioids out like candy at a parade, annual deaths were in the 4,000-7000 range, reaching a high of around 9,000 in 2009, and even most of those were street drugs, or people mixing opioid pills with alcohol and/or benzos at high doses. There is a very real epidemic of people with chronic pain committing suicide because they are left untreated or undertreated, and an epidemic of desperate people — abandoned by their doctors — having to turn to the streets, where purity and potency is impossible to determine from dealer-to-dealer or even batch-to-batch, fueling the death statistics.

  4. Personally, I don’t think her message is strong enough, or it seems maybe it was until she was encouraged to back-pedal on it. There is no real test for “clinical depression” in the medical sense. Just a list of common symptoms that could have various causes. I scored high on the “clinical depression” scale, and I deeply regret taking these so-called “medications” that didn’t make me better, gave me further unwarranted “diagnoses” and put me at risk for other problems after long term use.

    That being said, I’m glad she’s even saying as much as she is. Glad for everyone who does so. Thanks for your article.

  5. “… primary care physicians are prescribing antidepressants for non-depressive indications,” like to cover up the PCP’s husband’s “bad fix” on a broken bone of a client, in order to proactively prevent a potential, but non-existent, malpractice suit.

    But, then again, apparently a woman cannot go into an ER, for a totally unrelated to depression issue. Without being asked, by a lunatic with a prescription pad in hand, “Are you depressed?” There definitely is an overprescribing of the antidepressants problem in this country.

    “We’re living in a society now where somebody is going through just a normal breakup, and somebody says, ‘You should be on something.’” Yes, all the so called “mental health” workers and PCPs are in denial, or ignorant, of all the adverse effects of the antidepressants, and always believe more psych drugs will help. That’s why we have a “bipolar epidemic.”

    “Eventually, the young man’s downward spiral resulted in him dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire, resulting in severe burns over 90% of his body. He lingered near death for six months in a hospital ward before he eventually died.”

    Yes, my former Chicago suburban neighborhood had the highest high school suicide rate in the nation in the mid to late 2000’s. With lots of children lighting themselves on fire, and throwing themselves in front of trains, no doubt due to the psych drugs. It was a difficult time and place in which to raise one’s children.

    But my, and I think pretty much most people’s here experience, is we couldn’t find lawyers to take cases against the psychiatrists. The lawyers need to start taking cases against the psychiatrists, and any doctor who is wrongly prescribing the psych drugs. All the psych drugs are neurotoxins.

    • Yep. Even websites offering counseling to those who lost family members urge people to consider “medication. Grief is a disease! So is fleeing an abuser, extreme poverty, or any emotional pain or discomfort.

      Much of it is well meaning ignorance thanks to the propaganda put out by slimy pharma-psychiatry merchants. Everybody believes them because TV commercials never lie. *Eye roll.*

      Part of the overwhelming success of these drugs is the also due to 0 tolerance for pain in our culture. People think if they aren’t ecstatically HAPPY 100% of the time something is wrong with them. Many love the “diagnosis” of depressive disorder because of it. “Please excuse Janie for not smiling and laughing all the time today. She can’t help being sad. It’s because she has an honest-to-goodness brain disease.”

      Why do we need written notes from a doctor to excuse feeling down in the dumps? Oh yes. Because everyone around us is self absorbed and tears of grief annoy them and prevent them from enjoying themselves.

      🙁 And telling someone “Shut up and take your meds. And kindly go rot in a corner somewhere you won’t bug us” shows you care and you don’t have to do squat to help them afterward. “Mental health experts” are there for that after all.

  6. I MAY agree with certain things Williamson says, but the real issue is not her correctness on certain issues. The real issue is that she’s absolutely not qualified in any way to be president, and so her running is a waste of our (the country’s) time and money. If we really want another four years of Trumpenstein, all we need do is taking our eyes off the prize to start frothing amongst ourselves about slightly wacky dilettante candidates like her who are running simply for self-promotion and money. Seriously, why should we give her our attention and give weight to what she thinks? Just because she’s a well-known public figure? I may think the same thing – that antidepressants are overused (I read MIA after all) – but I don’t try to run for president as a means of beating that particular drum. She’s got a plenty big enough audience of her own. She doesn’t need to run for president. And yes, I’ve heard Williamson talk, and found her to be overly-emotional and far too preachy. For someone who purports to be a spiritual teacher, her massive ego is ALL over her and doesn’t appear to be in check to me. Her running for president demonstrates that yet again, IMO.

  7. I totally agree that antidepressants are bad news: They are ineffective, cause birth defects, serious side effects and “withdrawal” symptoms. For the facts and to gain a better understanding of depression, bipolar disorder, bright light treatment, and the cutting edge theory and research which makes sense of it all, read my new book: “Beating Depression and Bipolar Disorder without Drugs: A Memoir of Survival in a Male-Dominated World.” Julia A. Sherman, PhD

  8. im so happy she’s running. seriously. no, she won’t win. but as long as she’s in the race…she gets media attention, and what she says piques interest in a good % of people. Now, she’s widely regarded as “crazy,” “stay on your meds, hahaha,” but who knows? 10, 20 years from now…her ideas might be implemented, with a “respectable” candidate behind putting “kooky” ideas into practice. or not. for all I know, the US might be a neo-fascist rogue state 20 years from now, run by psychiatrists, corporations, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Time will tell…

    she is correct, of course. there are some people who swear up and down that ‘antidepressants’ (the term is ridiculous, btw) make life…(more) live-able. but..by and large, the pills are thrown out there to shut people up and to give the ‘cruel compassion’ of ‘treatment’ to more and more (and more…) people. it is worth noting, of course, that the ‘antidepressants’ are the current ‘quick fix,’ I guess kind of like Librium or Valium back in the day, but on a wider scale (and with so many new flavors!), but…

    remember Szasz…Psychiatry is the science of -lies- , and any MD, DO, or nurse practitioner who dishes out psych drugs is trying their hand at psychiatry, and is therefore…lying. “atypical antipsychotics” are also used to shut people up, especially lower status, more vulnerable populations. I’ve seen controlled substances used both to shut people up and to keep people/’patients’ coming back (private practice), and then used as a tool of control (bad behavior: bye bye, xanax…less often: good behavior…hello, Adderall).

    i dont expect Marianne Williamson to destroy psychiatry, or even…try. I’m just delighted that she’s gotten this far, complete with media attention. 🙂

    • Only if the SBC subordinates itself to Psychiatry and implements its “SCIENCE” into church doctrine. But considering how everyone at a Southern Baptist church I attended mindlessly swallowed anything psychiatrists put out (pun intended) I can see it happen.

      Very disheartening. A few individuals from churches have offered me emotional support. But no church body I attended has ever taken a stand against this pseudo science that destroys lives.

      Chalk it up to ignorance and apathy.

  9. Whether or not one supports a candidate (and I do indeed like Marianne Williamson), I think it’s very important that this message not be lost in the political vitriol. I was a tad disappointed that she backtracked some due to the enormous public pressure of acknowledging “mental illness”, but just like with the gun control debate, Williamson is bringing to the fore the need to change the conditions that are leading to such high levels of misery, speaking about societal trauma and the specific communities effected. I hope that those who don’t support her candidacy will be able to hear through the noise to the important message she brings about the harms of medicating away distress.

  10. Marianne Williamson is going in the direction of change. Coming from a heart-based perspective in the political arena is to show courage, faith, and extraordinary strength. She knew she would get ridiculed, didn’t stop her from standing front and center to deliver her truth.

    Truth is not always popular and not always easy to take, and yet we crave it because truth is light, always, regardless of whether or not we can take it in. To allow in light and truth, one must deprogram from false beliefs and detach from social “norms” in favor of living and embodying one’s own unique truth.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
    Marianne Williamson

  11. “Eventually, the young man’s downward spiral resulted in him dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire, resulting in severe burns over 90% of his body. He lingered near death for six months in a hospital ward before he eventually died.”

    Maybe god will forgive you.

    We are ought to kill toxic psychiatry by reading James Hillman. His books are obligatory to everyone who want to defend psyche. Because he created the real image of the psyche.