Editor’s Note: Over the next several months, Mad in America is publishing a serialized version of Peter Gøtzsche’s book, Mental Health Survival Kit and Withdrawal from Psychiatric Drugs. In this blog, he explains how newspapers and film festivals censor the work of journalists and filmmakers in order to appease the drug industry. Each Monday, a new section of the book is published, and all chapters are archived here.
Censorship in medical journals and the media
It is very difficult to get anything published in a psychiatric journal that the psychiatric guild perceives as threatening to their erroneous ideas. Journal editors are often on drug industry payroll and journal owners often have too close relations to the drug industry, which may threaten to withdraw their support if the journals don’t further their marketing efforts.
When the BMJ in 2004 devoted a whole issue to conflicts of interest and had a cover page showing doctors dressed as pigs gorging at a banquet with drug salespeople as lizards, the drug industry threatened to withdraw advertising, and Annals of Internal Medicine lost an estimated US$ 1-1.5 million in advertising revenue after it published a study that was critical of industry advertisements.2
When Robert Whitaker gave a talk at the inaugural symposium for my new Institute for Scientific Freedom in 2019, “Scientific censorship in psychiatry,” he presented two topics of great importance for public health: “Do antidepressants worsen long-term outcomes?” and “What do we know about post-SSRI sexual dysfunction?”22 Whitaker noted that none of 13 and 14 pivotal studies, respectively, about these subjects had been published in the top five psychiatric journals. These five journals did not even appear to have discussed the subjects.
Psychiatry professor Giovanni Fava found it so hopeless to publish results his peers didn’t like that he founded his own journal, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
The censorship in mainstream media is huge. When my first psychiatry book came out in Swedish, I was invited to give a lecture in Stockholm and was interviewed by journalists from two major newspapers. They were highly interested, but as nothing was published, I asked why. Inger Atterstam from Svenska Dagbladet didn’t reply to my repeated emails, whereas Amina Manzoor from Dagens Nyheter replied that her editor thought it would be too dangerous to explain to Swedish citizens that depression pills are dangerous, as they can cause suicide! Fortunately, there was a crack in the never-sleeping Swedish censorship, as a third national newspaper, Aftonbladet, allowed me to publish an article that filled the whole back page.
When my book about the organised crime industry, which some call the drug industry, although it commits more serious crimes than any other industry,21,23 was published in Spanish in 2014, I was interviewed by a journalist from the number-one newspaper in Barcelona, La Vanguardia. The interview was planned to fill the back page, which readers find more attractive than the front page, but was never published, even though the journalist was very enthusiastic about it. I learned later that unhealthy financial relationships existed between the newspaper and the drug industry.
It is also very difficult to get critical documentaries on national TV, and if you succeed, you can be dead sure that the best parts have been removed, “so we don’t upset anyone or get too many complaints from the psychiatrists, the drug industry, or the Minister.” I know that this is the case because I have appeared in many documentaries and have talked with many frustrated filmmakers about this type of censorship. Even after the filmmakers have killed all their darlings so that what is left looks like episode 27 of a harmless British soap opera, there will be a voice-over telling the audience that, “many people are being helped by psychiatric drugs.” Really?
It can also be difficult to publish highly relevant books, as the next story illustrates.
Silje Marie Strandberg is a Norwegian girl who was bullied at school from age 12 and was admitted to a psychiatric ward aged 16.24 She had no clear idea of herself, but the psychiatrists diagnosed her with moderate depression and gave her Prozac (fluoxetine).
They doubled the dose after three weeks. Silje started cutting herself on her stomach and arms. She became aggressive, heard an inner voice, and got suicidal thoughts. She was prescribed Truxal (chlorprothixene), a neuroleptic, and only three days later she saw a man with a black robe and hood who said she was about to die and ordered her to drown herself in a river. She fought and cried when he spoke to her; she said she didn’t want to die, but he was there all the time, telling her she didn’t deserve to live. She went into the river while crying that she wouldn’t do it. She came up again.
She had never had such symptoms until she went on drugs, nor after she stopped taking them.
Psychiatry stole 10 years of Silje’s life where it just got worse and worse, with serious self-harm and many suicide attempts. She was put in belts 195 times, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was secluded, and got electroshocks.
After seven years in psychiatry, she met a caregiver who saw the girl behind the diagnosis and took care of her. This human effort is why Silje is healthy today.
In 2016, Silje and a filmmaker came to Copenhagen to film me for a documentary about her life. Silje had an agreement with a book publisher about what she perceived was one of psychiatry’s success stories. She wanted to ask me some questions, including whether depression is due to a chemical imbalance and what the theory of serotonin was about.
I told Silje that her course was anything but a success story and that she had been seriously harmed by psychiatry. She accepted my explanations, but when her psychiatric “career” was no longer a success story but a scandal, the publisher didn’t want to publish her book! The publisher didn’t want her to tell that the drugs she was prescribed was the reason she became so ill during her stay at the psychiatric hospital.
Silje was medicated by 95 different doctors. She received 21 different psychiatric drugs: five depression pills, nine neuroleptics, lithium, two antiepileptics, and four sedatives/ hypnotics. This is not evidence-based medicine:
The documentary is very good, informative and deeply moving.24 It can be seen gratis. Its title is “The happy pill: She survived 10 years of ‘torture’ in psychiatry.” Silje and the caregiver who saved her from the clutches of psychiatry travel around the world and give lectures in connection with the screening of the film.
Here is another account of censorship, which involved Danish drug manufacturer Lundbeck, seller of several depression pills and neuroleptics.25
The Copenhagen documentary film festival, CPH:DOC, the largest in the world, showed a very moving Norwegian film, “Cause of death: unknown,” in 2017.26 This is an alternative way of disguising the killings in psychiatry with neuroleptics, the other one being “natural death.”
The film had world premiere in Copenhagen. It is about the filmmaker’s sister who died very young after her psychiatrist had overdosed her with olanzapine (Zyprexa), which turned her into a zombie, as the film clearly shows. Her psychiatrist was so ignorant that he didn’t even know that olanzapine can cause sudden death. I appeared in the film and the filmmaker, Anniken Hoel, asked the organisers to put me on the discussion panel. My name was the only one in the announcement: “Medicine or manipulation? Film and debate about the psychiatric drug industry with Peter Gøtzsche.”
Seven days before the film was to be screened, I was kicked off the panel under the pretense that the organisers couldn’t find a psychiatrist willing to debate with me. It turned out that the Lundbeck Foundation had provided a major grant to the festival. It looks like an independent fund, but it isn’t. Its objective is to support Lundbeck’s business activities. CPH:DOC never contacted me about it, even though I could have named several psychiatrists willing to debate with me.
The panel included Nikolai Brun, chief of staff, newly employed by the Danish Drug Agency after a long career in the drug industry, and psychiatrist Maj Vinberg who had financial conflicts of interest in relation to… yes, of course: Lundbeck (and AstraZeneca). She is very positive towards psychiatric drugs and has published utter nonsense about depression being hereditary and observable on brain scans.
Earlier that year, I had responded to statements she had made in a Danish industry-funded throw-away magazine where she had characterized the most thorough meta-analysis of depression pills ever made27 as “a smear campaign against antidepressants drugs … doubtful populistic discussions … armchair gymnastics … performed by a group of doctors, statisticians and medical students without special knowledge about psychiatry and, thus, depressive disorders” (which wasn’t true). This meta-analysis told us that depression pills don’t work and are harmful.
I responded to Vinberg’s ravings in the same magazine28 explaining that I had published the article, “The meeting was sponsored by merchants of death,”29 which included AstraZeneca, one of Vinberg’s benefactors.
The panel debate was a total farce. After 25 boring minutes, excepting the filmmaker’s contributions, only five minutes remained. A former patient interrupted Brun, who had talked endlessly, by shouting: “Questions!” Many people in the audience had lost loved ones, killed by psychiatric drugs, and they had become increasingly angry because the panelists only discussed amongst themselves and didn’t want to involve the audience. There was time for only three questions.
A woman asked why the neuroleptics had not been taken off the market, as they killed people. Brun replied that he wasn’t an expert on psychiatric drugs and then embarked on another endless talk, about cancer drugs.
I shouted: “Questions from the audience!” A young man said he had tried to come off his depression pills several times without success and without any help from doctors. Anders later helped him withdraw.
The last question was posed by Danish filmmaker Anahi Testa Pedersen who had made a film about me and her own experiences as a psychiatric patient, which had world premiere in the same cinema seven months later.30 Anahi asked why I was taken off the panel since I could have made a good contribution. A festival spokesperson replied that they had asked “a lot of people,” but that no one wanted to debate with me. Anahi interrupted and named a psychiatrist who would have liked to come. The spokesperson didn’t reply but said that since the film was critical, there was no need for me; they needed someone to debate the film’s messages.
In the middle of these endless excuses, someone in the audience shouted: “There is no debate!” The spokesperson replied that they would invite me for “tomorrow’s debate,” which I didn’t accept because I had been kicked off from the world premiere of the film.
Seconds before the allotted time ran out, I stood up and shouted (because I doubted that I would get the microphone): “I am actually here. I debate with psychiatrists all over the world, yet I am not allowed to do this in my hometown.” There was laughter and applause, but the audience was angry. It was deeply insulting to them to show a film about a young woman killed by an overdose of Zyprexa without allowing any of those who had lost a family member in the same way to say anything. It was a brutal dismissal and a total prostration for Lundbeck.
Anahi wrote about the affair in a journalist magazine.31 She pointed out that before I was removed, the organisers had announced that there would be a sharp focus on the overconsumption of psychiatric drugs and on whether drugs were the best treatment of psychiatric disorders. After my removal, the focus was on the relationships between doctors, patients, and industry, which couldn’t be a reason for removing me, as this was the subject of my award-winning book from 2013 that has appeared in 16 languages.21
CPH:DOX writes on its website: “We have many years of experience with sponsorship agreements that cater to both individual enterprises and to the festival. All collaborations are created in close dialogue with these individual businesses and are based on common visions, challenges and opportunities.”31
In response to Anahi’s article, Vinberg wrote that it was a pity that a debate, which was supposed to be about improving the future treatment of people suffering from a severe mental disorder in the form of schizophrenia, ended in a rather indifferent debate about individuals (me).31 Her statement didn’t agree with her evasive responses during the panel debate.
Another instance of censorship involved Danish public TV. Independent documentary filmmaker Janus Bang and his team had followed me around the world for four years, as they wanted me to play a central role in their documentaries about how awful and deadly psychiatry is. Janus ran into a roadblock so huge that he needed to compromise extensively to get anything out on TV. He succeeded to bring three interesting programmes in 2019, “The dilemma of psychiatry,” but the public debate he so much wanted in order to have major reforms introduced was totally absent. There were embarrassing, totally false voice-overs paying lip service to Lundbeck and the psychiatrists (drug exports are our biggest source of income). And me? I wasn’t allowed to appear at all.
To read the footnotes for this chapter and others, click here.
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.