Senior Psychiatrist Harmed by Antidepressants | An Interview With Peter Gordon


From Witt-Doerring Psychiatry:

Dr. Peter Gordon: “Over 25 years ago, my son had just been born, I was sitting my membership exam for the Royal College of Psychiatrists . . . and I wasn’t sleeping well — young baby, disturbed nights, I’ve always been a little on the anxious side, I was distressed. I went to my GP in rural Aberdeenshire, which is quite remote in Scotland, and my GP recommended that I start an antidepressant for what, she explained to me — and I knew this, because I was studying psychiatry at the time — was social anxiety disorder.

And a new drug was being widely marketed at that time, widely promoted, really across the Western world, and that drug was paroxetine — Paxil, Seroxat. At this time in Scotland we had what was called a ‘Defeat Depression’ campaign — and it later transpired this five-year campaign was almost entirely sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry — and it was to try and tackle ‘low rates of diagnosis of depression’ and ‘make sure a treatable condition was treated.’ And a major part of that, and what I told my patients and what I was taught on a daily basis — and some senior psychiatrists today try and make out this wasn’t the case — but certainly in Scotland every single week that I went to education I was taught about the chemical imbalance, and the drug reps that came along to those meetings — it was all about 5-HT. So I thought it was perfectly safe for me to take an antidepressant for anxiety. And I took it and I probably felt a little bit better, not hugely — I wasn’t depressed, I was just anxious and not sleeping. But probably about three or four months in . . . I just stopped it because I thought it wasn’t making much difference. And the next day I felt hellish. I felt nausea, flooding, I’d slept poorly, I felt flu-like, I had buzzing in my head, I’m a keen gardener and I couldn’t work in the garden, I couldn’t sit down, I was restless. I thought, What’s going on here? And I said to my wife, I wonder, why am I feeling like this? Do you think it could have a relationship to the fact that I’ve just stopped my Seroxat, my Paxil? And that was the beginning of my discovery.

And to cut a long story short, it’s been absolute hell ever since then trying to get off this medication that I was told I wouldn’t find dependence-forming. And not only was it hell, over probably the vast majority of my career right up until the end, many of my psychiatrist colleagues — good folk, nice folk that liked me — they didn’t believe me. They wouldn’t say it outright, but they would say things [like], ‘Oh, this is recurrence of Peter’s illness,’ and I would say to them, ‘Well I started this for anxiety, I didn’t have these states of mind and physical symptoms before this.’ These states were brought about from protracted withdrawal, however slowly I tried to get off this damn stuff . . . I tried everything . . . I must have tried about four or five times to come off it gradually, and eventually I got off it using liquid. It probably took me at least a year; I felt hellish but I got off the stuff.

But in the course of the last few months, physically, I was feeling terrible, mentally, I was feeling terrible and I was getting lower and lower mood . . . So in 2005, this changed my life for good. My children were then wee — a wee daughter at kindergarten, a son at primary school. And I knew my mood was slipping, and I became suicidal. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I was restless, I was agitated, I felt flu-like, I thought I was never going to get better. And then I became suicidal [and] ended up in a psychiatric hospital . . . [for] about three or four months. I tried to end my life. I was given multiple different psychiatric drugs to treat my depression, which — I was depressed, but — you can ask my wife, everybody who knows me — I’ve never had anything like this, it was directly related to the withdrawal from paroxetine.

And then eventually I was getting ECT . . . the ECT, it was like a sledgehammer. So it certainly got rid of some of my worst feelings at the time. But as a result of the ECT I really don’t remember anything of — very little of — 2005, and that’s a mixed blessing. It’s good I don’t remember what I put my family through, but it’s also sad because my children were then wee, and you don’t really relive your family life again. So eventually with ECT I got to a sort of level state; it took me another seven or eight months before I got back to work. Eventually as an outpatient I insisted to my psychiatrist, ‘Look, I think the only thing you can do is’ — because at that time they tried me on different antidepressants, I can’t even remember which ones in combination — but eventually I said, ‘I think you should put me back on my Seroxat.’

And that’s 2005. So here I am 17 years later, I’m still on the stuff. And people have said, Oh Peter, why don’t you just try and withdraw slowly with tapering strips, and I have very seriously thought about that. And I’ve even heard some people say, Oh Peter, you don’t have balls, you know, you can get off this stuff. And well maybe they’re right, but I kind of believe life is — I only live life once, it’s fairly short, and I’m terrified, absolutely terrified — I can cope with much heartache myself, [but] I’m terrified of putting my family through what I put them through before. So to cut a long story short, here I am in 2023 still on this paroxetine that I was told was not dependent-forming and I shouldn’t be ashamed of taking.

20:19 The narrative in psychiatry has been very powerfully controlled by a fairly small group that’s had a wide influence on the rest of us. And here I’m not just blaming the pharmaceutical industry, certainly not. I actually blame more the medical, the healthcare system for just slavish — for rather not questioning enough of what we’re doing here, and not explaining to people that — people look for quick fixes, we all do, for suffering; nobody wants to suffer, so we want a quick fix . . . But in any intervention there could be a range from positive outcomes to negative outcomes and usually a whole host of in-between. So why has — antidepressants in particular, but not just them, antipsychotics and other drugs — why has it become so polarized? And I think partly that’s because these narrative controllers are very defensive.

22:25 I think there is plenty of evidence out there to show that the investment of money, the relationship of the pharmaceutical industry and medical prescribing — not just in psychiatry — can lead to worse outcomes because the interests of the company are put before the interests of the patient.

33:03 There is a small group of what I call the narrative controllers who have been career-long paid opinion leaders for the pharmaceutical industry and have been there ten, 20, 30, 40 years. Many of them are coming up to their retirement and they are still ‘educating.’ And there is no way of finding out how much they may have been paid in recent weeks, in previous months, previous years, or as a career. And I think the scale of payments could be massive.

46:23 What I saw on social media… I was briefly on it, probably 2014 for about six months, and at first I thought it’s great because it’s a leveler, it levels out people who are in high positions of power and you can say things that they don’t want you to ask them. [But] I quickly realized how nasty it can be . . . there’s some very senior members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists for example, and I’m sure it’s the same in America and Canada and Australia, who are extremely nasty, and get away with some of what if it was in the clinic would be the most unprofessional behavior. And it goes with a blind eye by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.”

Dr. Josef Witt-Doerring: “There seems to be very little appetite for a conversation that doesn’t say ‘Antidepressant save lives,’ you know. As soon as you start talking about the risks of them I see people labeled as being ‘dangerous’ or ‘harmful’ or ‘pill shaming’ or, you know, ‘dissuading people from getting the help that they seek’ and . . . there’s this intimidation. And it was definitely something that I felt kind of subtly throughout my training, and then maybe a little bit more loudly when I saw people I really admired talk about these things, people like David Healy, and I look at what happened to him…”


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  1. I am sorry. I know how it feels. Honestly.

    On the positive side, IMO, with KOLs, just question the narrative. Current critical thinking classes won’t do the trick. Using the tools to question racism, sexism, inequality, etc., won’t provide enough ammo to defend, defend, against narratives that are epistemological groundless and at least missleading….

    On a personal level. I did research over 30yrs ago about mental illness, neurology, etc. As a MEDICAL STUDENT. From little what I rememeber, and I can tell you I am from a then third world country, and my research library got then recent funding, but was otherwise inadequate:

    There never was a need to detect early mental illlness. There never was a need to detect more patients. The EMERGENCY case back then was anorexia. Now is depression, social networks and suicide in teenagers. Homelessness. Not much has changed on treatment.

    And even, the explanation that actually there is nothing wrong with the brain of teens with anorexia, hasn’t been proven wrong. So much so, that interventions now are not about healthy eating, but about “healthy” processing food intake behaviours information. Which If someone as I did read about it, would have pretty much figured out going beyond the anorexigenic mother, and supermodel physique. It was not that complex. Even with the rebelious teenager cliche, we ALL look for a role model. Some of us aspired even to be supervillains. Some wanted to be Che Guevara, etc…

    Now, obviously, starving does cause self reinforcing mechanisms that diminish food intake?, sure, that’s know since at least the 90s. That’s why it’s difficult to bring back a children with third degree undernutrition, among other things…

    In the 90s and before as far as I recall:

    Depression was a 1 in a 1,000 people diagnosis.

    Autism, was a 1 in a 1,000 to 10,000 kids diagnosis. Asperger was even rarer.

    Bipolar disorder was at least 1 in 10 people with depression.

    And so on.

    I never took notes, I can’t provide the references. But I was very thorough with the material and time available to me back then. To my mind, and I know it sounds grandiose, it never was that bad, in the numbers. For people suffering was devastating, hence my interest…

    I did read about the neurochemistry of that as a medical student.

    I even stole books from the library, funny story otherwise (very illuminating but off topic) just to read on the chemistry of brain functioning, malfunctioning and treatment, among other things.

    I am not putting anyone off, but I did came to the conclusion that then, 90s, theories of the neurochemistry of mental illness were bogus, at least because of the Bayesian approach.

    They said for ALL of them, serially, depression, anxiety, Alzheimers: maybe is acetilcholine? nah. Maybe it is adrenaline? nah. Maybe it is noradrenaline? nah. Maybe it is serotonine? don’t remember. Maybe it is the vasointestinal active peptide? maybe it is some other peptide that was popular in the 90s? Who knows, I left it at that.

    Decades later that’s how publishing still works, not science. The glutamate “hypothesis” for schizophrenia has not produced a drug candidate good enoug?

    So, back then, trying not to be and sound callous. Was it so difficult to understand that a teenager with, following the organic psychiatric lingo, an immature brain commited suicide of an out of wed pregnancy that nobody knew about?

    That required biology to explain when the narrative of “street women” was available? Comme on…

    What about the terror of the suspicion that she and him were pregnant? was that enough? There were several versions about that “drama” on movies, the “deceived” teenager that got despised by the male after “giving in” and getting pregnant, now alone, and despised. Just to have an abortion payed by the friend who craved to love the gal, so that after that the gal went back to the footballer. Does that not speak volumes? Beyond whatever the peculiar, individual morality might tell me?.

    Oh! Oh! how about just having sex out of wedlock and the vindictifull god that condemned the female to a life of street walking just because of that? was that explanatory with such, unexperienced and unknowloageable mind (not brain)? without any family support? without any social support? without the partner and female friends support? With the moral generalized condemnation that will ensue if that were the case?. I am no female, but could and can imagine…

    What about sexual abuse or worse, the female could not talk about because she would have been ashamed and guiltyfied because of that? could that explain a suicide? Was that enough to sleep a lot, not enough, be withdrawn and despondent? To run way? To search a life of resistance, defiance, and unconformity? even if you could be labeled schizotypic? Even the possibility of those outcomes, was that not enough to suggest a female or male an unconformist way of life?

    Will she have talk about it to a confidence inspiring therapist that peddled the same creed she heard in Church, but with a secular language? Hum? Even if he or she did it with just a glance out of experience? Hum?

    Did it require biology to explain that a teenager ran off with another teenager because they couldn’t be together otherwise? There was a famous movie with Laurence Olivier about it…

    And even “privilege”, white and all, came with it’s own problems. Same urges, same needs, same creed, same despise, etc. To my mind, was just a different set of problems, or problem’s perspective. Losing is worse than never having, according to behavioural economics research, at least.

    Even then, to me, medical student, those considerations were enough to understand there was very little if at all organic mental illness. And I did believe there was! hence my readings and interest!.

    Just on the suspicion the literature speaks volumes about going mad. Raskolnikov anyone?

    Desperate people back then, before then, and after then do desperate things. They go, went, and will go to professionals for at least an explanation, not another cargo, not another burden, not another prejudice, not for some other part of society to spit on them. Not when they feel alone. Not when they feel and are missunderstood and missjudged. We all have been there, and teenagers knew and know that. They’ve seen it since they can remember. Since kids, even I could remember, I am confident my peers would agree…

    Was that so difficult to understand back then? is it now?

    And yeah, caring for our children does makes us take decisions beyond the science. And I always was sympathetic to that…

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  2. Thank you Dr. Peter Gordon and Dr. Dr. Josef Witt-Doerring for this much needed, important story about how even someone in the profession can be brought down by a dangerous and often cruel system. It is outrageous that simple kindness, empathy and compassion have been replaced by toxic drugs. It seems well demonstrated in this interview that drugs have been used as a “quick fix” with very little, if any, deep concern for those with grave existential problems…If a psychiatrist cannot persuade his or her colleagues that pills should not be the way forward, then how can we change this state of affairs? American psychiatrist Peter Breggin has been trying to tell people about the problem for years. He says:
    “Advocates of psychiatric drugs often claim that the medications improve learning and the ability to benefit from psychotherapy, but the contrary is true. There are no drugs that improve mental function, self-understanding, or human relations. Any drug that affects mental processes does so by impairing them.”

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  3. Thank you very much Dr Peter. Your Story will help a lot of people.

    Plenty of young couples are under the same pressures as you were at the time, and the most logical thing for them to do if possible, would be to avail of safe and medically recommended assistance – to keep them afloat.

    I myself have had the experience of attempting to withdraw, with permission from Depot Neuroleptics; which resulted in 4 hospitalizations in 5 months, a suicide attempt, and one near miss. I then switched to oral medication and tapered very carefully, from there!

    I find interesting, what you say about Antidepressant Withdrawal causing a Depression that had never existed before (and worse Anxiety). Even though I tapered from Neuroleptics very carefully, i still suffered from a Nearly Disabling “High Anxiety” of a type, that I had never previously in my life experienced.

    I went on to discover through trial and error, that if I Sat with my Feelings during my times of “Catastrophy”, my feelings would eventually Calm Down. And my External Problem would then appear routine and manageable.

    So there did prove to be a route out.

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