Editor’s Note: Over the next several months, Mad in America is publishing a serialized version of Peter Gøtzsche’s book, Critical Psychiatry Textbook. In this blog, he discusses how critics of psychiatry are silenced in top medical journals and in the media. 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 for their carefully pruned self-image and wrong ideas.8:151
Editors of specialty journals are often on drug industry payroll and journal owners also often have too close relations to the drug industry.6-8,27,630
At the inaugural symposium for my Institute for Scientific Freedom in 2019, Robert Whitaker spoke about scientific censorship in psychiatry. He focused on two topics of great importance for public health: Do antidepressants worsen long-term outcomes? and What do we know about post-SSRI sexual dysfunction?631 None of 13 and 14 pivotal studies, respectively, about these subjects had been published in the top five psychiatric journals, which did not even appear to have discussed the issues.
The censorship in mainstream media is also pronounced. When my first psychiatry book had been translated into Swedish, I was interviewed by journalists from two major newspapers in Stockholm.8:152 They were very interested, but as nothing was published, I asked why. One journalist didn’t reply. The other said that her editor thought it would be too dangerous to explain to Swedish citizens that depression pills are dangerous, as they can cause suicide. Both newspapers were right-wing. In contrast, a third newspaper, Aftonbladet, popular with Social Democrats, allowed me to publish an article that filled the whole back page, with no censorship.
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.” And there is an untruthful voiceover telling the audience that “many people are being helped by psychiatric drugs.”8
It is difficult to publish relevant books, too.8 In one case, a former patient and a filmmaker came to film me for a documentary.632 The patient had an agreement with a book publisher about what she thought was a psychiatric success story. But psychiatry had stolen 10 years of her life and when I explained that she had been horribly harmed by her psychiatrists, which were very close to driving her into suicide with fluoxetine, she accepted my explanations. When her psychiatric “career” was no longer a success story but a scandal, the publisher backed out. Her drug list is one of the worst I have ever seen.8:154 It is a miracle she survived all this.
Another Norwegian filmmaker wanted to have me on the panel when her documentary, Cause of Death: Unknown,”633 had world premiere in 2017 at the Copenhagen documentary film festival (CPH:DOC). The cause of death was not unknown. The filmmaker’s sister was killed by her psychiatrist who overdosed her with olanzapine, which turned her into a zombie. The psychiatrist was so ignorant that he didn’t even know that olanzapine can cause sudden death. Such iatrogenic deaths are called natural deaths by the authorities.
I appeared in the film and 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 pretence that the organisers couldn’t find a psychiatrist willing to debate with me. This was not the real reason. It turned out that the Lundbeck Foundation, whose objective is to support Lundbeck’s business activities, had provided a major grant to the festival. CPH:DOC never contacted me about it, even though I could easily have named several psychiatrists willing to debate with me.
I have described this scandal elsewhere.8:155 The panel discussion was a farce that protected the status quo and people in the audience became angry. It was deeply insulting to them to show a film about a young woman killed by 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.
Another recent instance of censorship involved Danish public TV. Independent documentary filmmaker Janus Bang and his team had followed me around the world for several years because they wanted me to play a central role in their documentaries about how awful and deadly psychiatry is. Janus ran into a huge roadblock and needed to compromise extensively to get anything out on TV. He broadcast three interesting programmes in 2019, The Dilemma of Psychiatry, but the public debate he so much had wanted to have major reforms introduced was absent. Drug exports are Denmark’s biggest source of income, and there were embarrassing, false voiceovers paying lip service to Lundbeck and the psychiatrists. And me? I wasn’t allowed to appear at all.
Journalists have told me that the reason Danish public TV doesn’t dare challenge psychiatry or Lundbeck is due to two programmes sent in April 2013.
I was interviewed for Denmark on Pills, which featured three patients. One was prescribed “happy pills” when she was 15 and suffered from massive harms. Another had lost his sex drive and shouldn’t have had the pills at all, as he was not depressed but suffered from stress. The third was a boy diagnosed with ADHD by a psychiatrist who had never met him.
Already the next day, the psychiatric empire stroke back. In a magazine for journalists, Poul Videbech said:634 “It’s a scare campaign that can cost lives. I know several examples of suicide after friends and family advised the patient to drop antidepressant medication.” Videbech com-pared this with journalists making programmes advising patients with diabetes to drop their insulin even though he, at the same time, fiercely denied that he believed in the myth about the chemical imbalance (see Chapter 4).
There were many commentaries to the article about Videbech in the magazine. One noted that it was interesting to see that there were virtually no tapering programmes in psychiatry and that people often ended up on lifelong medication.
One mentioned that she was a member of a large and diverse group of people who had warned for years against the uncritical use of drugs and had spent time on helping the victims, but every time they opened a debate on this topic, they were accused of not thinking about those who benefit from the medicines.
One wondered why we heard nothing from psychiatry about the suicides and suicide attempts the drugs cause: “…dismissed as non-occurring. Nevertheless, it was on the list of side effects in the package insert of the medication I received. And I felt the impulse on my own body. But I was told that it was my depression that was the trigger for suicidal thoughts and plans. The strange thing about that was that the impulse came shortly after I started on the drug … But the doctor and others involved concluded that my dose should be increased, which I luckily declined and I decided to taper off the drug on my own. That people change their personality totally—become aggressive and hot-headed, paranoid, etc.—is also dismissed.”
One noted that I was right that the media had been uncritical in their coverage of psychiatric drugs. He pointed out that many people had tried to warn against them for many years but had been silenced or fired from their positions from where they could reach the population.
This also happened to me which I wrote a book about.635 I updated it146 (freely available) because Janus Bang and I are currently making a documentary film about the affair, which we base on crowd funding (see scientificfreedom.dk/donate/).
Only four days later, journalist Poul Erik Heilbuth showed a brilliant 70-minute documentary, The Dark Shadow of the Pill. He documented in detail how Eli Lilly, GSK and Pfizer had concealed that their depression pills cause some people to kill themselves or commit murder or cause completely normal and peaceful people to suddenly start a spree of violent robberies in shops and gas stations they were unable to explain afterwards and were mystified about. The pills changed their personality totally.
Heilbuth had whistleblower Blair Hamrick in his film, a US GSK salesman who said that their catchphrase for paroxetine (Paxil or Seroxat) was that it is the happy, horny and skinny drug. They told doctors that it will make you happier; you will lose weight; it will make you stop smoking; it will make you increase your libido; everybody should be on this drug. Hamrick secretly copied documents, and GSK was fined $3 billion in 2011 for paying kickbacks to doctors and for illegal marketing of several drugs, also to children.6:27
An editorial in one of Denmark’s national newspapers, Politiken, condemned the documentary in an unusually hostile fashion and called it “immensely manipulative,” “sensationalism,” “merely seeking to confirm or verify the thesis that the programme had devised as its premise,” and they called one of the well-argued experts a “muddled thinker.”
Two days after Heilbuth’s documentary, I debated with Lars Kessing on live TV about suicides caused by depression pills. Bits of this debate appears in the documentary, Diagnosing Psychiatry.636 Kessing totally denied the science and the drug agencies’ warnings, saying that we know with great certainty that SSRIs protect against suicide. He added that the risk of suicide is large when people stop SSRIs but failed to mention that this is a drug harm, as the patients go through cold turkey withdrawal.
Three days later, I was in a TV debate again with Kessing, this time about how we could reduce the consumption of depression pills. Kessing claimed that they are not dangerous. Lundbeck‘s director of research, Anders Gersel Pedersen, said that the most dangerous thing is not to treat the patients, and he claimed that the patients don’t become addicted but get a relapse when they stop taking the pills. Kessing claimed that perhaps only 10% of those who visit their family doctor are not helped by the medicine, quite a remark about drugs that don’t work (see Chapter 8).
When Kessing was asked by the interviewer how the consumption of pills could be reduced—no matter what he might think about its size—he didn’t answer the question. He said we knew for sure that there had been a rising incidence of moderate to severe depression over the past 50 years. I replied that we could not tell because the criteria for diagnosing depression had been lowered all the time during this period.
Kessing was wrong. Psychiatrists constantly tell me that the prevalence of severe depression has not increased.103 Most patients who get a diagnosis of depression live depressing lives, e.g. are married to the wrong person, have a bullying boss, a tedious job, or a chronic disease. It is not the job of doctors to try to get them out of this predicament and a pill won’t help.
I have experienced that when journalists react violently and go directly against the scientific evidence and the authorities’ warnings, it is almost always because they think the pills have helped them or someone close to them, or because a relative works for Lundbeck or is a psychiatrist. I have been exposed to many vitriolic attacks. It is sad that journalists throw everything they learned at journalism school overboard and explode in a cascade of rage and ad hominem attacks, but that can happen if you tell the truth about depression pills. You are attacking a religion and violating one of the most sacred taboos in healthcare.
In a radio debate, Mind’s National Chairman, Knud Kristensen, argued that some of their patients had said that depression pills had saved their life. I responded dryly that it was an unfair argument because all those the pills had killed couldn’t raise from their graves and say the pills killed them.
Robert Whitaker has provided a long list of important and large studies whose results were threatening to the psychiatric narrative and which were not mentioned in any US newspapers.5:307 When the WHO study came out (see Chapter 7, Part Three), the New York Times reported that “schizophrenics generally responded better to treatment in less developed countries.”5:311 This is highly misleading because any reader would think they were treated with psychosis pills, which they rarely were.
A few mainstream psychiatric journals have started to wake up to the disaster. A 2007 paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry stated that the research into biological mechanisms of mental and behavioural responses has failed to deliver anything of value to clinical psychiatrists and is very unlikely to do so in future,596 and a 2012 paper in this journal predicted that the current biology-based model will be ruinous to the profession due to its consistent failure to deliver.638
To see the list of all references cited, click here.
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