The conventional wisdom is that antidepressant medications are effective and safe. However, the scientific literature shows that the conventional wisdom is flawed. While all prescription medications have side effects, antidepressant medications appear to do more harm than good as treatments for depression.
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment was conducted at the University of Minnesota during the Second World War. Prolonged semi-starvation produced significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis, and most participants experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression and grew increasingly irritable. It really should not be a surprise to this audience that the brain’s functioning is highly compromised when the body is being starved of food (and nutrients). What we wonder is whether eating a diet of primarily highly processed foods low in nutrients has similar effects.
Evidence that antipsychotics cause brain shrinkage has been accumulating over the last few years, but the psychiatric research establishment is finding its own results difficult to swallow. A new paper by a group of American researchers once again tries to ‘blame the disease,’ a time-honoured tactic for diverting attention from the nasty and dangerous effects of some psychiatric treatments. People need to know about this research because it indicates that antipsychotics are not the innocuous substances that they have frequently been portrayed as. We still have no conclusive evidence that the disorders labeled as schizophrenia or psychosis are associated with any underlying abnormalities of the brain, but we do have strong evidence that the drugs we use to treat these conditions cause brain changes.
In 1972, prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia were paid $3 to have their eyes held open with clamps and hooks while Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo was dropped into them. In 2011, mothers of newborns were arrested when their babies tested positive for exposure to cannabis, a false result caused by the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Head-to-Toe Foaming Baby Wash. Young men have undergone mastectomies to remove breasts grown as a result of Johnson & Johnson antipsychotics, which were used as a result of Johnson & Johnson's criminal promotion of its drugs for off-label purposes. And now, Johnson & Johnson has announced the removal of carcinogenic chemicals from their No More Tears baby shampoo.
More than a year on from the release of DSM-5, a Medscape survey found that just under half of clinicians had switched to using the new manual. Most non-users cited practical reasons, typically explaining that the health care system where they work has not yet changed over to the DSM-5. Many, however, said that they had concerns about the reliability of the DSM, which at least partially accounted for their non-use. Throughout the controversies that surrounded the development and launch of the DSM-5 reliability has been a contested issue: the APA has insisted that the DSM-5 is very reliable, others have expressed doubts. Here I reconsider the issues: What is reliability? Does it matter? What did the DSM-5 field trials show?
So now we know Soderbergh’s movie Side Effects is not so Black/Noir after all – more Fifty Shades of Grey. Emily Hawkins (Rooney Mara) is put on Ablixa by her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) and while on it kills her husband. She apparently murders him while sleep-walking triggered by Ablixa and sleep walking being a perfect defense against murder she is acquitted.
Over the last twenty years there has emerged a body of work that questions the assumptions that lie beneath psychiatric knowledge and practice. This work, appearing as academic papers, magazine articles, books, and chapters in books, hasn’t been written by academics, sociologists or cultural theorists. It has emerged from the pens and practice of a group of British psychiatrists.
We are profoundly social beings living not as isolated individuals but as integral members of interdependent social systems—our nuclear family system, and the broader social systems of extended family, peers, our community and the broader society. Therefore, psychosis and other forms of human distress often deemed “mental illness” are best seen not so much as something intrinsically “wrong” or “diseased” within the particular individual who is most exhibiting that distress, but rather as systemic problems that are merely being channeled through this individual.
In the 1950s, when the drugs we now call ‘antipsychotics’ first came along, psychiatrists recognised that they were toxic substances that happened to have the ability to suppress thoughts and emotions without simply putting people to sleep in the way the old sedatives did. The mental restriction the drugs produced was noted to be part of a general state of physical and mental inhibition that at extremes resembled Parkinson’s disease. Early psychiatrists didn’t doubt that this state of neurological suppression was potentially damaging to the brain.
In 2012, I found out that the ten biggest drug companies in the world commit repeated and serious crimes to such a degree that they fulfill the criteria for organised crime under US law. I also found out how huge the consequences of the crimes are. They involve colossal thefts of public monies and they contribute substantially to the fact that our drugs are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
Since the 1980s, a type of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has become dominant. Like it or loathe it, CBT is now so ubiquitous it is often the only talking therapy available in both public and voluntary health settings. It is increasingly spoken about in the media and in living rooms across the country. Yet when we speak about CBT, what are we talking of? For CBT only exists - as we will see - as a political convenience.
What do you do when the media reports stories of children who have killed themselves on SSRIs? Position the stories of these children, not the drugs they were taking, as a suicide risk. Warn that more children will die if mouthy parents are allowed to speak and upstart journalists are allowed to report. And then position psychiatrists as the only people who can talk about suicide without producing an epidemic of self inflicted deaths.
There was a heart-breaking and disturbing story in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper entitled, My Daughter, the Schizophrenic’, which featured edited extracts from a book written by the father of a child called Jani. He describes how Jani is admitted into a psychiatric hospital when she is 5, diagnosed with schizophrenia when she is 6 and by the time she is 7, she has been put on a potent cocktail of psychotropic medications.
It was exciting going back to my old stamping ground. Years ago I’d worked in one of the local community mental health teams and had referred many women to the Drayton Park Crisis House. Walking up the steps of the house brought back memories of standing there with desperate and suicidal clients, some of whom had told me that they would rather die than go back into hospital. As you can imagine, to say I had been glad that there was an alternative would have been an understatement.
This has got to stop. Around the world a million people die from suicide each year and the response internationally is to pour more funding and channel more people into psychiatric services. Three large studies have now found that the more we spend on mental health services the higher our suicide rates. In addition, a recent study has completely discredited claims that 90% of those who die from suicide are mentally ill at the time of their death. We need to use this evidence to stop the expansion of psychiatry as a suicide prevention measure.
Julia has received a lot of media attention in the last few days as a result of her blinded RCT published in a prominent journal, the British Journal of Psychiatry, showing that micronutrients were better than placebo at improving ADHD and mood symptoms in adults. But what interests us far more is the amount of public emails we get as a result of this work. And the theme running through almost every email is that the child/adult/husband/wife has tried all kinds of medications and the symptoms are still there and, often, getting worse. Could the micronutrients help?
‘I Don’t Believe in God, But I Believe in Lithium’ is the title of Jamie Lowe’s moving account of her manic depression in the New York Times. The piece reminds us how devastating and frightening this condition can be, so it is understandable that the author put her faith in the miracle cure psychiatrists have been recommending since the 1950s: lithium. The main problem is that there is no study in which people who have been started on lithium have been compared with people who haven’t.
There are very few things considered more taboo in the world of mental health than the suggestion that problematic family dynamics can lead to a child developing a psychotic disorder. And yet, when we look honestly at the history and research of psychosis and the broader concept of “mental illness,” it becomes apparent that there are few subjects in the mental health field that are more important. I’d like to invite you, then, to join me on a journey into this taboo territory, dividing our trip into three legs. In the first leg (Part One), we’ll go back in time to explore how such a crucial topic has become so vilified, and then embark upon a flight for an aerial view of some of the most essential findings of the last 60 plus years of research that look at the links between problematic family dynamics and psychosis.
Forced treatment in psychiatry cannot be defended, neither on ethical, legal or scientific grounds. It has never been shown that forced treatment does more good than harm, and it is highly likely that the opposite is true. We need to abolish our laws about this, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which virtually all countries have ratified.
In a bold and unprecedented move for any professional body, the UK Division of Clinical Psychology, a sub-division of the British Psychological Society, issued a Position Statement today calling for the end of the unevidenced biomedical model implied by psychiatric diagnosis. In brief, the argument is that the so-called ‘functional’ diagnoses – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, ADHD and so on - are not scientifically valid categories and are often damaging in practice.
At the Nordic Cochrane Centre, we have researched antidepressants for several years and I have long wondered why leading professors of psychiatry base their practice on a number of erroneous myths. These myths are harmful to patients. Many psychiatrists are well aware that the myths do not hold and have told me so, but they don’t dare deviate from the official positions because of career concerns. Being a specialist in internal medicince, I don’t risk ruining my career by incurring the professors’ wrath and I shall try here to come to the rescue of the many conscientious but oppressed psychiatrists and patients by listing the worst myths and explain why they are harmful.
The Scottish Anthropologist Ioan Lewis, wrote the book Ecstatic Religion in 1971, in which he suggested a ‘shaman is not less than a psychiatrist, he is more.’ He claimed psychiatry was just one of the functions of the shaman, and he invited comparison between shamans and psychiatrists. Some diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia appeared rather similar to the desired conditions of shamans in an altered state of consciousness. Other terms used (and misused) for therapeutic practitioners included: native or traditional healer, medicine man, witch doctor, soul doctor, sorcerer, magician, spirit medium, exorcist, curer, diviner and diagnostician.
On 6 January 2014, I published the article “Psychiatry Gone Astray” in a major Danish newspaper (Politiken), which started an important debate about the use and abuse of psychiatric drugs. Numerous articles followed, some written by psychiatrists who agreed with my views. For more than a month, there wasn’t a single day without discussion of these issues on radio, TV or in newspapers, and there were also debates at departments of psychiatry. People in Norway and Sweden have thanked me for having started the discussion, saying that it’s impossible to have such public debates about psychiatry in their country, and I have received hundreds of emails from patients that have confirmed with their own stories that what I wrote in my article is true.
‘Diagnosing’ someone with a devastating label such as ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘personality disorder’ is one of the most damaging things one human being can do to another. Re-defining someone’s reality for them is the most insidious and the most devastating form of power we can use. It may be done with the best of intentions, but it is wrong - scientifically, professionally, and ethically. The DSM debate presents us with a unique opportunity to put some of this right, by working with service users towards a more helpful understanding of how and why they come to experience extreme forms of emotional distress.
In the New York Times’ recent autobiographical account of a “bipolar” woman’s struggle the main message is that the current mental health care system has some real problems but that the general paradigm from which this treatment model has emerged is not to be questioned. Anyone who knows my work knows that I have a real problem with this paradigm, believing that it generally causes much more harm than benefit. So, what is it then about this story that grabbed me? I recognized that if we read Linda’s story while holding a different paradigm, then this story reveals what I believe are some of the most fundamental issues at the heart of this epidemic of “mental illness” that so pervades our society.