Author questions use of antidepressant drugs
Psychiatric drugs are driving an epidemic of drug-induced mental illness: Whitaker
By CHARLIE FIDELMAN, Gazette Health Reporter
MONTREAL – All is not well in the land of antidepressants.
Doctors, scientists and Big Pharma have not been honest in what they tell the public about psychiatric drugs, says Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic, Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness.
Whitaker’s book argues that psychiatric drugs – including brand names such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil and antipsychotics such as Risperdal, Zyprexa and Seroquel – are driving an epidemic of drug-induced mental illness.
Perhaps better detection and various cultural factors contribute to the spike in the number of disabled mentally ill in society, Whitaker told The Gazette.
But studies looking at health outcomes suggest a different story, Whitaker said: The very drugs prescribed to treat mental disorders are inducing changes in brain chemistry and triggering suicide, manic and psychotic episodes, among other illnesses.
Whitaker is in Montreal on Wednesday for a lecture titled Doing More Harm than Good? Time to revisit the use of psychiatric drugs.
One in five will experience mental illness. According to a 2006 Canadian government report, mental health is the No. 1 cause of disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of disability claims and 70 per cent of the total costs.
Drugs are now the mainstay of treatment, replacing „talk therapy“ of the 1980s. Shouldn’t the prevalence of mental illness be declining?
Whitaker, for the record, is not telling patients to flush their medications away.
Some people are helped by medications and psychiatric drugs do have an place in the physician’s tool box, Whitaker said.
„The question is, what place? We need to let evidence guide that decision,“ he said.
Whitaker argues that industry-funded drug trials fail to answer the question of whether psychiatric medications improve the long-term course of major mental disorders.
Whitaker’s premise is of the same philosophic lineage as The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, by Irving Kirsch, and Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry – A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis by Daniel Carlat.
„The bottom line is some people clearly do well – but you really do see a lot of harm with long-term use,“ Whitaker said. „Who do the drugs benefit and for how long? That’s a more subtle question.“
That’s precisely the kind of debate that interests AMI-Québec, a grassroots organization committed to helping families manage the effects of mental illness, and which sponsored the event.
„We don’t want people to stop taking their medication the next day but the issue is something we have to talk about,“ said AMI-Québec executive director Ella Amir.
Mimi Israel, psychiatristin-chief at the Douglas Institute and chairperson of the department of psychiatry at McGill University, said she is a great believer in psychotherapy, exercise, and other healthy-lifestyle methods to improve stress and mental health issues.
Some people have credited psychiatric drugs for saving their lives, but they should not be used indiscriminately to treat anything – „not without a risk-benefit analysis,“ Israel said.
Robert Whitaker is to speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, on Concordia University’s Loyola campus, 7141 Sherbrooke St. W. For information, call 514-486-1448.