Do antidepressants create more mental illness than they cure? (interview)

  • Many antidepressants show no better efficacy than placebo or talk therapy in long-term usage.
  • Proselytizing pharmaceutical interventions has been part of a concerted effort since the seventies.
  • Journalist Robert Whitaker discusses the impact of pathologizing children, moral therapy, and more.

INTRO: Doctors wrote a record number of prescriptions for Zoloft in March, causing the FDA to add this SSRI to its drug shortage list. Zoloft prescriptions then dropped in April—4.5 million, down from 4.9 million—yet these numbers represent a startling upward trend in antidepressant usage. Nearly 13 percent of the US population over age 12 now regularly swallow these pills.

Why would a 12-year-old need an antidepressant? Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America and Anatomy of An Epidemic, discusses the pathologizing of children during our recent conversation. Whitaker has won a number of awards for his reporting on the psychiatry industry; he was a Pulitzer finalist for a series on psychiatric research he co-wrote for the Boston Globe. While his investigative reporting covers a range of topics, an important thread weaves together his work: Why do Americans take so many prescription drugs?

In Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker points out that as prescriptions for SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics rise, so do anxiety and depression diagnoses. If these drugs worked, fewer people should be diagnosed. In a for-profit health care system, however, new customers are always needed. Minor complaints are now pathologized. Creating an illness is the best way to sell a drug.

The 20th century represented a remarkable turning point in medicine. It also marked the beginning of a tragic misunderstanding of mental health. After millions of years of successful evolution, humans were suddenly victims to brain chemistry gone awry. We were sold on the idea that chemical imbalances are the cause of anxiety and depression, not a biological effect created by environmental conditions. Antidepressants predominantly treat a symptom, not the cause, of our malaise.

As Whitaker mentions, short-term use of antidepressants can be helpful. Even with an increasing number of studies detailing the negative long-term effects of these drugs, we're swallowing more pills than ever. I chatted with Robert about why that is and how we correct course. Our talk was edited for clarity, but you can watch the full conversation below... (MORE)
Absolutely yes. All you have to do is read the Physician's Desk Reference on prescription drugs to see all the possible side effects of psychiatric meds, and the circular chain of such meds prescribed to counteract the side effects of each other. It's sick, and with each new drug added, the odds of psychotic break (a rare side effect of most) increases.

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