October 18, 2012

Today’s Greatest Mental Health Need: Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal Programs

By Dr. Peter Breggin

The pharmaceutical industry and organized psychiatry act as if the greatest challenge today is to identify new psychiatric disorders, to promote the supposedly high prevalence of existing disorders, and to find new blockbuster drugs, all the while heavily promoting current moneymakers. Even the United Nations is involved in “World Mental Health Day,” announcing that depression is a “global health crisis”:

10 October 2012 — Terming depression, which afflicts 350 million people worldwide, an “under-appreciated global health crisis,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for an international effort to increase access to a wide variety of effective and affordable treatments and remove the social stigma attached to the illness.

This current barrage of “educational” propaganda on behalf of pharmaceutic interests is even supported by the State Department, which heavily endorses the industry’s astroturf lobbying group, called the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

In the United States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) observes a week of awareness in the first full week of October by the direction of a congressional order passed in 1990. NAMI reports that one in four U.S. adults experiences a mental health problem in any given year. One in 17 lives with serious, chronic illness.

A key player is the World Federation for Mental Health, whose multi-color brochure declares Oct. 10, 2012 as “World Mental Health Day,” again targeting depression in its booklet title: “Depression: A Global Crisis.” Perhaps because markets for psychiatric medications in the industrialized world are getting saturated and because drug companies and their products have been coming under heavy criticism, the “World Mental Health Day” is mostly aimed at poorer nations. The World Federation for Mental Health booklet advocates the use of antidepressant drugs. This colorful document was “made possible” by… guess whom? The only three sponsors are companies that make psychiatric drugs: Eli Lilly, Otsuka and Lundbeck.

Is this what we really need? More diagnoses, more patients, more psychiatric drugs spreading like a chemical plague throughout the world? We are now learning that the longer-term use of some of these psychiatric drugs can cause chronic mental disability. Several of my books (for example and for example), recently bolstered by Robert Whitaker’s, leave no doubt that the evidence for longer-term efficacy (months or years) is insufficient, while the evidence for longer-term harm is escalating. Studies are showing that this chronicity actually reflects physical damage to the brain. Studies — included in my books and revealing changes to the brain from antidepressants, from the so-called antipsychotic drugs (the neuroleptics), from stimulants and from benzodiazepines and prescription sleep medications — are piling up, documenting patient risks. In my professional experience, psychiatric drug-induced chronic brain impairment is now a much greater threat to society than the emotional problems that the drugs are supposed to treat.

With so much objective misery oppressing people in poor countries, everything from war to famine, it is bizarre and misleading to talk about 350 million worldwide with depression. Most of all, the poor countries need increased liberty, opportunity, and economic growth. As Ethan Watters documents in his book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, the last thing these countries need is to import our biological psychiatric diagnoses and drugs into their societies.

When people are not overwhelmed by oppressive life circumstances, which must be rectified, in my opinion the best forms of help for depressed people are supportive and encouraging human relationships. When professional help is needed or desired, depression is best approached through psychotherapy, counseling and other human services. Studies have documented that this works and doesn’t have the adverse effects of drugs. We agree with Dr. Norman B. Anderson, the CEO of the American Psychological Association, who has called for therapy to be made the first choice of treatment for depression.

Tragically, despite the harm being done by psychiatric drugs, trying to withdraw from these chemicals can be very distressing and even life-threatening. Psychiatric drug withdrawal needs to be done responsibly and thoughtfully. But the alternative of continuing to take psychiatric drugs indefinitely increases the risk of damage, and even shortened lifespan in some patient populations. Instead of persisting in pushing psychiatric drugs, health professionals and organizations around the world would do far more good by developing and supporting programs for psychiatric drug withdrawal. My new book Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal provides the guidelines for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs as safely as possible.

But who’s going to sponsor these reform efforts? Not the UN. Not the State Department. Not the drug companies. Not organized medicine and psychiatry. It will take a grassroots demand led by professionals with conscience, concerned patients, and responsible citizens.

Originally published in The Huffington Post.