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Dr. Marcia Angell on Whitaker, Carlat, Kirsch, DSM-5


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The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?

 

The New York Review of Books

June 23, 2011

Marcia Angell

 

 

The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth

by Irving Kirsch

Basic Books, 226 pp., $15.99 (paper)

 

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

by Robert Whitaker

Crown, 404 pp., $26.00

 

Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry—A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis

by Daniel Carlat

Free Press, 256 pp., $25.00

 

 

It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it….

 

What is going on here? Is the prevalence of mental illness really that high and still climbing? Particularly if these disorders are biologically determined and not a result of environmental influences, is it plausible to suppose that such an increase is real? Or are we learning to recognize and diagnose mental disorders that were always there? On the other hand, are we simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one? And what about the drugs that are now the mainstay of treatment? Do they work? If they do, shouldn’t we expect the prevalence of mental illness to be declining, not rising?

 

These are the questions, among others, that concern the authors of the three provocative books under review here. They come at the questions from different backgrounds—Irving Kirsch is a psychologist at the University of Hull in the UK, Robert Whitaker a journalist and previously the author of a history of the treatment of mental illness called Mad in America (2001), and Daniel Carlat a psychiatrist who practices in a Boston suburb and publishes a newsletter and blog about his profession…..

 

[she reviews the books at length.]

 

If psychoactive drugs are useless, as Kirsch believes about antidepressants, or worse than useless, as Whitaker believes, why are they so widely prescribed by psychiatrists and regarded by the public and the profession as something akin to wonder drugs? Why is the current against which Kirsch and Whitaker and, as we will see, Carlat are swimming so powerful? I discuss these questions in Part II of this review.

 

—This is the first part of a two-part article.

 

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/?pagination=false

Edited by Altostrata
clarified topic title

1996-97 - Paxil x 9 months, tapered, suffered 8 months withdrawal but didn't know it was withdrawal, so...

1998-2001 - Zoloft, tapered, again unwittingly went into withdrawal, so...

2002-03 - Paxil x 20 months, developed severe headaches, so...

Sep 03 - May 05 - Paxil taper took 20 months, severe physical, moderate psychological symptoms

Sep 03 - Jun 05 - took Prozac to help with Paxil taper - not recommended

Jul 05 to date - post-taper, severe psychological, moderate physical symptoms, improving very slowly

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Righteous! This is so awesome healing! I have been waiting for such an article for a long, long time! I can't wait to print this out and give this a read! Articles like this (which seem to be increasing) tell me that WE WILL HAVE OUR DAY. Thanks again.

Been on SSRIs since 1998:

1998-2005: Paxil in varying doses

2005-present: Lexapro.

2006-early '08: Effexor AND Lexapro! Good thing I got off the Effexor rather quickly (within a year).

 

**PSYCHIATRY: TAKE YOUR CHEMICAL IMBALANCE AND CHOKE ON IT!

APA=FUBAR

FDA=SNAFU

NIMH=LMFAO

 

Currently tapering Lexapro ~10% every month:

 

STARTING: 15 mg

11/7/10: 13.5 mg

12/7/10: 12.2 mg

1/6/11: 10.9 mg

2/3/11: 9.8 mg

3/3/11: 8.8 mg

4/1/11: 7.8 mg

4/29/11: 7 mg

5/27/11: 6.4 mg

6/24/11: 5.7 mg

7/22/11: 5 mg

8/18/11: 4.5 mg

9/14/11: 4 mg

10/13/11: 3.6 mg

11/9/11: 3.2 mg

12/7/11: 2.6 mg

1/3/12: 2.1 mg

2/2/12: 1.8 mg

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In the article on Robert Whitaker at Mass General, an onlooker remarked that Anatomy of an Epidemic would be the Silent Spring of psychiatry.

 

I do believe that is so. It took a little while for the ecology movement to gain traction, but it ended up changing society.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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The review notes all three books have this in common:

 

"....

First, they agree on the disturbing extent to which the companies that sell psychoactive drugs—through various forms of marketing, both legal and illegal, and what many people would describe as bribery—have come to determine what constitutes a mental illness and how the disorders should be diagnosed and treated. This is a subject to which I’ll return.

 

Second, none of the three authors subscribes to the popular theory that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. As Whitaker tells the story, that theory had its genesis shortly after psychoactive drugs were introduced in the 1950s. The first was Thorazine (chlorpromazine), which was launched in 1954 as a “major tranquilizer” and quickly found widespread use in mental hospitals to calm psychotic patients, mainly those with schizophrenia. Thorazine was followed the next year by Miltown (meprobamate), sold as a “minor tranquilizer” to treat anxiety in outpatients. And in 1957, Marsilid (iproniazid) came on the market as a “psychic energizer” to treat depression.

 

In the space of three short years, then, drugs had become available to treat what at that time were regarded as the three major categories of mental illness—psychosis, anxiety, and depression—and the face of psychiatry was totally transformed. These drugs, however, had not initially been developed to treat mental illness. They had been derived from drugs meant to treat infections, and were found only serendipitously to alter the mental state. At first, no one had any idea how they worked. They simply blunted disturbing mental symptoms. But over the next decade, researchers found that these drugs, and the newer psychoactive drugs that quickly followed, affected the levels of certain chemicals in the brain.

 

....

When it was found that psychoactive drugs affect neurotransmitter levels in the brain, as evidenced mainly by the levels of their breakdown products in the spinal fluid, the theory arose that the cause of mental illness is an abnormality in the brain’s concentration of these chemicals that is specifically countered by the appropriate drug. For example, because Thorazine was found to lower dopamine levels in the brain, it was postulated that psychoses like schizophrenia are caused by too much dopamine. Or later, because certain antidepressants increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, it was postulated that depression is caused by too little serotonin. (These antidepressants, like Prozac or Celexa, are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) because they prevent the reabsorption of serotonin by the neurons that release it, so that more remains in the synapses to activate other neurons.) Thus, instead of developing a drug to treat an abnormality, an abnormality was postulated to fit a drug.

 

That was a great leap in logic, as all three authors point out. It was entirely possible that drugs that affected neurotransmitter levels could relieve symptoms even if neurotransmitters had nothing to do with the illness in the first place (and even possible that they relieved symptoms through some other mode of action entirely). As Carlat puts it, “By this same logic one could argue that the cause of all pain conditions is a deficiency of opiates, since narcotic pain medications activate opiate receptors in the brain.” Or similarly, one could argue that fevers are caused by too little aspirin.

 

But the main problem with the theory is that after decades of trying to prove it, researchers have still come up empty-handed. All three authors document the failure of scientists to find good evidence in its favor. Neurotransmitter function seems to be normal in people with mental illness before treatment. In Whitaker’s words:

 

Prior to treatment, patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, and other psychiatric disorders do not suffer from any known “chemical imbalance.” However, once a person is put on a psychiatric medication, which, in one manner or another, throws a wrench into the usual mechanics of a neuronal pathway, his or her brain begins to function…abnormally.

Carlat refers to the chemical imbalance theory as a “myth” (which he calls “convenient” because it destigmatizes mental illness), and Kirsch, whose book focuses on depression, sums up this way: “It now seems beyond question that the traditional account of depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain is simply wrong.” Why the theory persists despite the lack of evidence is a subject I’ll come to.

...."

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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This article is very well-written and worth reading in its entirety.

 

So glad Marcia Angell seems to be getting it right. Louis Menand's article in the New Yorker was such a disappointment -- he didn't see through the STAR*D study.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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"....

If psychoactive drugs do cause harm, as Whitaker contends, what is the mechanism? The answer, he believes, lies in their effects on neurotransmitters. It is well understood that psychoactive drugs disturb neurotransmitter function, even if that was not the cause of the illness in the first place. Whitaker describes a chain of effects. When, for example, an SSRI antidepressant like Celexa increases serotonin levels in synapses, it stimulates compensatory changes through a process called negative feedback. In response to the high levels of serotonin, the neurons that secrete it (presynaptic neurons) release less of it, and the postsynaptic neurons become desensitized to it. In effect, the brain is trying to nullify the drug’s effects. The same is true for drugs that block neurotransmitters, except in reverse. For example, most antipsychotic drugs block dopamine, but the presynaptic neurons compensate by releasing more of it, and the postsynaptic neurons take it up more avidly. (This explanation is necessarily oversimplified, since many psychoactive drugs affect more than one of the many neurotransmitters.)

....

Getting off the drugs is exceedingly difficult, according to Whitaker, because when they are withdrawn the compensatory mechanisms are left unopposed. When Celexa is withdrawn, serotonin levels fall precipitously because the presynaptic neurons are not releasing normal amounts and the postsynaptic neurons no longer have enough receptors for it. Similarly, when an antipsychotic is withdrawn, dopamine levels may skyrocket. The symptoms produced by withdrawing psychoactive drugs are often confused with relapses of the original disorder, which can lead psychiatrists to resume drug treatment, perhaps at higher doses.

 

Unlike the cool Kirsch, Whitaker is outraged by what he sees as an iatrogenic (i.e., inadvertent and medically introduced) epidemic of brain dysfunction....

...."

 

 

Has anyone here experienced this?

 

My belief is that in the not-too-distant future, chronic downregulation of the serotonergic receptors is going to be acknowledged as a not-benign and undesirable outcome of antidepressant use. Official antidepressant prescribing practices are going to recommend short-term use only.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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My belief is that in the not-too-distant future, chronic downregulation of the serotonergic receptors is going to be acknowledged as a not-benign and undesirable outcome of antidepressant use. Official antidepressant prescribing practices are going to recommend short-term use only.

Interesting you say this. Bob Whitaker actually said that this thinking was already in the air with some professionals, and that this may very well be prescribing advice in the future.

 

While I'm happy this sentiment is SLOWLY getting out, it still makes me VERY ANGRY that I was, indeed, just a guinea pig for long-term SSRI treatment, even after my doctors all emphatically told me I wasn't. And yet I had a hunch all along. It's almost like the profession will be turning its back on me TWICE: first when it didn't see the problem of having me on this junk long-term, and then when it DOES see that it's a problem to have me on this stuff long-term, I have a hunch it won't have any more wisdom/help for me other than to admit, "Yeah, now we're saying what you did was wrong and you shouldn't have been on that stuff that long." Sigh.

 

What would REALLY be therapeutic (and morally right) is if psychiatry admitted it was wrong AND looked into treatment for iatrogenic damage that long-term SSRI use causes. But when has psychiatry been therapeutic AND morally upstanding? :angry:

 

*PS: Very much liked what you said about Horizant on the carlat blog, Sur. I posted under "SG." We really need to pounce as much as possible on other blogs like Carlat's whenever pharma "business as usual" rears its head...

Been on SSRIs since 1998:

1998-2005: Paxil in varying doses

2005-present: Lexapro.

2006-early '08: Effexor AND Lexapro! Good thing I got off the Effexor rather quickly (within a year).

 

**PSYCHIATRY: TAKE YOUR CHEMICAL IMBALANCE AND CHOKE ON IT!

APA=FUBAR

FDA=SNAFU

NIMH=LMFAO

 

Currently tapering Lexapro ~10% every month:

 

STARTING: 15 mg

11/7/10: 13.5 mg

12/7/10: 12.2 mg

1/6/11: 10.9 mg

2/3/11: 9.8 mg

3/3/11: 8.8 mg

4/1/11: 7.8 mg

4/29/11: 7 mg

5/27/11: 6.4 mg

6/24/11: 5.7 mg

7/22/11: 5 mg

8/18/11: 4.5 mg

9/14/11: 4 mg

10/13/11: 3.6 mg

11/9/11: 3.2 mg

12/7/11: 2.6 mg

1/3/12: 2.1 mg

2/2/12: 1.8 mg

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....What would REALLY be therapeutic (and morally right) is if psychiatry admitted it was wrong AND looked into treatment for iatrogenic damage that long-term SSRI use causes. But when has psychiatry been therapeutic AND morally upstanding? :angry:

 

*PS: Very much liked what you said about Horizant on the carlat blog, Sur. I posted under "SG." We really need to pounce as much as possible on other blogs like Carlat's whenever pharma "business as usual" rears its head...

 

Sorry, cinephile. When the change comes, there won't be any admitting of wrong. Just as, over the last 5 years, psychiatry has very, very gradually let info leak out about slowing tapering if withdrawal symptoms occur, there will be very, very gradual leaking of advice to limit antidepressant prescription to 6 months.

 

...although there will be a lot of individual patients giving their individual psychiatrists a hard time...but the psychiatrists will whine about having been misled by research, etc. No one will take individual or collective responsibility.

 

However, the popular reputation of psychiatry will be in the toilet for maybe 10 years. We can all look forward to that.

 

PS Thanks for the thumbs up! Agree about blog comments. They can be very effective.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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Brilliant article, so glad that some are starting to take notice now,

albeit a little too late, like everything else, but psychiatry will never

own up and admit anything thats for sure.

 

Sorry not sure how to do a quote on here atr the moment,

But this Chronic Down Regulation of the serotonergic receptors as an outcome

of antidepressant use??

 

Does anyone know if this can be repaired?? or

does this problem open the flood gates for the need for even more MEDs

to right the problem.

Began taking 30mg Seroxat on 15th Jan 1997 for grief issues. Remained at that dosage until Dec 05, did doctor ct, akathesia set in along with being non functional and overly emotional, brain fog. Doctor prescribed prozac, propranelol and diazeapam to counteract side effects, and told me to ct those 3 after 2.5/3 months use, induced wd seizure on 2nd day after ct. Was reinstated on seroxat 20mg in april 06, remained at that dose until Nov 07 and began a very slow taper lasting 56 months, finally DRUG FREE on 11th may 2011.

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angie, the serotonin receptors grow back. Growing new brain cells is neurogenesis, that's why we encourage activities like walking.

 

The brain also "rewires" itself around the downregulation -- that's neuroplasticity.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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Sorry, cinephile. When the change comes, there won't be any admitting of wrong. Just as, over the last 5 years, psychiatry has very, very gradually let info leak out about slowing tapering if withdrawal symptoms occur, there will be very, very gradual leaking of advice to limit antidepressant prescription to 6 months.

EXACTLY. Of course I know psychiatry will never admit to wrongdoing. Your prediction is eerily prophetic (at least in my opinion). YES, I'm pretty sure psychiatry will conveniently cite "biased studies" that misled them. However, I think it is our continuing duty to call bullsh*t on this and make psychiatry and the APA know that the psychiatric community CHOSE to look the other way at the massive pharmaceutical corruption of studies and did nothing about it, leading to countless ruined lives. They COULD have fought big pharma, but then that would be biting the hand that fed them, right?

 

I think we should also simultaneously lobby to simpatico psychiatrists (Carlat and the like) as well as journalists (Whitaker being foremost in my mind) to conduct studies that will help those of us who have been damaged by psych meds. Obviously Whitaker's foundation is a great place to start. **We NEED to do this because if we don't, we will be conveniently forgotten and only remain as a cautionary example for future generations to NOT take antidepressants longer than 6 months.

 

It's almost like the difference between when a utilities company owes YOU money versus when you owe THEM money. Boy, those utility companies sure don't waste ANY time billing you, and they do so with remarkable consistency. But when they owe YOU something, you have to fight tooth and nail to get what's rightfully yours. When we were unsuspecting patients, everything was groovy for psychiatry as we kept refilling our prescriptions and paying psychiatrist fees without thinking of the consequences of long-term SSRI use (we basically owed the utility companies money in this situation). But now us long-term SSRI users are basically in the situation of psychiatry owing us something, and we'll have to fight tooth and nail to get what's ours (that is, long-term, unbiased studies on the effects of long-term SSRI use and research for a treatment for iatrogenic damage).

 

However, the popular reputation of psychiatry will be in the toilet for maybe 10 years. We can all look forward to that.

I will dance in the streets for ten solid years when this happens!

Been on SSRIs since 1998:

1998-2005: Paxil in varying doses

2005-present: Lexapro.

2006-early '08: Effexor AND Lexapro! Good thing I got off the Effexor rather quickly (within a year).

 

**PSYCHIATRY: TAKE YOUR CHEMICAL IMBALANCE AND CHOKE ON IT!

APA=FUBAR

FDA=SNAFU

NIMH=LMFAO

 

Currently tapering Lexapro ~10% every month:

 

STARTING: 15 mg

11/7/10: 13.5 mg

12/7/10: 12.2 mg

1/6/11: 10.9 mg

2/3/11: 9.8 mg

3/3/11: 8.8 mg

4/1/11: 7.8 mg

4/29/11: 7 mg

5/27/11: 6.4 mg

6/24/11: 5.7 mg

7/22/11: 5 mg

8/18/11: 4.5 mg

9/14/11: 4 mg

10/13/11: 3.6 mg

11/9/11: 3.2 mg

12/7/11: 2.6 mg

1/3/12: 2.1 mg

2/2/12: 1.8 mg

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About Dr. Marcia Angell, the author of these articles:

 

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Marcia_Angell

 

Dr. Angell’s biography (in part):

Harvard Medical School, Division of Medical Ethics

Former Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

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  • 3 weeks later...
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Part II was published yesterday.

 

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jul/14/illusions-of-psychiatry/

 

The Illusions of Psychiatry

July 14, 2011

Marcia Angell

 

In my article in the last issue, I focused mainly on the recent books by psychologist Irving Kirsch and journalist Robert Whitaker, and what they tell us about the epidemic of mental illness and the drugs used to treat it.1 Here I discuss the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—often referred to as the bible of psychiatry, and now heading for its fifth edition—and its extraordinary influence within American society. I also examine Unhinged, the recent book by Daniel Carlat, a psychiatrist, who provides a disillusioned insider’s view of the psychiatric profession. And I discuss the widespread use of psychoactive drugs in children, and the baleful influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the practice of psychiatry.

 

One of the leaders of modern psychiatry, Leon Eisenberg, a professor at Johns Hopkins and then Harvard Medical School, who was among the first to study the effects of stimulants on attention deficit disorder in children, wrote that American psychiatry in the late twentieth century moved from a state of “brainlessness” to one of “mindlessness.”2 By that he meant that before psychoactive drugs (drugs that affect the mental state) were introduced, the profession had little interest in neurotransmitters or any other aspect of the physical brain. Instead, it subscribed to the Freudian view that mental illness had its roots in unconscious conflicts, usually originating in childhood, that affected the mind as though it were separate from the brain.

 

But with the introduction of psychoactive drugs in the 1950s, and sharply accelerating in the 1980s, the focus shifted to the brain. Psychiatrists began to refer to themselves as psychopharmacologists, and they had less and less interest in exploring the life stories of their patients. Their main concern was to eliminate or reduce symptoms by treating sufferers with drugs that would alter brain function. An early advocate of this biological model of mental illness, Eisenberg in his later years became an outspoken critic of what he saw as the indiscriminate use of psychoactive drugs, driven largely by the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry.

 

When psychoactive drugs were first introduced, there was a brief period of optimism in the psychiatric profession, but by the 1970s, optimism gave way to a sense of threat. Serious side effects of the drugs were becoming apparent, and an antipsychiatry movement had taken root, as exemplified by the writings of Thomas Szasz and the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There was also growing competition for patients from psychologists and social workers. In addition, psychiatrists were plagued by internal divisions: some embraced the new biological model, some still clung to the Freudian model, and a few saw mental illness as an essentially sane response to an insane world. Moreover, within the larger medical profession, psychiatrists were regarded as something like poor relations; even with their new drugs, they were seen as less scientific than other specialists, and their income was generally lower.

 

In the late 1970s, the psychiatric profession struck back—hard. As Robert Whitaker tells it in Anatomy of an Epidemic, the medical director of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Melvin Sabshin, declared in 1977 that “a vigorous effort to remedicalize psychiatry should be strongly supported,” and he launched an all-out media and public relations campaign to do exactly that. Psychiatry had a powerful weapon that its competitors lacked. Since psychiatrists must qualify as MDs, they have the legal authority to write prescriptions. By fully embracing the biological model of mental illness and the use of psychoactive drugs to treat it, psychiatry was able to relegate other mental health care providers to ancillary positions and also to identify itself as a scientific discipline along with the rest of the medical profession. Most important, by emphasizing drug treatment, psychiatry became the darling of the pharmaceutical industry, which soon made its gratitude tangible.

 

These efforts to enhance the status of psychiatry were undertaken deliberately. The APA was then working on the third edition of the DSM, which provides diagnostic criteria for all mental disorders. The president of the APA had appointed Robert Spitzer, a much-admired professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, to head the task force overseeing the project. The first two editions, published in 1952 and 1968, reflected the Freudian view of mental illness and were little known outside the profession. Spitzer set out to make the DSM-III something quite different. He promised that it would be “a defense of the medical model as applied to psychiatric problems,” and the president of the APA in 1977, Jack Weinberg, said it would “clarify to anyone who may be in doubt that we regard psychiatry as a specialty of medicine.”

 

When Spitzer’s DSM-III was published in 1980, it contained 265 diagnoses (up from 182 in the previous edition), and it came into nearly universal use, not only by psychiatrists, but by insurance companies, hospitals, courts, prisons, schools, researchers, government agencies, and the rest of the medical profession. Its main goal was to bring consistency (usually referred to as “reliability”) to psychiatric diagnosis, that is, to ensure that psychiatrists who saw the same patient would agree on the diagnosis. To do that, each diagnosis was defined by a list of symptoms, with numerical thresholds. For example, having at least five of nine particular symptoms got you a full-fledged diagnosis of a major depressive episode within the broad category of “mood disorders.” But there was another goal—to justify the use of psychoactive drugs. The president of the APA last year, Carol Bernstein, in effect acknowledged that. “It became necessary in the 1970s,” she wrote, “to facilitate diagnostic agreement among clinicians, scientists, and regulatory authorities given the need to match patients with newly emerging pharmacologic treatments.”3

 

The DSM-III was almost certainly more “reliable” than the earlier versions, but reliability is not the same thing as validity. Reliability, as I have noted, is used to mean consistency; validity refers to correctness or soundness. If nearly all physicians agreed that freckles were a sign of cancer, the diagnosis would be “reliable,” but not valid. The problem with the DSM is that in all of its editions, it has simply reflected the opinions of its writers, and in the case of the DSM-III mainly of Spitzer himself, who has been justly called one of the most influential psychiatrists of the twentieth century.4 In his words, he “picked everybody that [he] was comfortable with” to serve with him on the fifteen-member task force, and there were complaints that he called too few meetings and generally ran the process in a haphazard but high-handed manner. Spitzer said in a 1989 interview, “I could just get my way by sweet talking and whatnot.” In a 1984 article entitled “The Disadvantages of DSM-III Outweigh Its Advantages,” George Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote that the DSM-III represented “a bold series of choices based on guess, taste, prejudice, and hope,” which seems to be a fair description.

 

Not only did the DSM become the bible of psychiatry, but like the real Bible, it depended a lot on something akin to revelation. There are no citations of scientific studies to support its decisions. That is an astonishing omission, because in all medical publications, whether journal articles or textbooks, statements of fact are supposed to be supported by citations of published scientific studies....It may be of much interest for a group of experts to get together and offer their opinions, but unless these opinions can be buttressed by evidence, they do not warrant the extraordinary deference shown to the DSM. ....the current version, the DSM-IV-TR (text revised) in 2000, ....contains 365 diagnoses. “With each subsequent edition,” writes Daniel Carlat in his absorbing book, “the number of diagnostic categories multiplied, and the books became larger and more expensive. Each became a best seller for the APA, and DSM is now one of the major sources of income for the organization.” The DSM-IV sold over a million copies.

 

As psychiatry became a drug-intensive specialty, the pharmaceutical industry was quick to see the advantages of forming an alliance with the psychiatric profession. Drug companies began to lavish attention and largesse on psychiatrists, both individually and collectively, directly and indirectly. They showered gifts and free samples on practicing psychiatrists, hired them as consultants and speakers, bought them meals, helped pay for them to attend conferences, and supplied them with “educational” materials. When Minnesota and Vermont implemented “sunshine laws” that require drug companies to report all payments to doctors, psychiatrists were found to receive more money than physicians in any other specialty. The pharmaceutical industry also subsidizes meetings of the APA and other psychiatric conferences. About a fifth of APA funding now comes from drug companies.

 

Drug companies are particularly eager to win over faculty psychiatrists at prestigious academic medical centers. Called “key opinion leaders” (KOLs) by the industry, these are the people who through their writing and teaching influence how mental illness will be diagnosed and treated. They also publish much of the clinical research on drugs and, most importantly, largely determine the content of the DSM. In a sense, they are the best sales force the industry could have, and are worth every cent spent on them. Of the 170 contributors to the current version of the DSM (the DSM-IV-TR), almost all of whom would be described as KOLs, ninety-five had financial ties to drug companies, including all of the contributors to the sections on mood disorders and schizophrenia.5

 

The drug industry, of course, supports other specialists and professional societies, too, but Carlat asks, “Why do psychiatrists consistently lead the pack of specialties when it comes to taking money from drug companies?” His answer: “Our diagnoses are subjective and expandable, and we have few rational reasons for choosing one treatment over another.” Unlike the conditions treated in most other branches of medicine, there are no objective signs or tests for mental illness—no lab data or MRI findings—and the boundaries between normal and abnormal are often unclear. That makes it possible to expand diagnostic boundaries or even create new diagnoses, in ways that would be impossible, say, in a field like cardiology. And drug companies have every interest in inducing psychiatrists to do just that.

 

In addition to the money spent on the psychiatric profession directly, drug companies heavily support many related patient advocacy groups and educational organizations. Whitaker writes that in the first quarter of 2009 alone,

 

Eli Lilly gave $551,000 to NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness] and its local chapters, $465,000 to the National Mental Health Association, $130,000 to CHADD (an ADHD [attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder] patient-advocacy group), and $69,250 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

And that’s just one company in three months; one can imagine what the yearly total would be from all companies that make psychoactive drugs. These groups ostensibly exist to raise public awareness of psychiatric disorders, but they also have the effect of promoting the use of psychoactive drugs and influencing insurers to cover them. Whitaker summarizes the growth of industry influence after the publication of the DSM-III as follows:

 

In short, a powerful quartet of voices came together during the 1980’s eager to inform the public that mental disorders were brain diseases. Pharmaceutical companies provided the financial muscle. The APA and psychiatrists at top medical schools conferred intellectual legitimacy upon the enterprise. The NIMH [National Institute of Mental Health] put the government’s stamp of approval on the story. NAMI provided a moral authority.

Like most other psychiatrists, Carlat treats his patients only with drugs, not talk therapy, and he is candid about the advantages of doing so. If he sees three patients an hour for psychopharmacology, he calculates, he earns about $180 per hour from insurers. In contrast, he would be able to see only one patient an hour for talk therapy, for which insurers would pay him less than $100. Carlat does not believe that psychopharmacology is particularly complicated, let alone precise, although the public is led to believe that it is:

 

Patients often view psychiatrists as wizards of neurotransmitters, who can choose just the right medication for whatever chemical imbalance is at play. This exaggerated conception of our capabilities has been encouraged by drug companies, by psychiatrists ourselves, and by our patients’ understandable hopes for cures.

His work consists of asking patients a series of questions about their symptoms to see whether they match up with any of the disorders in the DSM. This matching exercise, he writes, provides “the illusion that we understand our patients when all we are doing is assigning them labels.” Often patients meet criteria for more than one diagnosis, because there is overlap in symptoms. For example, difficulty concentrating is a criterion for more than one disorder. One of Carlat’s patients ended up with seven separate diagnoses. “We target discrete symptoms with treatments, and other drugs are piled on top to treat side effects.” A typical patient, he says, might be taking Celexa for depression, Ativan for anxiety, Ambien for insomnia, Provigil for fatigue (a side effect of Celexa), and Viagra for impotence (another side effect of Celexa).

 

As for the medications themselves, Carlat writes that “there are only a handful of umbrella categories of psychotropic drugs,” within which the drugs are not very different from one another. He doesn’t believe there is much basis for choosing among them. “To a remarkable degree, our choice of medications is subjective, even random. Perhaps your psychiatrist is in a Lexapro mood this morning, because he was just visited by an attractive Lexapro drug rep.” And he sums up:

 

Such is modern psychopharmacology. Guided purely by symptoms, we try different drugs, with no real conception of what we are trying to fix, or of how the drugs are working. I am perpetually astonished that we are so effective for so many patients.

While Carlat believes that psychoactive drugs are sometimes effective, his evidence is anecdotal. What he objects to is their overuse and what he calls the “frenzy of psychiatric diagnoses.” As he puts it, “if you ask any psychiatrist in clinical practice, including me, whether antidepressants work for their patients, you will hear an unambiguous ‘yes.’ We see people getting better all the time.” But then he goes on to speculate, like Irving Kirsch in The Emperor’s New Drugs, that what they are really responding to could be an activated placebo effect. If psychoactive drugs are not all they’re cracked up to be—and the evidence is that they’re not—what about the diagnoses themselves? As they multiply with each edition of the DSM, what are we to make of them?

 

In 1999, the APA began work on its fifth revision of the DSM, which is scheduled to be published in 2013. The twenty-seven-member task force is headed by David Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, assisted by Darrel Regier of the APA’s American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education. As with the earlier editions, the task force is advised by multiple work groups, which now total some 140 members, corresponding to the major diagnostic categories. Ongoing deliberations and proposals have been extensively reported on the APA website (www.DSM5.org) and in the media, and it appears that the already very large constellation of mental disorders will grow still larger.

 

In particular, diagnostic boundaries will be broadened to include precursors of disorders, such as “psychosis risk syndrome” and “mild cognitive impairment” (possible early Alzheimer’s disease). The term “spectrum” is used to widen categories, for example, “obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum,” “schizophrenia spectrum disorder,” and “autism spectrum disorder.” And there are proposals for entirely new entries, such as “hypersexual disorder,” “restless legs syndrome,” and “binge eating.”

 

Even Allen Frances, chairman of the DSM-IV task force, is highly critical of the expansion of diagnoses in the DSM-V. In the June 26, 2009, issue of Psychiatric Times, he wrote that the DSM-V will be a “bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry but at a huge cost to the new false positive patients caught in the excessively wide DSM-V net.” As if to underscore that judgment, Kupfer and Regier wrote in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), entitled “Why All of Medicine Should Care About DSM-5,” that “in primary care settings, approximately 30 percent to 50 percent of patients have prominent mental health symptoms or identifiable mental disorders, which have significant adverse consequences if left untreated.”6 It looks as though it will be harder and harder to be normal.

 

At the end of the article by Kupfer and Regier is a small-print “financial disclosure” that reads in part:

 

Prior to being appointed as chair, DSM-5 Task Force, Dr. Kupfer reports having served on advisory boards for Eli Lilly & Co, Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc, Solvay/Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson; and consulting for Servier and Lundbeck.

 

Regier oversees all industry-sponsored research grants for the APA. The DSM-V (used interchangeably with DSM-5) is the first edition to establish rules to limit financial conflicts of interest in members of the task force and work groups. According to these rules, once members were appointed, which occurred in 2006–2008, they could receive no more than $10,000 per year in aggregate from drug companies or own more than $50,000 in company stock. The website shows their company ties for three years before their appointments, and that is what Kupfer disclosed in the JAMA article and what is shown on the APA website, where 56 percent of members of the work groups disclosed significant industry interests.

 

The pharmaceutical industry influences psychiatrists to prescribe psychoactive drugs even for categories of patients in whom the drugs have not been found safe and effective. What should be of greatest concern for Americans is the astonishing rise in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in children, sometimes as young as two years old. These children are often treated with drugs that were never approved by the FDA for use in this age group and have serious side effects. The apparent prevalence of “juvenile bipolar disorder” jumped forty-fold between 1993 and 2004, and that of “autism” increased from one in five hundred children to one in ninety over the same decade. Ten percent of ten-year-old boys now take daily stimulants for ADHD—”attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder”—and 500,000 children take antipsychotic drugs.

 

There seem to be fashions in childhood psychiatric diagnoses, with one disorder giving way to the next. At first, ADHD, manifested by hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity usually in school-age children, was the fastest-growing diagnosis. But in the mid-1990s, two highly influential psychiatrists at the Massachusetts General Hospital proposed that many children with ADHD really had bipolar disorder that could sometimes be diagnosed as early as infancy. They proposed that the manic episodes characteristic of bipolar disorder in adults might be manifested in children as irritability. That gave rise to a flood of diagnoses of juvenile bipolar disorder. Eventually this created something of a backlash, and the DSM-V now proposes partly to replace the diagnosis with a brand-new one, called “temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria,” or TDD, which Allen Frances calls “a new monster.”7

 

One would be hard pressed to find a two-year-old who is not sometimes irritable, a boy in fifth grade who is not sometimes inattentive, or a girl in middle school who is not anxious. (Imagine what taking a drug that causes obesity would do to such a girl.) Whether such children are labeled as having a mental disorder and treated with prescription drugs depends a lot on who they are and the pressures their parents face.8 As low-income families experience growing economic hardship, many are finding that applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments on the basis of mental disability is the only way to survive. It is more generous than welfare, and it virtually ensures that the family will also qualify for Medicaid. According to MIT economics professor David Autor, “This has become the new welfare.” Hospitals and state welfare agencies also have incentives to encourage uninsured families to apply for SSI payments, since hospitals will get paid and states will save money by shifting welfare costs to the federal government.

 

Growing numbers of for-profit firms specialize in helping poor families apply for SSI benefits. But to qualify nearly always requires that applicants, including children, be taking psychoactive drugs. According to a New York Times story, a Rutgers University study found that children from low-income families are four times as likely as privately insured children to receive antipsychotic medicines.

 

In December 2006 a four-year-old child named Rebecca Riley died in a small town near Boston from a combination of Clonidine and Depakote, which she had been prescribed, along with Seroquel, to treat “ADHD” and “bipolar disorder”—diagnoses she received when she was two years old. Clonidine was approved by the FDA for treating high blood pressure. Depakote was approved for treating epilepsy and acute mania in bipolar disorder. Seroquel was approved for treating schizophrenia and acute mania. None of the three was approved to treat ADHD or for long-term use in bipolar disorder, and none was approved for children Rebecca’s age. Rebecca’s two older siblings had been given the same diagnoses and were each taking three psychoactive drugs. The parents had obtained SSI benefits for the siblings and for themselves, and were applying for benefits for Rebecca when she died. The family’s total income from SSI was about $30,000 per year.9

 

Whether these drugs should ever have been prescribed for Rebecca in the first place is the crucial question. The FDA approves drugs only for specified uses, and it is illegal for companies to market them for any other purpose—that is, “off-label.” Nevertheless, physicians are permitted to prescribe drugs for any reason they choose, and one of the most lucrative things drug companies can do is persuade physicians to prescribe drugs off-label, despite the law against it. In just the past four years, five firms have admitted to federal charges of illegally marketing psychoactive drugs. AstraZeneca marketed Seroquel off-label for children and the elderly (another vulnerable population, often administered antipsychotics in nursing homes); Pfizer faced similar charges for Geodon (an antipsychotic); Eli Lilly for Zyprexa (an antipsychotic); Bristol-Myers Squibb for Abilify (another antipsychotic); and Forest Labs for Celexa (an antidepressant).

 

Despite having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the charges, the companies have probably come out well ahead. ....Because of the subjective nature of psychiatric diagnosis, the ease with which diagnostic boundaries can be expanded, the seriousness of the side effects of psychoactive drugs, and the pervasive influence of their manufacturers, I believe doctors should be prohibited from prescribing psychoactive drugs off-label, just as companies are prohibited from marketing them off-label.

 

The books by Irving Kirsch, Robert Whitaker, and Daniel Carlat are powerful indictments of the way psychiatry is now practiced. They document the “frenzy” of diagnosis, the overuse of drugs with sometimes devastating side effects, and widespread conflicts of interest. Critics of these books might argue, as Nancy Andreasen implied in her paper on the loss of brain tissue with long-term antipsychotic treatment, that the side effects are the price that must be paid to relieve the suffering caused by mental illness. If we knew that the benefits of psychoactive drugs outweighed their harms, that would be a strong argument, since there is no doubt that many people suffer grievously from mental illness. But as Kirsch, Whitaker, and Carlat argue convincingly, that expectation may be wrong.

 

At the very least, we need to stop thinking of psychoactive drugs as the best, and often the only, treatment for mental illness or emotional distress. Both psychotherapy and exercise have been shown to be as effective as drugs for depression, and their effects are longer-lasting, but unfortunately, there is no industry to push these alternatives and Americans have come to believe that pills must be more potent. More research is needed to study alternatives to psychoactive drugs, and the results should be included in medical education.

 

In particular, we need to rethink the care of troubled children. Here the problem is often troubled families in troubled circumstances. ....Our reliance on psychoactive drugs, seemingly for all of life’s discontents, tends to close off other options. In view of the risks and questionable long-term effectiveness of drugs, we need to do better. Above all, we should remember the time-honored medical dictum: first, do no harm (primum non nocere)....

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

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  • 2 years later...

wow. this is shocking.

2005-2008: Effexor; 1/2008 Tapered 3 months, then quit. 7/2008-2009 Reinstated Effexor (crying spells at start of new job.)
2009-3/2013: Switched to Pristiq 50 mg then 100 mg
3/2013: Switched to Lexapro 10mg. Cut down to 5 mg. CT for 2 weeks then reinstated for 6 weeks
8/2013-8/2014: Tapering Lexapro (Lots of withdrawal symptoms)
11/2014 -8/2015: Developed severe insomnia and uncontrollable daily crying spells
12/2014-6/2015: Tried Ambien, Klonopin,Ativan, Lunesta, Sonata, Trazadone, Seroquel, Rameron, Gabapentin - Developed Anxiety disorder, PTSD, and Psychogenic Myoclonus
7/2015-1/2016: Reinstated Lexapro 2 mg (mild improvement, but crying spells still present)

1/2016-5/2017: Lexapro 5 mg ( helped a lot, but poor stress tolerance & depressive episodes)

5/20/2017 - Raised dose to Lexapro 10 mg due to lingering depression(Total of 2 failed tapers & severe PAWS)

9/11/2018 - Present: Still on 10 mg Lexapro and mostly recovered.(Extremely sensitive to stress which triggers Myoclonus.)

Intro page: http://survivingantidepressants.org/index.php?/topic/4149-lilu-depression-worsened-by-meds/

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