In continuing my discussion of Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic from my last post, I begin with the results of a study on the use of anti-psychotic medication for treating schizophrenia; it is one of many such studies discussed by Whitaker which report very similar outcomes. This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted at NIMH’s clinical research facility in Bethesda, Maryland. According to Whitaker:
“[T]hose treated without drugs were discharged sooner that the drug-treated patients, and only 35 percent of the non-medicated group relapsed within a year after discharge, compared to 45 percent of the medicated group. The off-drug patients also suffered less from depression, blunted emotions, and retarded movements.” The investigators reported that, over the long term, the medicated patients were “less able to cope with subsequent life stresses.”
Study after study shows that, in the short term, anti-psychotics do reduce unrealistic thinking, anxiety, suspiciousness and auditory hallucinations, but in the long-term, they make those continuing on medication much more prone to relapse and re-hospitalization than non-medicated patients or patients given a placebo. “Schizophrenic patients discharged on medications were returning to psychiatric emergency rooms in such droves that hospital staff dubbed it the ‘revolving door syndrome.’ Even when patients reliably took their medications, relapse was common, and researchers observed that ‘relapse is greater in severity during drug administration than when no drugs were given.'”
In other words, schizophrenic patients who received no medication had much better long-term results than those treated with anti-psychotic drugs. This jibes with both (1) a historical comparison between long-term outcomes for schizophrenic patients prior and subsequent to the introduction of anti-psychotics; and (2) a comparison between long-term outcomes for schizophrenics treated with anti-psychotics in the developed world versus those in poor countries treated without them (much better). Study after study bears this out.
In short-term usage, psychiatric medications for psychotic disorders have value in stabilizing patients and reducing the severity of their symptoms, but long-term usage makes those people more prone to relapse and “may prolong the social dependency of many discharged patients.” And here is the tricky part: If patients are withdrawn from their medications, they do poorly, then do better once they have been put back on those drugs. For this reason, it appears to be proof that the drugs “work”; but do they only “work” in the sense that they ameliorate a problem created by placing the patient on those very drugs in the first place? In study after study, it is patients given no medication whatsoever who have the best outcomes.