My colleague Jeff Kaye PhD recommended that I read Robert Whitaker’s The Making of an Epidemic (pictured above) for insight into the scientific evidence concerning the effects of psychiatric medication. I read the entire book in one day and feel it is the most important work I’ve read in years. This and the following two posts will summarize Whitaker’s most important findings but I recommend that you read this book if you’re at all interested in or concerned about these drugs and what they actually do. Although some sections of the book discuss neurological processes and there’s a fair amount of statistical data to support his arguments, you don’t need to be a psychologist or a physician to understand the material. For me, the experience was like reading a well-written legal thriller: I found it riveting. As a clinician, I’ve always doubted the effectiveness claims associated with Prozac and the other so-called “anti-depressants”, viewing them as propaganda that drives profits for Big Pharma, as I’ve discussed elsewhere. The full truth is far more disturbing.
Whitaker began as a newspaper reporter, then co-founded his own publishing company that reported on the business aspects of clinical testing for new drugs; his readers worked at pharmaceutical companies, medical schools and private medical practices, so he did not come to his subject area with an ax to grind. He began his research for Anatomy when he discovered that as a whole, schizophrenic patients in poor countries, only 16 percent of whom were regularly given antipsychotic medication, had much better long-term outcomes than patients in developed countries who received such drugs. He set out to understand this puzzle, not to launch a crusade. Before writing his book, he “believed that psychiatric researchers were discovering the biological causes of mental illness and that this knowledge had led to the development of a new generation of psychiatric drugs that helped ‘balance’ brain chemistry.” Many of you may believe the very same thing — not surprising, since it’s the story that has been given to us by the medical profession and regularly repeated in the media.
After painstaking research, Whitaker found that there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the theory that mental illness is a result of an imbalance in brain chemistry. Let me repeat that: there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the theory that mental illness is a result of an imbalance in brain chemistry. As an example, let’s take the best known theory, that depression is caused by low serotonin levels in the neural synapses. An entire class of drugs — the “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs) inhibits the removal of serotonin from those synapses and thus ( in theory) restores normal serotonin levels. So, if this theory is true, depressed people should have below-normal levels of 5-HIAA (serotonin is matabolized into 5-HIAA) in their cerebrospinal fluid.
Study after study has failed to find any significant difference in the 5-HIAA levels of depressed and non-depressed patients. No correlation has been found between 5-HIAA levels and severity of depressive symptoms. Whitaker is thorough and devastating on this particular point, exposing flawed research designs and statistical analysis in the very few studies that purport to show even a very small link between serotonin levels and depressive symptoms. Furthermore, no correlation has been found between levels of 5-HIAA in cerebrospinal fluid and degree of response to anti-depressants. This widely accepted theory has absolutely no basis in fact:
“‘I spent the first several years of my career doing full-time research on brain serotonin metabolism, but I never saw any convincing evidence that any psychiatric disorder, including depression, results from a deficiency of brain serotonin,” said Stanford psychiatrist David Burns in 2003 [citation omitted]. Numerous others made this same point. ‘There is no scientific evidence whatosever that clinical depression is due to any kind of biological deficit state,’ wrote Colin Ross, an associate professor of psychiatry at Southwest Medical Center in Dallas, in his 1995 book, Pseudoscience in Biological Psyciatry. [citation omitted].”
There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain. A typical brain neuron receives input from a vast web of dendrites; it has somewhere between one and ten thousand synaptic connections, which means that as a whole, the adult brain has something like 150 trillion synapses. How likely does it seem to you that lower levels of one (among many) neurotransmitters would be responsible for a complicated mental state such as depression?
I am NOT saying there are never any chemical irregularities in brain chemistry and I am NOT saying that SSRIs and other psychiatric meds have no effect. I’m relating to you the results of Whitaker’s exhaustive research and his irrefutable conclusion: the theory that mental illness results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain has NO basis in scientific fact. And yet, despite this fact, despite all the evidence that dis-proves this link and disputes the value of SSRIs, the low-serotonin theory of depression lives on.
In the next post, I’ll discuss how and why this is possible.
Finding Your Own Way:
Buy this book. If you click on the link above, I’ll actually earn something for referring you to Amazon but if you can find it cheaper somewhere else, buy it there instead. These posts are not about my earning a few bucks; they’re about informing you of a major fraud that has been perpetrated upon us by the APA and Big Pharma.