Good Gawd, are they STILL peddling that tired old fable that psych meds are “just like insulin for diabetes?”
In a word: Yes. The National Alliance on Mental Illness San Diego has produced a brochure titled, An Illness Like Any Other: Mental Illnesses are Brain Disorders which contains the following words of wisdom:
“ As a diabetic takes insulin, most people with serious mental illness need medication to help control symptoms.”
There’s just one problem with that simile – it doesn’t make any sense.
There was a time within living memory when a diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence. Today, with insulin therapy, diabetics can enjoy decades of productive existence. What similar success do the purveyors of psych meds have to point to?
In his meticulously researched book, author Robert Whitaker shreds the idea that science understands the cause of or the cure for mental “illness.” In the United States, we currently spend more than $40 billion a year on psychotropic medication. If these drugs were truly curing mental illness, then we should expect that the proportion of people disabled by mental illness should have gone down, or at the very least stabilized. In fact, since these meds were introduced, the proportion of people disabled by mental illness has skyrocketed.
That makes no sense at all if you think these drugs are curing mental illness. But it makes perfect sense if you think they are CAUSING mental illness.
Note we’re not talking about the proportion of people LABELED mentally ill (although that, too, has skyrocketed). We’re talking about the proportion who are DISABLED by mental illness.
There is an epidemic both of overdiagnosis and an epidemic of iatrogenesis. The overdiagnosis is how they get people in the door – by classifying as “mental illness” conditions which used to be considered part of the normal range of human experience. Then the real fun begins – the cascade of more drugs, stronger drugs, higher doses. Someone who started out suffering from what sounded like nothing more than standard-issue teenage- or twenty-something angst ends up permanently disabled, or dead.
Oh by the way, since the publication of Whitaker’s book, new information on the matter has come to light. In his blog on psychologytoday.com, Whitaker notes that between 1990 and 2003, the number of adults being treated for mood disorders nearly doubled, from 11.16 million to 21.77 million. During that same period of time, the number of people receiving SSI or SSDI for mental illness doubled as well, from 1.47 million to 3.25 million.
I believe that is what the medical profession refers to as a “dose-dependant relationship.”
More than a dozen years ago, in his book Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, Eliot S. Valenstein, Professor of Psychology and Neurology at the University of Michigan, handily dispatched the “like-insulin-for diabetes” argument:
“When insulin is prescribed for a diabetic, it is only after a reliable test has measured the extent of a patient’s glucose metabolism problem, from which, in most instances, an insulin deficiency can be inferred. The dose of insulin that is prescribed can be based on a reasonably good estimate of the magnitude of the deficiency. Moreover, we also have a good understanding of how insulin regulates glucose metabolism and how a deficiency of that hormone can produce diabetic symptoms. In sharp contrast, a psychiatrist performs no laboratory test to determine if a mental patient has any chemical deficiency or excess. Instead, the implication that the drug prescribed is correcting an abnormal biochemical condition is, at best, an inference made in part from weak and unreliable group trends reported in the experimental literature, but based mainly on the simple belief that the drug will help.”
David Healy, a psychiatrist at the Cardiff University School of Medicine put it more succinctly:
"When it comes to dead bodies in current psychotropic trials, there are a greater number of them in the active treatment groups than in the placebo groups. This is quite different from what happens in penicillin trials or trials of drugs that really work."
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