Psychiatrist Rails Against Antidepressants' Marketing Myth

A scathing critique of antidepressant medication, just written by a psychiatrist in Wales, UK, is making waves across Britain and you can expect ripples to reach the U.S. in the coming days.

A scathing critique of antidepressant medication, just written by a psychiatrist in Wales, UK, is making waves across Britain and you can expect ripples to reach the U.S. in the coming days.


Psychiatry professor David Healy argues forcefully in this editorial that only through marketing a complete myth have the most common antidepressant drugs — so-called SSRIs including the brands Celexa, Lexapro, and Prozac — come to dominate how the medical field treats serious depression.

That myth, says Healy, is that depression is caused by an imbalance of the neurochemical serotonin in the brain. While studies show that SSRIs affect serotonin levels in the brain, and that taking SSRIs relieves symptoms of depression, damage is done when this is spun into an easy explanation for patients.

"Above all, the myth co-opted doctors and patients. For doctors, it provided an easy shorthand for communication with patients. For patients, the idea of correcting an abnormality has a moral force that can be expected to overcome the scruples some might have ... especially when packaged in the appealing form that distress is not a weakness."


Healy says the medical establishment has done a poor job of explaining how SSRIs became popular in the first place: The reason was not for their efficacy, but because they were safer in larger doses. Taking tranquilizers remains a better treatment, says Healy, although overdosing on them is obviously dangerous. And now, patients have trouble going off SSRIs:

"[T]he number of antidepressant prescriptions a year is slightly more than the number of people in the Western world. Most (nine out of 10) prescriptions are for patients who faced difficulties on stopping, equating to about a tenth of the population."


The medical establishment has also permitted a false analogy of medicine to other consumer goods, such as electronics, which tend to improve in efficiency and strength year after year. But medication doesn't work like that, says Healy. The standard for bringing a new pill to market isn't that it's more effective than the current treatment:

"In other areas of life, the products we use, from computers to microwaves, improve year on year, but this is not the case for medicines, where this year’s treatments may achieve blockbuster sales despite being less effective and less safe than yesterday’s models. The emerging sciences of the brain offer enormous scope to deploy any amount of neurobabble."

Dr. Julie Holland, a licensed psychiatrist in the state of New York, recently sat down with Big Think to discuss the far-reaching consequences that overprescribed psychiatric medications play, especially in the lives of women.


Read more at The BMJ.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

Why avoiding logical fallacies is an everyday superpower

10 of the most sandbagging, red-herring, and effective logical fallacies.

Photo credit: Miguel Henriques on Unsplash
Personal Growth
  • Many an otherwise-worthwhile argument has been derailed by logical fallacies.
  • Sometimes these fallacies are deliberate tricks, and sometimes just bad reasoning.
  • Avoiding these traps makes disgreeing so much better.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Videos
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less