Textual analysis of social media posts finds users' anxiety and suicide-risk levels are rising, among other negative trends.
A new study pushes back on psychiatry industry talking points.
- Australian researchers note a link between rising antidepressant usage and rising suicide rates in youth.
- Their research pushes back on psychiatry talking points that SSRIs decrease suicide risk.
- The top method for self-harm and suicide in younger age groups is overdosing antidepressants.
Antidepressants Can Cause Suicide and Homicide — Peter Gotzsche, M.D.<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="12a2ec455763e071d5fba7d9422d22b2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/oIxcMIBhHS4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Australia, which ranks second in the world in per-capita consumers of antidepressants among <a href="https://www.oecd.org/about/" target="_blank">OECD countries</a>, has never been provided the same safeguards as America—and the efficacy of America's safety measures are questionable at best. The FDA first issued that block box warning in 2004, updating it to reflect adults under age 25 three years later. In 2005, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) required leaflets be included in antidepressant packages to reflect the risk of suicidal ideation.</p><p>The researchers write that the data put forward by psychiatrists and mental health organizations was misleading. Much like the industry ran with Rusk's assertion, many professionals cite a 2007 <a href="https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07030454" target="_blank">ecological study</a> by Robert D. Gibbons that incorrectly associates SSRI usage with a decreased risk of suicide among U.S. youth. This misreading is the basis of the narrative of minimized harm.</p><p>The data tells another story. The researchers point out that between 2008-2018, prescriptions for antidepressant (predominantly SSRIs) increased by 66 percent in the 0-27 year age group, while suicide rates increased by 49 percent in a similar age group (0-24 years). Between the years of 2006-2016, there was a 98 percent increase in intentional poisonings in New South Wales and Victoria. An overlap emerges: the most common method of attempted self-harm and suicide is prescription antidepressants. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is clear evidence that more young Australians are taking antidepressants, and more young Australians are killing themselves and self-harming, often by intentionally overdosing on the very substances that are supposed to help them."</p><p>The researchers note that the FDA has long been criticized for not offering more non-pharmacological treatments. The cost of psychotherapy is prohibitive for many in the U.S. health care system. The reflex action of the medical establishment is to write a script. When one pill doesn't work or loses efficacy, it's usually replaced by another pill or added to an ever-growing pharmacological cocktail. Some people take four to six (or more) drugs to manage mental distress, each one countering the side effects of the other. </p>
Photo: Ryan McGuire / Pixabay<p>As in America, Australia suffers from corporate lobbying. The team writes that many opinion leaders receive funding from pharmaceutical companies; it makes sense that these figures will tout the benefits of antidepressants while downplaying potential harm. They also note that governing bodies are likely relying on outdated evidence of risk, which translates into a lack of consumer awareness.</p><p>They also write that general practitioners account for 90.4 percent of antidepressant prescriptions in Australia. Since mental health is not their area of expertise, they often repeat what psychiatrists initially prescribed.</p><p>Correlation is not causation, a limitation the researchers acknowledge. They list another cocktail, this one labelled "drivers of mental health distress." Smartphone addiction, online bullying, lack of meaningful relationships, climate change, and debt top the list. Antidepressants are not the cause of mental distress. What we need to know is whether they help alleviate it or add to the burden. </p><p>This forces us to confront a longstanding question: Why are we treating the symptoms of mental health problems with pills while never addressing their <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/antidepressants-dangers" target="_self">actual cause</a>? Put another way, why does the psychiatry industry rely on pills with a long list of <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressants-withdrawal" target="_self">side effects</a> instead of addressing the environmental and social issues that are at the foundation of mental distress? And why are we putting increasingly higher numbers of teenagers on drugs that <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/anti-depressants-for-teens-201601229018" target="_blank">negatively impact their brains</a> while their prefrontal cortex is still in development? This seems to set them up for a lifetime of dependence, which is a great profit model but a terrible health care solution. </p><p>The psychiatry industry faced an existential crisis in the nineteen-seventies when the public grew weary of their growing reliance on drugs. The industry's response was to double down on pharmacology. Thanks for a massive PR campaign around Prozac, that move worked. You cannot both have <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/astounding-increase-in-antidepressant-use-by-americans-201110203624" target="_blank">increasing numbers of prescriptions</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190315110908.htm" target="_blank">increasing mental health problems</a> and pretend that this intervention is working. </p><p>While more work needs to be done, the researchers are confident in their assertion between increased self-harm with antidepressant usage. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These results are consistent with the hypothesis that antidepressants increase the risk of suicidality and self-harm in young people. Furthermore, they provide compelling evidence that the antidepressants prescribed to children and adolescents are frequently the means of self-harm."</p><p>These children deserve more from us at a pivotal time in their development. The psychiatry industry needs to come through this existential crisis with better solutions. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
As little as an extra dollar could mean a significant decrease in suicide rates.
- A new study found that a dollar increase in minimum wage correlated to nearly a six percent reduction in suicide rates among adults aged 18 to 64 with a high school degree or less education.
- Increasing the minimum wage was found to be most effective in the reduction of suicides when unemployment levels were the highest.
- According to the researchers' predictions, raising the minimum wage by just one dollar during the 2008 economic collapse could have prevented over 13,000 suicides.
Over the last few years, suicide rates have been on an alarming rise in the United States. An analysis by the Center for Disease Control found that American suicide rates have gone up by 33 percent since 1999, the highest rate recorded in the country since 1942.
Mental health is a complex topic, and suicide cause and prevention can't be chalked up to any one thing or solution. But, according to a recent study, one answer to preventing at least some of these suicides might be a simple little public policy adjustment: Raising the minimum wage.
The link between financial stress and suicide
Topical Press Agency / Stringer
There are, of course, a multitude of variables that can foster the extreme anxiety and depression that might lead a person to consider ending his or her life. A number of studies in the past indicated that financial stressors — such as mounting debt, the loss of a job, or unemployment — are a big contributor when it comes to the factors that play the most significant roles in suicide. The likelihood of suicide increases among financially distressed people as things like debt become harder to manage.
Because suicide and depression more often affect people who have lower incomes and levels of education, it means that this demographic is also likely to be working at or close to the minimum wage. It seems obvious that researchers would be interested in looking at the correlations between suicide and minimum wage.
New research on suicide and minimum wage
Recently, a team of researchers from Emory University took an in-depth look at the relationship between minimum wage laws and suicide rates. They found that the two do correlate, but only during times of high unemployment and among those with a high school level education, or less.
When it comes to minimum wage, state and federal governments both set standards. The federal government sets a bottom "safety net" for minimum wage. State governments can't dip below that, but they can exceed it. The minimum wage rules of individual states are easy to track and, conveniently, a few states changed their minimum wage during the time period of the study providing a usefully before-and-after comparison for the researchers. Collecting the rest of the data was relatively simple. States provide their unemployment rates, share of GDP, and various other forms of public assistance. Additionally, the National Vital Statistics System provided researchers with a trove of death information, including the cause of death as well the individual's educational background.
Researchers used a "differences in differences" analysis to determine how minimum wage laws were linked to suicide rates. This is a statistical technique used to measure data from two groups, a "treatment" group and a "control" group, at at least two different time periods. One time period being before the "treatment" (in this case, higher minimum wage) and the other being after. In this study, the researchers used individuals with a college-level education as the control group as they are statistically less likely to work a minimum wage job or commit suicide. So, that group's response to changes in the minimum wage laws was compared to that of individuals with a maximum of a high school education. This data was then tracked monthly.
Findings: Higher minimum wage meant lower suicide rates
Photo Credit: Wikimedia
The effect of a one U.S. dollar increase in the minimum wage ranged from a 3.4 percent decrease to a 5.9 percent decrease in the suicide rate among adults aged 18 to 64 with a high school degree or less education. The researchers estimated a six percent reduction in suicide for every dollar increase in minimum wage among that population.
Researchers also observed that increasing the minimum wage was most effective in the reduction of suicides when unemployment levels were the highest. Specifically, a higher minimum wage had maximum impact on reducing suicide when the unemployment rate was over seven percent and minimum wages were at least $1.75 over the national minimum. According to the researcher's predictions, during the 2008 economic collapse raising the minimum wage by just one dollar could have prevented over 13,000 suicides!
Of course, poverty is not the root cause of all suicides, and mental health issues go deeper than one single economic factor. But the study underlines how reducing economic burdens during times when financial stresses are higher can reduce some of the anxiety and depression that leads to suicide risk. Ultimately, this study shows that beyond being good economic policy, raising the minimum wage can save lives by improving the quality of life for America's working class.
Now the question is, will legislators do it?
Researchers say further research is needed, though.
- Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew that's been used by Amazonian tribes for centuries.
- Recent research suggests that ayahuasca might help reduce depression. The new study examined whether those effects might extend to suicidality.
- The results were mixed, but it seems ayahuasca shows some potential as a suicide intervention.
A 'thirst for wholeness'<p>But it's possible these problems stem from people using the drug irresponsibly, as Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester, founder of Céu do Montreal, a Canadian church that uses ayahuasca in spiritual ceremonies, told the <a href="https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/columnists/ahahuasca-conference-aims-to-demystify-and-educate" target="_blank"><em>Montreal Gazette</em></a><u><em>.</em></u></p><p>"What has been happening is something called ayahuasca tourism. Unfortunately, with the world of the internet and people posting things saying, 'I went here once and healed my whole life,' (ayahuasca) has been sensationalized."</p><p>"On the other side, there have been tragic accidents where people either met death or caused harm. Our condolences go out to the individuals, families and friends for their losses, which would have been preventable if people would have taken simple precautions."</p><p>Rochester said ayahuasca improved her life.</p><p>"A lot of my experiences contributed to my understanding of myself, and of reality," she said. "I was simply following what my heart called me into. I can't say I was looking for anything in particular, but I like what Carl Jung wrote to Bill Wilson about a 'thirst for wholeness.'</p><p>"It's what's driving Western civilization, and is the cornerstone of a lot of my early academic work and my work as a health and wellness counsellor, which I have been for years."</p>
We live in contradiction. How we confront that fact matters.
- Absurdism is the philosophical school that recognizes the tension between meaning and a meaningless universe.
- Camus and Kierkegaard wrote extensively on the topic, though modern thinkers continue to contribute to the literature of the Absurd.
- In a politically divided time, the Absurd has come to the forefront of national discussion.
Why life is meaningless, according to absurdists | BBC Ideas<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="23ba2a9ed0847dc6acb0135620980d8b"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QoePDl14Eyc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The ultimate modern absurdist, English author Douglas Adams, kicked off his classic Hitchhiker's series as a BBC radio show in 1978. While Adams left us too early at age 49 in 2001, the atheist and satirist knew how to drive into the heart of contradiction, as when he wrote in <em>The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,</em></p><blockquote>"If there's any real truth, it's that the entire multidimensional infinity of the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs."</blockquote><p>Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has gotten into her share of trouble for pointing out the contradictions in religious belief systems — namely, Islam, which she was raised in. She beautifully expresses the absurdity of existence in this passage from <em>Infidel</em>: </p><blockquote>"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."<em></em></blockquote><p>In <em>Einstein's Monsters</em>, British novelist and screenwriter Martin Amis takes our love of war to task by noting the absurdity of our nuclear predicament. </p><blockquote>"What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening to use nuclear weapons. And we can't get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons."</blockquote><p>The medieval scholar, Caroline Walker Bynum, knows well the contradictions of past ages. In <em>Fragmentation and Redemption</em> she takes note of the emotional utility of a belief in resurrection. </p><blockquote>"If there is meaning to the history we tell and the corruption (both moral and physical) we suffer, surely it is in (as well as in spite of) fragmentation. Bodily resurrection at the end of time is, in a technical sense, a comic — that is, a contrived and brave — happy ending."</blockquote><p>The bible of Absurdist literature goes to the French philosopher, Albert Camus, who wrote one of the great philosophical texts of the 20th century with <em>T</em><em>he Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. </em></p><blockquote>"If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. I can sketch one by one all the aspects it is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up. This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance the gap will never be filled."<em></em></blockquote>
Albert Camus, seated, his books spread out before him on a table, with the banner 'Nobel Prize.'
Photo credit: Manuel Litran/Paris Match via Getty Images<p>American professor and essayist Roxane Gay is one of today's most lauded feminists, for good reason: her criticism shines light where darkness has too long pervaded. In <em>Bad Feminist</em>, she notes that judgment in the face of contradiction is itself absurd and should not distract from the bigger message. </p><blockquote>"No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I'm full of contradictions, but I also don't want to be treated like shit for being a woman."<em></em></blockquote><p>Italian anti-fascist poet and anarchist Renzo Novatore had quite a way with words. The early 20th-century writer reminds us in <em>I Am Also a Nihilist</em> that the playing field will always be tilted and that finding your place on that field is essential. </p><blockquote>"Life — for me — is neither good nor bad, neither a theory nor an idea. Life is a reality, and the reality of life is war. For one who is a born warrior, life is a fountain of joy, for others it is only a fountain of humiliation and sorrow."<em></em></blockquote><p>How can any list of contradictions and absurdity be complete without Belgian psychotherapist, Esther Perel? <em>Mating in Captivity</em> is necessary reading for anyone that wishes to be in any sort of relationship in the modern era. (Make sure to check out my <a href="https://bigthink.com/sex-relationships/10-esther-perel-quotes-that-set-the-record-straight-on-love-and-sex" target="_blank">11 quotes from her</a> as well.) </p><blockquote>"Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?"</blockquote><p>Few can put such a large sentiment in as few words as Jon Stewart. </p><blockquote>"I have complete faith in the continued absurdity of whatever's going on."</blockquote><p>I listed the quotes in alphabetical order by author name, yet it seems fitting to give the last word to the man that deserves it. Kurt Vonnegut is the king cynic and a brilliant writer that forces you to confront everything in existence. In <em>Breakfast of Champions</em> he sums up the Absurdity of our situation. </p><blockquote>"As for myself: I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or about any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide."</blockquote><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em></p>