Books and Links

Robert Whitaker


Drug Companies ‘Just Say No’ to Psych Drugs

Decline of psychopharmacology research provides society with an opportunity
Published on June 30, 2011 by Robert Whitaker in Mad in America

A Rorschach Test for Psych Meds

Off Meds and Enjoying Robust Recovery: Reimagining What Is Possible
Published on November 2, 2011 by Robert Whitaker in Mad in America

We Need a Thorough Investigation of the STAR*D Scandal

Should reports from the NIMH’s STAR*D trial be retracted?
Published on May 4, 2011 by Robert Whitaker in Mad in America

Blaming the Brain: the Truth About Drugs and Mental Health


Over the last thirty years, there has been a radical shift in thinking about the causes of mental illness. The psychiatric establishment and the health care industry have shifted 180 degrees from blaming mother to blaming the brain as the source of mental disorders. Whereas experience and environment were long viewed as the root causes of most emotional problems, now it is common to believe that mental disturbances– from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia– are determined by brain chemistry. And many people have come to accept the broader notion that their very personalities are determined by brain chemistry as well.

In his award-winning, meticulously researched, and elegantly written history of psychosurgery, “Great and Desperate Cures”, Elliot Valenstein exposed the great injury to thousands of lives that resulted when the medical establishment embraced an unproven approach to mental illness. Now, in “Blaming the Brain” he exposes the many weaknesses inherent in the scientific arguments supporting the widely accepted theory that biochemical imbalances are the main cause of mental illness. Valenstein reveals how, beginning in the 1950s, the accidental discovery of a few mood-altering drugs stimulated an enormous interest in psychopharmacology, resulting in staggering growth and profits for the pharmaceutical industry. He lays bare the commercial motives of drug companies and their huge stake in expanding their markets. Prozac, Thorazine, and Zoloft are just a few of the psychoactive drugs that have dramatically changed practice in the mental health profession. Physicians today prescribe them in huge numbers even though, as several major studies reveal, their effectiveness and safety have been greatly exaggerated.

Part history, part science, part expose, and part solution, “Blaming the Brain” sounds a clarion call throughout our culture of quick-fix pharmacology and our increasing reliance on drugs as a cure-all for mental illness. This brilliant, provocative book will force patients, practitioners, and prescribers alike to rethink the causes of mental illness and the methods by which we treat it.

The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth [Hardcover]

Irving Kirsch Ph.D.

The Emperor's New Drugs Book Cover

Kirsch reveals some unsavory pharmaceutical company practices. He reports that drug companies frequently manipulate scientific data—by cherry-picking positive results, withholding negative findings from publication, and “salami slicing” (publishing positive data multiple times). For instance, in the 1990s Glaxo­SmithKline conducted several trials on the effectiveness of the antidepressant Paxil, which showed the drug was no more effective than a placebo. The trials also revealed some dangerous side effects, including a possible increased risk of suicide. GSK, however, decided not to release most of the negative data to the public. When this negligent behavior was later uncovered, the company was sued by the New York attorney general for engaging in “repeated and persistent fraud.” The company was forced to make all the data public.

So why did the FDA approve these drugs? All they require is that there are two trials showing a statistical difference between drug and placebo. The drug company might have conducted 10 trials, and most have them might have failed to show positive results. Still, if there are two trials that have been successful, the antidepressant can be approved. And even in these two successful trials, it doesn’t matter how large the drug effect is. It can be small enough to make no real difference in people’s lives. It doesn’t have to be clinically significant; It just has to be statistically significant.

Fortunately there are alternatives to treatment with dangerous but largely ineffective drugs. Psychotherapy works, and some types of therapy have been shown to be much more effective than antidepressants over the long run. Physical exercise also works, and at least for mildly depressed people, there are self-help books like David Burns’s Feeling Good, that have been tested in clinical trials and found to be effective. So if you’re feeling blue, you may not have to take pills to get better. Instead, talk to your doctor about safer and more effective alternative treatments.

Irving Kirsch is Professor of Psychology at the University of Hull in the UK and author of “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth” (Basic Books, 2010).


Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America [Paperback]

Thomas Stephen Szasz




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Most philosophers of medicine do not understand or do not value the scientific and political significance of the core concept of disease as somatic pathology and ratify rather than critique problematic medical, especially psychiatric, practices. The result is that they op0pose limiting the scope of the concept of disease to scientifically verifiable entities, support the claim that mental diseases are true illnesses, and defend  traditional psychiatric coercions and excuses. Gone are the critics such as C. S. Lewis. In 1953, he warned: “of all the tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of the victims may be the most oppressive…. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which may not even regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”55


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