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Authors explore mental illness ‘epidemic’

An article in the New York Review of Books takes a look at three recent titles exploring a current American phenomenon that writer Marcia Angell terms a “rampaging epidemic of mental illness.”

The three titles are: The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth
by Irving Kirsch; Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker; and Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry—A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis by Daniel Carlat.

Angell observes that antidepressant medication has supplanted “talk therapy” as the dominant means by which medical professionals treat mental illness. But she writes that underlying arguments in favor of antidepressants are questionable at best, and a number of studies indicate that they work no better than placebos.

Whitaker goes so far as to suggest that antidepressants aren’t just ineffective, but harmful – turning the illnesses they’re supposed to be treating into long-term conditions rather than relatively short-term episodes.

A number of studies have also indicated that pregnant women’s use of antidepressants classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may cause potentially dangerous heart and lung defects in newborns. SSRI antidepressants include Prozac and Zoloft.

The three authors have different backgrounds and come from different perspectives, Angell writes. But they agree on some things.

For example, all three agree on the “disturbing extent” to which drug manufacturers and sellers have been able to define what constitutes a mental illness, as well as the proper diagnosis and treatment. Angell writes that the companies have accomplished that “through various forms of marketing, both legal and illegal, and what many people would describe as bribery.”

She also writes that none of the three authors subscribes to the popular theory that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, finding the evidence supporting that theory to be unconvincing.

Patients should consult their doctors before making any changes in their medication. A consultation with an SSRI lawyer is also important if there are significant injuries from SSRIs.

See the story here:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/?pagination=false