Why are there more people disabled by mental illness in America than ever before? The book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness by Robert Whitaker may have the answer. Since I’m only about sixty pages in and can’t give you an overview of the whole, here are some words, actually many words, to whet your appetite. This excerpt exposes the heart of Whitaker’s message.
“The ‘magic bullet’ model of medicine that had led to the discovery of the sulfa drugs and antibiotics was very simple in kind. First, identify the cause or nature of the disorder. Second, develop a treatment to counteract it. Antibiotics killed known bacterial invaders. Eli Lilly’s insulin therapy was a variation on the same theme. The company developed this treatment after researchers came to understand that diabetes was due to an insulin deficiency. In each instance, knowledge of the disease came first–that was the magic formula for progress. However, if we look at how the first generation of psychiatric drugs was discovered, and look too at how they came to be called antipsychotics, anti-anxiety agent, and antidepressants–words that indicate they were antidotes to specific disorders–we see a very different process at work. The psychopharmacology revolution was born from one part science and two parts wishful thinking” (47).*
Back in 1974 when I was in my early twenties, I was hospitalized due to prescription Valium withdrawal. The dentist who prescribed the drug for my jaw joint pain said that it was like aspirin–non-addictive. Take it four times a day and whenever needed, he wrote on his handy pad. He did not warn of complications if used with alcohol or the danger if one suddenly stopped taking the drug. The man did not know it was addictive. Doctors in general did not know about the real Valium. Why not? Because the FDA did not test it adequately. Often, only when we guinea pigs fall in high numbers is the culprit discovered. And why didn’t the FDA do its job with Valium? I am hoping this book will answer this question for me.
How many of us have early trauma and post-traumatic stress whose later symptoms are treated with medications? How often is the underlying cause of the stress or disease sought? Are birth trauma or trauma due to early invasive medical procedures potential causes of post-traumatic stress? YES! And to my mind, pharmaceuticals often mask the cause. Moreover, the side effects cause other, sometimes more serious, problems.
Stay tuned for more on Robert Whitaker’s book. Learn why psychiatric drugs may be the problem.