Monday, June 20, 2011

Is the "Chemical Imbalance Theory" of Mental Illness a Myth?

Psychotropic drug abuse performed
on Jack Nicholson, in
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

POSSIBLE WORLD #1: Imagine a world where smoking cigarettes was considered good for you. So you smoked them. Only to wake up one day to discover that, not only are cigarettes not good for you, they cause physical damage.

POSSIBLE WORLD #2: Now imagine a world where you are diagnosed with an "anxiety disorder." Your psychiatrist prescribes psychoative drugs for you, drugs that are said to affect your mental state. You feel helped. Only to wake up one day to find out you are not being helped. And that your psychiatrist does not have a clue about what is really wrong with you. And, the psychoactive drugs are changing your normal brain into an abnormal one that may never recover.

Some think POSSIBLE WORLD #2 is the real world. For research supporting this see "The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?" in the recent New York Review of Books. (Here, and here.)

CAUTION: I am not a psychiatrist. But I counsel many people who have varieties of "anxiety disorders." Mental problems. And I definitely know many who seem to not be helped by their psychotropic drug-prescribing doctors.

"Epidemic" reviews three new books supporting the reality of POSSIBLE WORLD #2. They 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.  

Here are some highlights:
  • The extent to which the companies that sell psychoactive drugs is disturbing.
  • None of the three authors subscribes to the popular theory that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
  • Instead of developing drugs to treat abnormalities, abnormalities were postulated to fit a drug. With this kind of logic one could argue that fevers are caused by too little aspirin.
  • "Neurotransmitter function seems to be normal in people with mental illness before treatment... However, once a person is put on a psychiatric medication, which, in one manner or another, throws a wrench into the usual mechanics of a neuronal pathway, his or her brain begins to function…abnormally."
  • The "chemical imbalance theory" is a "myth." (Psychiatrist Daniel Carlat) Kirsch says:  “It now seems beyond question that the traditional account of depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain is simply wrong.”  (Dr. Irving Kirsch, Harvard Medical School)
  • In clinical studies antidepressants fare basically no better than placebos. The difference between the two is "clinically meaningless."
  • Psychoactive drugs are not only ineffective but harmful. (Whitaker)
  • Long-term use of psychoactive drugs results in “substantial and long-lasting alterations in neural function.” (Steve Hyman, a former director of the NIMH and until recently provost of Harvard University)