The past 2 decades have witnessed an alarming increase in the number of Americans diagnosed with mental illness. Is modern psychiatry reaping an immense profit by impulsively—perhaps even deliberately–conflating mental illness with a growing, public aversion to the demands of personal responsibility?
In the summer of 2011, The New York Review of Books published two lengthy articles by Marcia Angell, MD—Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. In these articles, Angell reviewed three books that take a critical look at psychiatry and its relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and also examined the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision).
Some of the findings of the books she reviews are quite disturbing. The major psychoactive drugs are revealed to be no better than placebos; the “chemical imbalance” theory of mental illness is mostly nonsense; psychoactive drugs are being given to children as young as two; and the process whereby the DSM—a major source of income for the American Psychiatric Association—is compiled is fundamentally flawed.
One of the reviewed authors—Irving Kirsch, PhD–obtained all the clinical trials data on six major psychoactive drugs via the Freedom of Information Act. There were 42 trials, and most of them were negative. Bear in mind that drug companies must turn over all clinical trial data to the FDA but need only show positive results in two studies to gain approval, and these of course are the ones that are published in the journals. The FDA regards the negative studies as confidential material.
But even as the value of psychotropic drugs is being questioned, Dr. Angell acknowledges that “Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it.” She also notes that the number of Americans who qualify for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance based on mental illness more than doubled between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184 to one in 76.
In a study that focused on adults over 50, Dr. Dawn Alley of the University of Maryland found high rates of depression among those behind in their mortgage payments and a higher likelihood of making unhealthy financial trade-offs regarding food and needed prescription medications. Alley comments: “We knew of the link, but we were surprised by the magnitude of the problem. These people were more than bummed out.” One Maryland nonprofit statewide mental health counseling referral service reports that almost one-third of cases now involve people who have lost their homes or their jobs.
In short, people who have experienced one or more of the misfortunes of life are being systematically diagnosed as mentally ill; their unfortunate circumstances are contributing greatly to the income both of psychiatrists who prescribe psychotropic medications and the drug companies that make them.
So visit a psychiatrist, take a pill, and obtain absolution from the unpleasant vagaries of the human condition! After all, the mentally ill can’t be expected to deal with the pressures of a lost job or an unpaid mortgage.
Can there be a more disgraceful way to “treat” the American public?