For the past year, I've been receiving communications from a practicing American psychiatrist, who has an office in the southeastern US. He sees patients privately and also works at a large hospital. Increasingly, this man has been expressing doubts about the drugs he has been prescribing.
Now, he has blown the lid off his own profession, and it appears he is ready to switch careers or become an alternative practitioner.
Here is an excerpt from our recent conversation:
Q: Why do you doubt the drugs?
A: They're toxic and injurious.
Q: Which ones?
A: All of them.
Q: And in particular?
A: The antidepressants. Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and so on. They are not showing, on balance, good results, and patients have been experiencing adverse effects.
Q: Such as?
A: Sleeplessness, nightmares, erratic behavior, highs and lows, crashes, attempts to commit suicide, exacerbated depression, violence, dramatic personality changes.
Q: Why do you think this is happening?
A: To be honest, I don't know. But my sense is, in general, that the drugs interfere in unpredictable ways with various neurotransmitter systems. I also believe they can work extreme changes in blood sugar levels and electrolyte levels. You know, it's not hard to create these effects with chemicals. The body is not able to integrate them in its normal functioning. I would compare it to suddenly setting up all sorts of roadblocks and detours and forced lane changes on a busy highway. You will get big trouble.
Q: Have you tried to communicate your concerns to colleagues and medical groups?
A: For a short time, I did. But I was given the cold shoulder. I got the distinct feeling I was being treated like some wayward child who had his facts all wrong.
Q: Who do you blame for this drugging catastrophe?
A: At the moment, everybody. The doctors, the drug companies, the FDA, the psychiatric teaching institutions, even the press. And at some point, patients are going to have to take responsibility and not follow the orders of their doctors.
Q: Do you believe that doctors should cut back and give the drugs to some people and not others?
A: That sounds good, but there is no way to know what effects the drugs will cause in any given individual, especially as time passes. Even in the short term, I have seen some frightening things.
Q: Do you believe the profession of psychiatry has made some kind of overarching deal with the drug companies?
A: Yes. The drug companies are everywhere. They stick their noses into everyone's business.
Q: What lies about the drugs have you had to purge from your own mind?
A: The main one is that they're some kind of miracle breakthrough. Another one is that I can rely on the judgments and certifications of the FDA. We're playing Russian Roulette out here. It's a very dangerous situation.
Q: Do you believe that some of the school shootings have resulted from children being on the antidepressants?
A: I didn't, until one day a sixteen-year-old patient of mine showed up for his appointment with a 9mm hand gun. Then I began to comb back through reports on a bunch of those shootings. I can tell you, it focuses the mind to see a young patient sitting across from you - you've put him on an antidepressant and now he's talking about "a new day" and he takes the gun out of his pocket and lays it on a table next to him by the Kleenex. You think to yourself, "I may have created a killer and his first victim could be me." People want to outlaw all guns. I'd start with the drugs.
Q: How about the diagnosis of depression itself?
A: I've come to realize that you can't do an interview with a patient and then come out with a shorthand assessment. It's wrong. It reduces all sorts of problems down to a label, and then you have your official gateway into the drugs.
Q: Your colleagues think you're overreacting?
A: I think I'm under-reacting. I think we have an epidemic on our hands, but it has nothing to do with mental disorders. It has to do with the chemicals we're facilitating.
Q: This boy with the gun - were you able to talk him down?
A: I spent two hours with him that day. I told him he was having a reaction to the drug. At first, it made no sense to him. He was on a manic sort of ride. That really scared me - that I couldn't make him see what was happening to him. He was in the middle of an episode and he couldn't stand outside it. Finally, he eased up a little. He began to weep in my office. It wasn't really crying. Tears just ran down his cheeks while he was talking. He didn't seem to notice them. He had almost stopped being human. He was a...creature. He was on a mission of some kind. His view of the world had totally changed. In his mind set, destruction was the only course of action.
Q: And then?
A: He calmed down a little. I was afraid to ask him for the gun. He just picked it up and put it back in his pocket. After he left, I called his mother. She went home from her job and met him. I had asked her to call the police but she wouldn't. Later, she told me she sat and talked with him for a long time and then he handed over the gun. It was a very tense situation. I had her remove the bottle of pills from her medicine cabinet. Then I had to follow up. I weaned him slowly from the drug. It took two months. He finally sort of returned to being the person he was. Even then I wasn't sure he'd be okay. He was definitely addicted to the drug. Luckily, I didn't cut him off suddenly. He might have killed people during the withdrawal cycle.
Q: Did you continue to see this boy as a patient?
A: I did a nutritional assessment with the help of a doctor who is very good with that. We found the boy was having strange reactions to certain soft drinks that have speed-type boosters in them. We gradually weaned him off them. Then we discovered he was reacting to dyes and other chemicals in junk food. So we had to change his diet. That wasn't easy.
Q: He was addicted in several ways to chemicals.
A: That's right. There was peer pressure for him to keep eating junk. All his friends did. They called him weird for going off the food they were eating every day. Finally, I discovered that, five years before I saw him, he'd been on Ritalin for a year. You know, for ADHD. He'd been driven into depression by that. He basically felt, at eleven, that his life was over. All paths and interests were closed to him.
Q: How is he now?
A: Much better. But he's not all the way back.
Q: Do you think there is permanent brain damage?
A: I don't know. He's now living outside the US with his father. I get reports once in awhile.
Q: How does he feel about his own experience?
A: He wants it to be an example to other families.
Q: You didn't go into medicine to deal with this.
A: No. In school, my ideals were high. But I allowed myself to be led down the garden path. I fell for the sales pitch. I'm telling you, this is not a good situation. We are a society on the brink. Something has to be done.
Q: How do you feel about Bush's mental health screening program for all children?
A: All in all, it may turn out to be the worst thing he's done as president. It's just a tip of his hat to his pharmaceutical supporters. But the consequences - if this plan gets rolling - will be devastating.
Q: Is there some underlying principle at work here? Some paradigm that everyone is accepting that is putting us into a bad situation?
A: You know the answer to that. It's the combination of easy diagnosis plus the drug fix. The pill craze for everything. Take a drug and everything will work out. I see it as the classic street-drug promotion. Feel good. Take this drug and you'll feel different and better. Combine that with the basic immaturity of most people and you have the interlock. Why work out your problems and strive to have the life you want when you can arrive at the best destination with a pill? I'd take this a step further. If you stacked up all the tranquilizers and antidepressants, for adults, next to, say, marijuana, as a way of dealing with stress, I'd say that a very modest amount of a mild marijuana would be more successful than all those other drugs at the levels they're normally prescribed. If I were forced to recommend one or the other, I'd go with the marijuana. And I'd say the drug companies know this. Which is one reason why, in the US, the enforcement on marijuana has been stepping up. But again, you're always dealing with an individual. Each person is different. I've seen people who react very badly to pot. It affects them like a psychedelic.
Q: You're saying the science behind the antidepressants is false.
A: Absolutely. Judging by the effects of the drugs, it has to be. It may sound good and proper. All the right words are used. But I don't care about that anymore. I go by results. My eyes have been opened.
Q: Then why are the drug companies pushing these drugs?
A: I'm not an expert to speak to about that. Certainly there is the profit motive. But I think there is also the myth of progress.
Q: What do you mean?
A: That myth states that technology must keep making advances. It's the legend of forward motion. If technology is to be seen as good, it has to keep turning out better advances - otherwise something is wrong. And there can't be anything wrong.
Q: It's like a hectic race.
A: Yes. If you stop, you might fall down. Secrets might be exposed. Shortcomings might show up. So you have to keep pushing. You have to keep saying you're doing better and better. I'm sure you can see where this gets you. You make new mistakes to cover up old mistakes. You become careless. You lie. You hire promotion people to tout your work. You keep the whole thing rolling forward, no matter what. That's where we are.
Q: And you were carried on that wave.
A: For many years. But now I've stopped.
Q: Is it uncomfortable?
A: Not so much anymore. But at first I was very upset and angry. I was blaming everyone but myself. I felt like I was in chains, that my whole education and career were at stake. And I was my career. What else did I have? Getting off the boat was quite difficult. I had every advantage this society has to offer. I was -
Q: The expert.
A: Yes. That's a powerful feeling. People come to you with questions and you have the answers. If you don't, then you're thrown down in the pit with everyone else. Part of being a doctor is being above the pit, out of the problem. You're the solution. You don't want to fall. And the only thing that keeps you from falling is what you've learned. Your knowledge. When you see that that's based on lies, you don't know what to do. It's like being a priest and realizing that everyone gets to the far shore by his own means. You don't want to let go of the doctrine that put you on the pulpit.
Q: So what would a new paradigm look like?
A: For mental health? We have to get rid of all the old classifications and disorders. We have to let all that sink into oblivion. That was wrong. That was largely fantasy.
Q: It was a story.
A: We told it, and now we have to stop telling it. Because we've ended up intervening in people's lives in a very pernicious way.
Q: Part of the story necessitated that kind of intervention.
A: Yes. And, not to take myself off the hook, but people want that kind of story, as you say. They want that "expert story." They want someone else to come in and tell them what to do and what to think and what drug to take.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: Because people have taken the easy path. They have opted for what I would call a flat version of reality. If they started adding dimensions on their own -
Q: They would be forced to tell their own story.
A: In the terms you're using, yes. That's what would happen.
Q: And how would society look then?
A: Much different. Much more risky, perhaps, but much more alive. Psychology and psychiatry don't allow for that kind of outcome. All mental disorders are constructs. They're named by committees, as I'm sure you know. They're a form of centralized pattern. In this context, the word "shrink" is very appropriate. That's what we've been doing. Shrinking down the perception of what reality and the mind are all about.
Q: Can you imagine what would happen if the lid were taken off?
A: I work with that idea every day now.
Q: And how does it look?
A: More and more appealing.