Feminism and mental health - The drugs don't work

(442 Posts)
dittany Sun 26-Jun-11 22:13:12

Two articles in the New York Review of Books, reviewing a number of new books, which argue variously that SSRIs are almost no more effective than placebos (a fact that drug companies have covered up) and more worryingly that the marked increase of disabling mental illness being recorded may in fact be caused by the drugs being prescribed:



"The number of disabled mentally ill has risen dramatically since 1955, and during the past two decades, a period when the prescribing of psychiatric medications has exploded, the number of adults and children disabled by mental illness has risen at a mind-boggling rate. Thus we arrive at an obvious question, even though it is heretical in kind: Could our drug-based paradigm of care, in some unforeseen way, be fueling this modern-day plague?"

I was aware that the so-called chemical imbalance that supposedly causes depression was a piece of made up speculation by unscientific doctors, but these articles and the books they are reviewing spell it out clearly.

This is a feminist issue how? Well women are the majority of people who are diagnosed with depression, so if the drugs that are being used on us are ineffective or even damaging, that is extremely concerning.

There's also plenty to say about the sexism of the psychiatric profession which I'll come back to tomorrow. I also think the profession's incompetence and their misogyny are linked.

Prolesworth Sun 26-Jun-11 22:15:34

Message withdrawn

brilliant links dittany, thanks.

I have to say that regardless of 'effectiveness' these drugs are addictive. I had been on them for most of 15 years, and 'crash' horribly into severe depression whenever I come off them. I have heard of the same reaction from countless other people, yet the medical and psychiatric professions maintain that these drugs are completely non-addictive.

However, I have to say that I would suggest that the rise in the number of disabled mentally ill since 1955 is multifactorial: people are more open about their own and family members' issues, social support is breaking down (imho), narcissistic culture sets impossibly high standards and compulsory consumerism creates addiction and emptiness. It doesn't surprise me that depression etc is rising year on year.

dittany Sun 26-Jun-11 22:31:41

It's so corrupt:

"As psychiatry became a drug-intensive specialty, the pharmaceutical industry was quick to see the advantages of forming an alliance with the psychiatric profession. Drug companies began to lavish attention and largesse on psychiatrists, both individually and collectively, directly and indirectly. They showered gifts and free samples on practicing psychiatrists, hired them as consultants and speakers, bought them meals, helped pay for them to attend conferences, and supplied them with “educational” materials. When Minnesota and Vermont implemented “sunshine laws” that require drug companies to report all payments to doctors, psychiatrists were found to receive more money than physicians in any other specialty. The pharmaceutical industry also subsidizes meetings of the APA and other psychiatric conferences. About a fifth of APA funding now comes from drug companies.

Drug companies are particularly eager to win over faculty psychiatrists at prestigious academic medical centers. Called “key opinion leaders” (KOLs) by the industry, these are the people who through their writing and teaching influence how mental illness will be diagnosed and treated. They also publish much of the clinical research on drugs and, most importantly, largely determine the content of the DSM. In a sense, they are the best sales force the industry could have, and are worth every cent spent on them. Of the 170 contributors to the current version of the DSM (the DSM-IV-TR), almost all of whom would be described as KOLs, ninety-five had financial ties to drug companies, including all of the contributors to the sections on mood disorders and schizophrenia."

Allegra, I've heard that you have to come of psychiatric drugs very very slowly. Have you tried that. It took me six months to a year to come off a minute dosage (10mg) of citalopram. The side effects I had in the first few weeks of it were horrendous too.

allosaurusrex Sun 26-Jun-11 22:33:21

There are and always have been massive problems with the integrity of psychiatry IMO. However, I'd much rather have our modern problem of over-prescription of anti-depressants than the psychosurgery and hysterectomies of the past. (Some influential doctors believed that a woman was rather controlled by her womb and this could cause her mental health problems, such as promiscuity or spinsterhood, that sort of thing. Ever wondered where the word hysteria comes from???)

I think there is a real problem with the huge amount of mental health issues amongst members of our society, and I reckon Oliver James was onto something with Affluenza, not read it but think the idea is interesting. Our capitalist consumer society where we live off the backs of the poor of other countries is possibly the biggest culprit as opposed to a psychiatric conspiracy.

oh gosh this is scary stuff.

I actually hope the article is wrong.... because I have followed exactly the pattern it describes, of being long-term depressed on increasing doses of SSRIs which became less effective over time, then being diagnosed as bipolar type II recently and put on mood stabilisers (actually an anti-epilepsy drug).

Dittany I have heard it can be incredibly difficult- certainly when I do it I have a horrible crash which makes it impossible to parent my kids- no exaggeration. I am divorced and don't have a month to go into drug rehab as I would need to sad

dittany Sun 26-Jun-11 22:41:25

It's not really much of a choice is it? Be butchered or have your brain damaged? I don't think we need to imagine that those are the only options, Allusorus.

Has anybody ever tried controlled withdrawal over a very long period of time Allegra? I managed mine myself, and when I say difficult, for me it was just the length of time it took. I had to do it very carefully. I think I wasn't clear there, the side effects were when I started the drug. Really awful.

dittany Sun 26-Jun-11 22:44:35

Psychiatrists never cut men's testicles off did they. It was just women who had to be butchered.

Hmm. yes I did when pregnant and trying to conceive. During pregnancy with ds2 I was severely depressed. The first time was not so bad but I put that down to idealising the experience of having a child :D. The last time was a month or so ago and truly horrible. No amount of talk therapy etc would have got me through it.

dittany Sun 26-Jun-11 22:55:22

Did you just stop taking them though allegra? Or did you start with tiny reductions in dose over a very long period of time? SSRIs take ages to withdraw from. You can't stop them immediately.

Also you do need to find other ways of dealing with your feelings. I found the Sedona method (where you practice releasing your feelings), lying with crystals on my chakras (hippy I know, but whatever it's very soothing), being out in nature, eating healthily, taking exercise, were all very important in getting my mind back in balance again. Craniosacral therapy is very useful too.

allosaurusrex Mon 27-Jun-11 01:05:33

It's not really much of a choice is it? Be butchered or have your brain damaged? I don't think we need to imagine that those are the only options, Allusorus.

Agreed. I'm not condoning the over-prescription of psycho-active drugs by any means, but I think the issues are of our wider cultural context (of which unequal treatment of women is a part). I guess there is nothing wrong with pursuing psychiatry from a feminist standpoint but I think we need to face the reasons behind both our perceived and actual mental ill health as a culture aside from gender issues also.

Psychiatrists never cut men's testicles off did they. It was just women who had to be butchered.

Indeed. Psychiatry developed from a deeply misogynist point of view and the medical establishment are (unfortunately) still in thrall to many of the broader ideas of early figures like Freud although they claim to have distanced themselves from him in particular.

garlicnutter Mon 27-Jun-11 04:01:35

I have to read this tomorrow as it's so late. I felt compelled to say that SSRIs saved my life, literally. I still take them. I knew many women in the 70s who were dependent on huge doses of tranquillisers Valium or Librium; I feel it's important to stress that SSRIs are neither tranquillisers, nor addictive in the sense of needing increased dosage to maintain effects.

I know several men who also take SSRIs. While I'd be unsurprised to learn that more women are treated for depression than men - and would view that as a feminist issue - the question is far more complex than that. I see others have already mentioned some of the points I'd like to make.

Your quoted author refers to a drug-based paradigm of care. I don't think anyone - patient, clinician or carer - would dispute that mental illnesses need treatment with therapy as well as drugs. I was lucky to receive both for the first few years after becoming ill (until my insurance ran out!) but it's been close to impossible to maintain via the NHS and charities.

No part of this topic is clear-cut: there are no 'right' answers; the very new science of biopsychology is still racing to find out what causes mental illnesses; the development, reporting and treatment of mental disorders are bound to economic and social structures by their very definition.

Will definitely come back here, but wanted primarily to de-demonise SSRIs. They're the best we've got at present, and a damn sight better than what came before.

dittany Mon 27-Jun-11 08:24:29

"I guess there is nothing wrong with pursuing psychiatry from a feminist standpoint"

LOL - and would you be the one telling us if there was something wrong with pursuing it from a feminist standpoint.

Of course there's nothing wrong with examining psychiatry through a feminist lens. It's not even a question. The psychiatric profession is deeply misogynistic. It is also, equally importantly, ineffective, and in the US by the sounds of it, corrupt. It doesn't cure people, it leaves them on higher and higher doses drugs, which they struggle to get off. These drugs also have some hideous side effects for many of the people taking them.

Of course if you want to discuss mental illness and its treatment from a wider context, then do feel free to start a new thread .

dittany Mon 27-Jun-11 08:38:44

We're lucky here that the psychiatric industry isn't driven by the profit motive as it is in the US, or there would probably also be stories here of four year olds dying because they had been prescribed three different highly potent psychiatric drugs for "bipolar disorder" that apparently they had been born with.

There is no physical pathology for any of these mental illnesses, yet psychiatry is giving people body changing medicinces. Changes that are sometimes irreverible. Psychiatry is at the stage the rest of medicine used to be at about 150 years ago, where almost none of their treatments were evidence based and most were ineffective.

claig Mon 27-Jun-11 08:55:04

Remember this recent article in this country. The boy's father believes the boy hanged himself due to the drugs that he had been prescribed.


allosaurusrex Mon 27-Jun-11 09:07:09

Dittany. I'm not sure what your problem is. If you're discussing the issues in mental health as related to women that's fine. But it is perfectly valid for me to point out that the problem is much wider than that. Why the hell shouldn't I do it on this thread?

By addressing psychiatry from a feminist POV some progress may be made, but you'd still be left with a deeply flawed system within a deeply mentally unhealthy society. That is my point. You want women to get better treatment then you're better looking at what's happening in the whole system and why we are such unhappy people in this country.

(As an aside, the fact that more women are on anti-depressant medication than men is not necessarily down to the medical profession's prejudices - and remember that many prescribed these drugs have only seen a GP - but down to self-selection. More women seek help for mental health problems than men and I don't think anyone informed would argue that this is because women are more mentally fragile but rather that they're more willing to seek help.)

claig Mon 27-Jun-11 09:10:25

Start the Week has clinical scientists Raymond Tallis on now. He is discyussing the reductionism inherent in neuromania, and the theory that we are our brains. I think he makes good points. The underlying philosophy behind it, as in part exemplified by the progressive philosopher, John Gray, is nihilistic. I believe it has a political aspect that is intentional. I think some of it is a reflection of teh progressive theories behind books like 'Brave New World', where drugs like soma are used to control the population in the 'world state'.

claig Mon 27-Jun-11 09:13:15

He also mentioned that the pink/blue divide for girls and boys is nonsense, as it was the opposite way around in Victorian times.

GetOrf Mon 27-Jun-11 09:15:14

I am really, really glad that this thread is here. I wanted to start something about the (for me) pernicious effects of antids for ages, but thought as I am not a medic I would be shouted down. Plus I didn't want to scaremonger.

I have been suffering with severe depression for years, I have taken antids on and off. With no joy. They would work for a specific time, but then II would feel 100 times worse.

I progressed from fluoxetetine, to seroxat, to citalopram, to 37.5 g of venlafaxine, to 70g, to 140g. I never saw a psychiatrist in this time, was just prescribed them by GP. A couple of months ago I thought I was going mad, I would lay in bed at night clicking my fingers and thinking seriously of running away/hurling myself off a cliff. Was unable to cry, felt no joy.

I went back to GP in utter despair, he said he thought I was bipolar, and shouldn't be taking venlafaxine as it can make you psychotic if you are bipolar. He advised me to wean myself off gently. I looked on the internet and saw that it was very difficuly to stop taking venalfaxine. But I had had enough and just stopped. Thankfully I never had brain zaps, but felt like the angriest person in the world, with flu, for days. I just stayed in and tried not to scream at the cat.

Then - it lifted. The whole fucking fog lifted. I felt like someone NORMAL for the first time in ages. yes, I was still unhappy about many things (my relationship is falling apart, I have loads of family issues) but I could actually feel unhappiness, which felt better than the fucked off feeling of being disassociated from it, iyswim. It is actually quite scary how different I feel, and scary how much the drugs dampened every emotion, both good and bad.

I don't care how bad things get, I will never take SSRI or SNRIs again. They didn't work for me, they made me worse, and surely I cannot be the only one (actually I know I am not, read plenty of forums on the general hideousness of venlafaxine). I can't believe a GP presribed that willy nilly.

I am not a medic and obviously basing this assumption on my personal experience, but I genuinely believe that those drugs have more problems associated with them than is initially believed. It is frightening.

Prolesworth Mon 27-Jun-11 09:17:58

Message withdrawn

claig Mon 27-Jun-11 09:21:18

Prolesworth, you may be right. I have read reviews of his books, and I know that they are opposite to my views. Hence why I thought he was progressive. But I am very possibly wrong about him.

Ormirian Mon 27-Jun-11 09:23:29

allegra - I am struggling with the withdrawal demons atm. It's terrifying how something so initially helpful is such a nightmare when you try to stop.

"with each episode usually lasting no more than six months and interspersed with long periods of normalcy, the conditions are now chronic and lifelong."Yes to that. I have always had episodes of depression and anxiety - dreadful while they lasted but temporary. But my life was such that I couldn't take 6m out to deal with my head. Citalopram worked wonders with me to start with and I had reached a point when I felt I needed something. But coming off it feels as bad as the original symptoms at times - the difference for me is knowledge and self-belief. I am determined that I will cope even if it kills me hmm If someone could have helped me reach the emotional state of healthy that I am in now it might have been possible to beat the demons without the pills.

The most useful thing to research IMO is what it is about modern life that makes up so fucking unhappy! And why women?

claig Mon 27-Jun-11 09:24:20

Prolesworth, you're right about him. He doesn't seem to be progressive.


But I still think his views are wrong, because I think at heart they are nihilistic.

GetOrf Mon 27-Jun-11 09:24:36

Drugs are dished out very easily, it is probably easier to get antidepressants that it is to get antibioitcs!

I certainly think my depression was made worse by the antids. I should have been prescribed some sort of counselling or behaviour therapy or something. But is probably cheaper and easier to give you some pills.

GetOrf Mon 27-Jun-11 09:27:28

I agree with Orm - what the hell is it about modern life which makes you feel like the wheels are going to fall off your life and you are going nuts?

I always put down my depressive tendencies to my upbringing - which I still think has had an impact. And that can't be fixed with pills can it?

Mind you I went to a private counselling session once, and really didn't want to talk to someone about my life, how the hell could they help or understand? So my own bloody-mindedness scuppered me there. I think I will try counselling again though if I start falling down the black hole. Anything but those pills.

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