This post will be biased, since I'm not a big fan of pharmaceuticals as treatment for mental disorders. I'm not in the field and have no formal training, so I can't speak with authority. But I'm still free to speak my opinion, and my opinions are these:
1) Drugs are being significantly over-prescribed, not only as a band-aid solution for some psychological issues but (primarily) because many psychiatrists and medical doctors are in bed with the pharmaceutical industry. Kick-backs are a great motivator to move high volumes of manufacturers' brands even when they're not always in the best interest of the patient
2) Many people are being mis-diagnosed unintentionally, or (too often) purposely in order to move more of these drugs and
3) I believe there are many natural alternatives to synthetic drugs that we never hear about because they don't support the pharmaecutical giants.
I read an interesting article this past weekend in Vitality Magazine, written by a woman originally diagnosed with insomnia. I've reproduced it here without prior consent but with full acknowledgement of its origin....
An Open Letter To Doctors
You call yourselves doctors. You once took an oath to do no harm.
Originally, there were no pharmaceuticals in our house – not even an aspirin, but I became a drug addict when I was prescribed a benzodiazepine for insomnia.
My insomnia started after I received a cluster of immunizations which I didn’t want, but took because I was told it would be irresponsible of me not to. I was around 40, recently married, and had a dozen young godchildren. One of the shots was rubella: the other two were combinations. They were all given at one time.
Immediately after the vaccination, I became crippled with profound muscle weakness and severe ‘atypical’ inflammatory arthritis, some of my fingers became gnarled and I was in a wheelchair for a while. Over many years I was able to reverse most of the physical damage, but the insomnia persisted. Needless to say to say, I did not have children and henceforth in medical reporting I was referred to as ‘middle aged, short-haired, bespectacled, casually dressed, and childless.’
Even though I had to change careers, I remained fully engaged in life, busier than most. I took very small amounts of the benzodiazepine intermittently for several years. I took it only for sleep and it seemed to help a little, but I was also becoming ‘anxious.’ At that time I did not recognize ‘anxiety’ as a possible adverse effect/reaction to the benzodiazepine, nor did I know about interdose interval withdrawal.
When my mother died on Christmas Eve 2002, my sleep got worse and I was prescribed a higher dose of the benzodiazepine. My sleep deteriorated further and I became jittery, I tried to withdraw from the benzodiazepine. I was in trouble.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize that not only had I been having adverse reactions to the benzodiazepine, I also had benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. You decided I was depressed, and you gave me an antidepressant. When I became agitated and developed a tremor, you said I had agitated depression.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize that I was having an adverse reaction to antidepressants. You gave me more antidepressants. When the agitation became so severe that I lost my sleep entirely, you said I had major depression and gave me even more antidepressants. You also gave me sleeping pills.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize the adverse effects of benzodiazepines, plus antidepressants, plus sleeping pills. You said I had an adjustment disorder – but the only things I wasn’t adjusting to were your drugs.
I frequently collapsed, sometimes on the street, and was twice taken by ambulance to Emergency where I was not treated with dignity. Not one of you recognized that one of the prescribed drugs was reducing my blood pressure precipitously.
When I started twitching and shaking uncontrollably, you gave me more sleeping pills – to be taken three times a day. When I fell asleep during an appointment, you said I was ‘vegetatively depressed.’ When I was in constant motion, you said I was bipolar (manic depressive). You then settled on psychotic.
You gave me antipsychotics. I started howling like a dog. I marched in place. My body movements became chaotic. My face twitched and my tongue darted in and out of my mouth. You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t recognize the adverse effects of benzodiazepines, plus antidepressants, plus sleeping pills, plus antipsychotics.
You call yourselves doctors, and you gave me 35 different psychiatric drugs in the space of eight months. You didn’t know what you were doing and you did it vigorously. You were treating the adverse effects of pharmacy and polypharmacy with more polypharmacy.**
(When people ask me why I took all those drugs, I can answer only that I would have done anything, agreed to anything, ingested anything to stop the horrendous agitation – there are no words to describe the horror of that agitation. And at some point my brain became such a toxic mess that I was no longer capable of reason).
You told me I had dementia. I was afraid I would kill myself, and I was afraid I wouldn’t kill myself. I wrote a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate directive. I gave away my belongings – especially those which had been most dear to me.
You call yourselves doctors, and you said the benzodiazepines, antidepressants, sleeping pills and antipsychotics which you had prescribed weren’t working. You said I had a dissociative disorder. You cold-turkeyed me off many of the drugs, you ‘formed’ me, and you ordered electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). You wrote I was an “excellent candidate for ECT.” I refused ‘treatment’, but you coerced my husband into signing by telling him ECT was the last and only option.
You held me for 10 weeks and treated me to 25 general anesthetics and 25 bilateral grand mal seizures. I don’t remember much except the assembly line of gurneys on ‘shock’ days. I shook from terror as I looked up at your cold matter-of-fact faces. I wondered if there would be anything left of my brain when you were finished with me. I thought I was going to die. I remember the stench of the rubber mask over my face, the IV going in and then, as the anesthetic hit, the plunge into merciful oblivion.
And later I remember the blood in my mouth and the violent headaches. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know why I was there. I asked these questions of my husband after each ECT ‘treatment.’ My husband came to see me every day for two-and-a-half months and brought me a home-cooked meal each time. He came twice on ECT days.
I did stop howling and my legs were no longer marching. I was now merely babbling, and shuffling my feet non-stop. My face quivered. You said I had benefited from ECT.
You call yourselves doctors, but you didn’t consider I might have stopped howling and marching, and was now merely babbling, and shuffling my feet because you had withdrawn many of the benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics you had prescribed. You kept me on sleeping pills – three times a day, once at night. And you added new drugs.
You said I would require weekly maintenance ECT for the rest of my life. You said I would require medication for the rest of my life. You told my husband I would not be coming home when you were finished with me. You told my husband to look for a long-term care facility for me. You call yourselves doctors, and you said you had done everything you could for me. You said you had made me ‘well’ and you closed my file.
Here is my list of drugs from my medical and pharmacy records. Most of the drugs were prescribed by one psychiatrist: Ativan, Rivotril, Xanax, Clonazepam, Valium, Celexa, Novo-pranolol, Amitriptyline, Propranolol, Imovane, Effexor, Lithium Carbonate, Moclobemide (Man-erix), Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Nortriptyline, Perphenazine, Gabapentin, Ritalin, Gabapentin, Fluvoxamine, Oxycontin, Methoprazine (Nozinan), Paxil, Remeron, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Parnate, Haldol, Aventyl, Cogentin, Loxapine, Chlorpromazine (Largactil).
A psychiatrist who was shown this list by a friend of mine asked: ‘Is she still alive?’ I had wanted to get into his practice, but the waiting list was very long.
I've read some work by people like American psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin and Canadian biochemist/psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, both of whom have been very controversial advocates of drug-free treatment for patients. To counter this are countless psychiatrists who will argue in favour of medication. Do I think that all drugs are unnecessary, ineffective or harmful? No. I believe many have their place, but I also believe there are many natural solutions. The answer is in here somewhere, but more dangerous than any illness is a willingness to blindly believe whatever we're being told.
* Title of this post is taken from a book of the same name by Dr. David Healy.
** Polypharmacy means "many drugs" and refers to problems that can occur when a patient is taking more medications than are actually needed. It's most common in the elderly, not surprisingly.