Anatomy of an Epidemic; Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

Anybody who has been hanging around me lately has gotten an earful about this book.  Integral to my philosophy of medicine is  that mental/emotional wellness and overall health are inseparable.   As a naturopath, I believe in the healing power of nature.  I do not use or prescribe pharmaceutical drugs without carefully considering and exhausting other options first.  But even the lens of my bias against drugs did not prepare me for the shocking revelations in Robert Whitaker’s well researched  book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.  His exhaustive investigative journalism exposes vast depths of untruths and myths that we have been force fed by the pharmaceutical industry.  He set out to find out why the number of mentally ill adults and children has skyrocketed in the last fifty years, at the same time that we’ve been told of newer, more efficacious psychotropic drugs with fewer side effects- a veritable “psychopharmacological revolution”.  “Every day, 850 adults and 250 children with a mental illness are added to the government disability rolls.”  Whitaker systematically takes the reader through this historical introduction of drug after drug, from anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants, ADHD meds, mood stabilizing drugs for bipolar disorder, and psychotropic drugs used to manage schizophrenia.   Anyone who lived through the 1980’s and 90’s remembers hearing the message that mental illness is a “chemical imbalance in the brain” and that these new drugs can correct the imbalance.  Whitaker exposes that claim which has no scientific support.  In fact he makes the case that the drugs are causing a chemical imbalance, which then makes it difficult when patients try to discontinue the drugs.  It turns out that when the outcomes research is studied, patients maintained on psychotropic medications do worse than unmedicated folks.  Most alarming are the numbers of children as young as 2 years old who are being prescribed these medications.  According to Whitaker, mental illness has never been shown to have a biological basis, as was claimed,  and research about poor outcomes and poor efficacy was buried by the drug companies.  It’s a compelling read.  It reveals an important perspective on mental health.  These days all of our lives are touched by some loved one who struggles with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or other mental health issues.  Anatomy of an Epidemic should be required reading for patients and physicians.