August 15, 2010

A "Must Read" Book

Though it isn't about diabetes, I came across a book last week that I believe is essential reading for anyone with any interest in health-related topics.The book is Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker.

Warning, this is not easy reading, because the story Whitaker makes--and documents--so convincingly is downright horrifying. And it makes the poor medical treatment and drug company malfeasance we in the diabetes community have come to take for granted look downright benign.

Because what Whitaker proves, quite convincingly, is that the drugs that doctors have been prescribing to people for transient, basically normal, episodes of mental imbalance are damaging their brains in ways that make them permanently mentally ill.

I knew from my own researches that the popular argument that people with depression have a "chemical imbalance that means they have to take psychiatric drugs just like people with diabetes need insulin" was utter hogwash. In fact, normal people and people who are depressed have identical amounts of serotonin in their brains, nor do the SSRIs actually raise the amount of serotonin long term.

But Whitaker documents that the psychiatrists who prescribe these drugs have also known this was untrue for decades, but continue to tell it to patients because it sounds convincing.

What I didn't know, was that what all the psychiatric drugs do is downregulate receptors for neurotransmitters, which results in the brain growing MORE receptors for these neurotransimitters in an attempt to maintain homeostasis.

What this means is that, when a person who now has an abnormal distribution of neurotransmitters in their brain stops taking the psychiatric drug, the many new receptors in their brain regain sensitivity to the neurotransmitter. This causes the person to experience overloads of neurotransmitter signals that result in what is in fact an extreme state that is very much "mental illness." But it isn't the underlying condition causing the mental illness, it's the warping of the brain structure caused by the drug.

What is even more tragic is this: Whitaker documents that after a very brief honeymoon period, these psychiatric drugs do NOT improve symptoms. In fact, the main thing they do is cloud the mind and decrease cognition.

He gives the frightening statistics showing how millions of people who take these drugs are unable to hold jobs, which contrasts with what used to be the case before these drugs were in widespread use.

Statistically reliable studies prove conclusively that in the pre-drug era and even today, people who do not take psychiatric drugs for depression or certain kinds of psychosis are far more likely to recover completely than those who take the drugs--by a huge percentage.

Even more significantly, far more people who don't take the drugs, whatever their diagnosis, are able to keep on working productively, whereas those who take the drugs end up, overwhelmingly unemployed on disability, for life.

I had always wondered why the diagnosis of "Manic depression" a.k.a. "Bipolar" which was extremely rare back in my youth had become so common now. My father was a clinical psychologist who headed the Psychology Department at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital and specialized in the use of diagnostic tests. So I grew up listening each night at the dinner table to long talks about psychiatric illnesses and their manifestations. Manic depression was considered a fascinating oddity, because it was very rare. Now it is so common you will find someone with it in any room containing fifty people.

Whitaker had an explanation for the surge in "bipolar" diagnoses, too. It turns out that cycling up and down, though mostly down, is another side effect caused by the commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs.

It turrns out that most people are not diagnosed as "bipolar" until AFTER they have been given an antidepressant for what is all too often the normal sadness everyone experiences as part of the process of growing up and living through the tough things that happen in life.

In the course of his book Whitaker demonstrates, with sickeningly convincing documentation, that the same pharmaceutical companies who brought you Avandia et al, hid the data that showed what their psychiatric drugs really do and how they worsen patient outcomes long term. Every time the psychiatric community has roused itself to question the usefulness of these drugs, the drug companies have done what they do best.

They've paid "thought leaders" huge consulting fees to promote their drugs to peers. They've made sure researchers avoided doing research that could kill their golden geese by making it clear that studies that damage their market will result in institutions losing the huge amount of "research" dollars the drug companies provide.

And of course, as they do in diabetes, they've put most of their efforts into marketing to the overburdened family doctor, who has no background in psychiatry but is the person who prescribes most psychiatric drugs to the average person.

Whitaker devotes a lot of room to the surging trend of putting children on these brain damaging drugs, and frankly, I found this section so painful to read I avoided completing it. To face the fact that doctors and schools are putting children on drugs that permanently damage the structure of the maturing brain in ways that ruin lives was like reading about the holocaust.

I know too much from my diabetes studies about how effective drug company marketing is in keeping doctors from knowing the truth about effective, non drug treatments for common conditions to be very hopeful that this terrible epidemic of drug-caused brain damage can be halted.

But as is the case with diabetes, people willing to read and study the facts can protect themselves and their friends and lovesd ones. And that is better than nothing.

So read this book.

Talk about its findings to your friends in the community. Get across to them what psychiatrists all used to know in the 1960s:
It's normal for people to go through periods where they feel depressed but that the overwhelming majority of people who experience episodes of depression lasting a few months will recover completely with short term support and go on to live normal happy lives.

There is not an iota of proof that mental illness of any type is caused by "chemical imbalance." The drugs prescribed for mental illness do not supply missing chemicals, they change the sensitivity and distribution of receptors and over time they shrink brain tissue in ways that look a lot like early dementia.
I worried that reading this book might prove too terrifying for those of you who have already been trapped by them, since I know that many people with diabetes developed their diabetes after taking one of them.

(Whitaker doesn't go into this in depth, but I document on my site that SSRIs and atypical antipsychotics like Zyprexa are known to cause insulin resistance and outright diabetes in people who did not have them before taking them. Details HERE and HERE)

So I contacted the author and asked for resources for people who need support to confront these frightening facts.

He sent me this link:

The Icarus Project: Harm Reduction Guide To Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs & Withdrawal

If you are currently taking a dangerous psychiatric drug, read the link above. Do not attempt to get off these dangerous drugs before studying this information and providing yourself with a support system.

Recovery is possible, but stopping the drugs cold turkey can cause acute episodes of mental illness. Learn the safe way to recover your mental health and reverse the damage that has been done to your brain.


Anna said...

Thanks for the book recommendation, Jenny. I'll definitely read it.

Yes, it's truly frightening how often and easily anti-depressants are handed out these days. Seems like everyone I know who goes through a rough patch in life is put on one if they happen to visit their doctor, even for another reason.

If my experience is an indication, it's a wonder than anyone, especially women, gets past middle age without an antidepressant Rx these days, unless they avoid doctors' offices entirely. Antidepressants seem to be the consolation prize when a doctor can't or won't bother to figure out what is really going on with a patient.

In my early 40s I went to my doctor many times seeking relief from a variety of maddening symptoms that while not life-threatening, were definitely affected my quality of life and well-being. Between my primary doc not ordering the right tests to enable an accurate diagnosis and being sent a number of specialists who couldn't see beyond their own specialty, the basic MO was to offer a variety of Rx to suppress symptoms - not to find the root cause and treat that. When that tactic fails and symptoms persist, they fall back on good ol' anti-depressants - after all, by that time the patient *is* depressed that the doctors can't help with the problem that prompted the office visits in the first place. Being a middle-aged woman makes one a target for an offer of antidepressants, too, I think. Medical school teaches doctors that we are all "hysterical" by age 40.

I always politely but firmly resisted the antidepressant offers, though in defeat while seeking treatment for hypothyroidism, I did go home with a bag of Lexapro samples once. At home I looked the drug up in the PDR online (I no longer take anything without looking it up first) and I decided the potential side effects were worse than my symptoms of under-treated hypothyroidism (she refused to prescribe more than a child-size dose of T4, ironically "for my safety). Plus, it was just a band-aid solution and not treating the real underlying problem (later revealed to be I wasn't converting T4 to T3). And besides, antidepressants aren't something one "samples" like party favors - antidepressants are hard to get off of once started. I switched doctors instead and found one outside my HMO (paid for him out of pocket and it was worth every $).

DogwoodTree05 said...

My brother was diagnosed with bipolar several years ago and is on regular medication. He exhibited erratic and dangerous behavior for a couple of years before the diagnosis and his behavior has stabilized. I do not know if he was taking drugs for depression or anything else prior to the appearance of his erratic behavior. Type II diabetes is common on my father's side of the family, so this additional risk is a definite concern.

My older brother was on antidepressants when he died in a suspected suicide 20 years ago, and my mom takes them. I went through a very rough patch when I came back to the US from a long period overseas the year I turned 40 and settled in a town where I didn't know anyone. I am sparing about taking medication and turned down a doctor's suggestion of a prescription. I found nonmedicinal relief of my depression through meditation and taking up hobbies. I recall reading at Science Daily a couple of years ago, that across cultures, women and men reach a low period of unhappiness sometime in their forties and then rebound and become happier as they age. It seems that doctors and their patients do not have a good understanding of life's natural stages and how to live your best at each stage.

Thanks as always for alerting your readers to important medical news and helping us understand it.

Jenny said...

Dogwood Tree,

I went through more that my share of intense depression in my 20s, and at the time of my divorce, the last was 16 years ago, and with nothing but some interpersonal support made it to a stage of life where I have achieved more of my dreams than I ever thought possible, found a very satisfying long term love relationship, and evened out my moods to where they verge on boring.

There were a couple times in my youth where the only thing that kept me out of the psychiatric system was not having insurance. Since they weren't going to get paid $$$ they sent me to counseling instead, and it worked.

country mouse said...

bipolar is a serious diagnosis. My family history is filled with relatives that have tried and some succeed at suicide.

I can tell you firsthand just how destructive most of the atypical antipsychotics can be with bipolar. SSRIs are even more destructive as they can push a bipolar patient into mania. A friend lost a daughter to suicide because of the SSRI mania connection.

My brother and I are both still alive because of proper medications. In my case, I was extremely lucky to find a psychiatrist who practiced minimum drug, maximum listening therapy. Unfortunately, insurance companies won't cover this kind of treatment and instead push you into a "15 minute medication check" every three months model. If you're lucky, you get a therapist who learned everything they know about drugs in a one-day seminar.

One discussion I don't hear much about is the psychological effects of diabetes drugs. They can be as severe as psychological medications. I almost lost my marriage because of my reaction to glyburide.

All drugs can affect the mind. Be aware and you need an observant and spouse or friend who's willing to take the truth.for example, the kind that will tell you you have significant body odor when you can still do something about it. :-)

By the way, this is a message I would've preferred to make anonymous but I understand why you haven't made that option available.

PJNOIR said...

So Tom Cruise might be right ( ouch that hurts to type)

renegadediabetic said...

It's appalling. Now they are even advertizing anti psychotic drugs on TV and pushing them for depression. Are there that many crazy people out there that we need TV ads for anti psychotic drugs? Gimme a break.

This is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Big pharma is just out to make $$$$ convincing people that they need new & expensive drugs.

Dana Seilhan said...

I worked for an internal medicine practice in Savannah, GA from 1995 to 1997, first as a records clerk and then as the switchboard operator. Back in those days we got twice-weekly visits from pharmaceutical salespeople, who would buy us lunch. I was eating upstairs in the break room one day and overheard the head doctor of the practice tell a drug rep he'd rather put a patient on an SSRI than send them to therapy.

I wasn't happy to hear it then and I'm even more horrified now.

Unknown said...

Which of the depression drugs they are advertising are anti psychotics?

country mouse said...


Ginny said...

Jenny, I know all too well the truth of this! My son, having Tourette's syndrome (actually now I know he has asberger's), was on 3 different drugs for 10 years beginning when he was 11. I could write a book about our story, and how this affected him, and what it did to him, and like you, finally I found "Your Drug May Be Your Problem" and began praying and found a doctor who would very slowly wean him off them one by one...took a year... all the while we used supplements to nourish the brain as we were weaning him off, along with lots of prayer! He greatly improved after finally coming off the drugs. Long story. But I can attest to all you said. I'm glad to see there are others out there warning people, but unfortunately, so many have swallowed the drug pushers line, hook, line and sinker.

DogwoodTree05 said...


I have a nephew and niece with Tourette's. When their son was diagnosed, my brother's chemist neighbor did research and suggested they try a restricted diet of whole foods and avoid processed foods with preservatives and additives. The boy's head bobbing and other symptoms improved so much that people who met him had no idea he had Tourette's. They put the younger sister on the same diet when she started showing symptoms. Both children take a few nutritional supplements; neither takes any medications.

You might be interested in a related new story at Science Daily:

"Pharmaceuticals: A Market for Producing 'Lemons' and Serious Harm"

Jenny said...

@DogwoodTree95 Great link. Thanks!

Of more concern was the recent finding of brain abnormalities similar to those caused by the psychiatric drugs in teens with Type 2. I wonder how many of them were exposed to these drugs in utero.

Scott S said...

I've added this to my list of books to read (now that I'm commuting by train, I have some more time each day to read). I find this very troubling, but my belief is that this is going on not only in medicine, but in whole aspects of our society where the role of regulators is a revolving door with the industries they are supposed to be regulating. In the words of Robert Reich "Look at Massey Energy Co., which owned the mine where 27 miners were killed several months ago. Massey also had a long record of law breaking, and had racked up an even longer list of alleged violations and settlements. Or consider BP, whose malfeasance even before the Gulf spill, included workplace safety violations, deaths, and other environmental disasters."

The most troubling aspect is that the medical profession has long prided itself on what it calls "evidence-based medicine", but that seems to have gone out the window at some point over the last 30 years to the point where the only evidence needed is the one that sells itself effectively and it makes people money. If you agree with this basic premise, you might like the book "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free" by Charles P. Pierce, a Boston-based journalist who looks at the bigger picture of what's happening in the U.S. today, apparently in medicine, too.

Anna said...

Amen, Scott!

lightcan said...

do you think that taking SSRIs like cipramil for a while (a few months, I don't remember) could permanently change your brain? I definitely got worse since, I was low after giving birth too. My depression (for which I obviously got another prescription but I haven't bought them) could be linked to low T3 like in Anna's case and to real life issues that I cannot deal with (or maybe I can't cope because I'm 'sick') as I'm being stuck in a negative whirlpool.

Jenny said...


This is out of my area of expertise, so I would simply refer you to the book (your library can get it for you if you're financially strapped) and read the impressive amount of information provided there.

Right now, it takes more time than I have just to keep up with diabetes. But because so many of my readers HAVE diabetes as a result of taking these psychiatric drugs I felt it important to provide a reference.

lightcan said...

That's fine, thanks anyway.

neansai said...

I started Zoloft in the mid-nineties. I was diagnosed with 'pre-diabetes' in 2003, and fill-blown type 2 a year later. My new doctor helped me get off Zoloft this year, and has me taking 5 HTP instead. So glad I'm no longer taking Zoloft!