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Psyched Out: How Psychiatry Sells Mental Illness and Pushes Pills That Kill.

Psyched Out: How Psychiatry Sells Mental Illness and Pushes Pills That Kill, by Kelly Patricia O'Meara, 215 pp, softcover, $15.95, ISBN 1-4259-2662-2, Bloomington, Ind., AuthorHouse, 2006.

Kelly Patricia O'Meara, an established investigative reporter in the nation's capital, spent six years with the Washington Tunes and doing guest stints on network television. Her new book, Psyched Out, isn't aimed solely at medical professionals. This book is for average folks.

O'Meara's well-researched statistics show that Americans are awash in prescription psychotropic drugs, especially antidepressants. She makes her case right up front. "The point of the book," she says, is not whether people suffer emotionally, but rather "whether they actually suffer from ... a known, objective, confirmable abnormality of the brain...." She sets out to prove that an out-of-control psychopharmaceutical industry is making a fortune turning common emotions like sadness and anger into diseases, while marketing well-hyped snake-oil to "cure" a panoply of phony illnesses. Citing a range of medical experts and clinical researchers--including dissident psychiatrists, psychologists, and pharmacologists--she shows how a hodgepodge of feelings, quirks, opinions, and hang-ups are being peddled as mental "disorders."

The author comes down particularly hard on the well-publicized theory of a "chemical imbalance in the brain." How much serotonin is too much, she wonders, and how much is not enough? She could find no expert from the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, or a related organization to answer that query, until she approached Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Thus begins an extensive look at the way "clinical" determinations are made in psychiatry and psychology.

Dr. Glenmullen explains that it is impossible to measure serotonin levels in the brain of any patient or "at specific synapses" (p 56). "[W]here the hypothesis of serotonin imbalance comes from [is] extrapolating to humans from test tube studies on blenderized rat brains ...," he states.

Other eye-popping interviews with mental health experts include the claim from Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, chairman of the Department of Psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital, that nobody in the mental health industry knows why, or how, psychiatric drugs work--even in cases in which they are alleged to be effective. So, when individuals taking these drugs commit spectacular atrocities--a frequent occurrence if you believe the Food and Drug Administration, which is busy these days slapping black-box warnings on one psychotropic drug after another--it necessarily follows that they don't know how or why either.

Such observation places a weighty burden on the public, especially in cases of aggression or violence. If mind-altering prescription drugs do indeed spur uncontrollable conduct in some patients, then the larger society is at risk.

O'Meara zeros in on the qualifying language psychopharmacologists and mental health professionals use. Quoting from the website of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, she writes: "Scientists believe people with depression could have an imbalance of serotonin in their brains [so that] the nerve cells can't communicate or send messages to each other in the right way. This lack of contact between the cells might cause depression." Pfizer's literature then promotes its antidepressant Zoloft, which supposedly "helps the nerve cells send messages to each other the way they normally should." A close examination of the words in italics should be a red flag, she says, there's nothing but a collection of "maybes."

Unfortunately, says O'Meara, such subtleties are lost on a gullible public. As the education system continues to decline and the media increasingly generates an instant-gratification mentality, more young adults are seduced into accepting the "disease" designation for moodiness and any drugs that go with it. Everyone wants a magic bullet, right now! That an "imbalance" is responsible for emotional distress and/or lack of self-control becomes palatable. It spares the individual responsibility for what we used to call "character issues." That is, until the drug prescribed for it bites back.

O'Meara's book comes at a time when cases such as those the author reports to support her thesis are beginning to appear in the mainstream media, too. Between the 1970s and 1990s, pronouncements from mental health professionals were held sacred. But with the plethora of violent, aggressive behaviors by children (many of them following ingestion of antidepressants) since the Columbine massacre in 1999, early warnings by credible leaders within the profession, such as Dr. David Healy (author and former secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology), concerning a possible causative link between prescription psychotropic drugs and out-of-character behaviors, could no longer be ignored. Even as I write this, a 19-year-old patient on psychotropic medication, Vitali A. Davydov, has been arrested for the murder of his own psychiatrist, Wayne Stuart Fenton, associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health and clinical doctor in Bethesda, Maryland.

Pressure to acquiesce to establishment ideology is enormous. In the spring of 2006 O'Meara's old ally and boss, the Washington Times, suddenly debunked comments criticizing the legitimacy of depression as a clinical disease when actor firm Cruise berated his colleague, Brooke Shields, for going public with her ordeal involving postpartum depression. The Tunes further stated in a high-profile editorial that "[Tom] Cruise doesn't know anything about psychiatry." While Mr. Cruise certainly is no scientist, lie hasn't been alone in questioning the concept of "emotional diseases" and the drugs purported to cure theta. (But one could argue, perhaps, that lie knows a thing or two, inasmuch as psychiatric therapies seem to disproportionately affect wealthy entertainment icons.)

Then, on Aug 16, 2006, the Washington Times printed a seemingly contradictory Associated Press article on antidepressant withdrawal by Matt Crenson, entitled "When the cure is worse." Crenson detailed "scary new symptoms" in people who try, and fail, to get off such antidepressants as Paxil. Like author-doctors David Healy, Peter Breggin, Charles Medawar, Mary Ann Block, and Fred Baughman, to name just a few dissidents, his piece tarnishes the class of psychiatric drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This designation, says both O'Meara and Dr. Healy, deceptively implies an ability to target particular chemicals in the brain ,while leaving others alone.

Weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and even birth defects in newborns have long been linked to SSRIs, says O'Meara, but in the few months since her book was published, a whole new list of side-effects has emerged as more people take these drugs. Even the half-life of SSRIs in the body is being reexamined, as increasing numbers of patients complain that side-effects once thought to be temporary are lasting much longer, even after drug regimens are discontinued.

Crenson discovered a 1997 survey showing that 28 percent of psychiatrists and 70 percent of general practitioners (the largest category of prescribers, according to O'Meara's findings) have "no idea that patients might have trouble discontinuing antidepressants." This dovetails with O'Meara's finding that mental health professionals have "no idea" how or why their drugs work.

Then there's the matter, says O'Meara, of assigning different names and packaging to identical psychiatric drugs, thereby roping in additional population sectors. Take Eli Lilly's antidepressant Prozac. It gets a new color (pink) and a new name (Sarafem) for treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) in women.

O'Meara asks, what exactly is PMDD? A list of symptoms includes depressed mood, anxiety, affectivity, decreased interest in activities, irritability, anger, lethargy, changes in appetite, breast tenderness, and/or bloating. Had they left it with the last two physical indicators. Lilly might have had a confirmable, objective ailment, if not quite a disease, to tap into. But in the rush to legitimize more mental "illnesses" and administer mind-altering drugs to as many people as possible, Lilly opted for Sarafem, a dead-ringer, it turns out, for Prozac, with the same empirical formula (reprinted in O'Meara's book). For PMDD, women take Sarafem during the two weeks before their menses--"a new concept, a mental illness that comes and goes every two weeks or so!" interjects O'Meara--whereas Prozac patients take their drug every day!

To underscore the farce, O'Meara reprints a sentence from Lilly's letter to medical professionals: "Prozac [is] no longer authorized for treatment of Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)."

Also like the author-doctors named earlier, O'Meara castigates the mental health industry over its ever-expanding, loose-criteria list of mental "illnesses" detailed in the bible of the profession, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM-IV)--panic disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, social shyness, mathematics disorder, conduct disorder, etc. She also takes on the new mandatory universal screening diktat signed into law and funded by the U.S. House of Representatives last year under the Marxist-like moniker, "New Freedom Initiative." This legislation is set to begin the 2006 year for schoolchildren (copycat legislation has already made it into in several states), before expanding to include every population bloc-parents, the elderly, teachers, and so on. As increasing members of people are referred for mandatory "counseling"--i.e., for "mental illness"--there is the danger that statements of opinion (including surveys and questionnaires) will be viewed through the lens of mental illness and politicized. Indeed, this is already occurring. A \whole new tool--"political affinity software"--is emerging. (1)

Given the controversy over the chemical-imbalance theory, I would have liked to learn more about ongoing scientific investigations into the effects of "brain glucose" and dopamine on brain-cell receptors (such as the D2, one of the five supposed subtypes of dopamine receptors), as determined via positron emission tomography (PET scans). (2) Just because no one has yet found definitive medical evidence for most mental phenomena does not mean, after all, that new information won't emerge from research. I also wish O'Meara had asked legislators why Congress hasn't come down harder on psychopharmaceutical products, given the many lawsuits and mass murders.

Such omissions notwithstanding, it would appear from O'Meara's work that medical science is not at the point where it can even remotely predict the individual consequences of a chemicalized brain. Depression, like other emotional states, can be caused by a number of factors, and for good reasons: burnout, overwork, disappointment, unfulfilling career, death in the family--or, as religious catechism puts it, "things done and left undone." But none of these are physical defects, whereas a chemicalized brain strains any definition for "normalcy."

As for depression, some experts describe it as a wakeup call, spurring sufferers to reconsider their priorities. Unfortunately, many will think no farther than the bottle of pills on their nightstand, the one with the same black box warning pictured on the cover of O'Meara's book. That one act could be the final one a stressed-out patient ever performs.

(1) Teachout Z, Wu T. YouTube? It's so yesterday. Washington Post, Nov 5, 2006.

(2) Boman L. New study links brain receptors, alcoholism. Scripps Howard News Service and Washington Times, Sept. 5, 2006.

Beverly K. Eakman

Washington, DC
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Author:Eakman, Beverly K.
Publication:Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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