robert whitaker

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Is There Now A National Debate Over Antidepressants?

Author Robert Whitaker

Tell me if I’m exaggerating. But I think it’s now fair to say that there’s a rising national debate — at least judging by some of the premiere media outlets — over the value of antidepressants.

Just to update you on the latest posts and ripostes: Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote a provocative two-part series in The New York Review of Books on three recent books that call into question the current drug-heavy style of psychiatry. Then Dr. Peter Kramer, of “Listening to Prozac” fame, responded in defense of antidepressants in The New York Times on Sunday, July 10.

Now the latest gleanings from Twitter: There’s a petition afoot to get the Times to run a response to Peter Kramer’s piece. The response is by Bob Whitaker, author of “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” who challenges current practices of prescribing psychiatric drugs. (CommonHealth wrote about him here.) As of this morning, the petition had nearly 400 signatures.

Here’s Bob responding on Psychology Today’s blog. He challenges Peter’s arguments in his usual data-driven way, and concludes:

As I noted in Anatomy of An Epidemic, the real problem we have in this field of medicine is that academic psychiatry hasn’t been honest in what it tells the public about psychiatric medications. If the medications are to be used wisely, and in an evidence-based manner, we need to have an honest discussion about what science is telling us about the drugs. But on Sunday, in this essay “In Defense of Antidepressants,” the American public has been treated to yet another dose of misinformation.

Debate Continues On Whether Psych Drugs Do More Long-Term Harm Than Good

There’s an old newspaper saying: Don’t get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. That is, in the court of public opinion, the newspaper’s pretty sure to win. But these days, the Internet lets everybody “buy ink by the barrel,” and expound for as long as we feel we need to without worrying about length limits. Which seems like a good thing when an issue is complex and important — like the theme of author Robert Whitaker’s book, “Anatomy of An Epidemic.” Whitaker’s central thesis: The overuse of psychiatric drugs in this country appears to be contributing to a growing epidemic of disability caused by mental illness.

I covered a recent debate about Whitaker’s book at Massachusetts General Hospital here, and it’s been one of our best-read features this month. So for the deeply interested who’d like to explore the topic more fully, here are two lengthy but highly worthwhile follow-ups:

On his own Website, Whitaker provides careful and detailed responses to his Mass. General debate opponent, psychiatry professor Andrew Nierenberg. In a post called “Answering the Critics” here, he rebuts virtually every one.

(If Dr. Nierenberg issues a response, I’ll gladly post it as well.)

Dr. Daniel Carlat, psychiatrist and author of “Unhinged,” challenges some of Whitaker’s arguments on his ever-excellent blog here and here. But he ends with a supportive conclusion:

Over the last few days, I’ve spent many hours thinking and writing about Anatomy of an Epidemic. Mostly, I’ve chipped away at its central thesis, and yet the fact that this powerful book has riveted my attention for so long means something. It’s fascinating. It’s enthralling. And it is the work of a highly intelligent and inquiring mind–a person who is struggling to understand the nature of psychiatric treatment. Put it on your reading list, and join the debate.