Sunday, June 23, 2013



Why Psychiatry is doing more harm than good

By James Davies

Published by Icon Books, May 2013

What would be your worst nightmare?

How about being wrongly diagnosed with a disease for which there is no objective evidence that it even exists, and then being prescribed medication which is not only barely more efficacious than a sugar pill placebo in actually treated the alleged "disease" but also has the capacity to cause some very nasty side-effects indeed?

How about finding out that mental disorders and diseases are being "discovered" by a committee of doctors who decide precisely what and how many symptoms are  needed to be diagnostic of these "mental health problems", name them and recommend appropriate drug treatment for them, all without any objective evidence and most of the committee members receiving generous grants from pharmaceutical companies?

That by these definitions, 25% of the population at any given time is suffering from a mental illness?

How about being told that if you have not completely recovered from a close bereavement  and resumed your normal lifestyle in two weeks (yes, that is correct - two weeks!)  that you obviously have a mental health problem which needs to be treated with medication that is largely ineffective and may be positively harmful ?

How about a group of medical researchers attending a variety of psychiatric hospitals, all pretending to hear a voice which says "Thud" but otherwise behaving perfectly normally, all being subsequently admitted to hospital, diagnosed with a variety of mental diseases and treated accordingly, and that the psychiatrists concerned were not capable of differentiating between those who truly were mentally ill and those who were faking illness?

How about theories being postulated which would seem to "explain" the biological causation of some mental illnesses, and then highly lucrative drugs being developed and aggressively marketed to "treat" these illnesses, all without a shred of proof that these theories are right?

How about the very careful suppression of any data which does not show the latest (and highly expensive to develop) "wonder drugs" to be effective or safe?

Self-harming in the UK rose to public attention in the late 1980s and a  local epidemic of anorexia nervosa started in Hong Kong in 1994. Frighteningly, psychiatric and media publicity about these disorders did not help to support or cure sufferers nor reduce the incidence of these events, but in fact did exactly the opposite - some psychiatric disorders actually  increase once they have achieved some form of cultural recognition. A fascinating chapter describes "psychiatric contagion" and how people can very easily be influenced to think or behave in certain ways so as to fit in with the beliefs and actions of others around them.

The experiences of a UK doctor who was enlisted by a pharmaceutical firm to give talks about their latest "wonder drug" to other doctors make sobering reading indeed in another chapter.

Are you starting to get rather worried?  I know that I certainly am, and the scenarios I have listed are just a very few of the points made by James Davies in his expose of some of the  many flaws of modern psychiatric medicine. Davies does not have an axe to grind and has extensive experience of working in the mental health field as a psychotherapist in private practice and also voluntarily within the British National Health Service, as well as being a social anthropologist. He is extremely concerned about how people with mental illnesses are being regarded and stigmatised by the general population.

This is a riveting and rather terrifying book which made me extremely angry that some of the most vulnerable people in society are not receiving the standard of care one would wish them to have. Conflict within  the field of psychiatry over the role of medication versus therapeutic psycho-social, familial and societal interventions means that it will be hard for the specialty to change its dependence on medicating every possible mental disorder in favour of a more holistic approach, yet it does need to happen.

Anyone with an interest in  modern medicine or  mental health care issues will find much to ponder in this book.

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1 comment:

margaret said...

I chatted once to a very eminent psychiatrist in whose opinion, after 25 years of practice, perfectly average kids were being labelled autistic just because it's a fashionable thing to research and research needs subjects and statistics. Unfortunately if the subjects don't have a true diagnosis then the results of the research are skewed which doesn't help real sufferers. If it applies to autism then, in some form or other, heaven knows what else.