Recently people have started to become aware that the pharmaceutical industry may not be telling us the whole truth about their medications. One of the most important claims is that the overuse of psychiatric meds might increase the number of people disabled by mental illness in the United States. It is possible that saying that all people need meds is just as unscientific as saying that no one needs them.
Robert Whitaker, who wrote Anatomy of an Epidemic, recently gave the keynote speech at last week’s national mental health consumer conference in Anaheim, CA. He was almost banned by the federal government from speaking, but a protest by mental health advocates got him reinstated. His research can be partially found online at his website. I was intrigued by his work and followed up on many of the actual studies at the research library, resulting in this publication in Schizophrenia Bulletin. In it I said that if we’re going to use evidence based medicine, we need to be providing peer support. In fact, many services provided by mental health consumers have been shown to be effective but are still only available on a scattered basis. Funding is the biggest excuse.
Yet name brand psychiatric meds can cost $400 – $600 a month, and many people are on two or more of them. If we review the evidence for how effective medications are, then it would not take much medication reduction to pay for peer support. In this article in Youth Today, states were giving expensive antipsychotics to up to 25% of the youth in the juvenile justice system, and 70% of them did not have a bipolar or schizophrenia diagnosis, the only conditions for which the drugs were indicated. When states did proper psychiatric reviews, they were able to cut med expenditures greatly. It also improved safety for the youth as the meds can predispose people to further illnesses including psychosis, weight gain, and movement disorders.
People with mental illness have been the leaders in pointing out that not all psychiatric treatments are effective. We have regularly protested the American Psychiatric Association conference. We know first hand that recovery is real. Many doctors, researchers, and advocacy groups, are being paid by pharmaceutical companies, so it benefits them to think we will be sick for the rest of our lives. I think that the consumers have the happier story.