Originally published June 5 2008
A Look at How the Field of Psychiatry Is Over-Medicating Our Country
by Jo Hartley
(NaturalNews) Over recent years, we in the U.S. have become accustomed to the seemingly never-ending parade of prescription drug commercials on television. It's surprising to learn that the only two places advertising of this kind is legal is in the United States and New Zealand.
Would it surprise you to learn that the pharmaceutical industry not only targets Americans directly in this fashion, but also allocates approximately $25,000 per doctor per year? With the help of today's technology, a pharmaceutical representative can know exactly how many prescriptions a doctor has written and for what drugs. Obviously, this information allows the industry to target certain physicians that fit certain profiles.
If you look at recent history, the field of "mental health" didn't even exist until about 20 years ago. People were ignorant about psychiatric diagnoses and medications. Then over the next 10 years all of this changed. People learned all about the psychiatric diagnoses and many came to be on medications.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft burst onto the pharmaceutical scene. They were heavily advertised on television and high profile public figures were giving them the thumbs up. These things helped to bring psychiatry and their pharmaceuticals into the mainstream. Prozac is portrayed as a wonder drug, so people think it is.
Starting in the 1990s, certain terms and concepts also started appearing. For example, we started hearing about being "hard-wired" for some behaviors. Mental illnesses were thought to be the product of chemical imbalances. We also started hearing about being genetically programmed to be a certain way. These concepts have become immersed in our culture.
Something the psychiatric field of medicine has done is confuse very serious forms of illness with lesser serious forms. Case-in-point: depression. Severe depression can be an absolutely brutal, consuming illness and those who suffer from it are at real risk of self-inflicted harm. Conversely, nowadays it is very common to hear someone mention being "down" and their family doctor putting them on an antidepressant. This is a prime example of our confusion of serious disorders with lesser conditions. "Life issues" are being medicated when they should not be.
The clinical guidelines for mild depression recommend watchful waiting. Other included recommendations are diet and exercise, self-help and counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy. If these things fail, then the next step is to try antidepressants. Currently, the practice in the U.S. seems to be the opposite of this.
When SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil first came out, they were considered to be free of side effects. This was mainly because in comparing them to the previous generation of antidepressants they seemed minimal by comparison. Most recently, it has become apparent that the majority of side effects connected with SSRI drugs are connected with getting on and off the medicine.
So, of issue is the fact that it is mostly family doctors who are writing these prescriptions. Often there is almost nonexistent follow-up treatment. This is of special concern because there is evidence pointing to the fact that most patients experience side effects when they are either going on or off of these drugs. If these patients are not being adequately supervised by physicians then potential problems will be missed.
Another trend of the pharmaceutical industry is to move away from the severe conditions that only affect a very small portion of people. It's much more profitable to hit a larger market base with people with lesser conditions. For example, many of the big named drugs from recent years are not really about serious disorders. They are more about lifestyle issues: Viagra, Cialis, Lipitor, and the antidepressants.
One problem the drug companies had to overcome was the fact that they can't advertise for diagnoses that aren't FDA prescribed. So, there has been a huge expansion of diagnoses over the last 60 years. In the 1950s there were 50-60 diagnoses recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The most recent count came in at over 300.
One example of a relatively new diagnosis is "Adjustment Disorder." This disorder is defined as essentially having a difficult time adjusting to a major life change. There also are categories such as "phase of life problem" and "sibling relational problem." Admittedly, these can be very painful issues. They are not mental illnesses, however.
The American leaning is to be uncomfortable with unhappy feelings and get rid of them as quickly as possible. Interestingly, our obsession with happiness is somewhat recent. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that happiness became a human goal. If you make happiness your primary goal you will be disappointed in the long term. Happiness is better pursued as a byproduct and not a primary goal
There are a lot of very simple, effective approaches to depression and anxiety that can work very well either alone or in conjunction with medications. They are not marketed like the medications, however, so they don't make money. We are learning new information about how our brains work every day, yet there is more we do not understand.
There is a new book called Comfortably Numb written by Charles Barber. The subject of the book is the complex and frightening relationship between Americans and the pharmaceutical industry –- particularly antidepressants. Working in the mental health field with homeless shelters, Mr. Barber brings an insightful perspective to this issue.
About the authorJo Hartley
Wife, Mother of 8, and Grandmother of 2
Jo is a 41 year old home educator who has always gravitated toward a natural approach to life. She enjoys learning as much as possible about just about anything!
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