The Surprising Story Behind the Modern Mental Health “Epidemic” in America
Mental illness has become something of an epidemic in modern times, and it’s important to understand how we got here.
Much of the answer lies in chance, private interests, the pharmaceutical industry, legislators and physicians who have come together in an intricate dance that has had serious consequences.
Anatomy of an Epidemic provides a great explanation of how psychoactive drugs were invented, why psychiatry holds such a low status that led to overmedication on a mass scale and why government spending on mental health has almost tripled in 14 years.
It is vital for us to become familiar with this story so we can take measures to ensure the well-being of our societies at large.
How the “Magic Bullets” of Psychiatric Drugs Came to Be: A Look at Post-WWII Pharmaceutical Research
In the post-World War II era, researchers discovered different compounds that affected the central nervous system and these compounds ultimately led to the creation of psychoactive drugs.
However, the drugs were not created with any particular ailment in mind – instead, researchers were looking for “magic bullets” or so-called miracle cures for infectious diseases.
As a result, these psychiatric medications were introduced without proper testing.
Take Thorazine for example.
Developed by Smith, Kline & French and marketed as a treatment for schizophrenia, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in 1954, it had only been tested on less than 150 psychiatric patients before it’s release.
As such, there were no conclusive evidence to back the claims made by its president that Thorazine had been thoroughly tested on thousands of animals and was proven active and safe for humans.
Thanks to loopholes in drug regulation at the time as well as marketing spin from pharmaceutical companies such as Smith, Kline & French, medication that wasn’t rigorously tested are now widely prescribed today: One out of 8 Americans take some form of psychiatric medication!
The Dangers of Overprescribing Psychoactive Drugs: Why Long-Term Treatment is Limited by Side Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms
Psychiatric medications are popularly prescribed to help people suffering from a wide range of psychological disorders.
While these drugs may offer short-term relief, they can come with severe side effects and long-term dependency.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels in the brain, which can result in episodes of mania in some cases.
Antipsychotics block dopamine, another neurotransmitter that functions as an inhibitor in the brain.
Reducing dopamine levels can cause unpleasant side effects such as motor function impairment, memory loss and reduced learning ability, weight gain, suicidal thoughts, and apathy.
These symptoms may lead to additional medication being prescribed on top of what was already used.
Other problems with taking psychiatric medications include brain shrinkage caused by antipsychotic drugs and the agony experienced when trying to stop taking them.
When patients stop taking SSRIs, their serotonin levels drop drastically triggering a wide range of side effects like apathy and suicidal thoughts similar to those before treatment started which makes them take the antidepressant again….
This is how long-term dependency develops over time making it increasingly difficult for patients to wean off their medication without assistance from medical professionals.
The Rise of Mental Illness in the United States: Causes and Consequences
Anatomy of an Epidemic examines how the introduction of psychiatric drugs in 1955 has led to a sharp rise in the number of mentally disabled people in America.
The number has more than doubled, from one out of every 184 Americans qualifying for federal assistance to one out of every 76 between 1987 and 2007.
The criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) covers everything from anxiety disorders and mood disorders to impulse-control disorders and substance-use disorders, giving us an idea of why this increase is occurring.
A survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 46 percent of the population met at least one mental illness criterion – most even meeting multiple diagnosis criteria!
But perhaps even more concerning is the thirtyfold rise in mental illness diagnoses in children since 1987, with some patients as young as two!
Mental illness is now the leading disability in young people, and 10 percent of all 10 year old boys are taking medication for ADHD alone.
An estimated 500,000 children across America take some sort of antipsychotic drug.
These figures clearly show that as more psychiatric drugs became available, it directly impacted how mental disabilities skyrocketed in America.
The Overprescription of Psychiatric Medications is Creating More Problems Than They Solve
Many mental health professionals have been overprescribing psychiatric medications, leading to an increased risk of longer-term side effects.
While these drugs can provide temporary relief to many patients, they can also cause long-term damage to the brain’s chemistry that could persist for years after the initial symptoms would have naturally cleared up.
This especially applies to children, who often receive treatments and drugs that are not FDA approved for their age group and can lead to catastrophic consequences upon taking them.
Jonathan Cole, often referred to as the father of American psychopharmacology, wrote a paper in 1977 entitled “Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?” which discussed how such psychiatric medications were intended to be a “magic bullet” but had caused more problems than solutions – namely, by placing a large number of individuals into lifelong drug therapy without resolution of their original symptoms and with additional damaged caused by overuse of such drugs.
A 1998 study by the World Health Organization showed that long-term use of antidepressants actually led to an increased – rather than reduced – risk of suffering from long-term depression; this is evidence that overprescribing psychiatric medications can leave many patients worse off than before they started taking them.
The Introduction of Psychoactive Drugs Led to the Disarray of the Mental Health Field
The introduction of psychoactive drugs in the 1950s caused a major shift in the psychiatric profession.
Prior to this, psychiatrists were focused on using Freudian analysis to make diagnoses and felt that mental illnesses were not related to physical abnormalities.
However, the drugs’ arrival changed all of that; psychiatrists stopped caring about their patients’ life stories, and instead became solely focused on identifying symptoms and eliminating them with medication.
This shift initially brought optimism but soon led to concerns as severe side effects began to become apparent.
The anti-psychiatry movement gained traction with its publication of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, while other professionals such as psychologists and social workers offered behavioural treatments without drugs.
As a result, psychiatric unity was weakened – many rejected the medical approach altogether or reverted back to Freudian methods or considered mental illness an appropriate response to a crazy world.
The profession was not taken seriously by others, particularly within medicine, and psychiatrists generally earned far less than other doctors – leading to a state of crisis for psychiatry itself.
The Psychiatric Profession’s Re-branding and the Introduction of DSM-III: Putting Psychiatry Back on the Map
In the 1970s, psychiatry had to compete with multiple other medical fields that were seen as more legitimate and respected.
To regain their status quo, they launched a massive media and public relations campaign to assert their medical legitimacy.
This included publishing a guidebook called the Diagnostic and Status Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), which significantly increased the number of diagnoses offered.
It also became a widely adopted tool among different professionals due to its clear criteria for each diagnosis.
While this was part of their plan to make it seem scientific, though, their main goal was actually centered around getting people to buy psychiatric drugs – thus why the psychiatrists would often point out “chemical imbalances” in order to make themselves look more substantial with respect to treating mental illness.
Unsurprisingly, their goal was fulfilled; psyciatrists found extremely important allies in pharmaceutical companies, making them a popular go-to for medication treatments for mental health.
Their successful rebranding effort meant that many more people accepted and embraced psychiatry as a medically legitimate field – one that can provide true help for those struggling with mental illness.
How the American Psychiatric Association’s Relationships with Drug Companies Inflated Mental Health Care Costs
When it comes to the prevalence of certain prescription drugs and marketing campaigns, pharmaceutical companies have long been partnering with psychiatrists to promote their products.
The American Medical Association (AMA) even sold ad space in its magazine to drug makers, bringing in revenue that nearly quintupled from 1950 to 1960.
The relationship between these two parties streamlines the marketing process by allowing drug makers to gain direct access to doctors and other healthcare professionals, which is considered more effective than traditional advertising methods.
To make matters worse, many of these ‘educational’ sponsored symposiums that were held would omit any information about possible side effects, effectively silencing them from the consumers who may be taking those drugs.
It’s because of this kind of preferential treatment given to drug companies by medical professionals that has led to an increase in expenses related to mental health services since 2001, including a projected 240-percent increase in spending for 2015.
Meanwhile, Medicare and Medicaid programs are covering 60 percent of these costs – meaning taxpayers are also feeling the pinch.
Anatomy of an Epidemic paints a troubling picture of the history of psychoactive drugs.
From pharmaceutical companies and mental health professionals, there’s evidence that suggests that these drugs may not actually heal mental illness.
Rather, a corrupt relationship to promote the drug is in place fueled by false claims and scant proof that they are effective.
Ultimately, this book serves as an eye-opening reminder to be aware of the potential side effects and dangers associated with prescription medications.
The risks may outweigh the benefits, so it is important to perform thorough research before ever taking any kind of medication.