The Sunday Magazine

Robert Whitaker on Psychiatric Drugs

For the past 25 years, people suffering from depression have been treated with drugs such as Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil ... selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI's), otherwise known as anti-depressants. The theory goes that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. And if you can correct that, you can snatch your life back from under the soul-crushing...

For the past 25 years, people suffering from depression have been treated with drugs such as Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil ... selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI's), otherwise known as anti-depressants. The theory goes that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. And if you can correct that, you can snatch your life back from under the soul-crushing weight of depression.

In fact, there's a pharmaceutical treatment for just about every form of mental illness from schizophrenia to ADHD and a raft of anxiety disorders. Hundreds of millions of prescriptions are written for anti-psychotic, antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications every year in the United States alone, producing billions of dollar in revenue for pharmaceutical companies.

But Robert Whitaker has argued for years that millions of the people who are prescribed those drugs derive no benefit from them. And in fact, the drugs may make their illness worse.

Mr. Whitaker's criticisms were controversial when he published his research in a 2010 book called Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. That book, though, won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award, and since its publication, an increasing number of psychiatric researchers have come to agree with his conclusions.

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