Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America — a note from Robert Whitaker

A note from Robert Whitaker author of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
Thank you for offering to post a notice about my upcoming book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, on your blog.

Here’s how the book is set up. During the past 20 years, the number of people on government disability due to “mental illness” has soared, rising from around 1.25 million people in 1987 to more than four million today. The number of children on the SSI rolls due to severe mental illness has increased more than 35-fold since 1987. Those numbers tell of an “epidemic,” and the book then asks this heretical question: Could our drug-based paradigm of care be fueling that epidemic?

To answer that question, I fleshed out what the scientific literature has to say about the long-term effects of psychiatric medications. I think an observation made by one of the many people I interviewed for the book aptly sums up the tale told in the scientific literature. She said:

“With psychiatric medications, you solve one problem for a period of time, but the next thing you know, you end up with two problems. The treatment turns a period of crisis into a chronic mental illness.”
After this tale of science is told (and the book basically relates a history of science that has unfolded since the 1950s), I look at why our society doesn’t know about the many studies that have documented the poor long-term outcomes. These study results never get reported in the newspapers, and the book explores the financial reasons why that is so.

Finally, in the last part of the book, I report on programs that use psychiatric medications in a limited, cautious manner (or not at all), and are producing good results. For instance, I traveled to western Lapland in northern Finland to report on open-dialogue therapy. There, only about one-third of first-episode psychotic patients are ever exposed to antipsychotic medications, and at the end of five years, only about 20% of first-episode patients are still on antipsychotics. Western Lapland adopted this “selective use” of antipsychotics in 1992, and their outcomes are now the best in the western world. At the end of five years, roughly 80% of those patients are asymptomatic and either working or back in school. Only a small percentage of their first-episode patients end up chronically ill and on government disability.

So that’s the book. It investigates a medical puzzle, and along the way it tells the personal stories of a number of people caught up in our societal “epidemic” of mental illness. My hope—and I suppose this is a rather grandiose, naive hope—is that if this history of science could become widely known, then perhaps our society could have a rational discussion about what could be done to stem this epidemic.

The book, I should add, also explores what is happening over the long-term to children who are put on psychiatric medications. Once again, science tells a very clear story, and, as you might imagine, it is one that—when you think of the millions of children so affected—makes you want to weep.

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America You can preorder the book here. It will be available in bookstores on April 13th.

For more about Robert Whitaker and his work see here.

for a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page.


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