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  December 2, 2002

Depression - Part 3

I believe that, in general, the greatest danger for people suffering with depression is the drug treatments being administered by mainstream medicine and psychiatry.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is the most widely circulated medical periodical in the world. In the article "Is US Health Really the Best in the World?" (JAMA 2000 Jul 26;284[4]:483-5), author Barbara Starfield MD, MPH, informs us that 7,000 deaths per year are caused by medication errors in hospitals, and a whopping 106,000 deaths per year are caused by the negative effects of drugs. That's 113,000 people - one hundred and thirteen thousand - dead because of medications every year. That's over 9,000 people per month. That's three times the number of people that were killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks - per month. Is the US government spending billions to protect its citizens from legal drugs? No.

If that many people die every year in the US from medical drug problems, how many more people become sicker but don't die? One hundred and thirteen thousand is the shocking tip of an enormous iceberg of medically-created pain and suffering.

This also seems like the behaviour of a drug- and substance-addicted society, a society that simply wants to cover up pain and discomfort - even at the risk of death. We are disturbed by tales of "drug" addicts who can't quit, who have horrible withdrawal symptoms, and who risk death rather than be "clean." We look down on them for taking drugs just to feel good. But isn't that what people do when they take SSRIs (antidepressants)? Don't they just want to feel good? Isn't it also true that people on antidepressants can't quit easily and when they do try, they often have debilitating withdrawal symptoms? So why is it acceptable when the drug is Prozac and unacceptable when the drug is cocaine? Is taking an antidepressant really that much different than taking speed or cocaine? According to psychiatric expert Dr. Peter Breggin, there are startling similarities. In his books (listed at the end of this article), Dr. Breggin gives balanced evidence that antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs carry many inherent dangers associated with classic stimulants. The evidence is both enlightening and shocking.

Some people believe that antidepressants are acceptable for temporary use or for a "jump start" to fight depression. Here is Dr. Breggin's response in "Talking Back to Prozac" (page 207, 208):

First, there is the scientific question: do people get a jump start from drugs? Some people do feel as if they get energized in a positive manner by taking an SSRI drug, and many psychiatrists claim that this frequently happens. The effect is probably no different from amphetamine or cocaine stimulation; the individual gets an enormous burst of energy that may or may not turn out to be an advantage.

While some people might desire an artificial jolt, most people will experience it as a negative side effect. Worse, taking one of the stimulant SSRIs may be risky. As we've seen, activating the depressed patient can cause suicide. Drugs that energize also have abuse potential and withdrawal problems. On balance, there is far more evidence for their capacity to cause mental aberrations than to ameliorate them.

Then there is the psychological challenge. We almost invariably become depressed when the old ways have stopped working - when we've come to a dead end in life. Sometimes the dead end seems caused by an overwhelming tragedy, such as the breakup of a marriage or the death of a loved one. But almost always, if the despair becomes intense and unending, there's something else going on - problems restimulated from childhood, or attitudes and viewpoints that leave the person unprepared for life. At such a moment, revelations can occur, breathtaking changes can be made - life can evolve into something much better. This frequently happens in therapy but thus far I've never seen it happen on a drug. And I've never seen it happen on a combination of drugs and therapy, because drug-taking, by its very nature, convinces the individual that he or she is at the mercy of forces beyond personal control. All psychoactive drugs disrupt brain and mental function, and hence self-awareness.

That point is worth stressing: the very taking of a pill becomes a sacrament to helplessness, a statement that the suffering is unendurable and beyond one's own means, that less suffering is preferable to an intact brain and a drug-free mind. Once drug-taking has begun, the individual is no longer likely to work his or her way out of the depression in a new and better way. At best, the drug-dulled or drug-driven individual adjusts or compulsively conforms.

When you take something from the outside, you are literally saying "I don't have it in me." You are admitting you don't have the power, and as I've said before, one of the most fundamental characteristics of depression is a sense of powerlessness. Drugs can "help" by dulling the pain or artificially stimulating the nervous system, but they don't eliminate the cause. There is no evidence that depression is a genetically irreversible physical imbalance, as the drug companies have a vested interest in making us believe.

I don't want those who are taking antidepressants to feel foolish for seeking relief. It is one of our natural responses to pain. However, the few people I know who have weaned themselves off SSRIs by working in conjunction with primal therapy have been actively involved in their healing process, thus exercising their personal power. They have never bought into the concept that they are irreversibly flawed. They have all actively sought to heal.

When it comes to psychoactive medications, it is important to step back for a minute and look at the simple act of taking a pill. You are putting something in your mouth, into your body and your brain. What is it, exactly, that you are swallowing? Do you really know? When someone at a party hands you a pill and says, "Hey, take one of these, they're great," do you? When your doctor hands you a prescription for a pill, how much do you know? How well do you know the doctor? Do you know what his strengths and weaknesses were at medical school? Do you know his own level of personal stress and the state of his mental health? Do you know if he drinks or takes other substances that would affect his judgment? Do you know the extent of his knowledge of the drug he is prescribing? Do you know if he has read all the literature and research thoroughly? Have you read all the literature? Do you know the people at the drug company who wrote the literature? Do you know the people (hired by the drug company, of course) who administered the research and performed the clinical trials? Do you know the people at the government regulating agency who approved it? Have you examined the reports? Do you know the people who actually produce the chemical components and pills? In other words, when you pop that pill...do you really know where it's been?

No, you probably don't know any of these things. Most people don't. Most people blindly trust their doctors and psychiatrists as if they were some kind of all-knowing parent figures. This is frightening, considering the fact that doctors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. That's right. Barbara Starfield's JAMA article also states that 225,000 deaths per year are from iatrogenic causes. "Iatrogenic" means "caused by a physician."

The answer to this mess is to start trusting yourself. Get informed. Don't just take anyone's word - including mine. Take back your power and find out for yourself. That doesn't mean you have to do it alone. It means that you take the initiative because it's your life and your health. You can ask others for assistance, but always keep in mind that the people you ask to assist are assistants - not your directors.

You are the director of your life.

* * *

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Peter Breggin's website: http://www.breggin.com

The Antidepressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Luvox
Peter R. Breggin, MD
2001, Perseus Books

Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications
Peter R. Breggin M.D. and David Cohen Ph.D.
1999, Perseus Books

Talking Back To Prozac: What doctors aren't telling you about today's most controversial drug
Peter R. Breggin, M.D. and Ginger Ross Breggin
1994, St. Martin's Press

Toxic Psychiatry: Why therapy, empathy, and love must replace the drugs, electroshock, and biochemical theories of the "new psychiatry."
Peter R. Breggin, M.D.
1991, St. Martin's Press

Related Primalworks articles:

Born Bad: The Dangerous Dogma of Meds and Genetics (January 28, 2002)
Dr. Loren Mosher: A Renowned Psychiatrist Speaks the Truth (March 18, 2002)

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