Many mental health clinicians and consumers operate under the assumption that mental illness results from chemical imbalances in the brain. However, a close examination of the evidence strongly suggests that this is not the case. In fact, there is some suggestion that psychotropic medications such as antipsychotics and antidepressants used to treat mental illness may themselves perturb normal neurochemical functioning. Importantly, pharmacologically inducted alterations in the functioning of core neurochemical systems may have important implications for the maintenance of symptoms and long-term outcomes. Author & journalist, Mr. Robert Whitaker joins us to discuss the core themes of his 2010 (updated in 2014) book Anatomy of an Epidemic which seeks to not only put the development and use of psychotropic medications in historical context, but also critically examines the long-term impact of these compounds from a data-driven lens. In this discussion we cover the evidence around neurochemical "imbalances" in the brain, findings around the the long-term outcome data around the use of antipsychotics & antidepressants including the possibility of these compounds contributing to relapse and chronicity of illness, a brief consideration of problems associated with anxiolytics like benzodiazepines and finally, a discussion of the kinds of shift in narrative required around mental illness to move our understanding and treatment strategies forward. Host note: the information discussed in the podcast today should not be taken as medical advice around the use of psychotropic medications and is for general information only. If you have questions around the pharmacological management of your symptoms, please consult with your medical provider.
Robert Whitaker is an American journalist and author who has won numerous awards as a journalist covering medicine and science, including the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and a National Association for Science Writers’ Award for best magazine article. In 1998, he co-wrote a series on psychiatric research for the Boston Globe that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. His first book, Mad in America, was named by Discover magazine as one of the best science books of 2002. Anatomy of an Epidemic won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors book award for best investigative journalism. He is the publisher of madinamerica.com.