Depression used to be regarded as time-limited with the vast majority recovering without any medical interventions. Despite seeing psychiatrists for nearly four decades I was never informed of this. I was admitted to hospital at a relatively young age, 24, and I started mixing with patients who had schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. I married a man who was very unwell. He never recovered and he died two years ago. After his funeral I was told he was given an overdose of medication as a baby in hospital and I now wonder if in fact he had suffered some sort of brain damage at that very early age. I believe his daily mental torment was more consistent with that possible explanation. Decades of consuming psychiatric drugs had little positive effect and his physical heath and cognitive function were decimated. As for myself, I internalised the belief that I was unlikely to ever recover and of course this became true because I was on a benzodiazepine which causes depression. I did not know that this drug was having such an adverse effect on me.
And so today I read these quotes and I wonder why approximately 9 million patients in the UK are on antidepressants and why many of them will be on them for life. I appreciate that they are prescribed for reasons other than depression but the majority surely would be for that reason.
(1) Jonathan Cole, NIMH, 1964: “Depression is, on the whole, one of the psychiatric conditions with the best prognosis for eventual recovery with or without treatment. Most depressions are self-limited.”
(2) Nathan Kline, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1964: “In the treatment of depression, one always has an ally the fact that most depressions terminate in spontaneous remissions. This means that in many cases regardless of what one does the patient eventually will begin to get better.”
(3) Dean Schuyler, head of the depression section at the NIMH, 1974: Most depressive episodes “will run their course and terminate with virtually complete recovery without specific intervention.”
All three quotes are from History We Can’t Overlook Anymore: Details Before the Anti-Depressant Era
It seems to me that the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatry have created a mental health epidemic and there appears to be no end to it. The NHS cannot cope with demand and we continue to fuel the belief that medication is needed. The Royal College of Psychiatry seems to know little about the issues of dependence or the many difficulties associated with withdrawal. They regularly promote these drugs, without providing factual information to the public. They use slogans and soundbites such as they “save lives” and attempt to silence those who have been seriously harmed by them.
Leading psychiatrists make statements in the national press for which they cannot provide any evidence. Patients who feel they benefit from them sometimes promote the drugs as if they were harmless sweeties. Those of us who have been harmed spend a great deal of time doing research and what we find is utterly shocking. We are accused of demonising the drugs, but if patients knew the truth they might be equally horrified.
The President of the Royal College has recently stated on Twitter that she trusts MHRA and NICE and seems entirely unaware of much of the information about how these drugs were tested and brought to market. I find this utterly astonishing.
As a member of the public with a fair bit of knowledge of the medical profession and the academic world I had assumed that any announcement in the national press by someone with the title Professor would at least be based on a sound evidence base but apparently this is not the case. Journalists and the media approach leading psychiatrists for their opinions on the assumption that they have the expertise to comment.
Professor Wendy Burn in a letter to the Times stated that antidepressants withdrawal lasts for two weeks for the vast majority, she now says this opinion is based on her 30 years clinical experience. She works with the elderly and advises us this age group does not experience problems with antidepressant withdrawal. In the letter to the Times she said that Dr James Davies was “quite wrong” to say withdrawal could last for months or years, yet Dr Davies had in fact conducted a survey of the online patient community for antidepressant dependence and withdrawal. I helped to circulate the questionnaire.
I now realise that Prof Wendy Burn could have been any clinician voicing an opinion but the public will of course assume because of her title and role as President, that her views must indeed have some authority. I would have thought that myself until very recently. Prof David Baldwin who jointly authored the letter could only provide scientific papers of very short term clinical trials which do not in any way reflect what is happening in the real world. However, the views of Dr James Davies were dismissed with the stroke of the keyboard without any justification whatsoever.
Much of this is about power .. the power of the Royal College, the power of psychiatry, power over other health care professions, power over patients and very little has to do with good science, professionalism or ethics.
How wonderful it would been to know all those years ago that most patients can recover from depression without any medical intervention whatsoever. I can only imagine that my many doctors knew full well I was suffering iatrogenic harm for most of my adult life but they watched me struggle through life, disabled by a little white pill called Nitrazepam.