Rethinking Psychiatry

By Larissa Chern ’17

As a student, I find myself shocked at the number of teenagers who, desperate to focus in class and get better grades, make an appointment with a psychiatrist and, in the span of an hour manage to leave the doctor’s office with a prescription for Adderall. And it’s no secret that children are being diagnosed and treated with drugs starting at a very early age, which may disturb their natural course of development as well as family stability. On Monday night (Feb. 22), award-winning journalist Robert Whitaker paid us a visit at the Athenaeum to talk about this: is our current paradigm of psychiatric care working for us?

Today, psychotropic medication is the first line for treatment of severe psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. And the number of patients on psychiatric medication use and of people diagnosed with psychological disorders will only keep growing. What most healthcare specialists fail to note however, is that even after having had prescribed anti-psychotics for over 50 years, we still lack compelling evidence of its long-run effectiveness. Studies show that the relapse of patients on drugs is much more severe than that of patients on placebo. The same study showed that after five years of having been diagnosed, 50% of un-medicated patients were in remission for schizophrenia as opposed to only 5% of those who were on medication.

Following years of extensive research, a McGill professor made the groundbreaking discovery that anti-psychotics, in the long-run, might actually increase the biological susceptibility to and severity of psychosis. Yet, these study results are not disclosed to the general public because they oppose everything pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists have ever defended. If we are interested in the long-term effects of psychotropic drug use, we must reevaluate these points of contention immediately.

Although Mr. Whitaker declared himself unable to provide medical advice, he has dedicated his entire career to researching and writing about medicine with the sponsoring of the Harvard Medical School. While I remain impartial to the debate at hand, I agree that it is essential to conduct more research and investigate the effects of psychiatric drug use in a full and open manner. In order to better assist our children, we need to rethink the idea that drugs should be the first line of treatment for psychological difficulties.