Yes, we know our meds may make us worse rather than better, but this comes up in the context of side effects or trade-offs (such as weight gain and cognitive impairments). Whitaker goes a step farther in claiming that many of our meds actually worsen the very conditions they were meant to alleviate, namely:
- Long-term antipsychotic use may bring on psychosis.
- Long-term antidepressant use may bring on depression and affective instability.
- Any kind of antidepressant use may turn those who never experienced mania in their lives into life-long bipolars.
But I also concluded that Mr Whitaker had made the equivalent of a “case to answer,” a strong prosecutorial argument that demands an equally strong counter-argument from the other side. In other words, until psychiatry can present a convincing case of its own - on point, with strong scientific evidence - any fair-minded jury would have to decide in favor of Whitaker.
So, for right now, in the absence to date of any credible marshaling of the facts from psychiatry, Whitaker stands as the most authoritative voice on psychiatric treatment. A very sad state of affairs.
Yes, Daniel Carlat in two blog pieces (see my reviews: A Discussion at Last, and When Is Speculation Justified?) raised some thoughtful concerns, but he came across more like a woman (and in rare cases a man) on a first date wondering how to dress for the occasion. Andrew Nierenberg, one of psychiatry’s leading authorities on mood disorders, in a grand rounds debate, purported to “refute” and “repudiate” Whitaker, only to embarrass himself and his profession in a DSM-worthy display of disordered thinking and outrageous conduct. (See Part I and Part II to "Whitaker vs Quack Psychiatry.")
The latest criticism of Whitaker is in the form of a two-part piece (Part I and Part II) on "Behavioral Healthcare" by William Glazer MD. Dr Glazer runs his own consultancy, and has been affiliated with Yale and Harvard. Dr Glazer is a welcome voice to the conversation, but from the very beginning he sets up his counter-argument to fail.
“Rebuttal: Questioning the validity of ‘Anatomy of an Epidemic'”, reads the title to his first piece. “Whitaker's claims are ‘sensational’ but scientifically unsound,” reads the subheading.
So, to meet his own criteria in making his case, Dr Glazer would have to prove the falsity of Whitaker’s argument. Not only that, he would have to demonstrate that there is no scientific basis to Whitaker. The catch is that Whitaker is no mere flat-earther engaging in pseudo-science. His conclusions - as far-fetched as they may appear to someone considering the issue for the first time - are strongly grounded in findings published in mainstream journals, not to mention the observations of some of the leading experts in the field.
In addition, to shoot down Whitaker, Dr Glazer would have to marshal his own scientific evidence. This would involve citing studies that convincingly demonstrate the long-term efficacy and safety of numerous classes of psychiatric meds. You would think this would be a very easy mission to accomplish, but these studies simply do not exist. Here, for instance, is a key disclosure from the Depakote product labeling:
The effectiveness of valproate for long-term use in mania, i.e. for more than 3 weeks, has not been demonstrated in controlled clinical trials.
An older version of the labeling read:
The effectiveness of Depakote ER for long-term use in mania, i.e. for more than 3 weeks, has not been systematically evaluated in controlled clinical trials.
So here is the situation: We know it is common psychiatric practice to prescribe Depakote for long-term use in stable patients to prevent relapse or recurrence into mania. Yet the drug has only been successfully tested on a floridly manic group of patients for three weeks.
This is hardly an isolated example. Time and time again, in picking through the long-term data, (with the possible exception of lithium) all we come up with are the equivalent of 18-minute gaps in the tape.
Are we to conclude, then, that psychiatry is “scientifically unsound?” Yes, indeed, if we are to apply Dr Glazer’s extremely reckless terminology. I trust you get the point: The truth is certainly out there, but the facts are extremely hard to come by. The best we can do is make intelligent guesses based on the very limited information available to us.
In a sense, psychiatric treatment equates to meteorological forecasting - impressive in the short-term but highly problematic over the long-haul.
So forget about rebutting Whitaker. Psychiatry is in no position to do that. The best it can do is interpret the same data in a way that helps all of us make informed decisions. I’m still waiting.
More to come ...