What does science really know?
Norway has announced the opening of the first psychiatric hospital where medication will not be used as a means of treatment. This experiment should be acknowledged and applauded.
Contemporary Western psychiatry is built on the unproven and reductive assumption that clusters of “symptoms” that are grouped together indicate the presence of an underlying material and physical disorder of the brain. The expectation is that neuroscience will soon tie these experiences to those disorders. The experiences themselves are considered “disorders” to be treated chemically or by a plethora of preferred psychotherapeutic methods, to which a therapist can subscribe.
They are called disorders because we really do not know what causes them. Perhaps there is nothing disorderly about them. Perhaps they are extremely orderly reactions to interpersonal or cultural problems, such as discrimination, oppression and the terrifying chaos that is occurring in many societies today. It is just as likely that we are medicating social problems as not.
Science has no idea what regions of the brain psychotropic medications affect nor what they actually do. The claim, for example, that SSRIs affect the uptake of serotonin, which then alleviates depression or anxiety, is a mere hypothesis. Their prescription involves a trial and error process, as different formulas work for some people some of the time. This is not science, but an educated guess on the part of so-called experts.
One in six Americans takes some kind of psychiatric drug—mostly antidepressants. Twice as many white people take those drugs as do African-Americans or other racial minorities, and fewer than five percent of Asian-Americans do.
“Most psychiatric drug use reported by adults was long term, with 84.3 percent having filled three or more prescriptions in 2013 or indicating that they had started taking the drug during 2011 or earlier.”). Are we creating an iatrogenic addiction among the privileged classes? Certainly, this has become clear with the use of opioids, foisted upon the public through the nefarious schemes of their developers.
All this medicating and prescribing are based on the assumption that we don’t really have to know what is going on in the brain or the body beforehand. Presumably, if someone develops additional debilitating symptoms or even dies from these medications, then a problem is clear.
But what is that problem? We do not really know how the various aspects of the human body interact with each other, much less how they interact with other people and the environment. In addition to not really knowing what the medications are changing in the body and mind, we fail to assess holistically and, thus, may be missing the cause or, more likely, causes of distress. As only one of many possible examples, it is becoming known that the gut and not the brain may be responsible for the epidemic of depression in developed countries, dependent on fast foods and unhealthy diet.
This distress may not even be a disorder, but an orderly reaction to the danger of cultural chaos, as we are experiencing currently to a heightened degree in the U.S.
These approaches not only have the potential to be dangerous and addictive but can be viewed as social control, for modulating the effects of unsatisfying work, loneliness, and life under an abusive government.
“If a patient is depressed because she spends 40 or more hours a week engaged in alienating labor for exploitative pay, the decision to help her dampen those feelings with drugs seems to assume that it is her response rather than her culture that is dysfunctional. But psychiatrists have no special expertise on these matters.”
I am aware that millions of patients have found them useful, but why and at what cost in the present or the future? The answers to these questions have some urgency, as anti-depressants to control post-partum depression are about to be available in mothers’ milk. At that point, we will all be medicated.
Moore, T., Safe Medication Practices, 2014
Hartner, D. F., & Theurer, K. L. (2018). Psychiatry should not seek mechanisms of disorder. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/teo0000095 (Link)