Posts Tagged ‘Antidepressant Drugs’

Jordan Peterson takes antidepressants

April 24, 2018

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life, said in a 2012 interview (above) that he takes antidepressants and expects to take them for the rest of his life.

I don’t have any current information, but my guess is that this is still true.

His daughter Mikhaila, who was 20 back then, also said she takes antidepressants.  Peterson believes he is subject to a genetic flaw that his grandfather and father also had.

This runs counter to the argument of British journalist Johann Hari, whose new book, Lost Connections, was reviewed by me in my previous post.  Hari said people are depressed not because things are wrong in their brains, but because things are wrong in their lives, which is often due to things that are wrong with society in general.

All three generations of Peterson appeared to have everything that makes life living—meaningful work, friends, loving marriages, children and the respect of their communities.

Yet Jordan Peterson’s grandfather and father went to pieces in middle age, and Peterson himself thinks that he might have suffered the same fate if antidepressants hadn’t been available.

Mikhaila, the daughter, did go through a lot of suffering.  She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from a young age and had to have hip and ankle replacements.  But she didn’t suffer alone.  She had the support of parents and friends.

So none of the Petersons fit the profile of typical depressed people as reported in Lost Connections.

Hari reported on clinical studies comparing patients who’ve been given antidepressants with patients who’ve been given placebos and patients who’ve been given nothing.

They indicate that 50 percent of the apparent benefit of antidepressants comes from the placebo effect and 25 percent from people simply getting better on their own.

That, of course, leaves a remaining 25 percent who actually were helped.  Hari said nobody understands how this works, because the effects of the various antidepressants are widely different.  Some increase serotonin, some decrease it, some increase or decrease dopamine and other biochemicals.  Also, many of them have bad side effects.

Peterson said that antidepressants work best for people who outwardly have great lives and are depressed for no apparent reason.   If you are depressed because you are unemployed, divorced or lonely, antidepressants won’t fix you, he said; you need to look for a job, a new mate and new friends.


Antidepressants not a cure for lost connections

April 23, 2018

Journalist Johann Hari said in his new book that people who are depressed are not victims of bad brain chemistry.  They are depressed because they are disconnected from things that make life worth living.

They are disconnected from meaningful work, meaningful values and meaningful relationships with other people, from status and respect, the natural world and a secure or hopeful future.

In LOST CONNECTIONS: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—And the Unexpected Solutions (2018), Hari walks the reader through the scientific research that shows how people suffer when they are disconnected from the things they need, and how they can heal when they recover those connections.

Depression and anxiety are big problems.  Hari said psychiatric drugs are being taken by one in five American adults, one in three French adults and an even higher proportion in the UK.

The death rate in the United States is actually increasing, driven by “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-caused liver disease.   The World Health Organization reported in 2010 that depression is the world’s second leading cause of disability.

Hari said therapists can help, and gave examples.  He said there are ways people can help themselves, and gave examples.  Medication has its place, although often ineffective.  Hari deeply regrets the 13 years of his own life that he spent taking antidepressants.

But feelings of depression and anxiety are not the problem, according to Hari.   Pain, whether mental or physical, is a message that lets you know something is seriously wrong.   The rising rate of depression is a message telling us that something is wrong with our society.


In organizations, you might think that the managers and decision makers would be under the most stress, while those with less responsibility would be the least stressed.  A study of the British civil service, among others, showed that the opposite is true.  The lower your rank, the higher the stress.

What causes stress is lack of control, Hari reported.   Employees are stressed when they have to produce results without being able to use their best judgment as to how to produce these results.

They are stressed when they don’t know the meaning or purpose of their work.  They are stressed when nobody notices whether they are doing a good job or not.  They are stressed when they’re on call even after the work day ends.   They are stressed when they don’t know whether they are going to have a job next week or next year.  Lost Connections gives examples of workers dealing with all these things.

Stressful working conditions are on the increase.  We the people were told that technological advances would result in all the routine work being done by machines, and more fulfilling, higher-level tasks being done by humans.  I believe such a path is possible, but it has not been the path chosen.

Instead we got Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management, factory automation and computer numerically-controlled machines.  The purpose of these innovations was not to make workers more skilled.  It was to make them more replaceable.

High tech executives continue to push to eliminate the human factor from work, even when there is no need or demand for it, such as self-driving cars, and even when the public hates it, such as elimination of human interaction from customer service.

Workers do not suffer from a chemical imbalance, Hari wrote; they suffer from a power imbalance.


Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

April 12, 2010

I recently read a disturbing book, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became Sickness, by Christopher Lane, about the selling of mental illness in order to sell therapy and therapeutic drugs.

Lane tells how attributes once considered within the normal range of human diversity came to be defined as mental illness, and how a therapeutic and drug industry sprang up around those definitions.  It is disturbing as an example of perverse market incentives undermine professional standards and scientific objectivity.

The book begins with an account of the academic politics behind the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), which came out in 1980. The purpose of the original DSM, which came out in 1952, was to provide standard and evidence-based definitions of mental illnesses, to diminish the subjective element in psychiatry and to enable therapists to speak a common language.  In DMS-III, as a result of neuropsychiatrists outmaneuvering psychoanalysts, there was a great expansion of the number and scope of defined mental illnesses.

Among these was “social anxiety disorder,” which, according to some estimates, affects one in five Americans. This proved a great boon to the anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug industry; according to Lane, nearly 200 million prescriptions for such drugs are filled every year. This is due to the drug industry’s massive and successful advertising and public relations campaign, to sell people on the idea they were sick and needed treatment.

DSM-IV came out in 1994 with an expanded list of mental illnesses, and a DSM-V is due out in 2015.

The American advertising industry has a long history of selling problems – dandruff, hair loss, “Mr. Coffee Nerves,” “BO: what your best friends won’t tell you” – in order to sell products. The most disturbing thing about this disturbing book is the advertisements selling people on need to drug themselves.

It is a bad idea, as Lane says, to encourage people to become dependent on drugs to cope with bad feelings. The use of psychopharmacological drugs is a step up from altering human behavior by means of brain surgery or electroshock “therapy,” but it, too, alters the brain in unforeseeable ways. By providing a chemical solution to emotional problems, you reduce the ability of people to cope with or live with problems. By chemically eliminating negative emotions, you blunt the ability to feel emotion at all. By biochemically altering the function of the brain, a delicate organ whose workings are imperfectly understood,  you may make irreversible changes whose effects you don’t know.

There are too many vested interests in the present system to expect change anytime soon.  DSMs are used as the basis for determining Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance reimbursement. To change the definitions to make them more narrow would be to cut off many thousands, maybe even millions, for needed therapy.  The therapeutic profession will not willingly a curtailment of the number of clients, nor will the drug industry willingly accept a curtailment of a lucrative market.

But many people really do suffer from “social anxiety disorder” and really do need medications.  “Social anxiety disorder” may include normal shyness, but I have met people who are unable to function in society at all without their medications. And I have had the misfortune to have to cope over an extended period with someone who needed to be on medications, but refused to take them.

So the question is not how to get rid of psychopharmocological drugs, but where you draw the line on using them.  And I, like most people outside the psychiatric profession, lack the expert knowledge to say where that line should be drawn.  I am grateful for Christopher Lane for calling attention to this situation, but I don’t know what to do about it. I am reduced to the pious hope that the psychiatric profession itself will push back against perverse market forces and reassert professional and scientific standards.