Psych Meds: Worth the Risk?

I’ll start by saying at the outset of the article that I’ve always felt that the decision to take any kind of psych med is a deeply personal one, and it is not a decision that anyone else can make for the individual in question.  I have known more than one person who went on a psych med of one variety or another and ended up going off of it for one of two reasons: 1. He/She no longer felt like him- or herself, or; 2. The medication was causing more severe disruptions to his/her life than the condition that the pills were created to combat.  I have never taken a medication of this sort, and I understand that many people feel them to be effective and helpful to them.  Based on my own observations, however, I remain deeply skeptical of their overall benefits.

Why is this?  Well, for one thing, I have known more than one person in my close circle of friends, which isn’t all that big, who has gone on SSRIs when they were going through a tough time in life.  In both cases, the person was hoping to be relieved from the constant feelings of “the blues.”  In the first case, the person reported feeling more suicidal tendencies.  In fact, she had never even been suicidal until she started taking this medication.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a medication that she stayed on for long.  In the other case of which I’m thinking, the person was also on them for a short period but elected to stop when they made the person feel crazy.  The person later told me that it took about six months for him/her to get back to feeling like their normal old self.

Another friend of mine had an even worse experience with strong sleeping medication.  Her doctor had prescribed them to her, as she had been a lifelong insomniac.  It was a rare occasion that she got more than four hours of sleep in a given night the entire time I knew her.  Being tired and cranky was a way of life for her.  She went to the doctor to get some sleeping medication for the nights when sleep was impossible, and she was on that medication for probably about three years.

When she went back to university, she neglected to renew the prescription.  She thought nothing of it… Until she stopped being able to remember where she was going.  She recounted to me a story of driving around a strange, new city for hours, trying to find the place whose location she had known only minutes before.  She never did find it.  Her moods swung dramatically, and she found herself strung out and crying on a daily basis.  She found out later that she as experiencing massive withdrawal.  She ended up dropping out of grad school for a semester to move back home and get herself back together.  She’s healthy and well now, but I think I can say with absolute confidence that it was the most awful, harrowing time in her life.  Interestingly, the medicine she was taking was almost chemically identical to Xanax, which is why I used her example in this article.  I have known a shocking number of people who are prescribed Xanax for the most mundane reasons, and they really shouldn’t be anywhere near it.

Can you see why I’m mildly skeptical of all of these medications?  Those are two stories of many that I could share with you.

I know that my friends’ stories are not unique, tragically.  I think there are more people than most of us realize who have had hellish ordeals with prescription medication.  Although I will neither provide nor know of a statistic which supports this opinion, I nevertheless believe that prescription medications are more dangerous to the health of America than street drugs.

Natural News featured a report a few days ago which I posted up on Twitter about two days ago.  The article talk about how the FDA and Big Pharma have actively attempted to hide some rather shocking findings (I wasn’t shocked, but I’m cynical): placebo pills (sugar pills) registered exactly the same effect on patients as the actual anti-depressant meds.  This is reported by University of Hull psychologist Dr. Irving Hirsch.

Was Hirsch using a new, fancy research to test out his hypothesis?  Surprisingly, the answer is no.  According to another article written by Dr. Hirsch that was published in The Huffington Post, Hirsch and his colleagues compiled what is referred to as a meta-analysis.  Dr. Hirsch explains that this type of study is used to make sense of large amounts of information that have been conducted by previous studies.  Seems simple enough.

Included in the mass of data analyzed were the actual clinical trials conducted by the drug companies producing these drugs.  These trials were conducted as double-blind studies.  In a double-blind study, patients will be divided into two groups, with one group receiving the real drug to be tested and one that receives a dupe sugar pill.  Neither doctors/researchers nor patients know who is receiving which pill until the end of the trial.  This is considered to be one of the best way to avoid psychological contamination of the study, if you will, as it will be harder for patients or doctors to imagine that effects are there which really aren’t.

Hirsch says that by the end of the major study they looked at, though, most of the patients receiving the real medication knew that they were receiving it because of the side effects.  This group did report slightly increased benefits, but the Hirsch team concluded that these could be real effects or imagined effects, since the patients mostly knew that they were medicated.

Hirsch then asks the question, if the FDA knew about this, why did they allow these drugs to be approved?  In fact, the FDA only requires two successful trials for a drug to be sent to market.  In other words, if company A runs 15 trials and two could be interpreted as successful, those results will then be sent to the FDA, who will then approve or disapprove the drug.  To quote Dr. Hirsch, the study “must be statistically significant.”  Statistical significance, however, does not imply clinical significance.

Hirsch also asserts early on in the article that there is evidence mounting that seems to suggest that depression is not a disease of the brain, chemical in nature.  Just suppose for a moment that Hirsch is correct.  I am not saying he is or he isn’t, but it is an interesting hypothesis.  If depression were, say, a physiological rather than a psychological disease, it would have serious implications for the mental health industry, the drug industry and, I believe, the health and well-being industry.  What if depression could be treated by improved diet, regular exercise, and regular, positive social interaction away from one’s desk job?

I suppose with that in mind, there are two things I want to drive at here.  The first is that, should Hirsch’s results hold up and his conclusions prove to be accurate, it paints a damning picture (more so) of Big Pharma and the FDA.  I have long questioned the efficacy of the FDA, but if they are approving drugs that create huge profits for some while poisoning the population with terrible side effects for little, if any, benefit, it seems to be that they are criminal in nature and deserve to be treated as such.  Once again, government is giving aid and comfort to precisely those who need and deserve it least.

The other point to be made is that the old, conventional wisdom about healthy diet and exercise becomes so much more valuable to us.  Unfortunately, we seem to live in a society where we think everything can be solved with a magical pill.  But what if the power to feel and look good, for the most part, is something that is within our own control?  Does that sound depressing (pun not intended)?  It shouldn’t.  It’s liberating, and that’s what we are all about here at the Lady Libertarian: freedom.  Yes, it may seem scarier for some, to have to take total responsibility for one’s own health instead of relying on a doctor and being able to place blame with him/her when things don’t go well, but ultimately, we are the masters of our destinies.  A little like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, wouldn’t it be at once exciting and mildly disheartening to find that the power to transport ourselves to our rightful place has always been within our own power?  Perhaps it truly is something that we have to discover for ourselves…

Interested in reading more?  Check out the links below!

Dr. Irving Hirsch via The Huffington Post: “Antidepressants: The Emperor’s New Clothes?”

Natural News: “How FDA and Big Pharma mislead millions into taking dangerous antidepressants”

Natural News: “BMJ Admits antipsychotic drugs kill far more people than terrorism” 


About The Lady Libertarian
I am American, currently expatriated but hopeful about getting back home one of these days. Besides reading and writing about politics, I enjoy camping, sailing, canoeing, making pie, and traveling. I hope you'll enjoy this blog and find it informative and accessible.

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