Has the Drug-Based Approach to Mental Illness Failed?
One of the most impressive, disturbing works of science journalism I’ve encountered is Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, published in 2010. In the book, which I review here, award-winning journalist Robert Whitaker presents evidence that medications for mental illness, over time and in the aggregate, cause net harm. In 2012, I brought Whitaker to my school to give a talk, in part to check him out. He struck me as a smart, sensible, meticulous reporter whose in-depth research had led him to startling conclusions. Since then, far from encountering persuasive rebuttals of Whitaker’s thesis, I keep finding corroborations of it. If Whitaker is right, modern psychiatry, together with the pharmaceutical industry, has inflicted iatrogenic harm on millions of people. Reports of surging mental distress during the pandemic have me thinking once again about Whitaker’s views and wondering how they have evolved. Below he answers some questions. —John Horgan
Horgan: When and why did you start reporting on mental health?