After a while, some parents in the maelstrom begin to wonder. Are all the psychiatric medications prescribed to our loved one really helping? Or are they doing more harm than good?
Schizophrenia can a seriously disabling disorder. Antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers can be helpful in addressing specific problems associated with the disorder, such as hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, insomnia, and depression. But an increasing volume of evidence is showing that such medications also bring serious risks, especially over the long term. Often cited risks include obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, brain shrinkage, psychosis, shorter lifespans (by 25 years on average), and even suicide.1-3 Other studies show that those with psychiatric disabilities have who eventually eschew medications may have better prospects for recovery over the long run.4
There are questions about certain marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies. Clinical trials for FDA approval are conducted mostly by companies whose primary purpose is profit maximization, not scientific advancement. Accordingly, it is not surprising, nor reassuring, that companies have often published findings selectively, manipulated publications in professional journals, sequestered the raw data generated in their studies, and even invented entire new diseases (i.e., bipolar) and to which to market their products and new classes of much more expensive drugs (i.e., second-generation atypicals like risperidal) that proved no better than existing drugs (i.e., haloperidol).5-9
No wonder that there is a movement in some quarters for loved ones to get off all psychiatric medications altogether. Will Hall is a Portland, OR therapist who knows about this matter. As one with schizophrenia who has been prescribed many medications during his ordeals, he have a vivid personal experience. He coaches loved ones who decide for themselves how best to reduce their medications. A believer in both medications when appropriate and personal freedom for those who decide to use—or reduce them, Hall takes a balanced, measured, objective, non-ideological approach. He has published a helpful free resource called Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs. In this 30 minute video Hall offers counseling on “harm reduction” that few, including most psychiatrists, could fault and that family members in the maelstrom should bear in mind.
1. Ho B, Andreasen NC, Ziebell S, Pierson R, Magnotta V. Long-term antipsychotic treatment and brain volumes: A longitudinal study of first-episode schizophrenia. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2011;68(2):128-137.
2. Moncrieff J, Cohen D. Do antidepressants cure or create abnormal brain states? PLoS Med. 2006;3(7).
3. Whitaker R. Anatomy of an epidemic: Magic bullets, psychiatric drugs, and the astonishing rise of mental illness in America. New York: Crown Publishers; 2010.
4. Wunderink L, Nieboer RM, Wiersma D, Sytema S, Nienhuis FJ. Recovery in remitted first-episode psychosis at 7 years of follow-up of an early dose reduction/discontinuation or maintenance treatment strategy: Long-term follow-up of a 2-year randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(9):913-920.
5. Healy D. Pharmageddon. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press; 2012.
6. Tyrer P, Kendall T. The spurious advance of antipsychotic drug therapy. The Lancet. // 2009;373(9657):4-5.
7. Whitaker R. The case against antipsychotic drugs: A 50 year record of doing more hard than good. Medical Hypothesis. 2003;62:5-13.
8. Lieberman JA, Stroup TS, McEvoy JP, et al. Effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs in patients with chronic schizophrenia. New England Journal of Medicine. 2005;353(12):1209-1223.
9. Turner EH, Matthews AM, Linardatos E, Tell RA, Rosenthal R. Selective publication of antidepressant trials and its influence on apparent efficacy. New England Journal of Medicine. 2008;358(3):252-260.