Do Psychiatric Drugs Make Mental Illnesses Worse?

by Joanne

in Mental Disorders

Are we being lied to about the efficacy of pharmacology in treating mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and ADHD? Are these conditions true chemical imbalances, and do psychotropic drugs help people long-term?

Not according to science writer Robert Whitaker. After researching the evidence of trials on psychiatric medications for treating the mentally ill, he found that long-term use worsened these conditions. Episodic, environmental depression turns into a “chemical imbalance” in need of pharmacological manipulation. Schizophrenia is no longer a short-term illness that for many people resolves itself, but a disease requiring a lifetime of drugging that causes increased debility.

And children are being treated for ADHD in record numbers. Young children with behavioral problems are drugged and, in time, many of them develop bipolar disorder–because of the drugs!–and are permanently branded as mentally ill and reliant on medications for the rest of their lives.

While these drugs do help some people–for reasons we don’t fully comprehend–this interview discusses the evidence that drugs prescribed for mental illness cause even greater problems over the long-term for most people. But they do fill the coffers of the pharmaceutical companies. The psychiatric institutions know it and are trying to make sure you don’t!

Total time: 38 minutes.


Click to listen to interview or right-click to download MP3 file


Robert WhitakerRobert Whitaker is the author of four books, two of which tell of the history of psychiatry. His first, Mad in America, was named by Discover magazine as one of the best science books of 2002, while the American Library Association named it one of the best history books of that year. His newest book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, investigates the astonishing rise in the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States. Prior to writing books, Robert Whitaker worked for a number of years as the science and medical reporter at the Albany Times Union newspaper in New York. His journalism articles won several national awards including a George Polk award for medical writing and a National Association of Science Writers’ award for best magazine article. A series he co-wrote for The Boston Globe was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.

Books by Robert Whitaker

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation


Click to view transcript

Links in Interview

William Pelham
Big Pharma, Bad Medicine–Marcia Angell, Boston Review
Loren Mosher
The Soteria Project
The David Healy Affair
Is Academic Medicine for Sale?–Marcia Angell

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lillea Woodlyns

It’s really quite horrible, isn’t it? I’ve noticed an odd apathy in some people on antidepressants that makes them seem borderline sociopathic. Not to a criminal degree, but it’s there. A deadening that makes them seem kind of shallow and not as interested in other people in their lives (I mean to a noticeable extent that comes across as selfish but they are still functional and have emotions).

The drugs can change how one feels, absolutely, but yes often there is just a shift to something equally bad, just different in a way that fools some people at first. Some people do seem to do okay on them, though. But more often than not, I see the negative side in most people due to side effects and other shifts.

I was put on an antidepressant years ago during a sad time in my life. It stopped one problem but caused another (in my case, the drug increased the anxiety part of my down feelings and my thoughts started to repeat). When I went off the drug and felt better than I did before going on it, so maybe it helped to shift something in me, but I only had that happen OFF it is the point. Being on it was just getting worse and worse for me. I’m glad that my doctor didn’t push me to take more and more. I was only on it for about 3 months. They felt I only had to be on it for a short time anyway, and that was shortened even more due to my poor reaction to it.

I know others who tried every drug you can imagine, and nothing truly helped. If anything they got worse, just different than the way they were before which at first seemed hopeful.

And as you mention, Joanne, there are people who have mental illness thanks to gluten and removing that corrects things. Amazing when that happens. For myself, my tendency to feel anxious was greatly reduced when I dropped gluten.


Lillea, I’ve always been amazed at how even-keeled I feel when I reduce my carbohydrates drastically. And people can improve their moods and mental health by making sure they get adequate vitamin D and fatty acids EPA and DHA and remove food allergens from their diets.

In our pharmaceutically dominated society, we tend to separate the mind from the body, and we buy into the idea that we have “mental illnesses.” What we have is a toxic body starved of nutrition. Heal the body, heal the mind.

At times we have environmental reasons for being depressed. I was depressed when I was losing my business and home, but what I needed was a new home, not a drug. I just relaxed into the depression and embraced it as part of life, part of the process of growth. And I breathed deeply a lot when anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.

To be avoided at all costs is the quick-fix mentality that substitutes drugs for positive action.

Lillea Woodlyns

Yes, definitely!

Good nourishment can help so much even during the worst of times – makes it easier to cope!

Deep breathing has helped me too.

Vitamin D from the sun has really helped a friend of mine who used to suffer badly in winter from depression. SAD. Now she lives in place that has adequate UV for D synthesis year-round and she doesn’t experience that any more. It was so poorly understood not so long ago, and now it’s so simple to treat with the sun or foods rich in D or supplements.


While I generally agree with the oringial post, I must wonder: have either of you ever been on psychotropic drugs yourselves? I dare say that if you’ve been fortunate enough to “just breathe through” any anxiety you’re having… then it wasn’t even the type or level of anxiety that would warrant medication. How lucky you are! I have severe anxiety and panic attacks. And let me tell you, I could not function without Klonopin in those times. (Yes, I’ve tried deep breathing, as well as mediation, and it doesn’t do anything to touch this type of anxiety).

I also suffer from chronic idiopathic insomnia, for which I have to take a strong sleep med every single night, or I will NOT fall asleep. My mind is completely foggy all the time now, I suffer from random body pains, memory problems, etc. AND I’M ONLY 23 YEARS OLD! (My mom started me on psychotropic meds at age 9, when she noticed me having nervous tics. I do feel completely “broken” – weather it’s from the long-term med use, or something else, i don’t know).

I wish their was an answer for this – because as I said, I agree with the original post, agree with the sentiment, but you two are making it sound like it is something it’s not (like all anxiety is like the type you’ve experienced, and is able to be defeated with simple deep breathing!) I would MUCH rather not be on medications. I HATE feeling that I’m poisoning myself with them. But my point is, I’ve tried everything you said – including eliminating foods, eating healthier, supplementation (God knows I’ve tried every kind of supplement there is!) And it still seems like THERE IS JUST NO OTHER ANSWER apart from the drugs.

If anyone else has an experience similar to this, or has an advice please please reply.


Holly, neither I nor Robert have stated that all anxiety can be cured by breathing or any simplistic method. And Robert does state that these drugs help some people for reasons unknown. His major emphasis is on the overprescription of these drugs and the potential long-term problems they create.

I’m so sorry to hear that you are living with such a debilitating condition. You say you’ve tried everything? Did you try giving up all gluten in your diet for several months? Have you ever tried fasting?

I wish there was a simple answer. I have my own issues to deal with, and it’s never simple.

Stephen T Dutton

Dear Bob,
Tracked you down through Google. Thought of you when I heard that Bob Thorpe died this week from cancer in Potsdam at 56 years of age. Impressed by your resume. I have been retired for ten years and Neil Seymour retired this week. Think of you often. Hope all is well with you,

RicH -W

I have tried several times to go off meds … i myself agree with T. szasz
that phychiatry and itys prize schiozphrenia is a myth but
I run out of money can’t keep a natural regime of viatims up
and end up being hospitalized …I believe in self deterimnation..
I have follwed up with one source of info that says my condition is metabolic
which fits with other theorys i have tried Coq10 and it has helped much more than the
medications -If i had the money i would go completely to natural alternatives
i have written about 30 letters to obama admindistration to give us a choice in
treatment and not one responce wrote one letter to ron paul
and he did respond… don’t the leaders know it costs about 1 trillion dollars to use
big phrama method but 50 billion in reduced vitamin-co–pay for the megavitamin
solution ?
I wish we could get a responce before too long


Holly, I can certainly tell you that I am going through the same thing that you’re going through.
I have taken already Xanax, Ativan, and countless other medications, and am currently on Klonopin 1mg x2/daily and Citaprolam. I’ve been on and off medications and I find myself physically and mentally dependent on them. I Donot like that feeling at all, I tried all I could aswell except the supplements part. Exercise (walking, biking, etc.), breathing exercises, healthier foods, no caffeine, quit smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, You name it! Nothing has worked for me, I now suffer major memory problems and catch myself thinking “too much/too hard” when it comes to trying to communicate. I’m only 21 I had very rough times in my past and in all honesty, I feel broken aswell and feel like I’m in the body of an elderly.
Every day I suffer anxiety and try to calm myself so that I won’t trigger a panic attack. It has damaged me and made me scared to even be alive!! I feel like there’s nothing that can help me but only worsen me.

God help us.


Have you tried B12 supplementation? And determining food allergies/sensitivities?


I was diagnosed with mild depression, and prescribed an SSRI called Paxil. I became bipolar over night, was told this was not from Paxil, that was wrong. So the treatment for bipolar made me psychotic. I said no more, 9 months later, after clawing my way out of withdrawal hell and losing my job, my depression is back but I’m sane. I am not bipolar any more and definitely not psychotic anymore. Had I had continued listen to Dr’s and Psychiatrists I’d be on at least 6 different psychiatric medications and still be bipolar and psychotic, and I would probably be in prison as well. In prison I would have gone through withdrawal and just woken up in prison wondering wtf happened. Literally couldn’t walk down the street with bipolar and not get arrested, and thanks to the psychotic features I really didn’t know what was happening when I did end up in jail. So I’ve just decided depression, is ok. Stay away from Paxil. It will give you more problems and your Dr. is just going treat this like another illness pretty soon you’ll be so messed up you won’t know wtf happened. Been there done that. In my opinion most bipolar cases are caused by SSRI’s just look up the data for yourself, when were ssri’s first put on the market, and cases of bipolar, before and after that time. They were once considered rare, not so any more. So ssris cause more mental illness and for sure make people criminally ill. Never even had a speeding ticket before my first ssri, I’ll be lucky to ever have a job making over minimum wage with my post SSRI record, even with an MBA. Just took one SSRI and 3 years to destroy my future, really don’t want to see anyone else go down the same road. But I wouldn’t have listened, and I was so trusting on Paxil I bought everything my Dr told me.


? think most of the meds are bad they make me feel like killing myself. Those doctors that give more is evil.


I’ve been a depression/anxiety sufferer for the vast majority of my life. My anxiety engaged when I started catholic grade school for eight hideous years. In my mid-teen years is when I began feeling the ravages of deep depression, then the anger and suicidal thoughts, which led to attempts.

When I was around 13 I began having horrible bouts of OCD. This was enhanced by my intense fears of when I was in catholic school. I would check and re-check to make sure I didn’t forget my homework, didn’t forget to have test papers signed by my parents, etc, because if I did forget the nuns would let me have it with both barrels. As a result I ended up hating school beyond belief. Somehow I survived it….

By the time I was 18 my OCD was had paramounted. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I had all these irrational fears that I never had before, and it was just crippling me. I sought the aid of a psychiatrist when I was 21. He was a very nice man, easy going and a great listener, but he really didn’t understand my “issues.” He prescribed me Prozac when the drug was in its infancy. The Prozac was unfortunately a bust, but I reamined on a do-nothing drug for twenty years. It did nothing to reduce my anxiety, nor did it do anything for my depression since depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. I was also prescribed a sedative, Dalmane (spelling?) which worked for a brief period aiding my sleep, but left me super groggy during the day and more even more depressed.

More and more drug combos followed that just didn’t work for me. Unfortunately my psychiatrist seemed really perplexed to my OCD symptoms. Was it that OCD was too new of a subject matter for an older doctor to understand back in the 1980’s? It’s just a hunch.

My trek with the wonderful world of psychologists, counselors and psychiatrists soldiered on until I called it quits in 2003 and never looked back. All of the hours and hours of talk therapy and years of drug therapy provided me with a major drain in my bank account. Again, being on Prozac for twenty, yes, twenty years did nothing for me, yet all of those different doctors I dealt with said I had to remain on it along with nearly forty different drug combinations throughout the years.

That said I still live with depression and anxiety. There is no cure and there will never be a cure for that matter just more “advanced” treatments will surface over time and that means more money in the cash box for the big driug company’s. My gosh, the utter complexity of the human mind is just too much to fathom. Even the most simplistic life forms are an immence complexity.

I’m happy for those who have been helped with psychiatric medication. They’re the few and the lucky ones. Yes, these drugs are a must for certain conditions. But in my case of OCD, depression and anxiety, the drugs did more harm.

I’m in my 40’s now, still a depression sufferer, my OCD has dimmed quite a bit, and I have come to terms with getting old. It doesn’t bother me as much as when I was in my 30’s and felt that the sky was falling on me with every birthday. Silly huh?

I know that I have to fight the fight with this depression of mine. It’s probably one of the hardest battles anyone will ever experience when you’re at great odds with your ownself.

What really helped me is having non medical people to talk with that you can REALLY trust and who’ll listen and actually care. I’ve been lucky to have some family members who’ve been so loving and understanding and have literally saved me from a near fatal sucicide attempt years ago.

Yesterday is history, today is a blessing, tomorrow is a mystery. I’ll just take it form there.

Steven Goldsmith, MD

From Steven Goldsmith, MD:
A psychiatrist in practice for decades, I am a devotee of natural treatment approaches that strengthen people so they can heal themselves. That said, psychiatric drugs are not the devil’s spawn. They do help some people, do save some lives. However, their benefits are vastly oversold: they help no one get truly well and have side effects that can be incapacitating or even lethal and which often equal or exceed their benefits. We can do much, much better than rely on psychiatric drugs for treatment. Many other treatments exist that are safer and more beneficial for all psychiatric disorders: CBT, DBT, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), Open Dialogue, chronotherapy (light and sleep therapy), strategic and systemic psychotherapies, homeopathy (I can seen a number of patients with bipolar disorder, e.g., get totally well with homeopathy), orthomolecular psychiatry, etc. etc.

Be well.


need a green psychiatrist like jerry gore in deerfield Illinois but can’t afford
and my mom is reluctant to fiance it. i am in morton grove illinois a group home..
my current psychiatrist won’t even reduce my meds by 5 mgs …. my mom is for next five days at 1-561-734-5322 her cell phone may change ,,,, reach me thoug e-mail this lack of health has been happening for over 33 years.
help thanks kindly RicH-w

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