Mentally Ill Individuals or Societal Systems?

When we diagnosis an adult or child as mentally ill, we are also diagnosing our society as mentally well. What if we’ve got it backwards?

The percentage of Americans disabled by “mental illness” has increased dramatically since 1955. A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46 percent met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children.

Spirits are being broken by a system that is not designed for our benefit. It is a system designed for production, consumption and control. The system is destroying families, elevating stress and removing our connections to each other. 

The truth will set you free-but first it will make you damn mad – M. Scott Peck, author of THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Short term ADHD medications make kids pay better attention. As the long term evidence comes in the meds look less and less good. There appear to be no long term benefits academic or otherwise. Worse they appear to increase rates of depression and anxiety. Not to say these meds don’t have some place, but we’ve got a bigger problem here.
Why are we trying to chemically adapt kids to fit a classroom rather than the classroom to fit the kids? In this age of technology, we’re mostly stuck with a 19th century model of blackboards and desks. Worse, in attempts to increase test scores of questionable benefits, schools are drastically curtailing gym, recess, music and art. Then amazingly these kids stuck in a desk all day start to squrim. Suddenly they’ve meet some ADD criteria.

10 percent of Americans over age six now take antidepressants and only a minority are receiving a benefit. Many were led to believe that they had a chemical imbalance that required medication to fix. Yet evidence of a chemical imbalance is very thin. There were forty-two trials of the six drugs (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Serzone, and Effexor) between 1987 and 1999. Together they showed placebos (sugar pills) were 82 percent as effective as the drugs. Yet because only positive studies were extensively publicized, while the negative ones were hidden, it looked like the medication were much more effective. The fact is they did have an short term effect, but placebos were also three times as effective as no treatment. Also nearly any pill with side effects was slightly more effective in treating depression than an placebo. Thus even the small benefit of antidepressant may be due to side effects convincing patients they were getting the real medicine and thereby enhancing the placebo effect.

If antidepressant and other psychiatric drugs were widely effective we’d expect people to be getting better. Yet between 1987 and 2007 the number of Americans disabled due to mental illness more than doubled (from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six) despite a whopping $40 billion annual psychotropic drug tab.

Here the Dr. Angell (former editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and author of The Truth About the Drug Companies) reviews 3 books that address these finding.

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