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Has Psychiatry Earned Its Unpopularity?

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While psychiatry--similar to the Bush administration -- may want to blame its current unpopularity on the press, the corporate media is generally reluctant to challenge a powerful institution until it is already out of favor. Thus, the unpopularity of a powerful institution is usually well-earned through undeniable deceit, incompetence, corruption and failure.

Just how unpopular is psychiatry? A December 2006 Gallup poll on the "honesty and ethical standards" of different professions reported the following: 84 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of nurses, while only 38 percent have a positive opinion of psychiatrists--much lower than the 69 percent positive rating for other medical doctors.

Until recently, most journalists have been extremely timid about confronting Big Pharma's hijacking of psychiatry. One exception is Robert Whitaker, winner of the George Polk award for medical writing. Whitaker, in his book Mad in America (2002), summarizes the beginnings of the corruption of America's psychiatrists and their professional organization, the American Psychiatric Association (APA): "By the early 1970s, all of psychiatry was in the process of being transformed by the influence of drug money." Whitaker reported, "The APA, had become even more fiscally dependent on drug companies. Thirty percent of the APA's annual budget came from drug advertisements to its journals."

The APA, for quite some time, has seen no conflict of interest in its collaboration with drug companies. In 1992, after Upjohn, makers of the tranquilizer Halcion, had given an unrestricted gift of $1.5 million to the APA, the APA medical director claimed that the Upjohn-APA relationship was a "responsible, ethical partnership that uses the no-strings resources of one partner and the experts of the other." This sort of partnering has continued. In the first quarter of 2007, Eli Lilly, makers of the antidepressant Prozac and the antipsychotic Zyprexa, provided grants of over $412,000 for two APA programs: "Improving Depression Treatments" and "Understanding the Complexity of Bipolar Mixed Episodes."

Is the partnership between the APA and Big Pharma a "no-strings" relationship? The American Journal of Psychiatry is published by the APA. In September 2007, attempting to reverse declining antidepressant prescriptions in young people, an American Journal of Psychiatry study unjustifiably concluded that increased suicide was caused by decreased antidepressant use. This time The New York Times and others nailed APA's journal for its data dishonesty; and The Boston Globe reported that Pfizer, makers of the antidepressant Zoloft, had contributed $30,000 to that American Journal of Psychiatry study. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

When the serotonin-enhancer Prozac first hit the market in the late 1980s, Americans heard from the APA and psychiatry officialdom that depression is caused by a deficiency of serotonin. There was no proof of this, and by the mid-1990s the serotonin-deficiency theory of depression had been scientifically tested and rejected. But antidepressant manufactures knew that more people would take Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and other antidepressants if they believed these drugs worked by correcting a deficiency (analogous to insulin) rather than by "taking the edge off" (analogous to alcohol and illegal drugs). So drug companies and their partners in psychiatry kept quiet. Psychiatry also kept quiet about antidepressant tolerance (the need for an increasingly higher dosage), dependency, and nightmarish withdrawal--all of which was well-known in the scientific community several years before word got out to the general public.

In the past, those who have confronted Big Pharma's corruption of psychiatry have been accused by psychiatry apologists of belittling emotional suffering. But Americans increasingly understand that such smearing is as ridiculous as accusing critics of the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq of disloyalty to American soldiers.

Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).

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