Posts Tagged ‘psychiatry’

“Head Case”

March 2nd, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Psychology

The New Yorker arrived in the mailbox today, a much-anticipated weekly event in the Canright household, for as long as I’ve lived in one. Today I see in the table of contents the tag, “Psychotherapy under siege.” I can hardly wait to get to the article, by Louis Menand,  a professor of English at Harvard.

“Head Case: Can psychiatry be saved?” is a review of two new books critical of the treatment of depression in America. As I study the history of psychiatry and psychology, with an interest in and emphasis on existential psychology and  human potential practices, articles like Menand’s help build the case of all that’s wrong with the perception and treatment of psychological disorders. As Menand writes:

There is suspicion that the pharmacrutical industry is cooking the studies that prove that antidepressant drugs are safe and effective, and that the industry’s direct-to-consumer adversiting is encouraging people to demand pills to cure conditions that are not diseases (like shyness) or to get through ordinary life problems (like being laid off).

He then cites the frequent criticism of the psychiatric profession’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), as I wrote about in the post “Ill Definition.” Menand goes on to note that complaints are not only from “sociologists, English professors, and other troublemakers” but also from the psychiatric profession  itself. Here’s another passage worth quoting at length:

As a branch of medicine, depression seems to be a mess. Business, however, is extremely good. Between 1988, the year after Prozac was approved by the F.D.A., and 2000, adult use of antidepressants almost tripled. By 2005, one out of every ten Americans had a prescription for  an antidepressant. IMS Health, a company that gathers data on health care, reports that in the United States in 2008 a hundred and sixty-four million prescriptions were written for antidepressants, and sales totaled $9.6 billion.

Now that’s depressing. And it’s one reason why health-care costs are so high in the United States.

The rest of the article covers the pharma-centric treatment of psychiatric disorders in general and depression in particular and explores the dodgey role of the FDA. Along the way, the authors Menand reviews and the experts he interviews critique cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mention the “rapid collapse of Freudianism” and its implications, and report on the history of the DSM, much like that covered in the “This American Life” radio report “204: 81 Words.”

Whether it’s the impending update of the DSM or the current health-care reform debate, the over-definition of mental disorders and the role of drugs in their treatment is becoming more prominent in the news. Menand’s article provides a good overview.

Tags: , ,