According to Pulitzer Prize finalist author and journalist Robert Whitaker, substantial evidence supports one conclusion: The American public is being defrauded by the American Psychiatric Association and the pharmaceutical industry.
“I think we have organized our care around a false narrative,” Whitaker said to a packed room at Cliff Castle Casino, Friday, Aug. 26, during the Mental Health Summit 2016, hosted by the Mental Health Coalition Verde Valley.
Whitaker contended that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III, published in 1980 by the APA and used exclusively by psychiatrists to diagnose mental disorders, is the “most important book in the way it impacts American society in the last 50 years.”
According to Whitaker, the APA billed the DSM III — and the volumes that followed; the DSM IV in 1994 and the DSM V in 2013 — as scientifically sound, but data suggests that many assertions made within its pages do not coincide with independent research. Seeking the respectability of medical doctors and the ability to accurately diagnose illnesses, the volume’s creators invented categories for mental illness wholesale, Whitaker added.
“They literally started wearing white lab coats. No, it’s true,” Whitaker said. “The problem is, there’s no scientific discovery leading to this. They found no pathway for disease .... [The symptoms] were constructed.”
Whitaker said the largest underlying assumption of the DSM III — that mental disorders are caused by chemical imbalances — has been questioned, in many minds completely disproven, since the 1980s. By 1999, the APA itself admitted that the “low-serotonin theory of depression,” one of the foundational supports of the chemical imbalance assumption of mental illness, had collapsed.
Whitaker questioned psychiatrists about why the narrative of chemical imbalance has failed to disappear — in effect, why polls show that Americans continue to believe in the theory when it has been disproven. According to Whitaker, psychiatric professionals counter that the APA has known a “simple chemical explanation” for mental illness does not exist. The research has been available to all.
“I’m pretty sure you forgot to inform the American public,” Whitaker answered.
Whitaker explained that the pharmaceutical industry, tied financially to the APA through contracts between licensed research psychiatrists and drug companies, has supported a particular narrative in order to sell treatments. Psychiatrists, whose primary tools are drugs, do little to combat the misconceptions or outright contradictions supported by evidence.
According to Whitaker, the DSM IV and DSM V have further loosened the criteria for diagnosis, allowing psychiatrists even more freedom in prescribing drugs — many of which have not been proven effective in combating the illnesses they are designed to combat.
For example, Whitaker asserted that reliable studies of non-medicated children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorders exist, but the vast majority of conclusions are drawn from children who are already medicated. Stimulants continue to be prescribed to children suffering from ADHD and related disorders.
“There’s no blood test for ADHD,” Whitaker said, adding that the theory behind its cause is constructed out of scant research.
Similarly, data gathered in the 1980s led the APA to recommend the drug Xanax for reducing anxiety. The full data set that showed anxiety actually increased over an extended period of time was not released, however — an act that Whitaker equated to outright manipulation.
“We have organized ourselves for a long time around the chemical imbalance narrative,” Whitaker said, adding that the time is now to begin taking the psychiatric establishment and pharmaceutical companies to task. “You, the public, need all the information.”