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Mind

On Antipsychiatry

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticAugust 31, 2011 3:55 PM

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So leading US psychiatrist Stephen Stahl is annoyed at Daniel Carlat (of the The Carlat Psychiatry Blog and many other publications.)

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After first surveying the current outlook for the development of new psychiatric drugs - not good, with many companies pulling out - Stahl laments:

Undoubtedly this is to the great delight of the anti-psychiatry community, lights up the antipsychiatry blogs (e.g., Carlat, http://carlatpsychiatry.blogspot.com/), who attract the Pharmascolds, scientologists and antimedication crowd who believe either there is no such thing as mental illness, that medication should not be used, or both.

Did you know that psychiatric illnesses are pure inventions of Pharma and their experts to treat patients that do not exist with drugs that are dangerous and do not work with the purpose only of profiting themselves? Stop the profits! Make mental illness go away by legislation and committee!Stahl ends with the warning:

Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it -

"it" being an end to drug development in psychiatry.

Well, I would say the same to him.

Stahl paints opponents of modern pharmaceutical industry behaviour as "antipsychiatrists". They're not. Well, he only names one of them, Daniel Carlat, and he's certainly not. Carlat edits the Carlat Psychiatry Report. Let's take a look at the latest issue:

Benzodiazepines: A Guide to Safe Prescribing - discusses benzodiazepines, including a helpful table of their doses and half-lives. Useful to someone planning to prescribe these drugs, that is, which not many anti-psychiatrists would. Says that "They work quickly and effectively for anxiety and agitation...In most cases benzodiazepines have a benign side-effect profile..." Hardly likely to please the antimedication crowd.

Update on Medications for PTSD - including a review of trials of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and more exotic drugs. Says that psychotherapy is the key to treating PTSD, but that medication can be helpful: "Getting some comfort from meds can often enable a patient to more easily face" the hard task of therapy. Not enormously pro-medication, but very far from being anti.

Combined Antidepressants No More Effective Than Monotherapy - discusses a recent study finding that starting depressed patients on a combo of two antidepressants offers no benefits over just one drug. So, the piece concludes, "We recommend never using antidepressants, and banning them all forever"... no wait, that's what it would have said if Stahl were right. It actually said "we recommend...starting with a single antidepressant". Not none.

Overall Carlat is, as far as I can see, really pretty moderate. Yes, he's been critical of certain drugs, of Pharma-influenced psychiatrists and the culture of giving doctors freebies to promote products. Nonetheless, he believes that mental illness exists, and he thinks that medication can be useful in treating it.

Maybe Stahl's right and Carlat leads a secret double life as a Scientologist. Maybe he is the reincarnation of R. D. Laing, or Thomas Szasz in a rubber mask. If not, though, branding him an antipsychiatrist shows that Stahl is unclear on what "psychiatry" is.

Psychiatry means the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Carlat, and indeed many other like-minded critics, are trying to improve that process by encouraging correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

When Carlat criticizes, say, the psychiatry textbook that turned out to have been written with "help" from a drug company, he's doing, I assume, because, as a psychiatrist who cares about psychiatry, he doesn't like seeing his field corrupted by propaganda.

This is why Stahl should heed his own warning: Be careful what you ask for.

Because Stahl seems to be asking for all the opponents of the excesses of the modern pharmaceutical industry to be opponents of psychiatry itself. At the moment, they're not. There are many, psychiatrists and others, who are trying to improve psychiatry, by protecting it from what they see as negative influences.

Maybe they're wrong about which influences are negative, maybe Pharma has had a more positive impact than they think, but even if they're wrong, they're not anti-psychiatry, they're pro-psychiatry.

However, if Stahl succeeds in painting all of these people as outside the psychiatric mainstream, he might find that psychiatry, stripped of such voices of sanity, turns into something so crazy that true antipsychiatry becomes the only reasonable option.

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