Psychiatrists & the pharma industry are to blame for the current ‘epidemic’ of mental disorders

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Drug pushers. We tend to associate them with the bleak underworld of criminality. But some would argue that there’s another class of drug pushers, just as unscrupulous, who work in the highly respectable fields of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry. And they deserve the same moral scrutiny that we apply to the drug pedlar on the street corner. Within the medical profession labels are increasingly being attached to everyday conditions previously thought to be beyond the remit of medical help. So sadness is rebranded as depression, shyness as social phobia, childhood naughtiness as hyperactivity or ADHD. And Big Pharma is only too happy to come up with profitable new drugs to treat these ‘disorders’, drugs which the psychiatrists and GPs then willingly prescribe, richly rewarded by the pharma companies for doing so.

That’s the view of those who object to the widespread use of the ‘chemical cosh’ to treat people with mental difficulties. But many psychiatrists, while acknowledging that overprescribing is a problem, would argue that the blame lies not with themselves. For example, parents and teachers often ramp up the pressure to have a medical label attached to a child’s problematic behaviour because that way there’s less stigma attached and allowances are made. And psychiatrists and the pharma companies also take issue with those who argue that the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory of mental disorder is a myth. ADHD is a real condition, they say, for which drugs work. Research shows that antidepressants really are more effective than just a placebo, especially in cases of severe depression.

Defending the motion in this Intelligence Squared debate at London's Emmanuel Centre in November 2014 were author and journalist Will Self and psychoanalyst and author Darian Leader.

Opposing the motion were former Head of Worldwide Development at Pfizer Inc. Dr Declan Doogan and President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Professor Sir Simon Wessely.

The debate was chaired by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA.

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