Independent Media Center
By Richard Warner
October 4 2006
October 5th is National Depression Screening Day (NDSD), a carefully orchestrated media campaign brought to you by the pharmaceutical and mental health industries for the purpose of scaring you out of your wits. Think of it as Halloween for drug companies and their pill pushing minions. Imagine them going door to door in ghoulish masks transferring fistfuls of green stuff into their overflowing Cash O’Lanterns while offering to make you a zombie too, and you’ll have it pretty close.
According to NDSD’s website, the funding sponsors are all drug makers. Eli Lilly, maker of the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta, is the major sponsor, with Forest Laboratories (antidepressants Lexapro and Celexa), GlaxoSmithKline (antidepressants Wellubtrin and Paxil), Pfizer (antidepressant Zoloft), and Wyeth Pharmceuticals (antidepressant Effexor) providing additional support.
There are a few things these devilish little trick-or-treaters might forget to mention when they ring your bell so let’s help them out. We’ll start with the most obvious: depression is not a disease. It’s actually an emotion. This no doubt comes as a shock, but it’s true. There’s no chemical imbalance, no serotonin deficiency – not even a test for these things. According to Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen, chemical imbalance theories have never been proven and, in particular, “a serotonin deficiency for depression has not been found.” Last year, Steven Sharfstein, the president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), admitted, “We do not have a clean-cut lab test” to detect chemical imbalances.
Psychotropic drugs are great, however, at creating chemical imbalances. Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, says the imbalances created by chronic psychotropic drug use “likely exceed the strength and time course of almost any natural stimulus.”
But hey, who cares? Antidepressants work, right? Well, not exactly. Earlier this year the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) released the results of a three-stage study of antidepressants, the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR-D) study. 27.5% of patients had a remission on the first antidepressant they tried. When the drug was switched or more drugs were added another 21 – 30% of the non-responders remitted. A switch to a third antidepressant worked for 20% of those who didn’t respond to the first two drugs.
While such results might appear promising, they are more trick than treat. To achieve these statistics they first excluded from the study anyone who was known not to respond to the drugs they were testing or even to SSRI antidepressants in general (drugs like Prozac and Paxil). This is somewhat akin to inviting only professional singers to the American Idol auditions.
Moreover, there was no placebo control in this study. They probably wanted to avoid the embarrassing results of previous placebo-controlled studies. In 2002 the Washington Post reported that “in the majority of trials conducted by drug companies in recent decades, sugar pills have done as well as – or better than – antidepressants.” A 2005 article in the British Medical Journal concluded that “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have no clinically meaningful advantage over placebo.” And that, in the final analysis, is just what the STAR-D study showed too.
So why do people take antidepressants? For a number of reasons. The placebo effect is powerful. When people expect to improve from taking a pill they often do. And these pills are stimulants, like their predecessors, cocaine and the amphetamines. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of experts are pointing to the drug dependence produced by Prozac-type drugs, their serious withdrawal effects, and the evidence that antidepressant users are trading a short term high for long term increased vulnerability to depressive relapse.
Since individuals diagnosed with depression on National Depression Screening Day most likely end will end up on antidepressants, should side effects be mentioned as part of the screening promotion? These are effects severe enough that they would even make Dr. Jekyll feel inadequate.
On March 22, 2004, the FDA warned that Prozac-like antidepressants could cause "anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, impulsivity, akathisia [severe restlessness], hypomania [abnormal excitement] and mania [psychosis characterized by exalted feelings, delusions of grandeur]." The FDA has issued several warnings about the potential increased risk of suicidal behavior in both adults and children taking antidepressants.
Dr. David Healy, a world expert on the history and development of psychopharmacology, recently wrote, “For every year since 1988, the relative risk of suicidal acts on SSRIs has been double that of placebo.”
So what should someone who is depressed do? It isn’t common practice, but finding out what is actually causing the depression can be very helpful. Individuals with hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, adrenal exhaustion and even brain tumors end up on antidepressants. Exercise also works. A Duke University Medical Center study found that not only was exercise as effective as drug therapy but only 8 percent of patients in the exercise group had their depression return, while 38 percent of the drug-only group and 31 percent of the exercise-plus-drug group relapsed.
Something else a person who is feeling depressed could do is fight back! The national psychiatric pharmaceutical screening campaign is now targeting children. You can sign the petition against it here: http://www.petitiononline.com/TScreen/petition.html
Have a happy National Depression Screaming, I mean Screening, Day. Just don’t take it too seriously. And don’t let them put you in that patient gown. It stinks.