Note by HealthWrights staff.

From the health point of view, the most important single statement in review below is Breggin's statement that "madness or psychosis is caused by a collapse of personal relationships with others." It is not an event in the brain of the individual (though it may be reflected there). It is an event that is located BETWEEN the individual (not just his/her brain) and the social groups of which s/he is a part -- family, community and the whole society. It has at least as much to do with the repressions, inequities, dishonesties, intolerance, scape-goating and violent methods of the society as it does with the coping mechanisms of the individual. As the locus of the "illness" is between persons and social groups, that is where the problem needs to be addressed. The issue of "mental health" is always a political one.

A second important point that is touched on in the review has to do with the essentially dishonest manner employed by big corporations (pharmaceuticals) in their efforts to influence customers and law-makers. The bottom line for big corporations is neither truth nor the well being of the recipients of their products, but profit.

The matter of defining human problems as technological ones and trying to fix them without understanding them as human problems is also in evidence. Here as elsewhere, we see that when an ecologically blind technology is embedded is an unregulated capitalist system, we have a combination that is lethal to human values and to life itself.

med madness

Medication Madness

Peter Breggin 2008
St. Martin's Press
382 pages,$27 (hardcover)

Peter Breggin is probably the most qualified person alive to write this critique of psychiatric drugging. He has been practicing relationship-centered psychiatry for some 40 years, without ever prescribing psychiatric drugs except when needed to gradually withdrawpeople who are already taking them. He founded the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP) in the early 1970s. He has written numerous books as well as popular and scholarly articles on psychiatric drugs and other psychiatric practices. He has testified as an expert witness in many legal proceedings.

In making the case against the use of psychiatric drugs, he brings to bear his long experience, citing numerous instances in which he has served as a therapist and/or an expert witness. None of that is second-hand. And it is all backed by his thorough command of the scientific literature. Early on he notes that not only patients, but “normal” people who are given psychiatric drugs in double-blind clinical trials, experience more frequent mental and emotional disturbances than those given placebos. This is important, as it is ignored or dismissed even by many psychiatrists and others who should know better. And lay people in our society are often too ignorant of basic science to appreciate the significance of these studies. But failing to recognize this is like denying gravity, which deluded (often drugged) people occasionally do, with the result that they hurt or kill themselves. He also refers to World Health Organization studies that “have shown that people labeled “schizophrenic” do much more poorly when treated in Western societies than when given little or no treatment in more “primitive” cultures. The drugs that are invariably forced on these disturbed people in modern societies make them more helpless and turn them into chronic patients. By contrast, the drug-free extended family relationships in the non-Western societies tend to bring people back toward effective functioning in a matter of months."

Medication Madness documents how psychiatric drugs often cause psychosis. They are designed to disrupt the brain. They put people in danger of suicide or violence toward others, or more often produce apathy and rob people of the ability to experience the fullness of life.

Breggin shows how psychiatrists and others often put a spin on the effects of those drugs that makes them appear beneficial or even necessary. For instance, he cites a Johns Hopkins article in which a doctor says some antidepressants “rewire areas of the brain that are important for thinking and feeling”, implying that those antidepressants enhance thinking and feeling. He then asks, “do you want your mental and emotional centers rewired?" He might have made the point more forcefully by making a comparison to random mutations, such as those produced by radiation, which are often harmful or fatal, and only rarely beneficial. He also notes the hypocrisy of institutions such as Johns Hopkins, which can be counted on to put an entirely opposite, highly negative spin on very similar drugs that happen to be illegal; that is, that don't provide profits for the drug companies.

That goes for doctors who claim that “mental illness” is just another form of illness, just like diabetes for instance. Yet they treat the two entirely differently: “It is strange that doctors who treat diabetes place more emphasis on the patient's responsibility for lifestyle changes than psychiatrists who are in fact treating lifestyle problems. It is bitterly ironic that doctors treat diabetics with much more personal attention, respect, and care – that is, much more like real people – than doctors treat patients with emotional problems."He uses the term “spellbinding” to show how psychiatric drugs can impair the judgment even of physicians or others who would normally know better. But he makes clear that it is not the drugs alone: “The spellbinding effect of psychiatric drugs is enhanced by the psychopharmaceutical complex” combined powers of drug companies, psychiatry, organized medicine, the FDA, and other federal agencies, all of whom generate an enormous amount of propaganda to convince people to overcome their natural and healthy skepticism about taking psychiatric medications."

Breggin says not only are psychiatric medications much more dangerous than we are commonly led to believe, but once people start taking them it can be very hard to stop. Many of them are addictive. The withdrawal period is of particular danger; the more so the longer the drugs have been taken and the higher the doses. That is often when people hurt themselves or others.This has implications for laws that have recently been passed in many states allowing people to be detained and forcibly drugged due to fear that they might commit an act of violence. These laws are modeled on one in New York, Kendra's Law, which was passed after a young woman, Kendra Webdale, was killed by being pushed onto subway tracks. The man who pushed her had been repeatedly drugged in response to behavioral problems that psychiatrists had labeled as “schizophrenia”. He had been in a state of drug withdrawal at the time of the incident; in fact, he had sought help, but had not been able to obtain it.

The Michigan law, Kevin's Law, came out of similar case. Brian Williams, who beat Kevin Heisinger to death at an Amtrak station, had also been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, as well as the criminal justice system. He had been given similar neuroleptic drugs that are known to be permanently brain-disabling.

Both those cases were spun by pro-drug groups and the major media to make it appear that the failure to keep the perpetrators on brain-disabling drugs allowed those lethal acts to occur. But the evidence marshaled by Breggin indicates that, almost invariably, it is the very use of the drugs that is implicated in such violence. He emphasizes: “None of the dozens of individuals described in this book went on to repeat their criminal or dangerous behaviors after they were removed from the drugs."That is, by the lights generally shone on issues of violence to self and others, an astonishing statement. People who are suicidal frequently remain so, and too often eventually succeed in killing themselves. People who are violent and are either drugged or incarcerated often remain violent; in fact, both both drugging and incarceration have a tendency to create or increase violence, especially in the long term.

Breggin also gives brief but telling glimpses of how the drug industry and its supporters hide unfavorable data, manipulate regulators and the media and even the courts, and spin their activities so they are shown in a much more favorable light than is justified. He does not go quite so far as to say that they are responsible for the suicides and crimes and other harms caused by their drugs, but the reader can hardly come away with any other conclusion.

Breggin's book definitely can provoke outrage! However, he is also concerned with providing information on where to go to find therapists or other support that can help people get through crisis periods and deal with behavior problems without drugging, or at least without being pressured or forced to take drugs. Opitons are limited. One helpful resourse is MindFreedom International, an association of “psychiatric survivors” and supporters that promotes “mental health rights and alternative mentalhealth.” It may be found at: <>

It should be noted that professional therapists are not the only people who might help. A support network of friends and/or others who act out of compassionis can probably be even more important. Breggin says that “madness or psychosisis caused by a collapse of personal relationships with others. Human beings become “crazy” when they feel isolated, fearful, and distrustful in regard to everyone else in their lives."

Otherwise, ask around, as there are many other support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and those modeled on it. Ask specifically about people's attitudes toward psychiatric drugging. If they try to push such drugging, either confront them on that if you feel up to it, or simply leave them and look elsewhere.

That applies even if they are psychiatrists or medical doctors. Breggin assures his readers that when they are are done reading Medication Madness they will know more about psychiatric drugging than most psychiatrists or other doctors! You can also learn a lot through the website of the organization Breggin founded, the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry andPsychology: <>

Breggin concludes the book with 17 “principles of life” that he believes can be helpful. I found them of mixed value, but one of his principles did speak to me:

“Don't think of yourself as a survivor. Intending to survive guarantees little more than getting by, and ultimately leads to failure. Think of yourself as someone who intends to triumph in life."

I long ago adopted the term “psychiatric survivor,” feeling that it helps me define part of my life experience in an empowering way. But, even though I don't agree with his assertion that such thinking “ultimately leads to failure,” he did challenge me to go further. I now intend to use the term “psychiatric transcender,” which feels even more empowering. Perhaps you will find something in his list that speaks particularly to you.

-Reviewed by Richa