Pillaged: Psychiatric Medications and Suicide Risk

Pillaged: Psychiatric Medications and Suicide Risk

Pillaged: Psychiatric Medications and Suicide Risk

Pillaged: Psychiatric Medications and Suicide Risk


It is estimated that forty-five to fifty percent of all Americans will suffer a mental disorder at some time during their lives. Increasingly, the treatment for these disorders is management with one or more psychiatric drugs, often prescribed by general practitioners. In Pillaged Ronald William Maris evaluates the psychiatric medications commonly used to treat several major types of psychiatric disorders---including depression and mood disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders--asking "do they work as advertised?" and, more importantly, "are they safe?"Answers to these questions are more ambiguous than we might think, Maris explains, because drug manufacturers tend to minimize the adverse effects of their products. Furthermore, the underlying neurobiological theories of how psychiatric drugs work are complex, poorly understood, and often conflicting. Still Americans spend tens of billions of dollars a year on antidepressants and antipsychotics alone.While Maris questions the rampant prescribing of psychiatric medications especially in young people, Pillaged does not suggest that anyone cavalierly discontinue potentially beneficial psychiatric medications without the advice of a qualified mental health professional. The book acknowledges that psychiatric medications are often necessary in treating some psychiatric conditions, but it reminds readers of medication's potential for degrading one's quality of life, contributing to self-destructive behaviors, and even leading to death in a vulnerable minority of patients. Maris advocates an open and honest discussion of data on psychiatric drugs, their effects, and their dangers, and he reminds readers of available alternative, nondrug treatments for psychiatric disorders. By reviewing the history and effects of medications for mental disorders, Maris hopes to educate health care consumers and prescribers to make careful, informed decisions about the treatment of psychiatric disorders.


In cases involving suicidal patients, one of most common types of problems is various psychiatric (especially depressive and mood) disorders, and the prevalent treatment for them is psychiatric medication. These powerful psychotropic (affecting the mind) drugs—antidepressants, anxiolytics, antipsychotics, and antiepileptics—can cause harm to a vulnerable minority of the consumers, even if these medications provide benefits to a majority of patients. This risk is often minimized, hidden, and even buried by the companies that manufacture the drugs; for example, by not publishing negative clinical trials in which their drugs do not work or even cause harm.

Columbia University and the FDA evaluated nine common antidepressant medications. It turns out that, if you are under age twenty-four, then taking an antidepressant doubles your suicidality risk. This is paradoxical and disturbing. After this meta-analysis, the FDA required that a black-box warning (the strongest available) be added to the nine antidepressant product descriptions (for example, in their package inserts and in the Physicians Desk Reference).

Patients deserve to know the true risks of their treatment. Similar sagas can be described for antianxiety medications (which can cause paradoxical rage and aggression), mood-stabilizing medications (which the FDA found also doubles the patient’s suicide risk), and many other psychiatric medications (including antipsychotics). Science and clinical trial data (what is now called “evidence-based” psychiatry) can shed light on major types of psychiatric medications and their alleged associated suicide risks and adverse effects. Obviously, as a Ph.D., and not an M.D., the author is not licensed to prescribe medications. Any decision to start or discontinue psychiatric medications ought to involve a serious discussion between patients and their physicians.

Although medicine can loot, steal, or compromise one’s life quality through unintended adverse effects, it also should be noted that untreated psychiatric disorders pose a serious suicide risk, too. Patients should never cavalierly discontinue possibly life-saving or life-improving medication treat ments.

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