Depression was once viewed as a state of mind caused by stressful life factors, but today the majority of Americans believe depression is a biological disease caused by chemical imbalance in the brain. This shift in the way "mental disorders" like depression and anxiety are viewed has resulted in profound social and cultural changes. Antidepressants are now the most widely prescribed class of medications in the U.S., and many states have enacted parity legislation requiring insurance coverage for mental illness equal to physical illness. Soldiers returning from Iraq are encouraged to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress, and Congress may pass a "Mothers Act" to promote screening new moms for postpartum depression. In many classrooms more than half the students are on medications for attention deficit and similar disorders, and the number of U.S. children diagnosed with bipolar disorder has risen an astounding 4,000% in the past ten years. Almost weekly we hear of yet another school shooting, with headlines clamoring for early intervention and mandatory treatment of "at risk" individuals.
Against this backdrop of a seemingly rampant epidemic of mental illness, Joanna Moncrieff has written a brilliant new book calling into question nearly everything commonly believed about the nature of psychiatric illness and psychiatric medication. First and foremost, this book shatters the myth that psychiatric drugs restore chemical balance. Page by page and chapter by chapter, Dr. Moncrieff systematically exposes the shoddy science, flawed research and deceptive marketing campaigns which have led us down a sadly mistaken path that has nothing to do with science and everything to do with profit.
Among the most interesting chapters, Moncrieff methodically examines what happens to patients on different classes of psychiatric drugs. The so-called antipsychotics such as Zyprexa and Risperdal achieve their therapeutic effects by causing a form of Parkinson's disease, while the so-called SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft have comparatively little effect on the brain but often cause nausea and seem to work mostly as active placebos, barely outperforming inactive placebos such as simple sugar pills.
Because the author follows strict scientific methods and carefully documents every step of her work, this is not a book that will appeal to a mass audience, but for anyone seriously interested in genuine medical research unfettered by special interests dedicated to maximizing pharmaceutical profits, I cannot recommend this book too highly. Joanna Moncrieff's The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment belongs on the reference shelf alongside Grace E. Jackson's Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs: A Guide for Informed Consent and Peter R. Breggin's Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock, and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex.