Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
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Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

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4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,114 ratings  ·  202 reviews
In this astonishing and startling book, award-winning science and history writer Robert Whitaker investigates a medical mystery: Why has the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States tripled over the past two decades? Every day, 1,100 adults and children are added to the government disability rolls because they have become newly disabled by mental illness, with...more
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Published July 17th 2012 by Brilliance Audio (first published January 1st 2010)
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Stephanie
Anatomy of an Epidemic is about the history of psychiatric drugs and the rise of mental illness in America right alongside these drugs development and evolution. 1'100 adults and CHILDREN are added to the government's disabled list for mental illness, daily. This didn't happen prior to 25 years ago, before big pharmaceutical companies saw $$ with the release of Prozac. Before Prozac , Eli-Lilly's biggest money maker was an antibiotic.

I realize many people have benefited from these drugs. They h...more
Lorri Coburn
Anatomy of an Epidemic gives facts and figures on the astonishing rise in social security disability cases due to mental illness. Whitaker makes a comparison between the advent of Prozac in 1987 and the subsequent 37-fold increase in disability cases. What I found interesting is that his observations, backed by data, paralleled my anecdotal observations in my psychotherapy practice. In fact, prior to reading this book I had planned on writing a book about the limits of psychotherapy, and had act...more
Kennan
I would have given this book four stars if not for the fact that I felt the Mr. Whitaker was overly antagonistic in his writing, and at times even dishonest in his presentation of "facts."

His citations are frequently careless, and he cherry-picks not only the studies he presents, but also the which ones he provides access to through his website. At one point I checked a cited quote to find that he found it in a blurb on a book jacket! Unprofessional.

So much of this book, though, is true that it...more
Jeffrey May
Medication Madness. A must read. Usually, I don’t open with my bottom line, but in this case, it should be stated up front – you absolutely must read this book. Since “one in every eight” of us “takes a psychiatric drug on a regular basis” you or someone you know will be profoundly influenced by Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy Of An Epidemic. Using thorough research, flawless logic, and an almost overwhelming number of studies, he reveals that psychiatric drugs are prescribed under false assumptions....more
Phoebe
I'm surprised to see so many people swallow these ideas whole. Take this book with a grain of salt.
Kater Cheek
This book is written with an agenda, and I usually don't like one-sided arguments, but in this case, the argument is one that I was already disposed to believe: namely, that taking mind-altering drugs does not make a person mentally healthy. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong personal aversion to drugs of any sort (not you caffeine! You're different! BFF!) but I made an occasional exception in my anti-drug worldview for the case of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and the like when...more
Kate
Oh my God! This book opened my eyes to the dangers of psychoactive medications, like antidepressants, and the cavalier attitude of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry to the damage they can potentially cause. Of course, most psychiatrists who have critiqued and commented on this book totally miss the point, and their objections to it are straw man objections. This book is good--I couldn't put it down, and it is so scary! A clear explanation as to why capitalism and medical care DO NOT MIX...more
Mike
The book is an argument rather than an unemotional account, but compelling and one hell of an eye-opener, especially for someone like me who is (or was) a full-on believer in a strict biological psychology. Psychiatry (and psychology) may have something to offer, but currently it’s a field full of distortions, flatout lies, and pharmaceutical cronyism; university and medical school courses perpetuate this, along with the media, the APA, and NIMH, all of whom can go fuck themselves. Strongly reco...more
Amy
I found this fascinating read because it was recommended by Scientific American. Once I began I couldn't stop reading it or telling my husband everything about it. So many things I thought I knew about mental illness turn out to be wrong. Any study that has attempted to find a chemical imbalance in a population with schizophrenia or depression has failed to find one. Psychiatric drugs work by causing the brain to function abnormally, not by returning an abnormal brain to a normal state. Over tim...more
Dave Biggus
All I can say is: I had NO IDEA!. I'm familiar with the supposed science behind the chemical imbalance theory of psychiatric conditions. I think everyone's heard something along these lines: too much or too little dopamine, or serotonin, or other neurotransmitters can cause psychological problems. The medical basis for "you must be out of whack!" Only trouble is, it isn't known to be true! People aren't tested for, say, dopamine levels, and on the basis of that test given Ritalin. They are given...more
Rise
I'm so angry about this I could spit nails. This is a must-read for anyone considering going on antidepressants. The author reveals that the drugs most commonly used in treating mental illness have been unsuccessful in improving the health and well-being of the people they were intended to help; more to the point, they have made people worse by permanently altering their brain functions, consigning many to a lifetime of medication cocktails. The psychological establishment and big pharma have su...more
Jeff
I declare this a must-read.

Before reading this book, I had assumed that the "explosion" of mental illness over the last few decades was 100% pure diagnosis bloat and pursuit of government disability cheese. The truth appears to be much worse than that.

I won't repeat the book's summary but Whitaker's review of patient outcomes for the various "mental illnesses" with and without medication is damning. It's worse than damning.

I'm astonished at the incredibly flimsy pretexts for which children are g...more
Amanda
While this book was incredibly thought provoking, I did find it to be very extremist in perspective. The author is a great journalist who is unafraid to question commonly held societal beliefs. However, he is just that: a journalist and not a medical professional. The conspiratorial (and to some extent, true) basis of the book is that the APA and pharmaceutical companies have perpetuated a pandemic of iatrogenic mental illness. Are many illnesses over-diagnosed? Unquestionably. Do some psychiatr...more
Melody
An entirely damning look at the psychiatric profession, Big Pharma, NIMH and the epidemic of mental illness the combination has caused. Whitaker looks at rates of diagnosis of such currently common maladies as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and ADHD. He cites statistic after statistic showing how much better off most of the mentally ill are without medication, and in a terrifying chapter, focuses on what anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and ADHD drugs appear to be doing to the long-te...more
Emily
This book changed my views of the modern world, revolutionized my thought process, and probably saved my life. Everyone should read this.
Elizabeth
So biased that it began to piss me off so much I simply could not read the last 30 pages.
T. Edmund
This book changed the way I think....


Not so much because of the main thrust of the arguement: That psychotropic drugs are much worse than many academics let on, largely due to the fact their pay packets come from pharmacutical companies.

But because I realised I agreed somewhat with Scientologists.

Sorry let me summarise this book. Anatomy of an Epidemic, will take you through the recent history of psychotropic drugs, taking a number of different perspectives including, academic research, case...more
michelle
This book pissed me off, but not in the way I think the author would have liked.

Personally I believe Whitaker is correct in that we are overmedicated and this is primarily because of the push by pharmaceutical companies and malleable doctors. I am also of the belief that children should only be medicated in the most extreme of circumstances, not at the slightest change in behaviour or mood.

However, he lost me due to the general tone he used when speaking about those of us who choose medication t...more
Laura
This book really shook this psychology major's worldview. I was taught in college that most psychological problems are because of a chemical imbalance in the brain and that psychiatric drugs are a useful and valuable tool in fixing these problems. This book quite convincingly lays out the evidence that this is not true. No researcher has ever been able to prove the "chemical imbalance" theory. Rather, psychiatric drugs create chemical imbalances in the brain (not fix them).

The author presents r...more
Charlene Smith
In his book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, Robert Whitaker refers to the “conundrum” posed by oft touted media claims of significant advances in psychiatric care. He notes: “We should expect that the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States, on a per-capita basis, would have declined over the past fifty years. We should also expect that the number of disabled mentally ill, on a per-capita basis, would...more
G. Marie
(NOTE: I did not officially skim the entire book; I had to return it to the library and was getting caught up in some of the more technical parts. It did not help that I was reading Franzen's "Freedom" at the same time, which I couldn't read often or quickly enough. The article that spawned the book by Whitaker is here: www.freedom-center.org/.../anatomy_of.... It's worth your time.)

Currently skimming...it's quite troubling. An interview with the author in Salon is a good introduction to the bo...more
Karina
OTHER RELATED INTERESTING TIDBITS

I think anyone interested in this book would also like the following article and the following film links:

How medical research is done and what it means (and DOESN'T mean):
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a...

The idea that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance is not universally accepted. If you said that idea in Europe, they would look at you like you had 3 heads. In Finland, they are very successful treating schizophrenia, and most often without a...more
Karl Seidel
Jun 24, 2010 Karl Seidel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone currently taking drugs prescribed by psychiatrists
This author should win a Pulitzer Prize...no...a Nobel Prize! His work will save hundreds - maybe 1000's of lives! This may or may not be what the Nobel prize award committee has in mind, but this book and his work matter because he exposes the underbelly of a malevolent force - Dr.'s prescribing drugs they know very little about.

Whitaker uses the literature of the AMA, APA and other "interested" parties, to tell a story you won't want to read if you think you're being effectively treated by ant...more
Stephanie
A disturbing book that asks an important question: are we causing more harm than good with modern psychiatry? The answer is not pleasant, and should make all of us working in medicine deeply uncomfortable. Whitaker analyzes the history of treatment of the most common mood disorders and psychoses--including the history of how this distinction between disorders was created. It's fascinating stuff, and would be worth reading even if we were creating good outcomes in this area. Since the outcomes ar...more
Lauren
Interesting critique on the history of psychiatric medicines and research. Had some great information on brain chemistry and what antidepressants actually do, but read a little like a thesis (very academic and bent on making a point). Was also disappointed that the author didn't include more recent research, especially on the benefits of SSRIs, etc. I know he's trying to make his case, but making it more balanced and current would've made me more willing to accept it.

Bottom line: very interesti...more
P Chulhi
This is required reading for anyone who has an interest in psychotropic medications (e.g., neuroleptics, SSRIs, benzodiazepines, etc.). Whitaker not only does an excellent job reviewing the relevant literature concerning these drugs, he also gives the reader a "behind the scenes" look at the psychopharmacology "revolution" and the evolution of the modern practice of psychiatry. This is scientific journalism as it should be.

Interestingly, the author started out as a firm believer in the conventio...more
Wendy
Renewed this book from the library twice and read a few other books in the meantime and still couldn't get though it. Wanted to hear his argument but the heavy handedness of the first part made it difficult to get through. Maybe someday I'll get back to it and finish it. Until then, I'll continue to work with people on their emotions and relationships but also using meds when needed. Just because the psych meds we have now don't 'cure' doesn't mean they're not useful to relieve suffering and giv...more
Florence
A must read! You will discover revealing data showing the history of pharmaceutical operations; such companies have become ruthless in promoting the use of drugs to treat depression. Graphs & charts indicate many hidden side effects of such medications! Authentic data shows meds can actually increase duration & state of depression! Alarming statistics also show an epidemic increase in numbers of children in America who are the new target for such sales.
Lynn
Although a bit agenda-driven, I thought this was rigorous and illuminating, but having finished it, I'm left with a sense of frustration. As a person who's been on antidepressants for nearly two decades now, what am I supposed to do with this information?
Glenda
If you or anyone you know has ever taken an antidepressant or other psychiatric drug you simply must read this book. In my opinion, it is one of the most important books of our time.
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What does this book mean for changing our system of mental health care? 5 23 Apr 05, 2013 07:39PM  
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Robert Whitaker, a journalist, writes primarily about medicine and science. He is the author of four books: Mad in America, The Mapmaker's Wife, On the Laps of Gods and Anatomy of an Epidemic.

His newspaper and magazine articles on the mentally ill and the pharmaceutical industry have garnered several national awards, including a George Polk Award for medical writing and a National Association of S...more
More about Robert Whitaker...
Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry

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“If you expand the boundaries of mental illness, which is clealry what has happened in this country during the past twenty-five years, and you treat the people so diagnosed with psychiatric medications, do you run the risk of turning an anger-ridden teenager into a lifelong mental patient? (p. 30)” 11 likes
“In the United States, people with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia are losing twelve to twenty years in life expectancy compared to people not in the mental health system. (176)” 9 likes
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