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

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,243 ratings  ·  430 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
Hardcover, 404 pages
Published April 13th 2010 by Crown
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Start your review of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Stephanie *Extremely Stable Genius*
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
Lorri Coburn
Oct 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
I voted for two polarized reviews of this book -- one extolling its virtues, the other dismissing its arguments as simplistic. I suspect both are valid.

As a psychologist I frequently meet individuals of all ages who are taking psychotropic medication. Medication as an appropriate treatment option is unquestioned by most of the people I work with, although my colleagues often bemoan the fact that people prefer medication to therapy, thinking popping some pills will be a quick fix. I was required
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm surprised to see so many people swallow these ideas whole. Take this book with a grain of salt.
Jeffrey May
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Medication Madness. A must read. Usually, I dont 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 Whitakers 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
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-issues
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 ...more
Kater Cheek
Feb 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating and a must-read. I bet it will (or has) ruffled some feathers, but the animating question of the book is: hey, what if the SSRI revolution was all bunk and we would have been better off without it? He's not saying there is no such thing as depression or mental illness, but he is saying that the studies about whether SSRI's help are not conclusive. If anything, the findings have been manipulated and the facts show that maybe they have way too many side effects to make up ...more
Jun 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: psychodont
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 its 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, at least, according to this book. Strongly ...more
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book because I was one of the adolescents put on Prozac in the 90s for my "social anxiety." I was 15 and so would begin 18 years of various drugs and dosages and cocktails to fix my "chemical imbalance." I was told that I suffered from a hereditary or genetic imbalance that I would have to manage my entire life with drugs. When they stopped working, the drug would be upped to an off label dose or a new drug given or added on top. I've been on them all, and none worked for very ...more
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 ...more
Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: required-reading
This book changed my views of the modern world, revolutionized my thought process, and probably saved my life. Everyone should read this.
Ryan Snyder
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
If you're a scientologist, this is a really good, self-affirming book read. If you are a stats nerd, it's just manipulating research and data to serve a bias.
Dave Biggus
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
An excellent (albeit polemical at times) account of the modern history of mental illness in the United States, one whose prevalence has been largely driven (unsurprisingly) by artificial demand created by large pharmaceutical concerns, as well as by plain old backward-thinking.

While Anatomy is not a conclusive bit of scientific research, it nevertheless manages to fashion a convincing argument that suggests that our current "chemical imbalance in the brain" paradigm for mental illness is at
Feb 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing

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):

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
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
P Chulhi
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biomedical
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
Jan 20, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mental-health
This is a fallacious and alarmist piece of garbage. Read the actual research, rather than sentences taken out of context from multiple studies and pieced together to support his agenda.
Chrissy Bell
I gave this book 3 stars because I did not want to discourage people from reading. The author makes a strong argument for an epidemic fueled by psychiatric drugs. However, I felt that he does this in a very antagonizing manner. He presents his evidence to suit his needs, which is what he is accusing the psychiatric community of doing. Also, I feel like he often promoted the stopping of medication without a doctor's supervision which can be very dangerous. I read until the end because I do ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a damning critique of modern psychiatry in the United States. If this book is true, then many of the things I thought I knew about mental illness are just plain wrong. Whitaker lays out study after study that undermines the current system of care in our country. No studies have been able to prove the "chemical imbalance" argument for antidepressants and neuroleptics. Recovery rates for people with depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in the US are far worse now than the ...more
Thomas Edmund
Mar 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Charlene Smith
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Gail Marie
Aug 02, 2010 rated it liked it
(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: It's worth your time.)

Currently's quite troubling. An interview with the author in Salon is a good introduction to the
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What does this book mean for changing our system of mental health care? 7 47 Jun 21, 2016 01:29AM  

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There is more than one author in the Goodreads catalog with this name. This entry is for Robert {2^} Whitaker, medical and science writer.

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

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“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” That’s Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani human rights...
47 likes · 15 comments
“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)” 19 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)” 12 likes
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