The Emperor’s New Drugs

This (catchy) title marks the beginning of an era;

Famous psychologists are coming out of the closet. Not as homosexuals, but as drug-deniers.

In the classic tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, An Emperor hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is “just hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others.

The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.

Irving Kirsch, the author of “The Emperor’s New Drugs” wants us to draw the same lesson between many prescribed drugs and the aforementioned story.

In a meta-analysis of published and unpublished studies (to avoid data-mining from pharmaceutical companies), the results are fascinating. Anti-depressants are (most likely) a scam.

As he concludes, ” In fact, the overall difference between medication and placebo was so small that it was “clinically insignificant” for all but the most depressed patients, Kirsch says, a point that was consistent with his past findings. Moreover, antidepressant therapy improved symptoms by the same degree in both mildly and moderately ill patients. “There seems little evidence to support the prescription of antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients,” says Kirsch, “unless alternative treatments have failed to provide benefit.””

The primary mistake, according to Kirsch, is the “chemical-imbalence hypothesis.” This theory suggests that depression is caused by a lack of this or that neuro-whatchamacallit. “Depression is a chemical imbalance, most people think. Researchers, drug manufacturers, and even the Food and Drug Administration assert that antidepressants work by “normalizing” levels of brain neurotransmitters—chemical messengers such as serotonin.”

As long as we think the emperor is wearing clothes (even if we cannot see him) we will (most of the time) act as though we are the delusional ones.

When all the evidence is weighed together, Prozac, Paxil, and other such popular pills seem to be at best weakly effective against depression.

@Ross, how sound is the research?
@Zach, he advocates talk-therapy and exercise over pills, why?

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