By Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.
The number of Americans who are diagnosed or diagnosable with a serious mental illness has skyrocketed. Social Security claims for disability due to mental illness have also exploded. In 1987, the number was one in 84 Americans, whereas in 2007 it increased to one in 76. In children, the picture looks even bleaker: there was a 35-fold increase in disability claims for mental illness between 1987 and 2007. What is going on? Why are Americans suffering a mental health epidemic that is unique in the developed world?
In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, physician Marcia Angell looks to three recent books to answer these questions: “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth,” “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America” and “Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry — A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis.” The authors of all three books are in agreement on a rather startling view. Based on many years of researching the burgeoning epidemic of depressive, anxiety and psychotic disorders, all three authors argue that it is pharmaceutical companies rather than unbiased medical research that decide what constitutes mental illness and how each illness should be treated. I recently made a similar argument specifically for children’s mental health problems in my book “Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative.”