When I read in August that the talented Hollywood film director Tony Scott had killed himself without any apparent good reason, I was fairly sure that pretty soon we would find that the poor man had been taking ‘antidepressants’. Well, a preliminary autopsy has found ‘therapeutic’ levels of an ‘antidepressant’ in his system. I take no pleasure in being right, but as the scale of this scandal has become clear to me, I have learned to look out for the words ‘antidepressant’ or ‘being treated for depression’ in almost any case of suicide and violent, bizarre behavior. And I generally find it. The science behind these pills is extremely dubious. Their risks are only just beginning to emerge. It is time for an inquiry.
“Tony Scott Suicide Remains a Mystery After Autopsy,” wrote a Vanity Fair editor. The autopsy found that he had been taking the antidepressant Remeron, whose known side effects include suicide. SSRI’s, of which Remeron is an example, cause suicidal thinking in people who are not depressed.
The psychiatrist David Healy was the first to emphasize this point. In 2000, after he began this research, he was offered a job at the University of Toronto. In a very unusual move, the job offer was rescinded. Apparently psychiatry professors at the University of Toronto realized that Healy’s research made the psychiatric drug industry look bad.
I don’t think it’s wrong to sell drugs that improve this or that condition (e.g., depression), even if the improvement is slight. I do think it’s wrong to make false claims to induce people to buy the drugs. In the case of depression, the false claim is that depression is due to a “chemical imbalance.” No chemical difference has ever been shown between people who later become depressed and people who don’t later become depressed. This claim, repeated endlessly, makes it harder to do research into what causes depression. If you figured out what caused depression, you could treat it and prevent it much better. This false claim does enormous damage. It delays by many years discovery of effective treatment and prevention of depression, a disease from which hundreds of millions of people now suffer.
This happens in dozens of areas of medicine. Dermatologists say “acne is caused by bacteria“. Most doctors appear to believe “ulcers are caused by bacteria”. Ear nose and throat surgeons claim that part of the immune system (the tonsils) causes illness. The “scale of the scandal” — medical school professors either (a) don’t understand causality or (b) deceive the rest of us — is great.