I could have easily been an example for Whitaker’s book. In 1971 when I was 19 years old I was hospitalized for six weeks for depression. Hospital staff told me I would always need medication. It was implied I would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life. Nursing staff observed me moving my lips when I was in deep thought and incorrectly concluded I was hearing voices. In fact, I have never had a hallucination of any kind. I was just severely depressed after years of neglect and abuse. Who wouldn’t be? We all need to be loved to feel happy. Instead of loving me my parents were verbally and emotionally abusive. Their neglect made me easy prey for the local pedophiles.
After my discharge from the local state psychiatric center I was sent to a county run clinic where they upped my medication every time I attempted suicide. My suicide attempts didn’t start until after I was medicated. No one including myself seemed to notice that. The sedative effects of the drugs made it harder and harder for me to function. I was unable to perform a summer job that I once did well. One day I backed up into another car in the post office parking lot. The owner of the car asked if I was high on drugs and threatened to call the police. When he saw how distress I was he relented and let me go.
Shortly after that incident my father had an argument with my prescribing psychiatrist over his bill. The psychiatrist refused to continue seeing me. Aware that the drugs weren’t really helping I seized the opportunity and stopped taking my medications. My therapist, George Howard, referred me to another psychiatrist but I never made an appointment. Dr. Howard asked if I was going to stay on medication. I told him no and he dropped the matter. Under his care I began to get better. Moving out of my parent’s house helped too. I was no longer subjected to the daily messages from my father about how inadequate I was. With the love and support of Dr. Howard and a mind clear of the psychiatric drug haze I fully recovered from my depression. I completed my college degree, married and raised two children while pursuing my career in psychology. I thrived without medication.
I have long been aware that anti-depressants did not help me nor were they helping my clients. Clients who relied on them were less likely to implement the life changing skills taught as part of cognitive behavioral therapy. I had been seeing a client for close to two years whose depression started after she was diagnosed with chronic lung disease. My therapeutic efforts were failing. I thought it was because her physical illness was too hard for her to bear. She dropped out of therapy but came back a few months later. As part of the routine intake I asked her what medications she was taking. She pulled out a two page list. I gasped visibly and unintentionally as I read over the list. In addition to the medications she was taking for lung disease she was on several anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. My client noticed the gasped. After she left my office she admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital and with medical monitoring removed herself off most of her psychiatric medications. She saw me a couple of more times and informed me she was weaning herself off the rest of the psychotropic medication. She appeared happier and said she was doing well for the first time in five years. It turns out that my spontaneous gasp was the most therapeutic thing that I did for her.
This was my most dramatic case. I have had several other clients who improved after they weaned themselves off the medication. However, it wasn’t until I read Whitaker’s book that I became aware that psychotropic medication may have worsened my own depression and made me suicidal. I now strongly encourage my clients to avoid medications and if they do use them to only do so for a brief period of time.