Saturday, January 29, 2011

Robert Whitaker Debates Academic Psychiatrist Andrew Nierenberg at Massachusetts General Hospital

When I first reviewed Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic, I was disappointed to find very few reviews or discussions by members of the psychiatric establishment. I was curious about their perspective on Whitaker’s assertions concerning the deleterious long-term effects of psychiatric drugs. It seems that the situation has changed somewhat now. On January 13, Whitaker was invited to speak at the famed “Ether Dome” at Massachusetts General Hospital, but with a catch—he had to consent to be rebutted by one of the members of the faculty there, Dr. Andrew Nierenberg. There’s an excellent article about the debate, along with some fascinating comments. Whitaker also reports on the debate in his blog.

It seems that some leading psychiatrists are taking his arguments seriously, although they still strongly disagree with him. My own perspective is that people need to make informed decisions about their treatment, which means that they should understand the risks of taking drugs, along with the benefits. From a scientific perspective, I hope that Whitaker’s book spurs new research on long-term drug outcomes, studies that are not funded by drugs companies. I agree with Marlene Freeman, an associate professor of psychiatry in the audience: “Well-designed studies to really answer the questions you raise are very expensive, she told Whitaker. If you could take some of your passion to the National Institute of Mental Health and get them to fund some of them, ‘We’d be very grateful.’”

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