Do Psychiatric Drugs Do More Harm Than Good?

medicationsTwenty percent of Americans take at least one psychiatric drug. According to Peter C. Gøtzsche, professor at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Denmark, these drugs may be more harmful than beneficial. BMJ published Gøtzsche’s claims that it’s possible to eliminate psychiatric drugs without serious negative consequences, but not all experts agree. Responding to Gøtzsche’s claims, Allan Young, a professor of mood issues at King’s College London, argued that psychiatric medications offer benefits similar to medications for other conditions.

The Argument Against Psychiatric Drugs

Gøtzsche, the author of Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare, has long argued that psychiatric medicines are potentially dangerous. Unlike some others in the anti-psychiatry crowd, his arguments aren’t rooted in the belief that mental health issues aren’t real. Instead, he points to evidence suggesting that psychiatric drugs kill more than half a million people over the age of 65 each year. Gøtzsche also believes that deaths related to psychiatric medications are under-reported. He estimates that there are at least 15 times more suicides than reported by the Food and Drug Administration among those taking antidepressants. He says the FDA includes only suicides that occur 24 hours after stopping the drug in its data, creating the illusion that antidepressants are safer than they are.

Even if psychiatric drugs are more dangerous than previously thought, don’t they help people? Gøtzsche says no. Poorly designed experiments, he says, make psychiatric medications appear more effective than they are. Most randomized controlled trials include people already taking another psychiatric drug, potentially confusing the results. A number of drugs, including Prozac and other popular antidepressants, don’t do much better than a placebo, especially after a couple of days.

Gøtzsche believes it would be possible to completely end the use of psychiatric drugs without any serious negative effects, though he cautions that many people may need help to manage withdrawal from their medications.

How Psychiatric Drugs Can Be Beneficial

In his response to Gøtzsche, Young argues that psychiatric medications can save lives. He points to his co-author, psychiatric patient John Crace, who says that antidepressants have kept him happy for years. According to Young, more than a fifth of all disabilities result from mental health issues, so psychiatric medications can have significant benefits for public health, the economy, and families.

Young acknowledges that many studies are imperfect, but says it’s impossible to discount the lived experiences of millions of people who have been helped by psychiatric drugs.


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  3. Friedman, R. A. (2013, August 19). A dry pipeline for psychiatric drugs. Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Donald

    May 21st, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    When administered in the right dosage, in the right intent and by the correct provider I think that you will find that they can be invaluable in the lives of many. Do I by any stretch believe that this is the only answer? No, of course not. But for some people they are definitively the correct thing to prescribe.

  • Ann

    May 21st, 2015 at 3:19 PM

    I agree with Donald. It can also be trial and error. Some meds are like baby aspirin to me and others are a nightmare!! The key is to have a psychiatrist who is open to their patient’s concerns and individual side effects.

  • Kenneth

    May 21st, 2015 at 4:08 PM

    And I think that the pharmaceutical companies would certainly beg to differ ;)

  • Tim

    May 22nd, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    THere are always going to be good drugs and bad drugs.

    THere will always be doctors who prescribe them in the wrong dose or for the wrong reasons.

    But in the end I think that the good outweighs the bad, and the ones that are bad eventually get weeded out by the governing system.

    And I don’t think that there is anyone that they have helped who would wish to have ever been without them.

  • Cynthia

    May 23rd, 2015 at 8:26 PM

    I as being medicated for 17 years believe some people do well, like me. But back when I was first medicated for depression and panic disorder with semi agoraphobia, Doctors were over medicating me. I heard then that doctors get kick backs; such as free vacations among other prizes of sorts to prescribe a new med. Well I was on 6 different medications. I couldnt get out of bed i was so lathargic! That’s where it does more harm then good. But some patients do need medicine to feel better. I’m on 300 mg of Wellbutrin and 4 mg of xanax (only 2) but quite a dosage. They do not allow the kick backs now. So Doctors aren’t so quick to give you 55 meds for a free vacation

  • Creed

    May 28th, 2015 at 3:44 AM

    It has to be about finding the right balance in your life.

    That means working with someone who will help you not only discover which medication is going to work best for you but also tweaking it when needed to ensure that you are taking the right dosage amount daily.

  • Kary

    June 8th, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    I believe psychiatric drugs should rarely be used , and people should be listened to and have the real reason for their problems be figured out and not be lied to and told it is a chemical imbalance . To tell someone they can only take a drug to fix their problems is a lie and very few people actually need medicine. There are so many reasons people have problems, and it is not usually an illness that needs medicine . It could be family problems, relationship issues, financial problems, health problems and so many more problems that will be resolved or not resolved . The medicine will only cause more issues. For example, a person could have problems with finances currently and they are dependant on abusive people for finances . The person who is having problems with finances is a good person who would help anyone if they were in a better place themselves . This vulnerable person is treated so badly by the people they depend on. The abusers are successful individuals. The person is forced to take psychiatric medicine to make them not react to being abused by the people who have power, as they are on so much medicine they no longer protest . The abusive people are given unfair power over the person who has problems with finances by mental health professionals. They prescribe drugs to further this control and abuse by using psychiatric medicine to keep the victim quieter when they are being abused for being in a vulnerable place. If this person became rich or found good people and did not need to depend on their abusers to give them money or a relationship any longer, their issue could be resolved. Isn’t it more difficult to find love or a good job when you have no support from anyone ? The help hurts the victim. The mental health professionals are not supportive and are perpetuating the abuse of the victim by helping the abusers drug the victim with medicine and giving a label to the victim. The abusers get to abuse the victim more severely by controlling them with psychiatric medicine . Other people blame the victim since the victim is forced to take psych meds and therefore is ill and everything is their fault. The victim continues to fail due to being punished constantly and being controlled by psychiatric medicine . A good person is hurt in every area of their lives .

  • Rvngr

    October 4th, 2020 at 6:51 PM

    Kary I’m with you. Some of the replies sound like they come straight from Pharma reps!!! They have not seen the abuse that comes with letting Pharma have no limits…they jack 1 bottle of pills up to $400 (Trintellix). Doesn’t matter that my son wanted to kill himself round the clock on that fucking med. I told them to find an alternative. Whaddya knoooowwwww, they swap it with another $400 med. Why not start with simple valium. Then Seroquel…how many people know that you can’t take that if you have dementia-related psychosis. I’m pretty tired of America and plan to leave when I ever get enough money. It’s a nightmare watching people be used for money, going through things they didn’t have to if only doctors put the individual’s health needs first. People are dying from these medications. The ones who live often face worse mental problems than they began with. I fear for my son’s life if this new facility is no different. This is his 2nd break and the original psych ward is full thankfully.

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