By Peter C Gøtzsche
My article on Mad in America, “The media’s false narrative about depression pills, suicides, and saving lives” from 23 August was mentioned on Mad in Norway (in Norwegian) two days ago:
“Terrible falsehoods from the Norwegian Psychiatric Association. Untrue statements about drugs. Psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry are accused of spreading false positive information about drug effects through financially lubricated information channels. The ‘Pill shame’ editorial from the board of the Norwegian Psychiatric Association contains so many untruths that they seem to suffer from collective delusions. That’s what doctor and scientist Peter Gøtzsche says in an article on Mad in America. He picks apart their claims and believes the solution is to let the psychiatrists get a taste of their own medicines … he uses the pill-shaming plot by the Association as an example of how the media are ‘programmed’ to give free rein to the prevailing psychiatric regime.”
I have today written to the board of the Norwegian Psychiatric Association:
“I find it very sad that a psychiatric association can write so much that is so misleading or wrong in a newspaper. I have described the problems in the attached article. I have no hopes that you will come to respect the most reliable research we have in psychiatry; your guild interests are far too great for that. But now I have at least tried. Mad in America has about 2 million monthly users, so your misconceptions about your profession are now out, all over the world. For the sake of the patients and their relatives, I hope you will retract your erroneous statements. They are very harmful to public health.”
In my article, I give five main reasons why psychiatric drugs are portrayed in the media in a light that is far too positive and also describe a horribly misleading BBC report from 9 August. In the commentary section below my article, I have added a sixth main reason:
Inspired by a close collaborator who has a huge experience of working with journalists, I want to say this, based on his email to me:
There are also substantial pressures from users of depression pills. They can have a decisive role when the editors remove critical comments on the use of these pills. Some of them are activists, either individually (including celebrities, journalists/hosts from TV programs) or in organisations. Often, they have rather blunt demands to have their individual experiences of being helped mentioned. And often with a readiness to be offended, e.g. if you “don’t recognize their illness” or if you question the use of psychotropic drugs. During research and casting for broadcasts about depression in particular, many journalists will feel the need to accommodate these individual, anecdotal and unscientific stories, often with contributions from various psychiatrists who support them. The result is horrifying. The science is edited out in favour of personal accounts. If I were to list the worst challenges in telling the truth about the drugs and the harms they cause, these activist patients would be at the very top. Followed by editors’ fear of offending consensus. Oddly enough, people also buy the argument that any bad publicity about psychotropic drugs can cost human lives. They don’t seem to know that psychiatric drugs do not save lives; they kill very many people.