by Judi Chamberlin
Much of the conventional wisdom about
psychiatric drugs is wrong. Psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry have
successfully convinced much of the public, through the media, that psychiatric
drugs are "safe" and "effective" in "treating" "mental illnesses." Let us look
at each of these words in turn:
Safegenerally accepted to
mean that they cause no harm, despite many known negative effects such as movement
disorders, changes in brain activity, weight gain, restlessness, sudden death
from neuroleptic malignant syndrome and many others.
accepted to mean that they reverse or cure the symptoms for which they are prescribed,
despite the fact that much research has shown they have a generally sedating effect
that masks not only the targeted behavior, but all activities.
accepted to mean that the prescribed agents have specific effects on specific
Mental illnessesgenerally accepted to
mean that there are specific clinical entities known as "schizophrenia," "bi-polar
disorder" etc., despite the fact that there are no known structural or chemical
changes in the body that can distinguish people who have these so-called illnesses
from those who do not.
How is it that these myths have been so
successfully accepted as fact? For one thing, those promoting the drugs are authority
figures, doctors and scientists who are generally accepted to be presenting value-free
experimental results. Another factor, perhaps even more significant, is that those
who are given the drugs and who are the ones who have spoken out about their negative
effects, are automatically discredited by having been labelled mentally ill. The
diagnosis of mental illness carries with it a host of associations, particularly
that the person so labelled has impaired judgment and is not a reliable reporter
of his or her own experiences.
Nonetheless, it is personal stories
which in fact carry enormous weight in the evaluation of the value of these drugs.
Reading the eloquent personal testimonials of people who have taken and then discontinued
these drugs, some who started with the belief that they were truly lifesaving
agents, should be considered along with the positive accounts of researchers and
prescribers. In psychiatry, it is the experiences, thoughts and feelings of the
patient which are considered to be diseased; therefore, these experiences, thoughts
and feelings in response to treatment must be taken into account. Of course, many
psychiatrists and other believers in the efficacy of psychiatric drugs can dismiss
these accounts by considering them additional "symptoms," but this, of course,
is circular reasoning.
The experiences of people who have taken
(or continue to take) psychiatric drugs are enormously varied. Some people find
them helpful in dealing with troublesome symptoms, and these people, of course,
are unlikely to want to discontinue using them. In fact, within this group, many
are willing to tolerate troublesome unwanted effects because they find the benefits
outweigh the negatives. This group of people is not the subject of this book.
Instead, the book focuses on people who, for a wide variety of
reasons, have decided that the drugs are not helpful to them, and who have made
the decision to discontinue their use. Such a decision carries enormous consequences,
as the treating physician almost always wants the patient to continue and the
physician often has enormous powers (such as involuntary commitment) at his or
her disposal in order to "persuade" the patient to continue. Indeed, the lack
of support a person faces upon a decision to discontinue the use of drugs is often
a factor in what is labelled relapse.
As an advocate and activist
in the field of mental health and patients' rights (and as a person who discontinued
the use of drugs as part of my own personal process of recovery), one of the most
common questions I am asked is "how can I discontinue the use of psychiatric drugs?"
There is a crying need for information on stopping safely, as well as for supportive
structures (such as short-term residential programs and physicians who are willing
to consider non-drug approaches) that will enable people who wish to withdraw
to do so.
The act of choosing to stop taking psychiatric drugs
may be taken for a variety of reasons. Often it is that the negative effects are
more troubling than the original problems, or it may even be that no positive
effects are experienced at all (this was certainly my own experience). Unfortunately,
the media image of a person who has stopped taking psychiatric drugs is the one
that has captured the popular imagination: a person so deluded that he or she
is unable to realize that his or her behavior is abnormal and who then usually
goes on to commit some horrendous violent crime. Reading about real people and
the complex reasons behind their decisions might be a way to counter this negative
and destructive image.
It is often said that psychiatric drugs
are given to people labelled mentally ill in order that those around them, such
as medical personnel and family members, can feel better. Certainly, being around
people who are troubled, especially when they are vocal about what is troubling
them, can be wearing and difficult. But simply silencing them is not the answer.
Instead, we need to listen carefully to the real experiences that people have
so that we can learn the true costs of psychiatric drugs on people's lives.
Co-Chair, World Network of Users and Survivors of
Psychiatry, Director of Education and Training, National
Arlington, Massachusetts, October 30, 2002
about Judi Chamberlin
by Pirkko Lahti
This world wide
first book about the issue "Successfully coming down from psychiatric drugs,"
published in Germany in 1998, primarily addresses individuals who want to withdraw
based on their own decisions. It also addresses their relatives and therapists.
Millions of people are taking psychiatric drugs, for example Haldol (neuroleptic,
active ingredient haloperidol, marketed also as Dozic, Haloperidol, Peridol, Serenace,
P.L.), Prozac (antidepressant, active ingredient fluoxetine, marketed also as
Auscap, Deprax, Eufor, Felicium, Fluohexal, Fluox, Fluoxetine, Lovan, Oxactin,
Psyquial, Sarafem, Veritina, Zactin, P.L.) or Zyprexa (neuroleptic, active ingredient
olanzapine, P.L.). To them, detailed accounts of how others came off these substances
without once again ending up in the doctor's office are of genuine interest.
of my colleagues in the mental health field spend much of their time developing
criteria for the application of psychiatric drugs. Diagnoses like compulsive acts,
depression, dermatitis, hyperactivity, hyperemesis gravidarum, insomnia, nocturnal
enuresis, psychosis, stuttering, travel sickness etc. can lead to the application
of neuroleptics, antidepressants, lithium (mood stabilizer, marketed as Camcolit,
Camcolith, Cibalith, Eskalith, Li-Liquid, Liskonum, Lithicarb, Lithium, Lithobid,
Lithonathe, Lithotabs, Priadel, Quilonum, P.L.), tranquilizers and other drugs
with psychic effects. This development of indications is a responsible task, rich
Diagnoses and indications often result in a
treatment with psychotropic drugs that can last for a long time. Who can predict
whether the drugs when time arrivescan be withdrawn from easily? From
minor tranquilizers, especially the benzodiazepines, we already know the effects
of dependency. Withdrawal without therapeutic help and without knowledge about
the risks can take a dramatic course. What risks arise from the withdrawal of
neuroleptics, antidepressants and lithium.
What factors favor
successful withdrawalsuccessful in the sense that patients do not immediately
return to the doctor's exam room, but live free and healthy lives, as all of us
would wish? Have we not heard about pharmacogenic withdrawal-problems, receptor-changes,
supersensitivity-psychoses, withdrawal-psychoses? Who is able to distinguish relapses
from hidden withdrawal problems?
Do we not leave our patients
alone with their sorrows and problems, when theyfor whatever reasonsdecide
by themselves to come off their psychotropic drugs? Where can they find support,
understanding and good examples, if they turn away from us disappointed (or we
Peter Lehmann, board-member of the European Network
of (ex-)Users and Survivors of Psychiatry and former board-member of Mental Health
Europe (the European section of the World Federation for Mental Health), has earned
recognition for this difficult task as the first world wide expert to gather experiences
from people themselves and their therapists, who have withdrawn from psychotropic
drugs successfully or who have supported their clients to do so. In this manual
28 people from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary,
Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA and Yugoslavia
write about their experiences with withdrawal. Additionally, eight psychotherapists,
physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, natural healers and
other professionals report on how they helped their clients withdraw. Via the
internationality of the authors the book provides a broad picture of different
experiences and knowledge.
The book has a provocative message: life-experiences
sometimes differ from scientific agreements. Based on the
personal experiences of (ex-)users and survivors of psychiatry
and the few professionals who assist people to come off psychiatric
drugs, the book is a good place to open the discussion. The
book should be available in every medical practice, in every
therapeutic ward, in every patients’ library.
Executive Director of the Finnish Association for
Mental Health and President of the World Federation
for Mental Health (2001-2003)
by Loren R. Mosher
"There is no tyranny so great as that
which is practiced for the benefit of the victim."C.S. Lewis
volume is devoted to a topic that is the subject of a great deal of misguided
thinking these days. We live in the era of a "pill for every ill" but too little
attention has been devoted to the pills given specifically to affect our psyches.
What does it mean to medicate the soul, the self, and the mind? Webster's dictionary
defines psyche in all three ways. Are not these chemicals ("psychotropic drugs")
interfering with the very essence of humanity? Should not great care and thought
be given to this process? If begun, should it not be continuously monitored? Since
all threesoul, self and mindare at the core of each human being should
not he/she determine whether these drugs should be taken based on her/his own
subjective experience of them? The answer is, of course, a resounding yes.
let's get real. Since there are few objective indicators of the effects of these
drugs the patients' own reports are critical. Do the psychiatrists and other physicians
prescribing psychotropic drugs listen carefully to each patient's personal experience
with a particular one? The answer to the question varies of course but if you
speak a different language, are a member of a minority, poor, seen as "very ill"
or forcibly incarcerated in a mental hospital the likelihood of being really listened
to falls dramaticallyalthough it is not very high for anyone.
the focus of this bookthe stories of persons who were not listened to as
they suffered torment of the soul, self and mind from psychotropic drugsoften
given against their will, is very important. They are the stories of courageous
decisions made against powerful expert doctors (and sometimes families and friends)and
the torment that sometimes ensued. Stopping medications began to restore their
brains' physiology to their pre-medication states. Most had never been warned
that the drugs would change their brains' physiology (or, worse yet, selectively
damage regions of nerve cells in the brain) such that withdrawal reactions would
almost certainly occur. Nor were they aware that these withdrawal reactions might
be long lasting and might be interpreted as their "getting sick again." They are
horror stories of what might happen (but does not have to happen) when attempting
to return brains to usual functioning after being awash with "therapeutic" chemicals.
Unfortunately, the suffering was usually necessary in order restore soul, self
and mindthe essence of humanity.
However, because the drugs
were given thoughtlessly, paternalistically and often unnecessarily to fix an
unidentifiable "illness" the book is an indictment of physicians. The Hippocratic
Oathto above all do no harmwas regularly disregarded in the rush to
"do something." How is it possible to determine whether soul murder might be occurring
without reports of patients' experiences with drugs that are aimed directly at
the essence of their humanity? Despite their behavior, doctors are only MD's,
not MDeity's. They, unlike gods, have to be held accountable for their actions.
This book is a must read for anyone who might
consider taking or no longer taking these mind altering legal
drugs and perhaps even more so for those able to prescribe
Loren R. Mosher MD
Director, Soteria Associates
Professor of Psychiatry, University of California at San Diego, School of Medicine
August 26, 2002
The point of departure for this book is the moment
at which those who are taking psychiatric drugsthe objects of psychiatric
treatmenthave already made their own decision to quit or to want to quit.
This starting point may be alarming to those readers who look upon the consumers
of these substances not as subjects with a capacity for individual decision-making
but rather as psychologically unsound and, above all, unable to recognize their
own illness (or alternately as consumers of pharmaceuticals from whom they can
Psychiatric drugs are substances which are given to influence
the psychic condition and the behavior of their patients. This book refers to
the treatment of human beings only. Mentioned are neuroleptics, antidepressants,
lithium, carbamazepine and tranquilizers. The withdrawal of drugs used to treat
epilepsy in the field of neurology is not a subject of this book.
Neuroleptics (known also as “major tranquilizers”) are so-called antipsychotic
drugs, which are administered when physicians (mostly general practitioners, pediatricians
or psychiatrists) decide to give a diagnoses such as psychosis, schizophrenia,
paranoia, hebephrenia and hysteria. Other possible symptoms that lead doctors
to prescribe neuroleptics are those sometimes considered psychosomatic in origin:
whooping-cough, asthma, stuttering, disturbances of sleep and behavior in children,
travel sickness, pruritus (itching) or vegetative dystonia. In the same way that
rebellious or aggressive animals of all sorts are given drugs to calm stress-related
reactions, so too are elderly disturbed people treated with neuroleptics.
are given after diagnoses such as reactive, neurotic or brain-organic depression,
restlessness, anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, night-anxiety,
panic attacks, phobia (e.g. school-anxiety in children), nocturnal enuresis, insomnia
and many others. Unhappy animals might receive antidepressants, too, for instance
sad dogs, if they are locked up in the house all day while their master is at
Lithium is administered mostly under diagnoses such as mania
or schizoaffective disorder.
The main psychiatric indication for
carbamazepine (as well as the chemically-related valproate [mood stabilizer, marketed
as Convulex, Depacon, Depakene, Depakote, Epilim, Sodium Valproate, Valpro, Valproic
Acid] and oxcarbazepine [mood stabilizer, marketed as Trileptal]) is the diagnosis
of affective psychosis, especially when the treating psychiatrist has failed to
reach the effect he desires with his normal psychiatric drugs. Carbamazepine,
valproate and oxcarbazepine which are administered for the treatment of epilepsy
in the field of neurology are not subjects of this book.
(sometimes called “minor tranquilizers”) are substances which are administered
after diagnoses such as a lack of motor impulse, depressed mood, phobia, neurosis,
panic attack, sleep disorder. Tranquilizers which are administered for the treatment
of epilepsy in the field of neurology are not a subject of this book.
wanted on the subject: 'withdrawing from psychiatric drugs.'" This was the call
for articles I sent out to relevant groups worldwide in 1995. I wrote:
off Psychiatric Drugs. Successful Withdrawal from Neuroleptics, Antidepressants,
Lithium, Carbamazepine and Tranquilizers.' This is the title of a book that will
be published in German in 1997/98. A publication in English translation is intended
later. We are looking for people who have been prescribed one or several of the
above-mentioned psychiatric drugs and who have decided to quit taking them. Of
particular interest are positive examples that show that it is possible to stop
taking these substances without ending up in the treatment-room of a physician
or right back in the madhouse again. For that reason I am looking for authors
willing to reportin exchange for royaltiesabout their own experiences
on the route to withdrawal and who now live free from psychiatric drugs. I am
also looking for reports from people who have successfully helped others to withdraw
from psychiatric drugs in the course of their professional life (e.g. user-controlled
support centers, natural healers, homeopaths, social workers, psychologists, pastoral
workers, physicians, psychiatrists etc.) or in their personal life (e.g. supporting
friends, relatives, self-help-groups etc.)."
received a series of responses from people who were interested in contributing
to this book, including people who had been taking psychiatric drugs as well as
some professionals whose articles also appear in this book. One psychiatrist from
Berlin withdrew her offer to contribute, fearing (not without reason) that her
practice might be flooded with people wishing to stop taking psychiatric drugs.
Because I had received no responses from family members of (ex-)users and survivors
of psychiatry, I sent my call for articles to the German "Association for Family
Members of the Mentally Ill." The reaction was again silence. Is the reason for
this perhaps that those family members who have organized themselves into support
groups have been inundated in the past years with free lectures and information
from the pharmaceutical industry?
In any case, it would be a mistake
to reduce the problem of the prolonged use of psychoactive drugs and the possible
complications arising from withdrawal to the fault of disinterested or naïve family
members, irresponsible doctors, and the profit-oriented pharmaceutical industry.
Two authors who had showed initial interest in contributing their experiences
with withdrawal later took back their offer because they had "relapsed." One of
them reported that she had mistimed her withdrawal to concur with a breakup. The
other informed me that she was in a clinic again because she had experienced another
psychosis. Did she experience what those in the field call a "withdrawal psychosis,"
or was she just overwhelmed with the sudden return of old problems that had yet
to be worked through?
Throughout my endeavor to address this subject,
I've been cautious enough never to urge others to stop taking psychiatric drugs.
I was careful to only approach those who had already quit before I sent out my
call for articles. Nonetheless, I wonder if I may have been responsible for leading
others to quit in an unconsidered and potentially dangerous way just by having
published material on the subject.
Ever since the emergence of
psychiatric drugs, many people who have taken prescriptions have made their own
decision to quit. One can only speculate how many people have attempted to quit
after having been exposed to the idea in an uninformed way only to experience
a "relapse" and eventually another prolonged administration of the drugs. I think
it is safe to say that a great number of attempts to quit would have been more
successful if those wishing to quit and those around them had been better informed
as to the potential problems that may arise as well as of means for preventing
the often-prophesied relapse. With only a few exceptions, many professionals have
little considered how they can support their clients who have decided to withdraw.
Responses such as turning their backs on clients and leaving them alone with their
problems indicate that professionals have little sense of responsibility regarding
The many different methods of successfully withdrawing
from psychiatric drugs cannot be represented in a single book. As the editor of
this book, it was important to me that "my" authors, with the exception of the
contributing professionals, openly describe the personal path they took as well
as the wishes and fears that accompanied them. They were told that there was only
one thing they should not do, namely, to tell others what they should do or to
offer surefire prescriptions for how to withdraw. Every reader must be aware of
the potential problems and the possibilities, of their own personal strengths
and weaknesses, and of their individual limitations and desires such that they
can find their own means and their own way of reaching their goal. These reports
by individuals who have successfully withdrawn are intended to show that it is
possible to reach this goal and to live free of psychiatric drugs.
sincere thanks go to the numerous good people, who have helped with proof-reading
and other preparatory tasks, in particular, to Chie Ishii, Christina White, Craig
Newnes, David Oaks, Jeffrey M. Masson, Joey Depew, Laura Ziegler, Marc Rufer,
Mary Murphy, Mary Nettle, Ronald J. Bartle, Tricia R. Owsley and Wolfram Pfreundschuh.
Without friends and supporters I would have been lost.
are no longer living: Ilse Gold, who died on September 7, 1998 from breast cancer,
which developed after the psychiatric treatment, and Erwin Redig, who quitted
his life on June 14, 1999 after repeated violent psychiatric treatment. They had
deserved a life of a hundred years.
Berlin, April 14, 2004
to Coming off Psychiatric Drugs