‘First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you …’*

Summary:

I respond to some of the points in the recent Rolling Stone article and correct the many inaccuracies and distortions. 

Ignoring is no longer working, so champions of big Pharma and mainstream psychiatry have gone into attack mode. The strategy is to undermine the messenger (me) in order to neutralise the message. In this case the message is the bombshell that there is no evidence that depression is a brain chemical imbalance and antidepressants do not do what people have been told they do. In fact, the scientific community does not know what antidepressants do but, they reassure people, they still ‘work’ so it doesn’t matter.

Apparently our finding is so obvious that it ‘was met with yawns by the psychiatric community’. Yet the public were kept in the dark about the lack of evidence for a chemical imbalance for three decades in what an Australian psychiatrist recently called a ‘scourge on our profession’. And the public are very interested. The original paper is in the top 500 most shared scientific papers of the 21 million that have even been tracked, and our article about it in the Conversation has had over a million views.

In a time-honoured tactic, the article attempts to discredit me by association. But now it is not just the Scientologists, although they are thrown in for good measure (and for the record I have never had any association with the Scientologists), but the ‘right-wing media’. The article points out that right wing commentators such as Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh have covered our research. It goes on to suggest that I have ‘promoted.. the belief that SSRIs are linked to aggressive behaviour’, which is described as a ‘fringe view’ that has been used by right wing media to argue against gun controls in the US in the wake of school shootings. What I actually did was comment on research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that found links between antidepressants and aggressive behaviour (as well as suicide) in young people. My comments were published in an invited editorial in the BMJ, and also on my blog. I hardly think this is ‘promoting’ anything, certainly not a ‘fringe view’.

The journalist does present my response to these issues, but bringing them up seems to suggest that because of this we should never have publicised or maybe even done our research. This amounts to the suggestion that millions of people should be denied information about the drugs they put in their body every day because the message might be taken up by the ‘wrong’ people.

The article accuses me of ‘promoting widely disputed beliefs about the dangers of various mental health interventions such as antidepressants or alternative forms of treatment’. This is not accurate. Most of the adverse effects I have highlighted in my research are widely recognised, and those that are less well-recognised (such as post SSRI sexual dysfunction- which is now recognised officially by the European Medicines Agency) have not been ‘widely disputed,’ or indeed disputed at all.

One example given is that I supposedly ‘inaccurately linked’ Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treatment to an increased risk of cognitive impairment. I was surprised by this as I have never written about TMS or done any research on it. Then I saw that the link in the article referred to one tweet I did of a blog about a Facebook group where hundreds of patients report side effects of TMS, including cognitive impairment. Although cognitive impairment is not recognised currently as a side effect of TMS, we know that many adverse effects are reported by patients before they are detected or measured accurately in scientific studies (such as antidepressant withdrawal). In any case, it was not made clear that this accusation was based on a single tweet and not on any of my writing or research.

Another example is that I have apparently ‘aggressively championed the idea that SSRIs can cause lasting structural damage to the brain, authoring multiple papers to that effect’. It is highly misleading to omit the context here, and in fact the majority of the papers that are linked to do not make any claim about structural damage. In one invited editorial, I made the following suggestion ‘The brain is a delicate organ; it may not take much to permanently re-set its structure or function.’ My editorial discussed two other papers that covered the growing evidence about withdrawal effects and persistent sexual dysfunction reported by people who have stopped antidepressants, which may indicate lasting damage to brain structure or function. Readers surely deserve to have this context. The existence of persistent withdrawal and persistent sexual dysfunction have now been reported in many scientific papers and have not been widely disputed.

Another example provided is that in my blog and research I have ‘promoted the idea that withdrawing from SSRIs can cause long-term mania or psychotic symptoms’. This is completely incorrect. I have never promoted this idea. I have covered the existence of withdrawal symptoms in general, and discussed how these can commonly be severe, but I have never suggested that mania or psychosis were common withdrawal symptoms or ever highlighted these effects (which I agree with others are most likely extremely rare).

The article adds ‘the most common side effects of withdrawal, such as dizziness or gastrointestinal distress, are uncomfortable yet short-lived’. This idea that withdrawal is short-lived is no longer accepted. The Royal College of Psychiatrists website quotes the National Institute of health and social Care Excellence (NICE) saying ‘for some, withdrawal symptoms can be mild and go away relatively quickly, without the need for any help. Other people can have more severe symptoms which last much longer (sometimes months or more).’

Minimising antidepressants withdrawal in this way could lead people to stopping their antidepressants abruptly and suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. 

The article completely misrepresents my views on personal autonomy and health and the essay that I wrote about Szasz’s views on this in 2014. The essay is actually a consideration of the need for paternalism in some situations (i.e. the over-riding of personal autonomy). I actually mention pediatric vaccine mandates as examples of instances in which mandatory public health measures might be justified in the interests of the health and welfare of the population, not the opposite as implied.

The Rolling Stone article goes on to bring up my opposition to the NHS covid vaccine mandate. It claims that I ‘inaccurately connected severe Covid-19 symptoms to antidepressant or antipsychotic use (in fact, data from an observational study suggests that taking SSRIs may actually reduce a person’s risk of dying from Covid)’. This is highly misleading. I tweeted a link to a scientific study authored by the Public Health Scotland COVID-19 Health Protection Study Group which found an increased risk of severe covid with antipsychotics and antidepressants, along with other non-psychiatric drugs such as opioids. It is true that some other studies have suggested reduced mortality in people taking particular antidepressants, but this does not refute the findings of the Scottish study. The data is conflicting, as it so often is in the early stages of research on something. 

The article accuses me of having ‘dabbled in the same vein of light conspiratorial thinking’ with antidepressants as with the vaccines, but if my suggestion that financial motives along with ‘psychiatrists’ professional insecurity, and doctors’ perceived need to have something to offer’ have influenced research on antidepressants counts as conspiratorial thinking, then the whole of academic sociology, politics, history and a large amount of mainstream journalism consist of conspiratorial thinking.    

And to clear up a final issue, psychiatrist Awais Aftab suggests that I have ‘challenged the characterization of depression as a mental illness’. In serious philosophical articles published in academic journals, I have questioned whether it is justified, appropriate and helpful to conceive of the suffering and difficulties that we label as mental illness as a brain disease. I have never denied the reality of the suffering or the need to help people who are experiencing it.

Notes:

*This statement (often wrongly attributed to Gandhi in a slightly different form) was said by Nicholas Klein of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918.

19 thoughts on “‘First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you …’*

  1. Great that ignoring and ridiculing are not working any more, and soon attacking will fell as well, just keep up as you always do, and thank you very much for your hard work, you are strong and very clever.

  2. Resorting to using ridicule and attacks is a clear indication that the opposing view has no valid, scientific argument to offer.

    Thank you for all of the work that you do.

  3. Hi Joanna,

    Congratulations for your work and your team and what was recently published. Very important for science and for public health. I took the liberty to translate and edit your new post on your blog to be posted on Mad in Brasil. With affection and admiration Fernando

    Fernando Freitas PhD in Psychology Senior Researcher LAPS/ENSP/FIOCRUZ Rio de Janeiro

  4. Somehow I doubt the music journalists did all this academic research into your previous academic publications and corresponding activity on social media. For example, finding a single ancient tweet and deliberately distorting it to invent a specious argument is way beyond journalistic interest in a science paper – I’d lay a pound to a penny that the Rolling Stone article was researched by the pharmaceutical industry and fed to the paper – and if so, they ought to be ashamed of their editorial standards. The tactic is straight out of the playbook of the tobacco industry, climate deniers and the gun lobby.

  5. Wow!! Thank you so much for standing up for truth Dr Moncrieff. You are truly courageous. We need more doctors like you!

  6. You know you are on the right track when the system attacks you like this, hard as it is to take. Its the old white male handshake brigade whi feel threatened by any change. If you don’t know her check out Kelly Brogan.

  7. Hi Professor Moncrieff, you have millions behind you. I and my fellow admin teams from the psychotropic withdrawal groups across the internet are behind you all the way! Thank you for all you do. Keep up your phenomenal research work, it’s transformative and so very needed.

  8. I, for one, certainly experienced psychosis and mania when I abruptly quit antidepresants last year. I don’t know if this is rare or not, but the mania and psychosis were undoubtedly caused by the withdrawal.

  9. I completely agree with you- I think you are on to something and the powers that be are trying to shut you down as they know it! They also know that if this information is true- what the consequences of are- pretty much catastrophic to the pharmaceutical companies and the whole mental health system!!
    It’s about time, the treatments for mental health are further researched and based on evidence and fact rather than just “what has worked in the past” as some psychiatrists and neurologists have used as their main justification for using medication- without knowing it’s effects or reasons for using the medication (worrying in itself but also very dangerous!). We need outcome measured data to provide factual information to use for prescribing these drugs!!
    Too often it’s the pharmaceutical companies who pay to do the research and the therefore there is already a bias towards the research that is done!

    I, myself, as a health professional but also a patient, wonder the same as you whether antidepressants actually help depression- I have been on them for a few years now and then went on strike from having them as I did not see any positive effect (only the negative effects you have described) – weirdly, there was no difference in terms of my mood, only I experienced the negative withdrawal effects which are well known as you say!! This makes me wonder how effective are the antidepressants if after 3 yrs being on them I haven’t noticed a difference???

    Please keep investigating and researching – the patients out there need the truth in order to receive the right treatment!
    Thank you

    Tanya (patient and ex specialist health professional, lead of a service and MSc in my specialism).

  10. Pingback: Nº 76 Julio-Agosto 2022 – Psicobotikas

  11. Reading your latest book on psychiatric drugs is changing my practice – I had never come accross your work before but what an aboslute joy to know it exists! Du courage! … maybe in the same way that childbirth is physically painful, the new cannot not challenge the old, causing psychological pain to the belief in the old. Bravo!

  12. Thank you Joanna for your important work and setting the misinformation straight. I have long been a follower of you and your research after the Zoloft induced suicide of my husband Woody in 2003.

    I have been observing what is happening to those who critique, question or were harmed by the COVID vaccine get destroyed/discredited by MSM. It brought me back to the 2004 and 2006 FDA suicide hearings. This seems to be same behaviors all over and now suddenly it is seen as “right wing” or conspiracy.

    It seems this is the new normal if you don’t agree or question Big Pharma products, politics and policies.

    For the millions and millions of people who have been sold “chemical imbalance” and have suffered the consequences… thank you.

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