By Dr. Mercola
In light of a long list of mass shootings over the past several years, the causative role of psychiatric drugs in violent events will undoubtedly have to be evaluated and addressed at some point. Personally, I’d vote for sooner, rather than later.
Antidepressants in particular have a well-established history of causing violent side effects, including suicide and homicide. In a recent Scientific American1article, the author states:
“Once again, antidepressants have been linked to an episode of horrific violence. The New York Times2 reports that Aaron Alexis, who allegedly shot 12 people to death at a Navy facility in Washington, DC, earlier this week, received a prescription for the antidepressant trazodone3 in August.”
The drug in question, trazodone, has been associated with:4
“New or worsening depression; thinking about harming or killing yourself, or planning or trying to do so; extreme worry; agitation; panic attacks; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; aggressive behavior; irritability; acting without thinking; severe restlessness; and frenzied abnormal excitement.”
The naval yard shooting is just the latest event to bring questions about prescription medications to the fore, but it bears noting that in this particular case no evidence has yet been released confirming that the shooter had the drug in his system at the time of the massacre.
Still, questions about the safety, or lack thereof, of antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs really need to be addressed regardless of whether they were instrumental in this particular case. Just last year, a Canadian judge ruled that a teenage boy murdered his friend because of the effects of Prozac.
When will such side effects be taken seriously? Just how many people have to kill themselves or others before a drug is considered too dangerous to be prescribed?
In a paper titled Antidepressants and Violence: Problems at the Interface of Medicine and Law,5 David Healy, a British professor of psychiatry at Cardiff University and an authority on side effects of psychiatric drugs, writes:
“Legal systems are likely to continue to be faced with cases of violence associated with the use of psychotropic drugs, and it may fall to the courts to demand access to currently unavailable data. The problem is international and calls for an international response.”
Potential Side Effects of Antidepressants = Violence and Worsened Depression
In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised6 the labeling requirements for antidepressant medications (SSRI’s and others), warning that:
“Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders.
Anyone considering the use of [Insert established name] or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need.”
These labeling revisions were in large part driven by lawsuits, in which pharmaceutical companies were forced to reveal previously undisclosed drug data. For example, a civil lawsuit filed in 20047 charged GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) with fraud, claiming the drug manufacturer hid results from studies on Paxil showing the drug did not work in adolescents and in some cases led to suicidal ideation. Rather than warning doctors of such potential side effects, GSK actually encouraged them to prescribe the drug to teens and children.
According to DrugWatch.com,8 GSK has agreed to pay out more than $1 billion to settle more than 800 different lawsuits related to Paxil—and that’s over and above the $3 billion it agreed to pay to settle the Department of Justice’s investigation into illegal marketing of Paxil and other drugs!
In an effort to gather the necessary data on adverse side effects, Healy and other healthcare experts have formed an organization called RxISK.9 It’s a free, independent website where patients, doctors, and pharmacists can report side effects and research prescription drugs of all kinds. I’d encourage you to bookmark it and refer to it when needed.
Antidepressants and ADHD Drugs Top List of Most Violence-Inducing Drugs
Please note that antidepressants are not the only type of drugs associated with violent, homicidal behavior, but they are among the most common suspects. A study10 by the Institute of Safe Medication Practices published in 2010 identified no less than 31 commonly-prescribed drugs that are disproportionately associated with cases of violent acts. Topping the list is the quit-smoking drug Chantix, followed by Prozac and Paxil, and drugs used to treat ADHD.
The data was collected from the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), and it’s well worth noting here that only an estimated one to 10 percent of all side effects are ever reported to VAERS, so the fact that more than 1,500 violent acts were actually reported as being linked to any given drug is pretty amazing. The vast majority of side effects, regardless of what they are, are typically blamed on something else and connections are brushed aside as “coincidental.”
In all, five of the top 10 most violence-inducing drugs were found to be antidepressants:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
According to Professor Healy, a study by the Drug Safety Research Unit in Southampton showed that one in every 250 subjects taking Paxil or Prozac were involved in a violent episode. In a study group of 25,000 people, this included 31 assaults and one homicide. In 2011, a whopping 14 million prescriptions for Paxil and more than 25.5 million prescriptions for Prozac were written.11 This could potentially equate to some 158,000 drug-induced incidents of violence annually from these two drugs alone. As reported in the featured article:12
“Another study involving more than 9,000 subjects taking the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil) for depression and other disorders showed that subjects experienced more than twice as many ‘hostility events’ as subjects taking a placebo.” … Healy suspects that the main causal factor behind suicide and violence toward others is increased mental and/or physical agitation, which leads about five percent of subjects taking antidepressants to drop out of clinical trials, compared to only 0.5 percent of people on placebos.”
Another two in that top 10 list of violence-promoting drugs are commonly-prescribed ADHD medications (including Strattera). When you consider that antidepressants and ADHD drugs are among the most prescribed types of drugs13 in the US, the fact that so many of them are linked to increased rates of violence should be cause for pause. Besides an increased risk of violent episodes, ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Vyvanse, Strattera, and Adderall (and their generic equivalents) are also responsible for nearly 23,000 emergency room visits annually, as of 2011 statistics. Over a mere six-year span, there’s been a 400 percent increase in ER visits due to side effects of these drugs.
Use Antipsychotic Medications with More Care, Psychiatrists Say
In related news,14 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently issued a statement urging doctors and patients to reconsider the practice of using anti-psychotic medications as the first line of treatment for:
- Dementia in the elderly
- Behavior problems in children, or
- Insomnia in adults
The drugs in question include Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, and Abilify. APA’s recommendation with regards to anti-psychotic drug prescriptions is part of a larger campaign called Choosing Wisely,15 which covers a wide array of common medical practices that patients and doctors would do well to question, as they may cause more harm than good. Joel Yager, a psychiatry professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, told USA Today:
“Doctors who overprescribe the medications are doing what they think might help, often without first trying safer or more effective alternatives.”
Key Factors to Overcoming Depression Without Drugs
It’s important to realize that your diet and general lifestyle are foundational factors that must be opitimized if you want to resolve your mental health issues, because your body and mind are so closely interrelated. Depression is indeed a very serious condition; however, it is not a “disease.” Rather, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance.
Mounting and compelling research demonstrates just how interconnected your mental health is with your gastrointestinal health, for example. While many think of their brain as the organ in charge of their mental health, your gut may actually play a far more significant role. The drug treatments available today for depression are no better than they were 50 years ago. Clearly, we need a new approach, and diet is an obvious place to start.
Research tells us that the composition of your gut flora not only affects your physical health, but also has a significant impact on your brain function and mental state. Previous research has also shown that certain probiotics can even help alleviate anxiety16,17. The place to start is to return balance—to your body and your life. Fortunately, research confirms that there are safe and effective ways to address depression that do not involve unsafe drugs. These include:
- Dramatically decrease your consumption of refined sugar (particularly fructose), grains, and processed foods. (In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.) There’s a great book on this subject, The Sugar Blues, written by William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into the topic of sugar and mental health in great detail.
- Increase consumption of probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables and kefir, to promote healthy gut flora. Mounting evidence tells us that having a healthy gut is profoundly important for both physical and mental health, and the latter can be severely impacted by an imbalance of intestinal bacteria.
- Get adequate vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through regular sun exposure. Vitamin D is very important for your mood. In one study, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels.18 The best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to SUNSHINE, not swallowing a tablet. Remember, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression that we know is related to sunshine deficiency, so it would make sense that the perfect way to optimize your vitamin D is through sun exposure, or a safe tanning bed if you don’t have regular access to the sun.
- Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fats. Many people don’t realize that their brain is 60 percent fat, but not just any fat. It is DHA, an animal based omega-3 fat which, along with EPA, is crucial for good brain function and mental health.19Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough from diet alone. Make sure you take a high-quality omega-3 fat, such as krill oil. Dr. Stoll, a Harvard psychiatrist, was one of the early leaders in compiling the evidence supporting the use of animal based omega-3 fats for the treatment of depression. He wrote an excellent book that details his experience in this area called The Omega-3 Connection.
- Evaluate your salt intake. Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do NOT use processed salt (regular table salt), however. You’ll want to use an all-natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.
- Get adequate daily exercise, which is one of the most effective strategies for preventing and overcoming depression. Studies on exercise as a treatment for depression have shown there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. So there’s a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.
- Get adequate amounts of sleep. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible, but if you aren’t sleeping well you can easily become depressed. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression.
What the Future May Hold
A recent article in The Guardian20 suggests psychiatric drugs may soon be rendered obsolete, in favor of neurotechnology. “No longer focused on developing pills, a huge research effort is now devoted to altering the function of specific neural circuits by physical intervention in the brain,” Vaughan Bell writes, noting that virtually all pharmaceutical companies have closed down or curtailed their research and development of new psychiatric drugs.
The latest “craze” in this field has instead been redirected toward the understanding—and manipulation—of neural networks, with the aim to modify behavior by stimulating specific brain circuits deep within your brain. Some of these procedures include the implanting of electrodes into the brain, for example. According to the article:
“Big money has already been committed. The Obama White House has promised $3 billion to develop technology to help identify brain circuits, while the National Institute of Mental Health has promised to move its seven-figure funding away from research into conditions such as schizophrenia and depression towards a system that looks at how brain networks contribute to difficulties that are shared across diagnoses. This project, given the unspectacular name Research Domain Criteria or the RdoC Project, is being cited as an eventual replacement for the diagnostic system used by current-day psychiatrists.”
One of the latest technologies in this area, called optogenetics, involves “injecting neurons with a benign virus that contains the genetic information for light-sensitive proteins.” As a result of this injection, your brain cells become light-sensitive, allowing them to be remotely controlled via flashes of light sent through fiber optic cables implanted into your brain.
“Let’s make this clear. The scientific revolution in identifying and manipulating brain circuits is already under way,”Vaughan writes. “… Advances in neuroscience are not just discoveries, they also shape, as they always have done, how we view ourselves. As the Prozac nation fades, the empire of the circuit-based human will rise…”
Whether or not this will actually make for happier, healthier, more balanced people is questionable, if you ask me. Yet this is what we may have to contend with in the future.
The Benefits of Energy Psychology
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a form of psychological acupressure based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments for over 5,000 years, but without the invasiveness of needles. Instead, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to transfer kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem — whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, anxiety, etc. — and voice positive affirmations.
This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the “short-circuit”—the emotional block—from your body’s bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body’s balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.
Some people are initially wary of these principles that EFT is based on — the electromagnetic energy that flows through the body and regulates our health is only recently becoming recognized in the West. Others are initially taken aback by (and sometimes amused by) the EFT tapping and affirmation methodology. But believe me when I say that, more than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, EFT has the most potential to literally work magic.
Clinical trials have shown that EFT is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, the body can often rebalance itself, and accelerate healing. For example, one study involving 30 moderately to severely depressed college students showed significantly less depression than the control group when evaluated three weeks after receiving a total of four 90-minute EFT sessions.21
A study of 100 veterans with severe PTSD22 who participated in the Iraq Vets Stress Project showed an astounding reduction of symptoms after just six one-hour EFT sessions. After completing six sessions, 90 percent of the veterans had such a reduction in symptoms that they no longer met the clinical criteria for PTSD. Sixty percent no longer met PTSD criteria after only three EFT sessions. At the three-month follow-up, the gains remained stable, suggesting lasting and potentially permanent resolution of the problem.
In the following videos, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman shows how you can use EFT to relieve your depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. But remember, most of the time one is placed on medication, there are serious emotional health challenges going on. It is imperative to recognize that doing EFT by yourself will likely not work for this problem. You need to be seen by an EFT professional who is experienced and can help guide you through the process Those who suffer from depression really should see a qualified EFT therapist.23
Important Concluding Thoughts
I know firsthand that depression is devastating. It takes a toll on the healthiest of families and can destroy lifelong friendships. Few things are harder in life than watching someone you love lose their sense of joy, hope, and purpose in life, and wonder if they will ever find it again. And to not have anything within your power that can change things for them. You wonder if you will ever have your loved one “back” again.
It’s impossible to impart the will to live to somebody who no longer possesses it. No amount of logic, reasoning, or reminders about all they have to live for will put a smile back on the face of a loved one masked by the black cloud of depression. I urge everyone to familiarize yourself with the most common warning signs of severe depression and suicide risk, and don’t hesitate to intervene if you recognize them in someone you know, and/or seek help if you experience them yourself.
There are times when a prescription drug may be helpful. But it’s unclear whether it is the drug providing benefits, or the unbelievable power of your mind that is convinced it is going to work. Studies have found that up to 75 percent of the benefits ofantidepressants can be duplicated by a placebo.
Oftentimes you cannot change your circumstances. You can, however, change your response to them. I encourage you to be balanced in your life. Don’t ignore your body’s warning signs that something needs to change. Sometimes people are so busy taking care of everybody else that they lose sight of themselves. If you have been personally affected by depression, my heart goes out to you. A broken body can be easier to fix than a broken mind. Depression is real. It is my hope that you don’t feel judged here, but that you are encouraged and inspired by those who have been there.
Sources and References
- 1 Scientific American September 20, 2013
- 2 New York Times September 17, 2013
- 3 MedlinePlus, Trazodone
- 4 MedlinePlus, Trazodone
- 5 PLoS Med 3(9): e372
- 6 FDA.gov, Revisions to Product Labeling (PDF)
- 7 New York Times June 3, 2004
- 8 Drugwatch.com Paxil Lawsuits
- 9 RxISK.org
- 10 PLoS ONE 5(12): e15337
- 11 Psychcentral.com, Prescriptions for 2011
- 12 Scientific American September 20, 2013
- 13 CDC.gov, Therapeutic Drug Use
- 14 USAToday.com September 21, 2013
- 15 Choosingwisely.org
- 16 Neurogastroenterology and Motility 2011 Dec;23(12):1132-9
- 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5.
- 18 American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry December 2006; 14(12): 1032-1040
- 19 Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Mental Health, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Evidence Report/Technology Assessment: Number 116
- 20 The Guardian September 21, 2013
- 21 Brief Group Intervention Using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) for Depression in College Students
- 22 Veterans Stress Project
- 23 EFTregister.com