To the Editor:
Richard A. Friedman, a psychiatrist, states in “Unhappiness by Itself Doesn’t Cause Suicide” (letter, Aug. 26) that suicide is a disease and that psychiatric interventions have proved their effectiveness. Both contentions lack scientific substantiation. Despite constant assertions by psychiatrists, there is no scientific evidence that depression is a biological or genetic disease.
Clinical experience and research tend to confirm instead that depression results from life experiences, making it indistinguishable from the concept of unhappiness. Depression is simply another word for a particular kind of human unhappiness, frequently involving feelings of self-blame, self-destructiveness and hopelessness. Calling it “clinical depression” or “major depression” provides an aura of medical authority without an actual medical basis.
There is no scientific evidence that any psychiatric treatment reduces the suicide rate. Electroshock, for example, is frequently held out by psychiatrists as “life-saving,” and yet there is not a single study that demonstrates its usefulness in preventing suicide.
At the Aug. 20-23 meetings of the American Psychological Association in Toronto, researchers questioned whether or not antidepressants in reality offer anything more than a placebo (“sugar pill”) effect. The Food and Drug Administration requires the manufacturers of antidepressants to warn physicians that the drugs cannot be relied upon to alleviate suicidal feelings.
The antidepressants are the most commonly used psychiatric treatments for depression, yet they sometimes do more harm than good. There are numerous reports that antidepressants, especially Prozac, can increase the suicide rate.
Since most antidepressants are highly toxic and frequently used in successful suicide attempts, their widespread availability probably increases the overall suicide rate, much as the availability of guns increases the murder rate.
Unhappiness characterized by hopelessness, self-blame, and self-destructiveness is a serious problem; but psychiatry’s claims for curing it are not supported by scientific evidence.
PETER R. BREGGIN, M.D. Director, Center for the Study of Psychiatry Bethesda, Md., Aug. 30, 1993