Pill shaming, Giles Fraser and happy pills

10 Aug
Photo courtesy of medicalhumour.wordpress.com

Photo courtesy of medicalhumour.wordpress.com

What’s hot and what’s not in media land? Fashions ebb and flow. Mental health stories come in and out of the spotlight. Recently, the  supposed psychiatrist vs psychologist war has been stoked. This past week, we’ve had various pundits rehashing the old, old story that mental illness doesn’t really exist. Today, it was the turn of Giles Fraser to spin this line, having made the same case on BBC Radio 4’s debate show the Moral Maze.

Fr Giles has had what I hope will turn out to be an education by twitter’s expert’s by experience and experts by profession. I’ve been commenting on twitter today. Various writers have put it far better than I could, so I’ll let their words speak for me by picking what I consider to be three of the best rebuttals:

Many others have written excellent pieces and all the relevant links I’ve come across are also linked below. Enjoy.

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Mainstream media (pill shaming):

  • Psychiatrists: the drug pushers

    Guardian newspaperWill Self  – “Is the current epidemic of depression and hyperactivity the result of disease-mongering by the psychiatric profession and big pharma? Does psychiatry have any credibility left at all?” (3rd August)

  • The Moral Maze – The Pursuit of Happiness

    BBC Radio 4 – “As a nation we have a reputation for being phlegmatic, stiff upper-lipped types. The reality, it seems, could hardly be further from that caricature. When it comes to anxiety and depression, we’re a nation of pill poppers.” Debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy, Kenan Malik and Giles Fraser, and witnesses David Pearce (World Transhumanist Association / Humanity Plus), Alison Murdoch (Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom) Oliver James (clinical psychologist and author) and Mark Williamson (Action for Happiness) (7th August)

  • Taking pills for unhappiness reinforces the idea that being sad is not human

    Guardian newspaper – Giles Fraser “If you have a terrible job or home life, being unhappy is hardly inappropriate. Pathologising it can only make everything worse.” (9th August) (twitter: @giles_fraser)

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Rebuttals – mainstream media:

  1. Letters – Psychiatry, drugs and the future of mental healthcare

    Guardian newspaper (rebuttals to the Will Self piece) (7th August)

  2. Depression is not the same as “being sad”, Giles Fraser

    New StatesmanGlosswitch (twitter: @glosswitch) – “Casual “let’s not pathologise sadness” musings don’t contribute much to the debate about medication for depression. I’m writing this post to dispel a few myths about depression and the use of medication. I should mention, however, that I’m none of the following: psychiatrist, psychologist, pharmacist, biologist, philosopher, renowned expert in happiness and the inner workings of every human soul. That said, neither is Giles Fraser, the Guardian’s Loose Canon, but he hasn’t let that stop him.” (10th August)

  3. Depression is more than simple unhappiness

    Guardian newspaper – Margaret McCartney (twitter: @mgtmccartney) – “Antidepressants may be overprescribed, but as a GP I know the solution is not to minimise the experience of this condition.” (12th August)

  4. We don’t know if antidepressants work, so stop bashing them 

    Guardian newspaper, SciencePete Etchells (twitter: @petetchells) – “It’s a difficult debate, because it is so often emotionally charged on both sides. The best thing that we can do is to look at the data for answers.” (15th August) – An examination of scientific studies into anti-depressant use, including the 2 main ones that say they do and do not work.

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Rebuttals – blogosphere:

  1. My tweets (Storify)
  2. Doctor, Doctor… Pt 2

    Tania Browne blog (twitter: @CherryMakes) –“I read an article today that shows the stigma of mental health that hinders people seeking help isn’t going to go away any time soon. Speaking in The Guardian’s Comment section, Giles Fraser suggested that we may be too happy just to pop to the doc and get some jolly old pills to cheer us up when sadness is a very normal side of the human condition.” (10th August)

  3. For Giles Fraser, ignorance truly is bliss

    The Dirty Ho blog (twitter: @the_dirty_ho) – “In his recent article Giles Fraser allows a valid underlying point to be undermined by his profound lack of understanding of depression.”) (10th August)

  4. In the interests of clarity, Giles Fraser should exercise the right to reply

    The Dirty Ho blog (twitter: @the_dirty_ho) (11th August)

  5. Response to Giles Fraser’s Latest Article on Depression

    Elliot Hollingsworth blog (twitter: @ElliotHollings) – “I have a lot of time for Giles Fraser. However his latest article in the Guardian’s Comment is Free seems fairly lax on the facts and also on the difference between normal sadness and the mental illness, depression.” (10th August)

  6. Giles Fraser and mental health: When the Church fails at being a church, when the spiritual let down spirituality

    by Heathen Hub blog (twitter: @gurdur) (10th August)

  7. Common Misconceptions About Depression

    A Hot Bath Won’t Cure It blog (twitter: @chloemiriam) -– BINGO! – “In rebuttal to Giles Fraser’s poorly argued piece on anti depressants and ADHD medication, which may have hit ‘common misconceptions about depression BINGO!”  I am inspired to reply in a somewhat tired and mixed up manner.” (10th August)

  8. Dear Giles Fraser, Depression and Unhappiness are NOT the Same

    Gibbs Gubbins blog (twitter: @msjenmac) (10th August)

  9. Depression, Anti-Psychiatry and Christianity

    Los the Skald blog (twitter: @lostheskald) – “In his Guardian column today, Fr. Giles Fraser presents an argument which, has, in various guises, been with us since at least the 1960s: that mental illness, and specifically depression, is the ‘pathologisation of sadness’, and that biochemical treatments for depression are an example of ‘the scientists [being] called in to reinforce generally conservative norms of appropriate behaviour’. This post responds to his article by assessing the ‘anti-psychiatry’ tradition within which it falls, discussing some differences between sadness and depression, examining this difference in the Old Testament, and suggesting a Christian response to mental illness based on the stories of healings and exorcisms performed by Jesus in the Gospels.” (10th August)

  10. The Continuum Concept – why your sadness is not my depression

    Mental Health Cop (twitter: @MentalHealthCop) – “I recently read the piece you are about to read – a service user’s reaction to a recent media piece – and was totally blown away …” Reblogged piece, plus introduction (11th August)

  11. My “peculiar reaction” to Giles Fraser’s thoughts on anti-depressants

    Nurture My Baby blog (twitter: @nurturemybaby) (10th August)

  12. The continuum concept: why your sadness is not my depression

    Purple Pursuasion blog (twitter: @bipolar blogger) – “Modern medicine is widely held to be A Good Thing. It is allowing us to live longer, healthier lives than at any other point in human history. The media loves the story of a scientific breakthrough and the promise of yet more astounding treatments in years to come, whether through improved surgical techniques, gene therapy or new, more effective drug treatments.Unless, that is, we’re talking about the modern medicine of psychiatry. Suddenly, the ground shifts and medication is viewed with suspicion, even disgust. Antidepressants become “happy pills”; using drugs as directed by a doctor is described as being “hooked” or “addicted.” (10th August)

  13. Depression is not Being a Bit Sad

    A Reflex Anglican blog by Eileen Fitzroy Russell (9th August)

  14. Sadness and Depression – NOT the same thing

    Ruby Wax‘s website (12th August)

  15. Plaster of paris on a broken leg reinforces the idea that having a broken limb is not human

    Ruth Stirton blog (twitter: @RuthStirton) – “Giles Fraser misses the point. His entire comment is premised on the idea that being sad, and having clinical depression are on the same spectrum. Of course clinical depression can be solved with diet and exercise, because we all know that those things make us feel better if we’re having a sad day. No. Wrong. Clinical depression is a different thing entirely.” (10th August)

  16. Forgive him father, for he knows not what he does

    The Dirty Ho blog (twitter: @thedirtyho) (14th August)

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Older pieces – mainstream media:

  • Britain – the Prozac Nation? Not So Fast

    Discover Magazine – by Neuroskeptic (twitter: @neuro_skeptic) – “The media coverage has been predictable with lots of scary, context-free statistics, and boilerplate quotes from the usual suspects. No doubt tomorrow we’ll see a selection of moralistic op-eds about this. But not one of the many nigh-identical articles provided a link to the original data, or even a useful description of where one might find it. After contacting one of the NHS organizations named as the source, I managed to track the numbers down.” (December 2011)

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Older pieces – blogosphere:

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Additional:

  • Depression

    Royal College of Psychiatrists

  • Resources for churches

    Time to Change – “We aim to encourage organisations from all sectors and communities to challenge stigma and discrimination. One example of this is work that the Church of England have done to get church congregations talking about mental health. The Revd Eva McIntyre has produced a web resource providing ideas and resources for churches to plan worship on the theme of mental health.”

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4 Responses to “Pill shaming, Giles Fraser and happy pills”

  1. 123be 12 August 2013 at 11:50 am #

    …I think it’s not so much the argument of whether or not mental illness “exists”, it’s the framing of it exclusively within biomedical terminology that seems to be the difficulty many people (including myself) seem to have. Distress and despair are real, damaging, terrifying, heartbreaking and dreadful experiences. But why are such things felt only to be “real” if they are allied to genes and chemicals…? marking people as “other” as a result of (unproven) biological differences is the wet-dream of eugenics and it is disturbing to hear such theories propounded as “empowering” and “therapeutic”. Biomedical disregard the human condition and any ideas of free will. It also relieves us of our social responsibilities towards each other, disregarding the importance of challenging and defeating the abuse of all kinds at all levels of society. But none of these arguments amount to the idea that mental distress does not exist, just that we need a different way of talking about it.

    • Sectioned 18 August 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. There’s a lot to unpack. In essence, though, what you appear to be criticising is – according to several of the rebuttals linked above – a false dichotomy. Take a look and see what you think.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. In the interests of clarity, Giles Fraser should exercise the right to reply | thedirtyho - 11 August 2013

    […] There has been much furore over the Giles Fraser article on depression, or against drug companies, depending on how you read it. The overwhelming reaction has been a queue of people lining up to inform Giles he really doesn’t understand depression if he thinks it is having a shit job or shit home life, many of which have been collated here. […]

  2. Is shaming the ‘pill-shamers’ shutting down debate? | Discursive of Tunbridge Wells - 10 November 2015

    […] Besides the authors being accused of rehashing clichéd arguments, they were also chastised for trivialising the experience of living with a mental health problem. Above all though, they were criticised for implying that people who take psychiatric medication […]

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