Psychiatry today is a barren tundra, writes medical historian Edward Shorter, where drugs that don't work are used to treat diseases that don't exist. In this provocative volume, Shorter illuminates this dismal landscape, in a revealing account of why psychiatry is "losing ground" in the struggle to treat depression.
Naturally, the book looks at such culprits as the pharmaceutical industry, which is not inclined to market drugs once the patent expires, leading to the endless introduction of new - but not necessarily better - drugs. But the heart of the book focuses on an unexpected villain: the FDA, the very agency charged with ensuring drug safety and effectiveness. Shorter describes how the FDA permits companies to test new products only against placebo. If you can beat sugar pills, you get your drug licensed, whether or not it is actually better than (or even as good as) current medications, thus sweeping from the shelves drugs that may be superior but have lost patent protection. The book also examines the FDA's early power struggles against the drug industry, an influence-grab that had little to do with science, and which left barbiturates, opiates, and amphetamines all underprescribed, despite the fact that under careful supervision they are better at treating depression, with fewer side effects, than the newer drugs in the Prozac family. Shorter also castigates academia, showing how two forms of depression, melancholia and nonmelancholia - "as different from each other as chalk and cheese" - became squeezed into one dubious classification, major depression, which was essentially a political artifact born of academic infighting.
An astonishing and troubling look at modern psychiatry, Losing Ground is a book that is sure to spark controversy for years to come.
About the author
Edward Shorter is the Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire, shortlisted for the 2005 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. He is also a two-time winner of the Royal Society of Canada’s Hannah Medal for writing in the history of medicine.
Other titles by Edward Shorter
The Heartbeat of Innovation
A History of Cardiac Surgery at the Toronto General Hospital
The Rise and Fall of the Age of Psychopharmacology
Partnership for Excellence
Medicine at the University of Toronto and Academic Hospitals
The Madness of Fear
A History of Catatonia
How Everyone Became Depressed
The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown
Solving the Riddle of Melancholia
A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness
Written in the Flesh
A History of Desire