Prozac's Worst Enemy

A psychiatrist argues in books and on TV that drugs don't help the mentally ill. His critics say he's crazy

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The psychiatrist's credibility is not helped by the air of flakiness that surrounds his life and work. Lilly regularly links him to the Church of Scientology, which has long been a rabid opponent of psychiatry. Breggin admits that he was once an ally of the group and that his wife was a member. But he insists they both renounced Scientology more than two decades ago. Lilly, meanwhile, has combed through his old books and articles in search of anything embarrassing -- just like the conservatives who used Lani Guinier's writings to scuttle her nomination to serve in the Justice Department. In Breggin's case, his opponents found a doozy: the doctor once wrote approvingly of sexual relations between children. "I don't agree with that anymore," Breggin says now, accusing Lilly of character assassination. "That's from a period in the '60s, and I've certainly left that far behind."

Unfortunately, what gets lost in the cross fire is any serious consideration of Breggin's ideas. Amid extremely dubious assertions like the notion that drugs don't help schizophrenics, Breggin makes some points that many psychiatrists would agree with. Among them: too many doctors prescribe drugs for minor depression or anxiety without talking to patients long enough to understand their problems. Too many patients look for pills to smooth out the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life. And powerful psychoactive drugs can indeed be dangerous if used cavalierly.

It would be better if Breggin, the loudest voice making those points, were less shrill and more reasonable. But then, the calmer voices never seem to make it onto Oprah.

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