Friday, June 19, 2009

Depressed? Eat dirt!

The webmaster of the website SSRI Stories, Betty Henderson, was a guest on Jones' show last week. Though Ms. Henderson is polite and sincere, and clearly has the very best of intentions, her grasp of mental illness and its treatment is roughly on par with Dr. Marvin Monroe's.

SSRI Stories compiles scare stories from media sources in an attempt to show that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are too dangerous to be on the market. Most of these stories involve murders, school shootings, suicides, and assorted atrocities committed by people who were taking SSRIs, as if this proves that the drugs, and not pre-existing mental conditions, caused the people to commit such actions. I'm not going to go into the whole SSRI controversy here; I'll just say that I believe the severe side effects that concern Henderson and others are rare, can be detected early with proper supervision, and are not sufficient reason to dismiss the beneficial effects that many people receive from this class of drugs.

It is Henderson's contention that SSRIs don't treat depression; they cause mental illness and homicidal behaviour.

Henderson pointed out that O.J. Simpson was on antidepressants. So was Phil Hartman's wife. As Jones has pointed out many times, several school shooters were on antidepressants. In fact, said Henderson, "We didn't have these school shootings until 1988, when Prozac came out." She identifies the first school shooter as Laurie Dann, a troubled young Jewish woman who shot several elementary-school students in Illinois. Surprisingly, Jones did not jump in to speculate that the ADL put Dann up to it.

This statement tells me that Betty Henderson is not well-acquainted with her subject of choice. Here are just a few of the school massacres that occurred prior to 1988 (you'll find many more at Wikipedia):

- 1891: The first "motiveless" U.S. school shooting was much like those that followed, though the shooter remains the oldest on record (70). James Foster fired on several boys in a school playground in Newburgh, New York.

- 1927: A disgruntled janitor bombed a school in Bath Township, Ohio. This is still the largest school massacre in U.S. history, and it occurred a full 64 years before Prozac hit the market. [corrections: actually, the bomber was a maintenance man, and a member of the school board, and the bombing occurred 59 years before Prozac was introduced in parts of Europe.]

- 1940: The vice principal of South Pasadena Junior High summoned school district officials to a meeting in his office. Then he killed five of them with his .22 pistol, permanently injured a sixth, and shot himself. He didn't die, but he always insisted that he couldn't remember his own actions on what came to be known as "the Monday Massacre". His psychiatrist, however, concluded that Verlin Spencer viewed himself as an educational crusader and staged a near-suicide so he could "remain the center of attention, commanding that position in a grisly triumph over imaginary enemies." Whether this explanation has any validity or not, Verlin Spencer was one messed-up dude... without SSRIs.

- 1966: Charles Whitman ascended the belltower at the University of Texas and sprayed bullets onto the campus, killing and wounding numerous students. This occurred in Austin, Alex Jones' base of operations.

- 1975: Ottawa teenager Robert Poulin raped and murdered a neighbor girl, set fire to his house, then shot up a school.

- 1979: Teenage Brenda Spencer fired on kids and teachers at a school across the street from her home. Her explanation for why she did it has become almost as famous as the mountaineers' standby "because it was there": "I don't like Mondays."

- Though Marc Lepine murdered students at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, it's fairly obvious from his suicide note that he had been contemplating such an action for a long time, possibly as early as 1984, when Denis Lortie went on a killing spree at the National Assembly of Quebec.

Not only were none of these shooters on SSRIs, they weren't on any psych meds whatsoever. But Jones actually said, "There hasn't been a high-profile mass shooting that didn't involve SSRIs." Well, except for the Tsuyama massacre of 1938, the 1949 rampage of Harold Unruh, the Neptune Moving Company massacre by neo-Nazi Fred Cowan in 1977, the shopping mall attack by Sylvia Seegrist in 1985, the Hungerford massacre that occurred a year before Prozac was introduced, and countless others.

Though much has been made of Columbine shooter Eric Harris being on Luvox, Dylan Klebold was not on any psych meds. What's his excuse?
Harris was psychiatrically evaluated after committing vandalism and theft, and his diagnosis stemmed from that evaluation. Are you telling me he would have been a law-abiding, well-adjusted kid if not for Luvox? Get real.

Laurie Dann was on psychiatric meds - not including Prozac - for a chemical imbalance at the time of her death, but her bizarre behaviour began years earlier. She terroristically stalked boyfriends and an ex-husband, made false reports of rape and violent attacks, and hid rotting meat in her living-room couch.

Henderson went on to tell listeners that Andrea Yates and the other Texas mothers who mutilated and murdered their young children were perfectly fine until their doctors prescribed SSRIs. She makes no mention of the postpartum depression and/or postpartum psychosis that led to those drugs being prescribed in the first place. In fact, she repeated the absurd notion that the Texas Mother's Act was not designed as a screening system to catch early symptoms of post-partum depression and treat the mothers suffering from it, hopefully to prevent more drownings and dismemberment, but is simply "an excuse to get moms on drugs". Jones piped in here to say that doctors are trying to convince women that having babies isn't natural; you need to be on drugs to do it.

Not exactly. Texas, for some crazy reason, has a high incidence of post-partum psychotic violence against infants, toddlers, and their older siblings. I can't begin to understand why this is so, but I commend the state for taking some action to help women with post-partum depression.

Jones made an even weirder statement about women and psych meds: "Doctors are trying to convince women you're not supposed to have a regular period. They'll say, 'You need an SSRI for that.'"

There are birth-control pills that reduce monthly periods to about 4 per year. However, SSRIs have no effect upon the menstrual cycle. At all. And no doctor says they do.

Ms. Henderson offered a few alternatives to SSRIs, including dirt: "Dirt is an antidepressant!" So if you garden, you won't be depressed anymore! Even though you can only garden for a few months out of the year in most parts of North America. Even though depression often hits most severely in the winter months. Even though Henderson did not identify the psychoactive ingredients in dirt.
Maybe you could freeze some dirt and make mudpies in December.


TK said...

At least Jones wasn't claiming people suffering from mental illness are demons. This time.

Yet another exercise in blaming the wrong thing for dreadful events, though.

Texas, for some crazy reason, has a high incidence of post-partum psychotic violence against infants, toddlers, and their older siblings.

That's really bizarre. Some really key information might be discovered if professionals can work out why.

For some reason, I don't feel surprised that Jones is muddled by periods.

But the dirt thing is just…just, well, do you have to eat it? Rub it in? I don’t think worms poop anti-depressants.

I hope they don’t scare someone vulnerable taking SSRIs.

S.M. Elliott said...

One of them - I think it was Henderson - at least had the sense to say, "If you're on antidepressants, talk to your dr. about going off them gradually. Do not stop taking them on your own." But neither of them mentioned any sensible alternatives, and Jones expressed a deep distrust of psychiatry in general (psychiatrists are "the new priesthood", and they invented eugenics). I wouldn't be shocked if his knowledge of clinical depression matched his knowledge of mestruation.

The number of murderous moms in Texas could be a fluke, but the most alarming aspect of it (IMO) is that the Mother's Act is being stridently opposed even though similar legislation in New Jersey has been very successful and non-invasive. WHY would anyone oppose post-partum screening and education? Haven't women dealt with this in silence long enough? The SSRI scare stories have penetrated Texas to such an extent that women fear antidepressants more than they fear post-partum psychosis. Some of them even feel post-partum doesn't exist: I really should do a post on this.

It turns out the "dirt antidepressant" thing was in the news a couple of years ago, after a single study found that bacteria commonly found in soil boosted seratonin levels in mice. Underwhelming. The good news is you don't have to eat the dirt.

TK said...

The SSRI scare stories have penetrated Texas to such an extent that women fear antidepressants more than they fear post-partum psychosis.

That's a tragedy, and if the scare tactics prevail, it will be followed by many more.

S.M. Elliott said...

P.S. Another of the most disturbing aspects of the Texas child-killings is that at least three of the mothers had religious delusions, believing God wanted them to torture and kill their kids. I don't know what that means for Texas, but it's not good.

Anonymous said...

SME, while this post was excellent, I do recall that Andrew Kehoe, perpetrator of the Bath School Disaster, was not a janitor, but rather, a member of the School Board.

S.M. Elliott said...

Ah, yes he was. Thanks. And he wasn't a janitor; he just did some maintenance work around the school.

Unknown said...

SSRI's make you feel happy about everything , even something that is supposed to make you rage. The problem with this is that under the wrong circumstances SSRI's can remove your conscience and things that would normally horrify you , seem like something totally awesome. They can make drowning your five children seem like "an easy job" said Catherine Yates.

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