E. Fuller Torrey, a well known psychiatrist, is an outspoken critic of some of Robert Whitaker’s (Anatomy of an Epidemic) findings. We met Dr. Torrey at his office in Washington D.C. for this interview. I found him to be very warm and engaging and extremely dedicated to his life long work to identify the causative agents of severe psychosis and schizophrenia.
We started the interview on a point that he and Robert Whitaker completely agree. Pharmaceutical medications used to treat mental disturbances are being over prescribed – especially in children! They both believe this presents an extreme danger to our society.
Where they differ is in the way they believe pharmaceutical treatment should be applied. Whitaker’s findings lead him to believe that medication should be used sparingly and mainly to relieve acute symptoms in the early stages of severe distress. In his analysis of the scientific literature he has found that long term use of psychopharmaceuticals is mostly ineffective and has side effects that are extremely harmful. He quotes the results of programs like ‘Open Dialogue’ in Northern Finland that have shown very favorable results by minimizing the use of medication and placing an emphasis on healing the social network of the distressed individual.
Dr. Torrey does not mince words. It is his belief that psychosis is a physical disease that at this time is best managed by medication. He hopes one day to isolate the physical causative agent(s) of psychosis that he suspects are carried by household cats.
As I get further into this project I’m finding this debate over the definition and treatment of ‘mental illness’ to be heating up more and more – fueled by the disarray and crisis of our mental health system.