Robert Whitaker to Speak on Rise in Mental Illness

Robert Whitaker, an award-winning journalist and author best known for his work on mental illness, will speak at Mount Holyoke Thursday, December 2 at 7:30 pm in Cleveland L2. His lecture, titled "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Rise of Mental Illness in America," is open to the public.

While on campus that day, Whitaker will also lead a discussion in psychology professor Gail Hornstein's first-year seminar, Understanding Mental Health, at 1:15 pm in Reese 324.

In his newest book published this past spring, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, Whitaker confronts a startling statistic: In the past 20 years, the number of Americans disabled due to mental illness has more than doubled--despite spending $40 billion each year on psychiatric medications.

"In media reports, we constantly hear these drugs being hailed as magic bullets, offering effective treatments for depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar illness, and a host of psychiatric conditions," says Hornstein. "But Whitaker’s exhaustive review of the scientific literature of the past 50 years raises a profoundly troubling question: Do psychiatric medications increase the likelihood that people taking them, rather than being helped, are at risk of becoming chronically ill?"

Hornstein says Whitaker's book is "important and controversial" and has been called "the Silent Spring of the pharmaceutical industry."

"I've known Bob for several years and have heard him speak on a number of occasions," she says. "He embodies a wonderful combination of provocative thinking and a thorough commitment to sticking carefully only to those conclusions that are clearly supported by good scientific data. He'll serve as a wonderful model to our students of how lively thinking and respect for science go hand in hand to strengthen an argument."

Whitaker’s first book, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, was cited by Discover magazine as one of the best science books of 2002, and the American Library Association named it one of the best history books of that year. He is also a recipient of the George Polk award for medical writing and a National Association of Science Writers’ award for magazine writing, and in 1998 he was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for a series on psychiatric research he coauthored for the Boston Globe.

Whitaker's lecture is cosponsored by the Department of Psychology and Education, the First-Year Seminar Program, the Dean of the College, and the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community.