An interview with Ben Hansen: The Drugging of America
An Interview with Ben Hansen: The Drugging of America
Founder and president of the wickedly satirical Bonkers Institute for Nearly Genuine Research, Ben Hansen is an independent investigator, writer and activist in Traverse City, Michigan seriously alarmed by the over-diagnosis of mental disorders and the widespread use of psychiatric drugs in our society. Ben uses a two-pronged approach to raise awareness about the issue, by collecting hard evidence and scientific data pointing to the dangers of psychiatric medications, and also with biting humor lampooning the pseudoscience behind Big Pharma's slick marketing campaigns. A taste of this can be found at the Institute's brilliant web site, www.bonkersinstitute.org
1) First of all, what got you interested in psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry?
In 1999, following the death of my father and the suicide of a friend on the same day, I suffered a breakdown and soon found myself on the receiving end of our mental health system -- a system that offered nothing but drugs, drugs, drugs. The experience radicalized me and opened my eyes in many ways. I agree with author Leonard Roy Frank: "Psychiatry is to medicine what astrology is to astronomy." That's why I founded bonkersinstitute.org -- to expose psychiatry as fraudulent pseudoscience, and to expose psychiatrists as incompetent pill-pushing quacks.
2) You probably review mounds of data and statistic. What is the biggest increase that concerns you?
I'm alarmed by recent data which shows a 100% increase in children under age 5 being prescribed drugs like Artane, Cogentin, and Requip for the treatment of movement disorders such as dystonia, dyskinesia, tics, tremors, and restless legs syndrome.
3) What do you attribute it to?
Drug-induced movement disorders are a common side effect of psychiatric medications. The increased diagnosis and treatment of "mental disorders" in toddlers has resulted in a corresponding rise in the prescribing of drugs to control the side effects of psychiatric drugs in toddlers. It's that simple.
4) Many years ago, we used to think epilepsy was caused by demon possession. Now we know better. Yet, we still don't know if there is a germ, a bacteria, or a virus that causes epilepsy or attention deficit disorder. Is medicine still a growing realm of investigation?
Many years ago we believed mental illness was caused by "melancholy fumes" rising from the stomach. Today we believe mental illness is caused by "chemical imbalances" within the brain. I don't think science has progressed very far in this regard. In some respects I think we've moved backwards. We used to deal with unpleasant emotions by working to improve the quality of our lives, but today we reach for a pill. I don't call that progress.
5) According to every study I have ever seen, the rate of kids with Attention Deficit has increased. IS this what we used to call in graduate school a "garbage or waste basket" term-? When in doubt, call it ADD?
And if it's not called ADD then it's called autism. These so-called "disorders" are simply labels used to describe behavior we're too lazy to explain another way. Too often parents seem eager to accept a psychiatric diagnosis without questioning whether the diagnosis is valid. If a child's symptoms are caused by mercury poisoning, for
example, a diagnosis of autism does nothing to correct the problem. If a child is inattentive because she's smarter than other kids in the classroom, a diagnosis of ADD is positively harmful in every way.
6) Obviously the various drug companies have a vested interest in kids and adolescents getting labeled and receiving medication. Who is out there to investigate and examine what is going on?
The drug companies spend a lot of money analyzing the market, and sometimes I think they're the only ones who really know what's going on because they're the ones who have all the data. The State of Michigan (and at least 24 other states) allows Eli Lilly to pay for a program to monitor psychiatric prescribing patterns within the Medicaid system. An Eli Lilly representative literally sits at the table while the program's reports are prepared. I made a Freedom of Information request for those same reports, but I was refused and I continue fighting this battle in the courts. Ordinary citizens and taxpayers have less rights than pharmaceutical representatives. In the words of author Thomas Szasz, "Democracy has been replaced by pharmacracy."
7) Many say that all psychiatric problems are subjective. Yet, I personally have worked with emotionally disturbed, seen children with autism, talked to friends who are depressed, some anxious about certain things and the like. If certain medications can help people through these adjustments or transitions, why should they not be used?
I believe consenting adults should have the right to take whatever drugs they wish, but I don't want to pay for those drugs with my tax dollars and I refuse to pretend that psychiatric drugs are "medications that restore chemical balance." Personally I would never swallow any psychiatric drug for any reason. All psychiatric drugs are
toxic substances with many adverse effects -- in other words they're not good for you. Additionally, I think we need to be more careful about what we call disease. Unpleasant emotions and unwanted behaviors are not diseases. Our emotional and spiritual needs cannot be met by popping a pill.
8) When I was growing up, I never noticed advertisements on television for sleeping aids or (gasp!) erectile dysfunction. What the heck has changed in our society?
In 1997 the FDA loosened restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising on television. It's been a rapid downhill slide ever since.
9) Why are we so quick to medicate kids and adolescents and adults, and not refer them to caring competent, counselors?
Every school has counselors, and many schools have psychologists. Unfortunately, some of them are utterly incompetent and many of them act as referral agents for the mental health system. I was struck by a comment I heard from a school nurse who said there are more psychiatric drugs in the schools today than there were in the
psychiatric hospitals thirty years ago when she was a nursing student.
10) Many years ago, there was a jingle in a commercial which went "Relief is just a swallow away" (I think it was for Alka Seltzer). Are we in a society where everyone is looking to a pill to help them sleep, deal with anxiety, cope with depression and medicate behavioral problems with Taractan and Haldol?
Not everyone is looking for a pill. Only the gullible ones.
11) What question have I neglected to ask?
I'd like to recommend a couple good books. "Toxic psychiatry," by Peter Breggin, and "Mad in America," by Robert Whitaker. I also invite your readers to visit my web site, and feel free to contact me by email. Thanks for the opportunity to share my views!