Thursday, April 29, 2010


You can learn a good deal about someone when you play a game against them. This thought often comes into my mind when I play racquetball or tennis. Is your opponent inclined to call an outball in, will they make comments that are allegedly supportive but really are intended to diffuse your attention, will they call a "let" when they could, but a mensch knows that the alleged reason for the let is a technicality that should not be considered.

For a while in the late 90s I played tennis regularly with a fellow named Bob Whitaker. We had some great matches. He was as tenacious as I was and we both played fiercely but by the rules. Once after splitting the first two sets of a match, I said that the third one would be something. "It's going to be a war" he said. And it was, in the most positive sense of a competitive battle. Unfortunately, after a spell he got better and I could not compete with him. So then we played squash, a game that I had come to a little sooner than he, so I had the edge. Every one of our matches was a fun war. And every one was cleanly played. He would rather chew on a razor blade before calling an in ball, out, or taking an advantage that he had not earned. Since I like to think of myself as playing similarly, it was a gas to have these contests.

Because I know this about Bob, because I know he is thorough, prepared, and a person of conscience, I was shaken by a book he just wrote. The premise was not startling. I have thought that what he posited was indeed the case. But the thorough nature of his research and the comprehensive breadth of the book, have (further) reduced my respect for humankind.

The book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, argues that the psychotherapeutic profession and the drug industry have perpetrated a willful hoax on many Americans. In an attempt to justify a desire to claim that mental illness is akin to other biological illnesses, psychiatrists have declared that drugs can be used to address psychological disorders. In fact, what Bob unearths in his book is that drugs used to combat mental illness actually exacerbate, and in some cases, manufacture mental illnesses. Most disturbing is the documented claim that the perpetrators are aware of the deception, but the pecuniary rewards are such that--at the expense of the welfare of duped patients-the perps are willing to perpetuate the hoax.

I learned a new word reading the book. Repeatedly Bob refers to mental illnesses as being iatragenic--the illnesses are brought about by the alleged cure.

There is probably a metaphor here for other "illnesses" in life. How often does what we pursue--in a short sighted attempt to cure a problem or fill a void--create an "illness." I think it may happen more often than we are consciously aware. But metaphors aside, the argument that Whitaker makes about the drug biz is powerful and courageous.

And I believe him. I know how he plays sports.


  1. I think that this is my favorite book review of all time. I've met Bob Whitaker on a few occasions. And, to the extent that one can judge a person based on a few brief interactions, I agree with your characterization of him as a totally stand-up guy. His writing has changed the way I look at psychopharmacology and mental illness in general.

  2. Thanks Alex, both for the words about the review and also for taking the time to post the comment.