UCL News


UCL/UEL Conference: De-Medicalising Misery

9 December 2008

How did the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry persuade us that antidepressants worked? Does cognitive behavioural therapy really offer a cure for unhappiness? Can the psy-professions escape their legacy of racism? These and other questions will be addressed at De-Medicalising Misery, a conference organised by the University of East London (UEL) and University College London (UCL), hosted at the latter on Tuesday 16 December 2008.

The meeting brings together psychiatrists, mental health professionals and clinical psychologists. Dr Joanna Moncrieff, UCL Department of Mental Health Sciences, says: "This conference explores the myth that there is a quick fix for psychological problems and looks at some of the unfortunate consequences of attempts to medicalise misery."

Confirmed speakers include Mary Boyle, author of 'Schizophrenia - a scientific delusion?', Jacqui Dillon, Ewen Speed, Craig Newnes, Duncan Double, Irving Kirsch and Suman Fernando. Talks include:

1) Craig Newnes - Toxic Psychology

This talk examines the history of psychology's involvement in poisoning people, both metaphorically and literally. Ideas like "change", "illness", "personal development" and "academic achievement" have all been used to justify psychology's involvement in labelling others, incarcerating them, harming children, therapising all of us and poisoning people with a variety of potions and cures from chlorpromazine to cognitive behavioural therapy. Examples of the attitudes and practice of the new generation of toxic psychologists will be covered in the talk.

2) Duncan Double - Why were doctors so slow to recognise antidepressant discontinuation problems?

Little more than ten years ago, doctors believed that there was no problem stopping antidepressants. Now medical guidelines indicate that patients should be given a disclaimer about the risk of discontinuation symptoms. It might reasonably have been expected that psychiatrists, as specialists in disorders of the mind, should have recognised the risk of becoming psychologically dependent on medication, based their advice on clinical experience, and used their common sense about what antidepressants mean to people. Why didn't they?

3) Irving Kirsch - Antidepressant Medication: The Emperor's new drugs

Although people given antidepressants often show substantial improvement, most depressed patients show roughly comparable benefits. Meta-analyses of complete data sets of published and unpublished clinical trials reveal that the difference between the effects of antidepressants and placebos are surprisingly small. A clinically significant difference is found only for the most severely depressed individuals. This data indicates that alternative treatments should be considered for most depressed patients.

4) Suman Fernando - Cultural diversity, racism and psychiatry

Britain has always been culturally diverse, but racism has come to the fore as a major issue in many British social systems, including psychiatry. So-called 'ethnic issues' in British mental health services are explored in this talk by examining the history of psychiatry - and institutional racism is identified as one of the main issues that results in inequalities in mental health service provision. Fundamental changes in psychiatry are needed if the racism of current mental health systems is to be addressed.

This is the second one-day conference in the De-Medicalising Misery series, organised by the University of East London's School of Psychology, the Critical Psychiatry Network, the Hearing Voices Network (England) and University College London.

Notes for Editors

1. Conference details can be found at http://www.uel.ac.uk/misery/. The conference, De-Medicalising Misery, will be held on Tuesday 16 December 2008 at University College London, Cruciform Building, Gower Street, London WC1.