To better understand the history of psychopharmacology, here is a simplified timeline:
1950s: Seemed as though new breakthrough drugs are being discovered every year. Psychiatry emerged as the fastest growing specialty in medicine.
1961: Thomas Szas, a psychiatrist at the State University of New York in Syracuse argued that, “psychiatric disorders weren’t medical in kind, but rather labels applied to people who struggled with ‘problems in living’ or simply behaved in socially deviant ways.” His book helped begin an “antipsychiatry” movement.
1970s: The percentage of medical school graduates choosing to go into psychiatry dropped from 11 percent to less than 4 percent.
1970s: Three different approaches to psychotherapy caused internal divisions:
Freudians – come from a talk-therapy standpoint (psychoanalysis).
Medical Modelers – come from a chemical imbalance, biological issue.
Social Psychologists – come from the view we are the way we are because of the way we were raised and we can be altered through our social environment.
The basic root problem of psychiatry in the ’70s was strategically ignored. No one was willing to acknowledge that if the first generation of psychotropics had truly worked, the public would have still been begging for the prescriptions aside from all the negative press, industry shrinkage, or industry divisions. Crisis was inevitable because the “miracle pill” aura around its drugs was gone.
1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest swept the Oscars. The film helped legitimize the notion that forced drugged treatment was not what the public wanted. In fact, the same psychiatric meds that were being pushed onto people for treatment were also being used by the Soviet Union to torture dissidents. That is a stark reality considering those drugs used to be presented to the public in 1954 as “agents that made a raving madman sit up and talk sense.”
1980: The two classes of drugs that had launched the psychopharmacology revolution were now seen by the public in a negative light. Drugstore prescriptions for psychiatric drugs plunged by 30% over the course of seven short years.
The next post will keep moving toward the present time and how this history has affected current practices in the field.