Side Effects and the Damaging Overprescription of Psychiatric Drugs

I’m off to New York for the International Thriller Writers ThrillerFest. My Young Adult novel If We Survive is nominated for best YA Thriller of the year. I won’t have time to post while I’m gone, so I’ll leave behind some mini-reviews:

Side Effects — watch this. It’s good. Steven Soderbergh returns to his semi-mockumentary Contagion mode to deliver what we only slowly realize is a thriller in the classic vein. The picture is wonderfully acted, most especially by Jude Law, who delivers a subtly flawless performance as a subtly flawed man. Law has been getting better and better and he’s just terrific in this. Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones fill out a fine cast.

The story tells of a shrink (Law), who prescribes an anti-depressant for a troubled patient only to find it has some very dangerous side effects — to tell more would be to give the game away. But Law’s character is so well drawn that we’re not sure whether he’s the hero or the villain or something in between until a wonderfully low key moment in which his integrity is tested. In keeping with Soderbergh’s style, the moment passes virtually without comment. You have to be paying attention to realize what Law did and what it means about him. So pay attention.

But the whole picture’s like that. Quiet, intense, smart. And it happens to deal with a subject that’s a real pet peeve of mine: the over-prescription of anti-depressants. The way these things work: doctors discover that depression involves a certain action in the brain and that, in a small number of people, this action happens more or less without cause. That is, it’s an illness. They cure that illness with a drug then, slowly, begin expanding the drug’s use until it’s prescribed to just about anyone who’s every felt sad for twenty minutes in a row. It’s a disgusting and abusive practice and has reduced a large segment of the psychiatric profession to the level of street drug dealers. Again, I’m not saying the drugs have no appropriate uses; I’m saying they’re way, way, way overused.

The movie captures some of the machinations behind that, but most importantly, it tells a good story about interesting people. A very solid thriller. Really worth a look.


Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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