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'Inaccurate and misleading': HSE and psychiatrists warn over Scientology-linked group leaflet on antipsychotic medication

Leaflets warning people about the dangers of taking prescription anti-psychotic medication were sent to residents in south Dublin.

THE HSE AND clinical psychiatrists have strongly criticised pamphlets being delivered across Dublin regarding antipsychotic medicines. 

Leaflets warning people about the dangers of taking prescription antipsychotic medication were sent to residents in south Dublin by a group linked to the Church of Scientology in recent weeks.

The pamphlets are titled “Antipsychotics: The facts about the effects”, and are part of what is described as a psychotropic drug series published by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR).

The CCHR describes itself as “a nonprofit mental health watchdog, responsible for helping to enact more than 180 laws protecting individuals from abusive or coercive practices”.

It was co-founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Professor of Psychiatry Dr Thomas Szasz.

As part of their religious “code”, Scientologists pledge “to expose and help abolish any and all physically damaging practises in the field of mental health”.

Pamphlet

The pamphlet being distributed claims that saying that mental conditions are diseases caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain is “dishonest, harmful and often deadly”.

It says that its purpose is to “[provide] the information in this publication as a public service in the interest of informed consent”.

It claims:

“There is no question that people do experience problems and upsets in life that may result in mental troubles, sometimes very serious. But to say that these are ‘medical diseases’ or caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’ that can only be treated with dangerous drugs is dishonest, harmful and often deadly.

“What psychiatric drugs do instead is mask the real cause of problems, often denying you the opportunity to search for workable, effective solutions. It is important to understand that there is a big difference between medical disease and psychiatric ‘disorders’.

“In medicine, a condition is only labelled a disease after it has met strict standards: You have to isolate a predictable group of symptoms, be able to locate the cause of the symptoms or see how they function.”

However, experts in the field of psychiatry have strongly disputed those claims. 

The HSE told TheJournal.ie it is aware of the materials being distributed, and described them as “misleading and inaccurate”. 

The information contained within this leaflet is misleading, inaccurate and shows no evidence of any understanding of the complex biological, psychological and social contributors to mental illness. The HSE advises that if this leaflet causes concern to any person who is being treated with antipsychotic medication, that they contact their GP or a member of the mental health team that is looking after them. 

The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has also hit out at information contained in the leaflets. 

Dr Maeve Doyle, Director of Communication and Public Education and Consultant Psychiatrist at the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland said the pamphlets contained “inaccurate and out-of-date data”. 

She said: “The college would urge caution around erroneous and potentially harmful information about mental illnesses in these leaflets. The leaflet refers to medical conditions involving the brain, for which extensive, and an increasing, scientific evidence base around causes and treatments of these illness exist and continue to emerge.

“Causes of illness mentioned are multifactorial – there are many environmental causes such as substance use and traumatic events and also genetic vulnerabilities.

“Some conditions are developmental in origin, particularly the childhood onset conditions. There is a strong association between physical and mental health also.”

Dr Doyle added that multidisciplinary team approaches are used nowadays and there are interventions and supportive services such as the HSE Early Intervention Psychosis Clinical Programme which are not just about using antipsychotics but incorporate tailored treatment plans and education for patients and carers/family members.

She said: “Informed consent by patients around antipsychotic prescribing is always sought. Information on the medication, including side effects, is provided and explained and or provided in leaflets to patients. Extensive monitoring, including with physical tests, is carried out when someone is on antipsychotics.

To suggest that no mental health problem should receive treatment is entirely incorrect and goes against a large body of scientific and clinical knowledge. This leaflet could cause unnecessary distress to people who are already receiving treatment and may cause them to stop their treatment with serious consequences for themselves and their families. It may also prevent people who are in urgent need of treatment from seeking help.

The HSE has previously been outspoken about medical claims made by groups linked to the Church of Scientology.

A Scientology-linked Narconon drug treatment facility has been planned for Ballivor, Meath. It uses a detoxification method which has been criticised by medics in Ireland. 

The programme involves taking high doses of vitamins as well as spending prolonged periods in a sauna, and bouts of exercise.

A consultant psychiatrist in substance misuse from the HSE’s National Drug Treatment Centre said that this particular programme has no basis in science.

The doctor said: “Scientology’s drug treatment programme has no standing amongst medical professionals involved in the treatment of persons with alcohol and drug use disorders.

“It comprises a series of interventions (‘Narconon’) with limited or no basis in a scientific understanding of human physiology and brain functioning and may potentially be harmful directly (with overuse of vitamins and other products) and indirectly in that persons are engaging in an intervention with no evidence of potential benefit for them.”

In response to the HSE’s claims, a spokesman for Narconon previously told TheJournal.ie: “Narconon follows the laws and regulations of the country in which they operate. Narconon prides itself is [sic] setting and maintaining the highest of standards in all aspects of the programme.”

A statement from the CCHR defended its pamphlet and accused the HSE and College of Psychiatrists of being misleading. 

It reads: “The comments from the HSE and from the College of Psychiatrists regarding the content of the leaflet “ANTIPSYCHOTICS – the facts about the effects” are highly misleading and inaccurate.

“The leaflet emphatically states on page 2: “If you are taking these drugs, do not stop taking them based on what you read here. You could suffer serious withdrawal symptoms. You should seek the advice and help of a competent medical doctor or practitioner before trying to come off any psychiatric drug. This is very important.

“The leaflet does not suggest that people suffering from mental issues should not receive treatment, instead it highlights the fact that some treatments have actually caused more harm than good and that better ways may be available.

“The leaflet does warn people of the scientifically documented common adverse effects of taking antipsychotics.

“The World Health Organisation states that ‘… all patients have a fundamental right to … consent to or to refuse treatment, and to be informed about relevant risk to them of medical procedures’.

“People who are prescribed antipsychotics are not being fully informed of the consequences of taking the drugs. This is borne out by a recent survey in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing of (1,829) people taking antidepressants, only one per cent of participants recalled being told about withdrawal effects when prescribed the drugs.”

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