Anatomy of an Epidemic

  • by Robert Whitaker
  • Narrated by Ken Kliban
  • 14 hrs and 0 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In this astonishing and startling book, award-winning science and history writer Robert Whitaker investigates a medical mystery: Why has the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States tripled over the past two decades? Every day, 1,100 adults and children are added to the government disability rolls because they have become newly disabled by mental illness, with this epidemic spreading most rapidly among our nations children. What is going on?
Anatomy of an Epidemic challenges listeners to think through that question themselves. First, Whitaker investigates what is known today about the biological causes of mental disorders. Do psychiatric medications fix chemical imbalances in the brain, or do they, in fact, create them? Researchers spent decades studying that question, and by the late 1980s, they had their answer. Listeners will be startled - and dismayed - to discover what was reported in the scientific journals.
Then comes the scientific query at the heart of this book: During the past 50 years, when investigators looked at how psychiatric drugs affected long-term outcomes, what did they find? Did they discover that the drugs help people stay well? Function better? Enjoy good physical health? Or did they find that these medications, for some paradoxical reason, increase the likelihood that people will become chronically ill, less able to function well, more prone to physical illness?
This is the first book to look at the merits of psychiatric medications through the prism of long-term results. By the end of this review of the outcomes literature, listeners are certain to have a haunting question of their own: Why have the results from these long-term studies - all of which point to the same startling conclusion - been kept from the public?


What the Critics Say

"The timing of Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, a comprehensive and highly readable history of psychiatry in the United States, couldn’t be better." (
"Anatomy of an Epidemic offers some answers, charting controversial ground with mystery-novel pacing." (
"Whitaker tenderly interviews children and adults who bear witness to the ravages of mental illness, and testify to their newly found 'aliveness' when freed from the prison of mind-numbing drugs." (Daniel Dorman, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

The author does not use a fair scientific approach

I tend to agree that anti-depressants and anti-psychotics are overly prescribes, particularly since the effects are not well understood. I also agree that drugs are used when cognitive behavioral techniques would be successful (but not make much money for drug companies). I further agree that drug companies have not uncommonly created unfair pro-drug testing regimes. BUT the author makes conclusions that don???t seem to be supported by any data and weaves a deeper conspiracy than the evidence seems to support. Repeating the same evidence is not more evidence. Also the author makes the key mistake seen in such books; Assume the hypothesis then search for data that supports the hypothesis. This is just not how real science is done. So if you read this, take it with a big grain of salt.
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- Michael "I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read."

Good Science, Great Journalism

This is an outstanding work of science journalism and it is likely to surprise the vast majority of its readers. Plus, Ken Kliban is a great narrator. As a both a scientist and a mental health clinician, I support the methods and the conclusions of this book strongly. The irony, though, is that I'm probably not alone. Many, if not most, scientists at the top of NIMH and major universities wouldn't disagree with two of the most important ideas; first, that the "chemical imbalance" hypothesis is basically nonsense, and second, that the outcomes literature for psych drugs are poor. I saw a talk given by Thomas Insel, Director of NIMH, in April (2010, that is) and he said two things that are consistent with Whitaker's conclusions. First a direct quote: "Current treatments help too few people get better and very few get well." Second, he advocated for research focused on the "connectome," that is, a developing understanding of how a typically functioning brain's circuits are interconnected and how disruptions in those connections "cause" mental illness. I think understanding the connectome is important but unlikely to reveal anything about "mental illness" for various empirical reasons I won't go into here.

Of course, what most clinical psychiatrists won't agree with is that the drugs are part of the problem. But I suspect the current generation of psych drugs are going to go the way of tobacco (which used to be promoted for its health benefits). Eventually there's just going to be too much evidence against them. Hopefully Whitaker's work will help accelerate that.

I'm going to recommend this book to everyone I possibly can. I'm also going to teach it to psychiatry residents. Well, to be honest, I'll probably teach the primary sources rather than the book itself because, if Whitaker is right, teaching the book could be bad for my career...
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- Eric Strachan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-18-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios