Monday, November 14, 2005

Portrait of a gadfly

Dr. David Healy is well known for his views on the dangers of antidepressants. Has he been stigmatized and shunned for his views? Lori Waselchuk, for The New York Times:
Dr. David Healy, a psychiatrist at the University of Cardiff and a vocal critic of his profession's overselling of psychiatric drugs, has achieved a rare kind of scientific celebrity: he is internationally known as both a scholar and a pariah.

In 1997 he established himself as a leading historian of modern psychiatry with the book "The Antidepressant Era." Around the same time, he became more prominent for insisting in news media interviews and scientific papers that antidepressants could increase the risk of suicide, an unpopular position among his psychiatric colleagues, most of whom denied any link. By 2004, British and American drug regulators, responding in part to Dr. Healy and other critics, issued strong warnings that the drugs could cause suicidal thinking and behavior in some children and adolescents.

But Dr. Healy went still further, accusing academic psychiatry of being complicit, wittingly or not, with the pharmaceutical industry in portraying many drugs as more effective and safer than the data showed.

He regularly gets invitations to lecture around the world. But virtually none of his colleagues publicly take his side, at least not in North America.

"It's strange. I don't even know about friends, what they think about me," Dr. Healy said in New York, as he waited for a flight after giving a lecture at Columbia. "You don't really know who you can trust."

Because of his controversial views, Dr. Healy has lost at least one job opportunity, at the University of Toronto in 2001. In some circles, his name has become so radioactive that it shuts down discussion altogether.

"People have called it the Healy effect," said Dr. Jane Garland, chief of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Clinic at British Columbia Children's Hospital in Vancouver, who shares some of Dr. Healy's concerns about drug risks. "If you even raise the same issues he does, you're classified as being with David Healy and that makes people very reluctant to talk. He has become very isolated."

Some colleagues have called him reckless, a false martyr whose grandstanding in the news media has driven away patients who need help. But they cannot dismiss him entirely. And for those who wish to understand what it takes to defy a scientific fraternity without entirely losing one's standing - or nerve - he has become a case study...


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