Harvard Experts Evaluate Mental Health Medications

Andrew B. Pacelli

Charles P. Ducey, director of the Bureau of Study Counsel, spoke yesterday about the political power the psychopharmacological industry wields through congressional lobbying during a panel discussion in Sever Hall.

Harvard mental health experts weighed the risks, benefits and changing marketing strategies of leading mental health medications in a panel discussion last night.

The event, sponsored by the Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Group (MHAAG), was held as part of the group’s week-long series of events aimed at making members of the Harvard community recognize the seriousness of mental illness.

Richard Kadison, chief of Mental Health Service at University Health Services (UHS), began the discussion with a survey of available anti-depressant medication and an overview of Harvard’s use of popular anti-depressants like Prozac and Zoloft.

He said around 1,000 of Harvard’s 17,000 students take one of the top-three prescribed anti-depressants.

Although Kadison discussed the many benefits of medications for severely depressed patience, he said that treatments without drugs are still important.


“We are all still believers in psychotherapy,” he said.

Charles P. Ducey, director of the Bureau of Study Counsel, talked about the economic and political power the psychopharmacological industry wields through congressional lobbying and pressure on the Food and Drug Administration.

He said he had a more cautious attitude about the wide usage of anti-depressants, particularly when prescribed by general practitioners without specialized knowledge.

Ducey said that drugs do not cure depression, but only keep people from sinking into greater depression.

“Medication puts a floor under depression,” he said.

Because most depressants are relatively new, he voiced concern about their as yet undetermined long term effects.

The last panelist, Joshua Rodefer, a lecturer in psychology, talked about the rise of pharmaceutical advertisements aimed at directly influencing the consumer.

During the past decade and a half, the amount of money poured into television advertising by the pharmaceuticals has risen approximately tenfold and anti-depressant use has exploded, Rodefer said.

He said that pharmaceutical companies are biased in representing the benefits of their drugs relative to their risks in advertising.

“The bottom line is dollars,” he said.

Rodefer said he is concerned that the information readily available to the public is dominated by the materials put out by the industry.

When asked by an audience member what UHS’ Mental Health Services has done in recent years to address suicidal tendencies and severe depression among students, Kadison replied that major changes in services were made recently. Included were extended urgent care hours and an improved on-call system.

Suicide, Kadison said, was a rare but natural occurrence in a population such as Harvard, and not easily preventable.

Ducey agreed that access to services was key in effectively helping the student population, and complimented MHAAG on improving awareness and distribution of information.