A waitress takes meds for her insomnia. Then she can’t get off of them. An Iraq war veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and takes a variety of meds for over 12 years. A teenager with an eating disorder is prescribed anti-depressants that lead to hallucinations.
Each of their stories was featured in the documentary “Medicating Normal.” And, today, producer Wendy Ractliffe and Angie Peacock, a veteran who is now a mental health reform advocate, explain why they were involved in the making of the movie and what they think is an often-overlooked issue in mental health circles: how we are over-medicating those suffering with mental health conditions.
They cover why so many meds are prescribed (and, yes, overprescribed). They discuss the fallout from side effects and when meds might absolutely be the right choice. They talk about what comes with tapering off from certain meds. And they offer recommendations for how to handle mental health issues differently.
See the movie’s website: medicatingnormal.com
Check out upcoming events at westonaprice.org
Listen to the episode here
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda
A waitress who was going to college and trying to manage her insomnia, a veteran who was deployed in the Iraq war, dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and a teenager with an eating disorder, all three of these individuals sought professional help for their mental health concerns, and all three were medicated. They each found it to be counterproductive and detrimental to their mental and physical health. What if we are all indeed over-medicated?
This is episode 359, and our guests, our producer, Wendy Ractliffe of the documentary Medicating Normal, and Angela Peacock, the veteran who is now a mental health reform advocate. They both help us understand what is happening on the ground with mental health treatment and medications. Why are so many prescribed? Do these meds help in any way whatsoever? What are the drawbacks that come with mental health medications in particular?
If patients want to go off of the meds, what is that process like? If we are not going to treat mental health conditions with prescribed medications, what can we do instead? These are some of the topics we touch on. Wendy and Angie shed light on all of the above, and they tell stories their own and those of others that help us understand the reality of our over-medicated mental health system.
Before we get into the conversation, I want to invite you to some upcoming Weston A Price Foundation events. Sally Fallon Morell, the President of the foundation, is speaking about The Contagion Myth in Berkeley Springs in early April 2022. She is offering a talk on nourishing diets on her farm in Maryland on May 1st, 2022. The following weekend on May 7th, 2022, I’m hosting an event with Sally, Del Bigtree, and Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Go to WestonAPrice.org/events for details on any of the above and for registration info. I hope to see you this spring of 2022.
Head to Redmond.life and use the codeword, WISE, for 15% off at checkout.
Check out upcoming events at WestonAPrice.org
I’m thrilled to be here.
Thank you so much for having us.
I saw your movie, and I found it compelling. That is why I wanted you to be a part of this mental health track that we are doing on the show. I want to start with you, Wendy. Tell us the story of that beautiful woman, Shalamar, who was in the movie, who was simply struggling with insomnia. What happened?
Shalamar was working as a waitress while she was going to college. She is an African-American who came from Jamaica. She was working nights and was having trouble sleeping. She told her doctor. It started out with one medication to sleep, and that led to all bad side effects. At one point, she was put on a second medication for those side effects. It ended up derailing her life. She did not finish college, and she ended up spending years in withdrawal when she finally realized that these drugs were harming her and impacting her thyroid. It was a catastrophe. It all came from that first prescription for a sleep issue.
The doctor who prescribed that sleep medication to help her get better sleep, was he not aware of the side effects?
In the film, she goes back to that doctor with a hidden camera, and we have his face disguised. She asks him, and he is quite honest. He says, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” She says, “I asked you if I could stop this medication anytime I wanted and if it was addictive. You told me that I could stop when I wanted, and it was not addictive.”
He responds, “You can stop, but it might be hard to get off of.” It is what she experienced. To answer your question, the doctors are trained to believe that the side effects are minor and possibly worth it because the drugs are supposedly needed. As we know, sleep medications never work, there is a high cost, and it is lifestyle and diet changes that people need to work on for sleep.
I’m glad you mentioned that because I do hope that we can offer some solutions and some help for folks. It sounds like right off the bat, we need to proceed with caution when we are prescribed medications. Angie, you know more about that firsthand. Tell us a little bit about your story.
Sleep medications never really work and are usually available at high costs. What people need to work on is their lifestyle and diet.
I was in the United States Army for several years, and I had one deployment to Iraq. I went through so much trauma that I came back affected by that trauma. When I sought “help,” the help that I received was medications over and over. It was several years of my life taking every medication they told me to take, going to therapists, going to doctors, having more symptoms come up, and being told, “That is your mental illness. Now you need medications.”
Finally, I listened to my own inner voice that said, “Something is wrong here.” I decided to come off of everything. That last medication that I was on was considered a low dose. I was not addicted to it. It almost cost me my life. This film was being made, and they found me online in support groups. They followed my story for a few years. I’m one of the subjects in the film, Medicating Normal.
How was it that last med almost took your life? You said it was not addictive. What was it about that med that was bringing you close to the edge?
The thing that they do not tell patients is that psychiatric drugs are physiologically dependent. There is a difference between addictive and physiological dependence. The difference is I was not running out early, not craving it, and not standing on the corner buying an antidepressant. I was taking my medication exactly as prescribed at a low dose, under some medical supervision, attending all my appointments, not having any euphoria or anything like that.
What it does is all those medications change the way that your brain and body work. When you stop taking them, your brain and body do not know what is going on, especially after you take them for the long-term. That was something I was not told. I tapered off under the direction of a doctor. I came to find out later that he took me off completely the wrong way. Even though it was somewhat slow and measured, my body had adjusted to that dose of medication over the course of many years. I do not know if I will ever return and back to the way I was. They do damage.
I’m glad you all are shedding light on this because, as I understand it, 1 in 5 Americans is on some psychiatric drug, but they are not aware of how addictive these are and how they do damage. What do you think, Wendy?
It is a huge problem. I hear stories every week from someone who had a bad experience with a psychiatric drug. They are way overprescribed. What is striking to me is when people go in a psychiatric drug, which is a prescription medication, and Angie points out, changes the chemistry of your brain. Changes can seem to make no neurological changes. It is hardwired changes that can be hard to reverse.
Before people go on a drug like that, you would think they would try all the other options. If someone comes in with anxiety, why not try yoga, exercise, eating more healthy fats, and cleaning up your diet? Do all those first and only go to a drug as a last resort, if at all. Doctors give out these drugs like candy to children, adults, and pregnant women. It is pretty shocking.
I’m thinking about a moment I had in the parking lot of Target. I heard a kid screaming or making some noise. One of the siblings turned to the mom and said, “What is wrong with Henry?” She is like, “He is crazy. He needs to be medicated.” I was shocked. I was like, “What?” I did not know if she was speaking from experience that he needed to be on medication or if she was making an offhanded comment. Wendy, because you have looked into this, how many children are on ADD, depression drugs, and so forth?
1 in 10 children is on psychiatric medication. It is disturbing. ADHD drugs are stimulants. They are uppers and are chemically identical to what is called Speed on the street. In the short-term, they help people focus. In the long-term, research has shown they have no effect on school success. The children that get these drugs do not do any better than children with the same diagnosis of ADHD who never get the drug in the longer term, yet many children are put on these drugs.
As you pointed out, a disturbing tendency is that these drugs are now being used, and it is almost impossible to believe, but it is true for what is called Anger Management. A child who is angry or upset will be medicated. They are given drugs that are heavy-duty neuroleptics. They are intense downers, which suppress the central nervous system and appear to calm down the child because they, in effect, make them into a bit of a zombie.
When you think that children are being given these drugs rather than having the issues in their life addressed, it is disturbing. For example, 30% of children in the foster care system are on psychiatric drugs. It is usually to medicate away their behaviors, which are the result of the trauma and chaos in their lives. It is sad.
Angie, you went to therapy. It seems like you were trying things besides drugs.
Yes, but at the beginning, it was drug only. I started to do therapy and I tried biofeedback. I got worsening panic. Anytime I would try to sit with myself, it was like, “I could not. Is that from the drug or from my original trauma? How do you even know?” What happened was I started taking the medication immediately. I was two weeks fresh out of Baghdad.
I landed in Germany, and they started prescribing me a benzodiazepine. The one I was taking back then was Klonopin. Its generic name is clonazepam. It is commonly prescribed nowadays. I started getting worse almost immediately. I could not leave my room. I have a little bit of agoraphobia. Loud noises were bothering me more. I could not sleep. They would say, “That is post-traumatic stress. You need to up your dose.”
Looking back on what has transpired since then and what I have learned over the course of being in the film and the work afterward, that was an adverse reaction out of the gate. Instead of taking away the medication, more were added. It was an antidepressant and a drug because you can’t sleep. I started getting headaches and gained some weight. Now I have infertility problems, weight gain, headaches, irritable, bowel syndrome, frequent urination. It ballooned into eighteen drugs of the same time by 2006. It took me several years to get off of everything. It was hard.
Did you shuffle around from doctor to doctor too, or were you under the same care the whole time?
It was different doctors because something in me knew, “Something is wrong but I do not know what it is.” When you are going to the doctor and you are saying, “I do not feel good. Why don’t I feel good? If I’m taking all these medications, I should feel great. I should have a job and a marriage and be raising children in my 30s, like a normal 30-year-old. Why do I feel so bad? I’m never leaving my house. I do not care about being social, sexual or anything.”
People who do well on psychiatric drugs usually take only a single drug, not multiple ones. They never raised the dose and just stayed on that one drug for a long time.
I knew something was wrong but when you go to the doctor, they do not say it is the drug. How could they? All their education and their livelihood are based on prescribing these medications. They think that they are doing what they are supposed to do. It is almost like this gaslighting that you are like, “I know something is wrong but I do not know what it is,” but the doctor is telling me it is my mental illness or a physical new illness. Now you have a migraine condition instead of like, “Let’s look at your life. What are you eating? How are you sleeping? What are you putting in your body? Maybe we need to take something away.”
Search for Morning Meditation for Women on your favorite podcast player, subscribe and press play now or go to WomensMeditationNetwork.com/MorningPodcast.
Go to Amazon.com/OptimalCarnivore and use the code, WESTON10, to save 10% on all products.
Your story reminds me of the young girl you all focused on in the movie. Wasn’t there a teenager who had an eating disorder? It almost felt like she was also near the edge because the medications, instead of helping her situation, were making her worse.
That is a common situation that parents and everybody should look out for. She had an eating disorder, which is a real problem and can be dangerous. She was put on an antidepressant, which is an all-purpose go-to that doctors give you. There is no particular evidence that it does anything for an eating disorder, but she was put on an antidepressant. It caused her to have hallucinations.
Instead of taking her off that drug and saying, “This is a dangerous adverse event. We are going to remove this drug,” they loaded on a new drug for the hallucinations. They put her on an antipsychotic and some other drugs. This is common with people when they start going on to psychiatric drugs. You are taking Xanax for anxiety, and it makes you tired.
They will add a stimulant to make you come up. People end up on a cocktail of multiple drugs, uppers, downers, and one drug chasing another. It is harmful. There is no research that supports using drugs in this way. There are almost no clinical trials ever done on what is called polypharmacy, which is being on more than one drug at the same time. Although it is done a lot in practice, it has not been studied at all.
It reminds me of what they used to say about vaccinations. They have mercury in trace amounts. That is not going to do anything to you. First of all, a toxin is a toxin. Second of all, they will often bundle the vaccinations. You get 3 in 1, or there are several doses over a short amount of time. There may not be a study showing the consequences of that heavy frequency of dosage.
Given that nobody gets one vaccination. Children get many vaccinations. One would hope that the study shows the cumulative effect of the 72 shots that children get by the time they are eighteen. You would hope that there is good research showing that it is safe in terms of any adjuvants like mercury.
Wendy, what made you want to make this movie in particular? What made you want to make people aware of the fact that we are over-medicated as a population?
It was my co-director and co-producer Lynn Cunningham, who has a dear family member who was still on psychiatric drugs for many years. At a certain point, Lynn realized that this family member seemed to have deteriorated over the years. She had started out as a Harvard graduate, an athlete, and working full-time in Washington, DC. She got put on one drug. It was an antidepressant. Several years later, she was on three drugs. A couple more years later, she was no longer able to work and was on disability.
At a certain point, Lynn wondered what was going on. She found a wonderful book called Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker that was written several years ago. It got quite a lot of attention at the time. The New York Times editorialist, David Brooks, listed it as 1 of the 10 most important books of the year. That book looks at the overprescribing of psychiatric drugs. He makes the case that we have created an epidemic of mental illness, which is much of it is being caused by the drugs that are meant to be treating it. Lynn found that book and she passed it to me. We said, “We need to make a film about this.”
It is one thing to do it like that from an outside perspective, shining the spotlight on the problem on these people. Angie, It is much more vulnerable to tell your own personal story and journey. Why did you decide to go through with it and be in this movie?
Psychiatric drugs don’t just go to the side of depression and make you less depressed. It mutes your whole life and makes you care less about everything.
Part of it was Wendy talks to me about it a little bit. She originally asked me, and I said, “No.” I had already been in a documentary about veterans years past, I knew the process, and I had been behind the camera many times being an advocate and stuff. I felt like I’m on my deathbed, like, “There is no way you are filming this.”
She flew to St. Louis, and we went for a walk. I said, “Okay.” She said, “If you do not tell the story, who is going to?” When she got out of the car, she closed the door. I thought to myself, “You can’t kill yourself because you can’t be in a movie.” At the end of the movie, they say, “Angie was a wonderful person, but she died by suicide.” That is how severe that withdrawal was. I do not want to scare anybody, but I was a pretty severe case.
Suicidal thoughts were a daily struggle for several years coming off the drug. I said, “It is not me. I did not want to die.” My body and brain were imbalanced from several years of psychiatric drugs. In a strange way, being involved with the film was helpful to me. Healing, being able to talk about this whenever I want to, having all the validation from the doctors in the film, the people we meet and having all these people say, “Me too.” I was glad to be a part of it.
Wendy, I’m thinking a little bit about success stories. Aren’t there people out there who are like, “I was depressed, Xanax lifted me out, I could function again and be with my family?” At least from all the ads I see in the magazines, the people look so happy. There must be some success, or these drugs would not be still popular.
When I was making this film, I ended up talking to everybody I met or knew about psychiatric drugs. I did hear a lot of people who would say, “I have been on Zoloft for many years, and it helps me.” I would often ask more questions about what I generally learned from talking to many people because I also heard many bad stories.
Many people who had a neutral story would say, “I was put on Paxil, and it did not do anything. After a few weeks, I stopped taking it, and we are okay. We did not have bad withdrawal.” The people that do well on psychiatric drugs are usually people that are on one drug, not multiple drugs. That went on one drug and never raised the dose. They stayed on that one drug for a long period of time.
Often they will say, “I think it is helping me, and I do not want to go off it.” Let’s face it. Things like antidepressant is not happy pill. It does not make you happy all the time. What it does is flatten emotion, and some people can find that helpful. There are people that can find a drug helpful. Certainly, these drugs, like opiates, can be useful in the short-term.
Opiates are great drugs if you have had surgery, and to take them for five days when you are in extreme pain is great. It is the same for a drug like Xanax. If you have panic when you go to the dentist, take Xanax. If your child has been hit by a car, he is in the hospital, and you got two other kids at home, you need to take a drug like Xanax or Valium for a few days to cope by all means. The problem comes when people take the drugs long-term and if they develop tolerance. They have to keep going to a higher dose and get other drugs added in.
It is good to recognize that there are pros and cons, but this reminds me of a lot of situations where if you do not know the whole story, you can’t make an informed choice. Shalamar, for example, did not get the whole story from the doctor about how difficult it might be to get off the sleep medication, made a choice based on the thought that she could stop anytime. It turned out to be quite a different experience. The main thing is for people to go in with their eyes wide open.
However, there is a problem which is that doctors can prescribe many drugs. One family medicine doctor came up to us after the film. He thanked us for the film, and he is like, “You are right about these drugs. I can prescribe over 5,000 different drugs but I do not know the side effects of all these drugs. I can’t give people informed consent.” One problem is that a lot of doctors do not know all the side effects.
The second problem is that pharmaceutical companies are smart. They know that their customer is the doctor as much as the patient. They market the drugs to doctors, and the doctors do not have time to read all the latest medical research. They depend on the pharmaceutical company drug reps who present the new drugs to them, talk about the side effects, and tend to minimize the side effects. The doctors themselves are not well informed about the risks of a drug. However, they are well informed about the possible benefits of the drug. This creates an imbalanced situation.
I understand because when I go back to those ads, they show a lot of happy people on a certain antidepressant drug. At the end of those ads or in small print in the magazine, there is a list of the side effects. It is spoken quickly by the announcer on a TV ad, or it is in small prints and minimized. That is a good point to make. Angie, I want to ask you now because you have gotten off of this psychiatric drug roller coaster that you were on. If the pharmaceuticals were not the answer for you, what were some protocols that helped you live that healthy life you were seeking?
Since I have been off, I have explored many more things. Even being on and off, I have tried many alternative and complementary therapies that were helpful. Diet is number one to me. Eating good food and wholesome food, do not be scared of fat. I do all of that and I’m out in nature a lot. I hike as much as possible.
I have been doing lots of massages, energy medicine, acupuncture, getting my circadian rhythm back on track was number one, watching the sun come up, go down, and eating within a certain window instead of gorging myself at night because I couldn’t sleep like I used to, all these things. Social connection, having a purpose, having meaning in my life, and having good friends help me get through the tough times. Nowadays, if I have a panic attack, I do not go pop a Xanax like I used to. You can’t do that.
My body is forever changed. When I have a panic episode, I call a friend, talk it through, ground myself, meditate, or let it run through like, “Do not be afraid of your emotion. It is here. There is nothing I can do about it. Let’s sit with it and figure out what is going on that is making me feel like this.” I become my own doctor, therapist, and alternative medicine practitioner. It is the only way I can do it. I cannot take these chemicals anymore.
You running through those various protocols brought a smile to my face. It is empowering to not rely on the pills and more to find a way to manage the scary bits differently.
If I look back, I should have done all this from the beginning, and I could have averted many years. It has been years since the time that I took that first drug until now. I’m several years off. For many years, I think of how much life I missed because I was medicated. I was not in tune with my body or what it needed because I believed this false narrative about myself that I was disordered. My brain was ill, I needed to take a pill for that, and I needed to see lots of professionals for that. It turned out to all be wrong.
It reminds me of a story. Natasha Campbell McBride said at a Wise Traditions Conference, “When your child has an asthma attack, we usually reach for the inhaler. Why? That is what the doctors say to do, but you can hold your child close through the time when they are struggling breathing. They will get through it. Their lungs will be stronger.”
Don’t believe that you are broken. You are perfect the way you are. Things are happening to you right now that cannot be medicated away.
This is not the message we have been given. I’m not a doctor. I’m saying what she said. It sounds not unlike what you were mentioning when you said you had had a panic attack. You work through it. You sit with yourself to calm yourself down. You learn a tool and you become more resilient afterward.
Taking all those medications, I would have been the one that told you, “They helped me. They saved my life. I need them. Don’t you dare criticize them. They are life-saving treatments.” I will tell you being off them does not go to the side of depression and make you less depressed. It mutes your whole life. It makes me care less about everything.
Now it feels good to be more engaged with life and be interested. I want to go out, see things, meet new people, have new experiences, and feel everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. You do kick the can down the road. I was medicated for many years. When I came off of that, I still had the grief to experience. I still had the trauma to deal with and it was all still there.
I’m grateful that you stopped kicking it down the road and that you were willing to share your story with us and with many through the movie. I know you guys are on PBS too. I’m excited. I’m going to have to wrap it up now, even though I want to discuss more things with you. One thing I want to pose to you real quick, Wendy, is Angie mentioned a lot of solutions, but I noticed in the movie, you highlighted the problem and not the solutions very much. Why is that?
It is a big enough issue and it is not a simple issue. We felt that our film was telling an untold story because the mainstream story is that, “There are lots of mental illnesses, you must go to the doctor for it.” The truth is they are going to medicate you. We wanted to present the other side of what happens when you get medicated for your mental illness.
There should be a whole other film about what to do instead of taking medication. As Angie said, it is so much about empowering yourself and finding your own power to find solutions to whatever problems you are experiencing in your life, whatever challenges and whatever is preventing you from living a good life. You can find those solutions within yourself and your community. That should be another film.
I will wrap up by asking you both the question I often pose at the end. It can be something related to our conversation or something you do that you want to get out there. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do? Angie, let’s start with you.
Do not believe that you are broken. You are perfect the way you are. There are things happening to you right now that are lessons to learn from, not things to be medicated away.
What about you, Wendy?
Diet is the foundation for health. Read Wise Traditions, learn about a healthy diet, buy good food, and learn how to cook.
I’m grateful for both of you, for this movie, for your heart, and for getting this message out. The untold story is now told. Thank you, Wendy and Angie.
Thank you so much.
Have a great day. Thank you.
Our guests were Wendy Ractliffe and Angela Peacock. You can find out more about the film that was made by going to MedicatingNormal.com. They have the trailer there and other information on viewing opportunities. You can find me at HolisticHilda.com. For a review from Apple Podcasts, “My favorite podcast,” from Whit_np. “Especially during these trying times, this podcast produces kōrero/conversation that nourishes mind, body, and soul.” This is beautiful, and this is what we are shooting for. Thank you so much for your review.
I want to invite you to give us more than a review. You can go to Apple Podcasts and tell us what you think of the show, but I want to invite you to give us your purposeful testimonial. I’m going to be putting together an episode with your stories. How has the Weston A Price Foundation Wise Traditions way of living affected your life for the better?
Go to the WestonAPrice.org website and go to the podcast page. You will see about the podcast. Click on that section, and you will see this little app there called SpeakPipe. There you can record your 2 to 3 minute-testimonial. Always begin, please, with your name and where you are from. Tell us what the Wise Traditions diet has done for you and your family. Thank you in advance, and thank you for reading. Stay well, hasta pronto.
- Medicating Normal
- Angie Peacock
- The Contagion Myth
- Anatomy of an Epidemic
- Wise Traditions
- Apple Podcasts – Wise Traditions
About Wendy Ractliffe
Wendy Ractliffe was associate producer for the documentary Beyond Measure by Vicki Abeles. Medicating Normal is her first feature film. She has been involved in regenerative agriculture and alternative education for two decades. She has a B.A. in History from Yale University and an MBA from Duke University, and a diploma in Waldorf Education. The trailer for “Medicating Normal” can be seen at medicatingnormal.com.
About Angela Peacock
Angela Peacock, MSW, is a former U.S. Army Sergeant, and subject of the film, Medicating Normal. A recent graduate with a Masters in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, Angie is part of the outreach team for the film, facilitating discussion of the film’s issues for communities worldwide. She is a mental health reform advocate, a writer, and a YouTube creator who travels in her RV across the United States in an effort to improve the mental health care system. The trailer for “Medicating Normal” can be seen at medicatingnormal.com.🖨️ Print post