[Previous] Philosophy Consulting Service | Home | [Next] John Locke's Politics

Letter to Jordan Peterson on Antidepressants and Rational Discussion

I like your videos, e.g. about identity politics, university, insight into human life, and the value of skill at thinking, writing, speaking, arguing, and reading. Let's have discussions to advance human knowledge and find truth.

I believe you're mistaken about antidepressants. Logically, at least one of us is mistaken. It'd be good to resolve this and find the truth.

You say [1] that if an antidepressant works, you'll know in a month. But how would you know? If your life improves in a month, it could have been for an unrelated reason, due to trying more, or due to placebo. The correlation between taking the antidepressant and then getting better doesn't imply causation. To know causation you have to figure out explanations of how antidepressants work.

You suggest that antidepressants either work or don't work, and are harmless. You suggest this by saying there's no good reason for people to resist trying antidepressants when they're "depressed". But antidepressants are harmful.

The explanation of how antidepressants "work" is they're brain-disabling [2]. That's what they do, not a side effect. That makes it harder for people to think about or complain about their problems, and harder to fight with others. It also motivates some people to lie that they're better in order to get off the drugs.

Peter Breggin explains [3]:

... except for the brain dysfunction and biochemical imbalances caused by psychiatric drugs, there are no known abnormalities in the brains of people who routinely seek help from psychia­trists ... All biopsychiatric treatments share a common mode of action: the disruption of normal brain function. ... all the major categories of psychiatric drugs—antidepressants, stimulants, tranquilizers (antianxiety drugs), mood stabilizers, and anti­psychotics​—​are neuro­toxic. They poison neurons, and sometimes destroy them. ... The currently available biopsychiatric treatments are not specific for any known disorder of the brain. ... they disrupt normal brain function, without correcting any brain abnormality.

I can elaborate on this, and on the additional issue that "depression" and "mental illness" are myths [4].

I searched for information refuting this position, particularly by you or referenced by you. I was unable to find it. E.g., I checked the six neuroscience books you recommend [5], searched your Quora, and listened to Rethinking Depression [6]. I also looked at other criticism of Breggin [7].

In Rethinking Depression, you say you disregard human antidepressant trials because of human complexity. It's too hard to measure the results, control all the factors like other drugs being taken, and prevent bias. I agree. But the same issues apply to judging whether a drug works in one individual's life.

You positively bring up animal trials. But human complexity also poses a problem for extrapolating from animals. Can you link a detailed, written explanation, citing animal studies, that you think should change my mind?

You say critics of antidepressants have unrepresentative experiences and don't appreciate the depths of human misery. You're right about some critics, but Thomas Szasz and I agree with you about human tragedy. I have nothing against people getting help (it's not a crutch), as long as that help is compatible with science and liberalism. I'm not denying the reality and severity of "depression" and suffering, I only deny that it's a medical problem and that antidepressants can medically cure it. Note that being a non-medical and non-genetic problem doesn't mean it's easy to solve, I actually think that means it's harder to solve. (Memes are more fearsome adversaries than genes.)

This is similar to identity politics in two ways. First, saying people lack appropriate lived experience, perspective, etc, isn't a good answer to critics. If they don't know something, it can be explained. Second, people have assumed that, since you object to trans pronoun laws, you deny the reality of bigotry against trans people and are unfamiliar with their suffering. Critics like that exist, but that isn't your reasoning.

Do you have additional arguments which address my points about antidepressants?

I like much of what you have to say, and don't think it depends on these claims about antidepressants.

Below I discuss objections to discussion and methods of rational discussion, then provide references.

You may have some objections to discussion like:

  • You're busy.

  • You're skeptical that I'm smart and knowledgeable enough.

  • You expect discussions of this nature usually don't reach conclusions with anyone changing their mind, ever, let alone in a timely manner.

  • If it turns out you're correct and I learn something, where's the value for you?

There are solutions to these problems which don't require giving up on addressing criticism and disagreement from the general public.

Today people get flooded with incoming ideas. People normally filter by prestige, popularity, gatekeeping authorities, social circle, subculture, and proxies for those. These filters are bad at finding the truth. Great new ideas often start off unpopular and look just like bad new ideas to the filters.

One of the solutions is a public, online, discussion forum where other people answer questions and arguments, so you don't have to personally defend everything. (For this, it's necessary to have competent supporters – without those, it's kinda only fair and reasonable that a serious intellectual must do a lot of work explaining stuff himself.)

Another solution is reusing ideas with links and references. If something has already been answered, simply provide the link. And take personal responsibility for any mistakes in that answer, even if someone else wrote it, since you're using it for your own position. Or if no one on your side of the debate has ever created an adequate answer to the criticism, then it's worth some time and attention.

This link reuse approach means only a new argument requires a new reply. And one can write general answers which address an entire category of arguments at once, and then only a different category of argument requires a new answer. Writing quality, canonical answers, and then reusing them, also helps avoid making ad hoc arguments for a position one has a bias about. It also builds up human knowledge.

Methods like these address the question: "If I'm mistaken, and you know it ... how will I find out?"

Answering all critical arguments is important because you could be mistaken. It's also a good way to learn. And providing answers allows for your critics to learn why you're right, or to give follow up arguments you haven't addressed.

People don't do this well. They go through life having inconclusive discussions, using filters to ignore some arguments, and staying mistaken about issues where better ideas are already known. There's a better way [8], which I can elaborate on.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuQgJxYriYI

[2] http://www.wayneramsay.com/drugs.htm

[3] Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd edition, Peter R. Breggin. pp. xxiii, 2, 7

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Mental-Illness-Foundations-Personal/dp/0061771228/


[5] https://jordanbpeterson.com/2017/03/great-books/

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/rethinking-depression-part-1-1.2913549

[7] E.g. this criticism of Breggin is bad. I can provide details. http://quackwatch.com/11Ind/breggin.html

[8] http://fallibleideas.com/paths-forward

Elliot Temple on May 30, 2017

Messages (15)

I was unable to download the 3 hours of Rethinking Depression episodes, or speed them up in my browser. So I bought Audio Hijack which can record any audio your computer plays. Then I played in VLC at higher speed!

Audio Hijack is awesome. It was very easy to use. A+++

curi at 10:12 AM on May 30, 2017 | #8694 | reply | quote

Jordan Peterson on reddit:


> Go see a mental health professional. Don't delay. There are effective treatments for such conditions. Anti-depressants are very useful for some people. You'd know within a month if they were helpful. They'll be plenty to suffer about in your life. If you can help yourself with a medication, thank your luck stars and do it. It's not a cop-out, particularly if you try to put your life together while you're trying the medication.

This idea that you will know if it works in a month is completely unscientific.

It's exactly how people "know" that homeopathy works for them. They try it and in some way it appears to them to work. And they go with bias instead of science.

curi at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2017 | #8709 | reply | quote

He has read myth of mental illness

ff at 5:17 AM on September 19, 2017 | #9040 | reply | quote

> He has read myth of mental illness

yes but he apparently didn't understand it very well

Anonymous at 9:33 AM on September 19, 2017 | #9042 | reply | quote


I agree. I was quite surprised to hear JBPs take on antidepressants. He’s otherwise quite committed to truth and fearless inquiry, hurt feelings be damned.

For me the worst thing about antidepressants is that for every person they actually help, there are many who respond spontaneously or due to placebo effects who come to falsely attribute their recovery to the drug. They become emotionally dependant on the drug, thinking the drug is what’s keeping them aloft, like dumbo believing it’s his “magic” feather which allows him to fly.


Tom at 7:17 PM on May 22, 2018 | #9765 | reply | quote

He also believes in stupid diets. He & his daughter promote many cure all diets.

FF at 10:07 AM on May 23, 2018 | #9766 | reply | quote

Wacky diets too? :( It’s a pity, he makes so much sense elsewhere.

Tom at 9:23 PM on May 23, 2018 | #9767 | reply | quote

JP has other flaws. I really liked some of his lecture videos (like the lion king and pinocchio analysis), but 12 Rules For Life was disappointing. http://curi.us/2085-commentary-videos-on-12-rules-for-life

curi at 9:53 PM on May 23, 2018 | #9768 | reply | quote

I’m going to read 12 rules for life to see what the fuss is about.

Any further word from JBP on antidepressants?

I’m still so surprised he’s taken in by them and considers them at worst harmless.

He must have had a rough time and feels the need to believe in them.

Tom at 4:48 AM on May 24, 2018 | #9769 | reply | quote

Antidepressants Harm

They tell you to seek help - but contact with hospitals increases suicide risk by 100%.

The drugs may feel harmless at first, but the trials only run for 6 weeks at best - and yet - many who take the drugs are stuck on them for life.

As the years go by, systems start to fail, mysterious ailments like IBS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, restless legs, akathisia, anhedonia, dystonias and dyskinesias crop up. The doctors tell you it is a mystery, but never look to the drugs.

Your eyesight might fail, but the ophthalmologist never mentions the anticholinergic effects of dry eye on your vision - or worse, the damage to your eyes by some of these drugs.

i could go on and on. To remove yourself from drugs - Peterson's ketogenic approach is actually a valid method of mood management - you have to take charge of your own mood. If you cannot adjust your mood, who can? No drug will ever fix your mood. I recommend www.survivingantidepressants.org for tapering information.

JC at 6:49 AM on September 18, 2018 | #11204 | reply | quote

uneducated people talking about mental illness when not even having a bachelors harm more

Anonymous at 5:16 PM on September 19, 2018 | #11215 | reply | quote

It's complex

Mental illness being a myth? Holy crap. What a stupid thing to say.

There are people who suffer and they don't have much to turn to other than try a medication. Yes, that medication is harmful in the long run. But for some it's the better alternative. At least they're given a choice. Tell them that mental illness is a myth.

Nonya Business at 7:45 AM on July 11, 2019 | #13024 | reply | quote

#13024 You can see the sources which explain that mental illness is a myth in the original blog post. You have refuted none of that material.

Anonymous at 9:29 PM on July 11, 2019 | #13043 | reply | quote

> They tell you to seek help - but contact with hospitals increases suicide risk by 100%.

i have not looked into this at all, but i feel like that might be correlation or something. im gonna make an example:

lets say there are 2 groups of suicidal people. group 1 is partially suicidal, there is a 10% chance they will kill them selfs in a year. group 2 is extra suicidal, there is a 20% chance they will kill them selfs in a year.

also lets assume hospitals do nothing to effect suicide chance.

group 1 are not suicidal enough to contact the hospital, but group 2 is. so all the ppl who contact the hospital are in group 2, the group that is already more likely to commit suicide.

so basically when you compare ppl who contact the hospital to ppl who dont contact the hospital, you are comparing ppl who are already more likely to commit suicide to ppl who are less likely to commit suicide

i might be completely wrong about this specific case, but i think this is a good example of correlation that could be applied to other things.

internetrules at 5:04 PM on February 12, 2021 | #19966 | reply | quote

Want to discuss this? Join my forum.

(Due to multi-year, sustained harassment from David Deutsch and his fans, commenting here requires an account. Accounts are not publicly available. Discussion info.)