Book Review Comfortably Numb by Charles Barber


BookReview: Comfortably Numb by Charles Barber

BookReview: Comfortably Numb by Charles Barber

Inthe book “ComfortablyNumb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation,”Charles Barber explores the over-prescription of antidepressants toAmericans. The examination of the issue in the book brings out thedelicate concern of the over-prescription medicine in the UnitedStates. Theissue of the prescription of Americans to many drugs is a criticaltheme of the literature perspective of Charles Barber. The extent atwhich Americans are taking drugs is alarming and requires a criticalview, which is ably presented by Barber. The review of the book willpresent the major themes and the medical model presented by Barber inthe book and explores the debate about the issues arising from thetext.

Theover-prescription of Americans to antidepressants is the major themepresented by Barber in the book. According to Barber (2008), asignificant number of Americans are under antidepressants, which areprescribed to them by medical institutions. What amazes Barber isthat Americans are still being prescribed to them at an alarmingrate. To defend his argument and the theme in general, Barber takesthe case of Winterset, a city in Madison County of the Iowa state.Barber reports that in 2002, 16% of Winterset inhabitants had anantidepressant prescription (Barber,2008).This gives a case that Barber argues to gradually being replicated inthe entire united states at a concerning rate.

Thesecond theme is the commercialization of mood and psychiatry drugs inAmerica. Barber explores the circumstances that have led to thecommercialization of these drugs and points the problem to thecommercial interest of the pharmaceutical companies. According toBarber (2008), pharmaceutical companies create the need for a drug,market the need and supply the drug to the market. This is the trendthat can be referred to as corporate psychiatry, where corporatebodies control the type of medication being prescribed by doctors bycontrolling the supply of the drugs (Barber,2008).This is what leads to the argument by Barber that the pharmaceuticalindustry has taken a significant role in the psychiatric industrymore than the doctors.

Anothertheme is the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the distributionand prescription of psychiatric drugs. In this regard, the mainargument by Barber is that if there was no industry,non-pharmaceutical approaches are overlooked as the instant cure foremotional difficulties are being preferred. The preferred cures arethe ones that get aggressive marketing from the pharmaceutical firmswho have a commercial interest in the industry. According to Barber,the reason for this situation is the aggressive marketing strategiesadopted by the pharmaceutical industries. Barber argues that theaggressive marketing of the pharmaceutical companies succeeds to givethem an advantage because of the pervasive nature nature if Americansto seek happiness.

Inthe book, Barber takes a medical model of alternative solutions topsychiatric problems, rather than psychiatry drugs. Therefore, Barberexplores the importance of the cognitive behavioral treatments thatare better alternatives to the psychiatric drugs. The medical modelof dumbness gives a better meaning of the situation that America isexperiencing with psychiatry drugs. The perspective represents acountry that is psychiatrically ailing from the excessiveprescription. The use of comfortable dumb represents the view ofBarber about the people who are being kept comfortable by theover-prescription of psychiatric drugs in the United States. Thismodel shows the idea of a depressed country that relies in quick cureto emotion to remain comfortable. The model of a comfortable numbrepresents the way the responses to mental illnesses has cycled fromcure to skepticism as the prescription is taking quick cures for thepopulation.

Topresent these themes, Barber takes a historical perspective of hisinvolvement in social work in New York. Barber cites the cases heexperienced while working with homeless people in New York in thelate 1980s. He notes that most of the homeless and mentally illpatients were troublesome and delusionary (Barber,2008).Therefore, to quell their unruly moods, they were given and takingantidepressants, in a range of medications. Barber notes that some ofthe drugs were in existence and have been in use as early as theearly 1950s and 1960s (Barber,2008).In this view, Barber observes that practice as cultured practice bymost psychiatrists, and not a modern day issue. However, Barbercritically examines the issues from the commercial and ethicalperspective, which brings the second theme.

Inagreement with Barber, I think aggressive marketing can have an undueinfluence on the prescription of the drug in question by doctors. Ithink aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical companies createsthe undue advantage towards the pharmaceutical firms in two ways.First, I agree because the marketing influences the view of thedoctors that the drug is more credible and effective compared withthe others in the market. Secondly, aggressive marketing shapes themindset of the patients to believe that they should get certain“superior” drugs in the prescriptions given by the doctor. Inaddition, aggressive marketing eliminates questions about theprescription of some drugs by the doctors as people deem them to becorrect. I think this is what gives pharmaceutical companies aninfluence through commercial marketing of their drugs.

However,I disagree with the view that the drugs are sometimes harmful withover-prescription. First, the drugs are approved by the FDA forspecialized and psychiatry prescription. Secondly, I think thepharmaceutical companies seek profit but they still present validdrugs that are effective for the desired use. Thirdly, the drugs areproduced by the same pharmaceutical companies that use doctors inresearch and development of the drugs. In this regard, most of thebook by Barber is not research based, as he does not carry his ownstudy about the problem. Despite the disagreement, the views ofBarber are valid about the problem of over-prescription in the UnitedStates.

Iwould recommend the book to any person who is concerned about thesafety of the drugs they are being prescribed, especially psychiatricdrugs. This is because the book provides a valid concern that hasbeen known and cited before. Secondly, the book gives specificexamples that defend the assertions about the concern ofover-prescription of psychiatric drugs in the United States. Thirdly,the book presents a question of safety of the psychiatryprescription, which can be answered through further research.

Acritical point about the book is the ethical view of thepharmaceutical industry. It is important to look at the ethicalconcerns of the strategies used by pharmaceutical companies to createa need for drugs and then rush to supply them. This is the mostcritical point I will hope to remember about the book by Barber. Infact, I tend to extend the same critical view on the other drugs andmedical prescriptions. The concern for ethics and views about theindustry shows that Barber was successful in exploring the issue ofover-prescription of antidepressants in the United States.


Barber,C. (2008). ComfortablyNumb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation.New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group