This historical campaign has vital lessons for today

I was started on an SSRI antidepressant in the period not long after the “Defeat Depression Campaign,” in my case for “Social Anxiety Disorder”.

My generation of psychiatrists were “educated” to prescribe SSRI antidepressants by this campaign. Many of today’s psychiatrists may not be aware of the lasting impact that this campaign has had on prescribing practice across the UK.

This historical campaign has vital lessons for today. I worry that my profession has failed to consider these lessons.

Furthermore, there is more than sufficient evidence that the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of General Practitioners continue to facilitate an approach to medical science that conflates marketing with education.

The Royal Colleges need to put an end to this.

Unless our Royal Colleges take meaningful action: “informed consent” will continue to be less than informed, and prescribing risks being unrealistic.

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When I was first started on Paroxetine (Seroxat) the marketing of this drug was unavoidable. Perhaps not independently of such widespread marketing, the indications for Seroxat widened greatly. It was Professor David Baldwin (then Dr) and Professor David Nutt who were the key opinion leaders and “poster boys” for advertising Paroxetine’s efficacy for “Social Anxiety Disorder”.

With such professional endorsement, Paroxetine (Seroxat) was advertised for its “powerful embrace”.

Many years ago I made this film.  At the time, I was advised (rather strongly by my colleagues) not to share it, and certainly not with psychiatrists in training:

A Powerful Embrace:

To play this film please click here or on the image above.

Please note: Once I have made a film I leave it as it is. Time passes.


Back to 1994,  Professor Robert G Priest introduced “The Marking of the Defeat Depression Campaign” confirming this:

In referring to their industry sponsored research, Robert G Priest and David Baldwin stated that:

Given the firm advice that I had received from my colleagues, l was naturally wary about making any more films on psychiatric medications (I felt frightened to speak openly and honestly about my experiences). Perhaps, as you now read you might identify with my predicament.

Sabbatical. After a period of reflection, I did have another go at making a film:

Gilbert Farie Revisited:

To play this film please click here or on the image above

By the time of making this film I had come to appreciate that lived experience of medication may not be considered as an equal form of evidence by the medical profession:

01 The Fishermen

In 2016, the Chief Executive Officer of the Royal College of Psychiatrists gave this statement:

This is a summary of the evidence that I have been able to gather:

A quarter of a century on from the “Defeat Depression Campaign”: how confident are you that the Royal Colleges have learned from it?

Any intervention can bring about a range of consequences and I believe that it is a professional responsibility and scientific imperative to talk about these.

I have included a letter of October 1997 by Charles Medawar, and the response from Professor Robert Kendell [then the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists] in relation to concerns about the "Defeat Depression Campaign". These letters are reproduced in full. I was started on Paroxetine [Seroxat] at this very juncture:


Professor George Ikkos [22 April 2020]: “P Gordon says Defeat Depression campaign had diagrams of chemical imbalance. I don’t remember that. The material should be available in the Royal College of Psychiatrists archives . .  .  interesting what turns up; may not confirm PG statement”

When it was pointed out that such requests have been repeatedly made to the College for the archive material for the ‘Defeat Depression Campaign’, Professor Ikkos said: “I am surprised but have to take his word in trust. Back then, I thought the campaign was well intentioned but obviously very much of it’s time, riding the SSRI crest . . campaigns have reflected President’s enthusiasm, with RCPsych council support”