In the days since the Fort Hood shooting, I have wondered whether the gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was taking antidepressants in the weeks or months before he sprayed a medical clinic with bullets, killing 13 people. I hesitated to raise that question since there is at present no evidence Hasan was on SSRI antidepressants, which have been linked to violent and suicidal actions, as I’ve blogged about here. (Nor, in fact, is there much hard information of any kind about his motives, although a story in The Boston Globe today raises questions about his link to a radical iman.)
Now, however, Dr. Peter Breggin has raised the drug issue in a provocative column for The Huffington Post:
The odds are that Dr. Hasan was self-medicating with antidepressants and tranquilizers that were causing his increasing disinhibition, at least in his pronouncements, until his final Allahu Akbar before he began shooting. In my book Medication Madness , I describe dozens of cases that I have personally evaluated involving relatively normal individuals who committed murder, mayhem and suicide while taking psychiatric drugs, especially antidepressants and tranquilizers. One of these cases involves a psychiatrist who began by self-medicating himself, then came under another psychiatrist’s care who continued to give him antidepressants, until he ended up in a manic state assaulting a helpless woman. Before being driven mad by antidepressants, he was a relatively stable and highly accomplished doctor with no special inclination toward violence. These psychiatric drugs will have an even greater triggering effect on someone like Hasan who was already ideologically and psychologically primed to explode in violence.
While Breggin’s speculation about self-medication is intriguing and worth investgiating, I have to take issue with his screed against all psychiatrists. He writes:
Modern psychiatry is not about counseling and empowering people. It’s about controlling and suppressing them, and that’s a dismal affair for patients and doctors alike.
I happen to know psychiatrists who do an amazing job of counseling and empowering their patients. Yes, there are many doctors (not only psychiatrists) who rely too heavily on drugs with serious side effects to medicate people with only mild symptoms of depression or anxiety, without considering other alternatives first. But there are many others who listen carefully to their patients and work with them to live full lives with or without medication.
Obviously, Major Hasan was grappling with a number of powerful demons before he went on his tragic rampage. I just hope that Congressional investigators don’t let the Army, for its own reasons, suppress factual information about Hasan’s medication usage or any other details that might help explain his wholly despicable actions.
Hat tip to Furious Seasons for alerting me to Breggin’s post.