Drugs and Mental Health

November 20, 1957

Report Outline
Benefits and Risks in Use of Tranquilizers
Drug Therapy for Mentally ILL Persons
Relation of Physical to Mental Illness

Benefits and Risks in Use of Tranquilizers

Rapidly spreading use of tranquilizing drugs has aroused considerable concern among medical leaders. They feel that more time and study are needed to weigh the effects of the drugs on human beings. They tend to look on the current predilection for “happiness pills” as a medical fad, for they strongly suspect that the drugs are being prescribed for not a few individuals who receive no benefit from them and who may even be harmed.

Early enthusiasm for one or another of the drugs as a “miracle” specific for severe mental illness is being tempered by the more cautious reports of later investigators. Although the tranquilizers continue to be regarded as useful in the care and treatment of mental patients, hope is fading that they will bring about a drastic reduction in the number of persons afflicted. The attention paid to the drugs, however, has had the important indirect result of stimulating research into the basic causes of mental disease. Studies of the action of tranquilizing drugs on the brain have opened new avenues for exploring the connections between mind and body, which may help to establish a physiological basis for mental illness.

Meanwhile, two agencies of the federal government are making concerted efforts to assemble full and dependable information on the efficacy of particular drugs in particular medical situations, on hazards involved in their use, on appropriate dosages, and other data necessary for safe and effective use of the drugs in medical practice. The National Institute of Mental Health of the U.S. Public Health Service and the Veterans Administration, which cares for 60,000 hospitalized neuropsychiatric patients, are taking the lead in pressing these investigations.

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