No longer content with just wilful ignorance, Dr Caroline Leaf has stooped even further by using the death of a beloved actress as a sick segue against psychiatric medications.
Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. She markets herself as an expert in neuroscience and mental health despite not knowing how genes work (https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/09/27/dr-caroline-leaf-and-the-genetic-fluctuations-falsehood/ and https://cedwardpitt.com/2017/01/07/dr-caroline-leaf-the-christian-churchs-anti-vaxxer/).
In her latest “Mental Health News – January 2017” e-mail newsletter, Dr Leaf makes some astounding and outlandish statements about mental health.
She starts by claiming that Carrie Fisher’s death was ultimately caused by the psychiatric medications she was taking.
“Few people, however, are talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication. As mental health activist Corinna West shows, ‘new antipsychotics cause weight gain, diabetes, and a bunch of other risk factors associated with heart disease.’ We have to take these risk factors seriously. We are not merely talking about statistics—we are talking about real people, people like Carrie Fisher.”
Dr Leaf, no one’s talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because we respect the Carrie Fisher too much and would rather celebrate her life and achievements, not perform a hypothetical post-mortem motivated by prejudiced speculation.
No one’s talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because no one really knows what caused Carrie Fisher’s heart attack. No one knows if she had any other risk factors for heart attacks, or what medications she was on. There could be a dozen other reasons why she had a heart attack. No one else is asking because it’s none of our business.
No one’s talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because we know that psychiatric medications do much more good than harm.
No one is talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because it’s highly disrespectful to use someone’s death to promote your political or ideological position. Using Carrie Fisher’s death as a segue to your soapbox about psychiatric medications is like someone using Princess Diana’s death as an opportunity to talk about the dangers of speeding in tunnels. It’s ungracious, unbecoming, and in poor taste.
What’s even more dishonouring to Carrie Fisher is that Dr Leaf’s claims about psychiatric medications are not accurate.
“Sadly, individuals suffering from mental health issues ‘die, on average, 25 years earlier that the general population.’ These medications are incredibly dangerous, and we have to start asking ourselves, as the investigative journalist and mental health campaigner Robert Whitaker notes, if the benefits of these drugs truly outweigh the risks.”
Notice the giant hole in her argument? She assumes that the increased risk of death in those with mental illness is the medications they’re on, just like she’s assumed that Carrie Fisher died because she was taking psychiatric medications.
That’s confirmation bias, not science.
Real mental health experts – the ones with training, clinical experience and research acumen – directly contradict Dr Leaf. Experts like Correll, who say that, “Although antipsychotics have the greatest potential to adversely affect physical health, it is important to note that several large, nationwide studies providing generalizable data have suggested that all-cause mortality is higher in patients with schizophrenia not receiving antipsychotics.” 
In other words, the life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is shorter than the rest of the population, but it’s much shorter in schizophrenics not on meds. Psychiatric medications help people with schizophrenia live longer.
In fact, the use of any anti-psychotic medication for a patient with schizophrenia decreased their risk of dying by nearly 20%  whereas the risk of dying for schizophrenics who didn’t take anti-psychotics was nearly ten times that of the healthy population .
This is the same for other psychiatric medications as well, “clozapine, antidepressants, and lithium, as well as anti-epileptics, are associated with reduced mortality from suicide.” 
Psychiatric drugs aren’t “incredibly dangerous”. Like any tool, when used in the right way, they can bring radical transformation. What IS incredibly dangerous is the disingenuous and ill-informed making libellous and inaccurate statements about medications they don’t understand.
Not content to just insult Carrie Fisher’s memory, Dr Leaf went on to claim that psychiatric labels are also as harmful as psychiatric drugs. “These risks are not limited to taking medication. Psychiatric labels can also harm the individual involved. Child psychiatrist Sami Timimi recently discussed the adverse effect the autism label can have on children and adults alike. Labels can lock people in, taking away their hope for recovery, affecting their ability to perform everyday tasks and crippling their determination to live above their circumstances. Words can harm people as much as “sticks and stones” do, as psychologist Paula Caplan notes in her talk on psychiatric survivors and diagnoses.”
It’s witless to suggest that labels harm people or that they somehow lock people in and take away their hope. The right label, which doctors call a diagnosis, doesn’t lock people in at all, it does the exact opposite:
* The right diagnosis gives hope – hope that comes from receiving the right treatment and not wasting time, money and energy pursuing the wrong treatment.
* The right diagnosis gives power – it empowers people by giving them the ability to make accurate decisions about what’s best for themselves and their loved ones.
* The right diagnosis gives certainty – in many situations, knowing what the diagnosis is reduces unnecessary anxiety and fear.
Imagine that you had a freckle on your arm, and it started growing suddenly. You go to the doctor, and the doctor says that the freckle is actually a skin cancer. Does that label lock you in and take away your hope? Of course not. It gives you the certainty of knowing that treatment is needed, and the power to decide if you want that treatment. And it gives you hope that with the right treatment, you can continue to live a healthy life.
In the same way, a psychiatric diagnosis doesn’t lock people in and remove their hope. A child who understands that they have autism can stop beating themselves up for being ‘odd’ and instead, they can understand that their different wiring gives them special powers that other kids don’t have.
Psychiatric labels do not harm an individual, it’s the backwards opinions of so-called mental health experts that harm individuals with psychiatric illness. The stigma of a diagnosis is related to the way in which society treats individuals with that diagnosis, not the diagnosis itself. Perpetuating the myth that that ‘depression and autism aren’t really diseases’ reduces the acceptance of society for those who suffer from those conditions. That’s what causes harm.
Dr Leaf should apologise to her followers for showing such disrespect for Carrie Fisher, and to all those who take psychiatric medications. Carrie Fisher spent her life supporting people with mental illness, trying to break down the stigma of psychiatric illness and treatment. Her life’s work should be celebrated, not defaced by Dr Leaf and her unscientific opinion.
 Correll CU, Detraux J, De Lepeleire J, De Hert M. Effects of antipsychotics, antidepressants and mood stabilizers on risk for physical diseases in people with schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association 2015 Jun;14(2):119-36.
 Tiihonen J, Lonnqvist J, Wahlbeck K, et al. 11-year follow-up of mortality in patients with schizophrenia: a population-based cohort study (FIN11 study). Lancet 2009 Aug 22;374(9690):620-7.
 Torniainen M, Mittendorfer-Rutz E, Tanskanen A, et al. Antipsychotic treatment and mortality in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia bulletin 2015 May;41(3):656-63.