Citizens Commission on Human Rights

The Mental Health Watchdog

Australian National Office

Alarming Federal Mental Health Commission Potential Conflicts of Interest Could lead to More Children on Mind Altering Drugs

different pills forming a dollar symbol.The statistics are alarming – nearly 89,000 Australian children under 16 are on ADHD drugs, antidepressants and antipsychotics (4,429 aged between 2-6). These are drugs with often serious side-effects – and the worst – death has been linked to such drugs for 21 children under the age of 19. Combined with a 645% increased expenditure on psychiatric drugs since 1993, the alarm bells are reverberating across the country as more and more experts and parents become concerned with the rising trend of drugs being used to control the behaviour of children – a trend that simply did not exist 3 decades ago.

Along with professional and public concern over the escalating drugging figures, there is an attendant vocal concern over the conflicts of interest from those who should be scrutinising policies and guidelines involving the welfare of children in Australia, ensuring their protection. Increasing critical commentary and media articles have been exposing the potentially biased conflicts involving committee members. Topping it off for this year was the announcement by the federal Mental Health Minister of the membership of the new federal Mental Health Commission, which includes commissioners with ties to pharmaceutical companies.

Whilst the commission is charged with providing “independent advice” to the government on the performance of the mental health system, a cursory look over the commissioners reveals the following concerning activities, pharmaceutical links and connections:

  • Newly announced Commissioner psychiatrist Ian Hickie, received $70,000 from Bristol-Myers Squibb to develop the depression checklist for the GP training program called SPHERE which he founded. Pfizer also fund SPHERE and it was boasted that SPHERE assisted Pfizer to restore their antidepressant Zoloft to the number one antidepressant in Australia.1Prof Hickie is also currently doing a clinical trial giving antidepressants to the elderly who are “at risk” of depression, but are NOT depressed now. A leading mental health research group said the practice of drugging someone when they don’t have a disorder is akin to “performing mastectomies on women who are at risk of-but do not have-breast cancer.” 2 3Prof Hickie has also served on professional advisory boards convened by Bristol-Myers Squibb & Eli Lilly. 1 Wyeth, and AstraZenica have also funded Prof Hickie and Servier are currently funding a study of his. 4 5
  • Newly announced Commissioner, Hon Rob Knowles is the Chair of the Mental Health Council who have had a Pharmaceutical Collaboration in place since 2004. The 2011 pharmaceutical companies who fund the Mental Health Council as part of this collaboration are Astra Zenica, Eli Lilly, Janssen-Cilag, Pfizer and Servier. 6Mr Knowles is also Chair of the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIF of Aust. – a membership organisation with fellowships in most states). 7 Pharma giant Janssen–Cilag promote on their website that they give money to the MIF of Aust. for “Support for consumer and care education and parliamentary awareness program on schizophrenia.” 8 Eli Lilly gave a grant to the MIF of Aust. for a National Speaker Tour during Schizophrenia Awareness Week. 9

Consumers should be extremely wary of conflicts in this area – no matter how well it is brushed off as ‘everyone has drug company links and it makes no difference to their professionalism’. Drug companies are well aware that they can influence prescribing habits which is why they fund psychiatric clinical trials, mental health groups and dinners and trips for psychiatrists. All conflicts of interest of the new Commission need to be publicly declared so that the parents and Australia knows who is truly independent and who is not. It is not possible for anyone with potential conflicts of interest to provide ‘independent advice’ to the government.

“While there are well meaning people on the Commission, if the Commission is genuinely set to reform mental health in Australia it would do well to start with removing any potential conflicts of interest on its own Commission (and requesting the same is done for all committees who advise the federal government). For once the U.S. has paved the way with a smart law – Australia must pass a law in kind to the US Physician Sunshine Act which will see all drug makers report all payments and gifts to doctors” says Ms Shelley Wilkins from the Citizens Committee on Human Rights.

“If conflicts of interest are not removed and a non-toxic, non-addictive medical approach to effective solutions is put in place to help children by the Commission, the cost to our children both financially and potentially damaged or lost lives will continue to escalate while psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry continue to profit.”

  3. Alliance for Human Research Protection, “Yale-Lilly Experiment: Adolescents Rx Toxic Drug for Presumed Mental Illness They Do Not Have,” 3 May 2006.
  4. “Is Depression Over Diagnosed? Yes,” Prof. Gordon Parker and Ian Hickie, BMJ, 18 Nov. 2007. Also on
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