We Need to be Studying the Mind, Not the Brain

Al Galves, PhD
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Our priorities for studying and improving “mental health” are way out of whack.1  They have been for a long time.  For the past 30 years, the National Institute for Mental Health has been spending most of its gigantic budget ($1.3 billion in 2015) on studying the brain and looking for the genes that cause “mental illness.”  That’s been a tremendous waste of money, time and effort.

What do we have to show for it?  Since psychotropic drugs became the primary modality of treatment there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Americans on Social Security Disability due to “mental illnesses.”2  Patients who don’t use the drugs recover at a higher rate than ones who do.3  Patients who use neuroleptic drugs die significantly earlier than other people.4

The history of psychosurgery is just as bad.  We thought lobotomies were the answer but that has proven not to be the case.  Electroshock improves the symptoms of severely depressed persons to some degree.  But the relapse rate is extremely high and patients suffer the loss of significant parts of their memories.  It’s hard to see how inducing grand mal seizures can be of help to many people.

In spite of billions of dollars and countless hours spent looking for genes that cause “mental illness,” a specific gene has never been found.  Decades of research have confirmed that the influence of genetics on “mental illness” is very minimal at best.5

You would think that this failure would raise some eyebrows and cause some soul searching.  But no, the NIMH announced recently that it is doubling down on its effort to find the biological bases of “mental illnesses.”  NIMH’s Research Domain Criteria Initiative (RDoC) will be asking the following questions:

  • What are the neural bases of perception, cognition, motivation and social behavior?
  • How do there aspects of mental function – which represent how we perceive, interpret, react to and interact with the world – become altered in mental illness?

The strategic plan goes on to say “the answers will come from discovery-based and hypothesis-testing studies examining the biological mechanisms underlying the regulation and dysregulation of mental processes.”  Strategy 1.1 is: Describe the Molecules, Cells and Neural Circuits Associated With Complex Behaviors.6

And President Obama recently launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, a major goal of which is to identify the genetic underpinnings of disease, leading one scientist-critic to say: “In other words, we are spending a lot of money on something with questionable utility, and even when we do find genetic variants that contribute to risk, their predictive power is based on environment, culture and behavior.”7

So it looks like we’re going to continue to waste billions of dollars on the quixotic search for the roots of “mental illness” in the brain and genetic dynamics.

How should we be using this money, time and effort?  I think we should be using it to study the mind and how to help people use their minds more effectively.  I am defining the mind here as the part of ourselves which thinks, feels, intends, understands and perceives.  The mind is the faculty we use to do everything we do – to build civilizations, create technology, produce art, learn about the cosmos, raise our children, fall in love, help our fellows, make decisions and plans about our future, plan vacations, study the Earth and the plants and animals that live on it.

It is tempting to think of the brain and the mind as the same thing.  But they are quite different.  We know very little about the relationship between the brain and the mind.  We know something about how neurons operate in the brain.  We know something about the function and dynamics of neurotransmitters.  We have some idea of the location of different functions in different parts of the brain.  But we have no idea of the difference between what is going on in the brain when we are painting a picture and planning a vacation, for example.  We have little understanding of how memory works, where it operates or how to improve it through intervention in the brain.  We have no idea about what happens when I say I am going to move my arm at the count of three and proceed to do it – precisely at the count of three.

As William Uttal has argued in his book Mind and Brain: A Critical Appraisal of Cognitive Neuroscience, we have no idea of how the brain creates the mind.  Neuroscientists think they have such a theory but they aren’t even close.  The mind is so vast and powerful and we know so little about the relationship between the mind and the brain that we are a long way from having such a theory.

Here are a couple of questions that may help us understand the difference between the mind and the brain:  When a woman learns through a long course of psychotherapy that she has been prematurely breaking off love relationships out of fear that she will ultimately be abandoned, is that insight being performed by the mind or the brain?  When a young man decides that he is going to study cognitive neuroscience rather than music therapy, is that being done by the mind or the brain?

Here’s another way of putting it.  The brain isn’t capable of performing human agency, of using intention, of making decisions about what to do and when.  Only the mind is capable of doing that.  In the words of David Jacobs, “the brain is a necessary but not sufficient component of mental life. The alphabet is a necessary substrate of a novel, but it would be foolish to say the alphabet is the novel or that the novel can be reduced to or found in the alphabet.”   In the same sense, it is foolish to say that the brain is the mind or that the mind can be reduced to or found in the brain.

How do we study the mind?  We can’t do it through the techniques of laboratory science.  We can’t do brain scans or blood assays of the mind.  But we can study the mind by studying the experience that humans have in using their minds.  We can study the mind through the methods of phenomenology.  We can put people through various kinds of learning and therapy experiences and see how that impacts their ability to use their minds.  We can compare such experiences to see which are most effective.  We can study people who use their minds in different ways and study the associations between their life experiences and the way in which they use their minds.

What makes me think we would benefit from spending at least as much money and effort on studying the mind as we do on studying the brain?  I think that because the weight of evidence tells me that, if we want to help people who are struggling in their lives, people, for example, who are diagnosed with “mental illnesses,” we are going to be more successful through intervening at the level of the mind than through intervening at the level of the brain.

Here is the benefit-risk profile for intervening at the level of the brain through psychotropic drugs or psychosurgery:

Benefits:

  • You may feel somewhat more energetic and alive if you take an upper like Prozac, Paxil, Adderall or Ritalin or somewhat less anxious and agitated if you take a downer like Atavan, Xanax, Zyprexa or Risperdal.
  • In the case of antidepressants the research says that the feeling better is largely due to the placebo effect but, nevertheless you may be feeling better.
  • Electroshock may help you feel less depressed but that effect won’t last for more than a month or two.
  • Taking an antipsychotic drug may dampen hallucinations but it won’t make them go away.

Risks:

  • You won’t be addressing the causes of the symptoms which have led you to seek treatment.
  • Although you have probably heard or read that your symptoms are caused by chemical imbalances, genetic dynamics or brain anomalies, there is no scientific evidence of that being the case.
  • Scientific evidence would tell you that any physiological changes associated with your symptoms are the result, not the cause of what is going on in your life and how you are reacting to it.
  • That is certainly the case with the stress response, the most widely and deeply studied of the mind-body dynamics.
  • The scientific evidence says that your symptoms are the result of situations you are facing in your life and of concerns that you have about your life and yourself.
  • The drugs won’t help you develop any of the skills and knowledge you need to deal with those concerns.
  • You’ll suffer from serious “side effects” of the drugs including increased incidence and risk of:
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Akathisia – extremely uncomfortable and dangerous restlessness
    • Mania
    • Violence
    • Suicide
    • Emotional blunting – loss of conscience and caring
    • Depersonalization – a sense of loss of contact with yourself
  • In the case of antipsychotics like Zyprexa, Abilify, Geodon and Risperdal, you’ll suffer from:
    • Tardive diskinesia – a Parkinson-like loss of control over muscles and gait.
    • Cognitive impairment
    • Brain shrinkage
    • Early death – persons who take antipsychotics die on average 25 years younger than people who don’t take them
  • In the case of electroshock, you will suffer significant memory loss and cognitive impairment.

If and when you stop taking the drug you will suffer difficult withdrawal effects.  In the case of anti-anxiety drugs such as Atavan and Xanax, that can involve years of debilitating recovery.  This is because the drugs have caused your brain to compensate for its changed condition so when you stop taking the drugs, your brain will be in a dysfunctional state.  Since the drugs you are taking act on the brain in the same way that cocaine, heroin and meta-amphetamines act on the brain, you will suffer the same kind of withdrawal effects as do persons who use illegal drugs.

If and when you stop taking the drug you are likely to experience a relapse of the symptoms that led you to seek treatment.

You will have bought into and complied with a very cynical and unhealthy message.  When you are feeling bad, take a drug.

Here is the benefit-risk profile for intervening at the level of the mind through various kinds of psychotherapy.

Benefits:

  • You will be addressing the causes of the symptoms that have led you to seek treatment.
  • You will gain self-management skills and knowledge that you will be able to use for the rest of your life to stay healthy and happy
  • Learn valuable lessons about yourself, what makes you tick, what you want and don’t want
  • Develop compassion for yourself
  • Learn how to deal with the difficult dilemmas we all face from time to time
  • Become able to connect with others in satisfying ways
  • Become more able to use your talents and faculties in satisfying and contributing ways.

As you learn how to manage your thoughts, feelings, intentions and perceptions in healthier ways, your brain will change in beneficial ways.

Risks:

  • You might waste some time and money.
  • You might receive some advice or messages that will get in the way of you becoming healthier and which might send you down the wrong path for a while.

The mind is what all the great psychologists have studied: Freud, Jung, Adler, Perls, Sullivan, the Ericksons, Horney, the Fromms, Alice Miller, Hillman, Satir, Haley, Beck, Ellis.  What they learned has been of great help to people.  They built the foundation of today’s psychotherapy which, according to research, is beneficial to 80 percent of the people who receive it.

If we want to help people who are going through the troubling, debilitating, painful and hopeful states of being we call “mental illness” we will do well to study the mind, not the brain.

* * * * *

Footnotes:

  1. I put quotations around “mental health” because that term assumes there is such a thing as “mental illness” and that term is misleading and problematic.  It is problematic because, with the ascendance of biopsychiatry, Americans have come to believe that the states of being associated with diagnoses of “mental illnesses” are essentially physiological in nature, i.e. caused by biochemical imbalances, genetic anomalies and brain disorders.  That is a problematic belief for the following reasons.  First, it is not supported by adequate scientific evidence.  So no “mental illnesses” are diagnosed with laboratory findings, brain scans or physiological markers of any kind.  Second it leads to “treatment” with psychotropic drugs and psychosurgery which is more harmful than helpful to people.  Third, it regards those states of being as alien, useless and worthy of being extinguished with no regard for their meaning, function and usefulness.  A more useful and beneficial belief is to regard those states of beings as understandable and “normal” reactions to life situations and to concerns that people have about their lives and themselves.  So, instead of mental illness, I prefer terms such as emotional distress, life crisis, numinous experience, difficult dilemma, spiritual emergency, existential emptiness, deep-seated grief or overwhelm.  Since those states of being are debilitating and impede healthy functioning, they can be regarded as illnesses but they are much more than illnesses.  They are also wake-up calls, signals of distress and opportunities for growth and life-enhancing learning.
  2. Whitaker, R (2010). Anatomy of an epidemic: Magic bullets, psychiatric drugs and the astonishing rise of mental illness in America. New York: Crown Publishers
  3. Harrow, M, et al. (2007). Factors involved in outcome and recovery in schizophrenic patients not on antipsychotic medication. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,195:406-414
  4. Joukamaa, M et al. (2006). Schizophrenia, neuroleptic medication and mortality. British Journal of Psychiatry,188:122-127
  5. Leo, J. (2016). The search for schizophrenic genes. Issues in Science and Technology (Winter, 2016):68-71
  6. National Institute of Mental Health (2015). Strategic plan for research. Washington DC: National Institutes of Health
  7. Leo, op. cit.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the article.
    The mind was analyzed in great detail 2600 years ago. The mind constitutes sensory input and mental phenomena that are constantly changing.
    Think of it this way: the brain and neurons do not talk about themselves. It is the mind that observes and thinks about them.
    The mind thinks about the trees outside, about our body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even the brain. Understanding the mind is referred to as developing wisdom.
    If you read the following article, you will understand what I am talking about:
    Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2). (This article is accessible over the internet.)

    • Thank you for your comment – I too find it tremendously useful.
      Although there is a general tendency among people to laugh at religion and embrace materialism, it is the religious leaders that actually experienced/probed into the mind.
      As stated in the article above, this is about separating sophia (wisdom) and phronesis (knowledge) – the two terms that Aristotle proposed. Religions are concerned with wisdom, whereas knowledge is about intellectual information gathering that keeps on accumulating.

  2. Hi Al,

    I agree with your main points, they are important ones.

    I just wanted to nag you on one detail however. I noticed you repeated the claim that antipsychotics take 25 years off people’s life. I think it’s long past time for us to stop saying that, because the evidence isn’t there. Yes we know that some studies find people diagnosed with “major mental illness” dying 25 years earlier, and yes there is some reason to think that antipsychotics may be causing part of that problem, but there are also many other factors that likely contribute, such as suicide, smoking, illegal drug use, poverty, social isolation, etc. And there are even studies that show that amongst people diagnosed with “schizophrenia” that people who take modest amounts of antipsychotics live longer http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_use_of_antipsychotic_drugs_improves_life_expectancy_for_individuals_with_schizophrenia
    http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/11/24/schbul.sbu164.full
    (maybe that’s just because they are more tranquilized and stay out of trouble, or maybe because the studies are flawed – see
    http://www.behaviorismandmentalhealth.com/2015/06/01/neuroleptic-drugs-and-mortality/
    for a look at the flaws in one of those studies. By the way, it would be nice to see someone publish a critical look at all these studies and try to draw some conclusion from them.

    Anyway, I just think we look thoughtless when we repeat a statistic like “the drugs cause people to die 25 years earlier” when it doesn’t have good backing, it makes us sound more like dogmatic zealots than people with thoughtful points of view. And I know you are a thoughtful guy who has some really good insight into a lot of this stuff, so I want to see you come across that way to a wider audience.

    • Ron, here is an analysis by me of the Cullen/Hopkins study (the one supporting moderate doses of drugs as supposedly enhancing longevity), which I copied over from another forum where we were discussing it. As you noted, there are serious problems with this study.

      ———————–
      The Cullen Study on Antipsychotics and Longevity

      Ok, I skimmed through this study.
      Here’s how I understand it:

      The study cohort was black and white race Medicaid beneficiaries in the state of Maryland diagnosed with schizophrenia during the period July 1, 1992 to July 30 1994. Average age was 42 years, and 2,132 persons in total were followed, 57% being African Americans, and most people living in urban areas.

      They studied “medication possession ratios” (assumptions about how many days each participant used medication for based on how often they were given supplies of medication) were used to estimate how much medication people took, how continuously and for how long.

      Annual “medication possession ratio” therefore meant essentially the guessed total number of days each person was on antipsychotic meds in a given year, assumed from how many days of supply of pills they received at recorded visits to pharmacies.

      To me this is questionable, since how did they know people were adhering to their medications? Many people don’t adhere, take their drugs unevenly or just throw them away; tricking the authorities to continue receiving other financial benefits.

      337 people out of 2132 died during followup (16%). 2027 of these had been prescribed drugs during the study period, incredibly. Then they list all the ways that they died. What a morbid study! I’m glad I don’t have to do this kind of “work”!

      So I waded my way through, and it appears that whether staying on drugs was statistically significant in terms of relating to lower mortality depends on how the boundaries are drawn. For example, at one point it says that comparing high antipsychotic continuity with low continuity was not statistically significant at the .05 level, measured in one fashion. They are doing complex multivariable calculations and only in some of the permutations does drug use correlate with lower mortality. So to me this is equivocal.

      It was only in the year prior to death (in other words for a small fraction of the cohort at a certain time) that adherence to medication at a high level was associated with a 25% lower risk of mortality. But actually, in the discussion section, it then says again that High average adherance was not associated with statistically significant decrease in morality during the entire 10 year period (1994-2004) that these people were followed. So again it depends. And again how can you be sure from pharmacy prescriptions alone how much people were really taking?

      Then the study finds that using older antipsychotics was associated with slightly increased risk of mortality. And they spin this to say that the 2009 PORT recommendations serve to reduce risk of mortality (presumably they are saying here that newer drugs are better than old).

      Ok I stopped here about halfway through because it’s a boring report and much less interesting than reading reports of working creatively with people’s delusions and hallucinations to help them come to grips with these symptoms, form new good relationships, and become really well after years of working hard on forming better relationships.

      To me this study is uncertain and says nothing about the quality of life of these economically poor, heavily drugged, mostly minority people – which was probably extremely poor in terms of doing meaningful work, having romantic relationships, doing creative things they really enjoyed, etc. What good is it living a little longer if you’re not really living? That’s the question we should be asking.

      Also, this is a quasi experimental study of human subjects and so one study alone is not really convincing for any point one wants to make. You need a pattern of these studies from different locations and times indicating a strong trend. The trend in the 5-6 studies I mentioned above is that most of the formerly schizophrenic people who are doing really well socially and functionally (work wise) are those who are off drugs or on low doses of drugs over periods of 10-20 years. This is supported in Harrow’s study, Wunderink’s study, in the Courtenay Harding Vermont study and in the WHO studies.

      Read the outcomes of formerly schizophrenic people in the books I suggested by Jackson, Volkan, and Steinman and then compare them to how life must be for many of these poor psychotic people who get hardly any intensive psychotherapy and live out their whole lives on psychiatric drugs in tough urban environments like Baltimore and Annapolis. I wish they could get more genuine psychological help.

    • I’m not so much in agreement with Al about many points here, but on this one I think he’s dead on right. If any other population of people were dying like people with the most serious of diagnostic tags in the mental health system, there would be alarm, but because you’ve got a throw away population here, it’s just a shrug.

      Jim Gottstein has pointed out how the average early mortality point for people so labeled has increased by something like 10 years since the introduction of atypical neuroleptics. Right there, you have actual physical evidence that it’s the drugs, it’s not “disease.”

      What’s more, the life-style issues you are mentioning have a lot to do with the drugs as well. People have a great deal of difficulty quitting smoking, in some instances, because they are taking a drug that takes control away from them. That’s what the definition of neuroleptic is, a drug that seizes control of the mind, that takes that executive function, so to speak, away from the body of the person being subjected to treatment.

      Were authorities to use lower doses, and eventually taper people off, there’s something to be said for the argument you’re using, but nobody ever gave me a choice, and I wouldn’t take the drugs anyway. I didn’t like the way they made me feel. I like have some measure of SELF-control. As “mental disorders” aren’t even real “diseases” we’re not talking “medicine”, we’re talking drugs. Even a slight disabling of my brain is too much disability for me, thank you.

      Also, look at the way neuroleptics kill old folk with dementia in nursing homes. I’m sorry. It isn’t extending their lives, and my hunch is that, as the evidence shows, it isn’t extending the lives of much younger people either.

      I’ve known a number of people in treatment for the most serious of labels who did die, and not at the ripe-ish age of 70 + either, usually from heart disease, probably associated with metabolic syndrome, and saying that the drugs had nothing to do with it is simply a matter of turning a blind eye to what has been going on.

      • Hi Frank,

        I agree with you that the way these drugs are pushed is despicable, and that they often kill the elderly in particular, and that sometimes when people seem to be dying from something other than the drugs it really is a result of the drugs indirectly. But with all that said, I still think if there were no antipsychotic drugs, we would still have a problem where people with severe psychological problems would be dying early to some extent. And I just think we will have more credibility in the long run if we don’t overstate our case, if we come across as balanced and careful. Because then they can’t discredit us as uninformed fanatics. I think our cause is much too important to make ourselves into easy targets.

        • Ron,

          You can kill a person with kindness, too. I see a great danger in the paternalism that is used to pitch dependence on treatment. Homelessness, lack of marketable skills, there are all sorts of things you can call “psychological problems” that aren’t, strictly speaking, “psychological problems.” I think, yes, we can’t ignore these matters, however I don’t think that diminishes the fact that people are being killed by the treatments they are receiving. I also think the folks that have the credibility issues are the ones who try to brush under the rug the fact that this is happening. I just think there’s a greater danger of becoming part of the problem than there is of losing one’s credibility for emphasizing the truth. I’m not so concerned about any confusion regarding who the ‘fanatics’ are. I have my own expertise on the subject to consider in this instance. I get what you’re saying, but right now there is a real push to sell treatment. This selling involves telling people there should be no “stigma” to receiving treatment. When doing so results in fewer people receiving psychiatric labels, why don’t you let me know. This treatment they are receiving is, by and large, drug treatment, and it is also, by and large, damaging. I’ve heard talk about lowered doses, and suchlike, but its all been mostly talk, and I still think that nothing beats no dose when it comes to being conducive to good (physical) health.

          • I agree with Ron, it is important to be precise about our facts so that we can’t be viewed as careless or ideological to the point of being sloppy about the truth, as that prevents us from distancing ourselves from those we are critiquing.

            That being said, I think the vitally important fact is that the “treatment” for “serious mental illness” is making people’s lives shorter than they would have been without it. What other specialty would allow a treatment that shortens your life, even if only by a year or two? Extended lifespan is one of the key measurable outcomes for any medical intervention, and if psychiatry wants to pretend to be a medical specialty, they need to be called out on killing people earlier. I’d love to see the specific data on relative life expectancy for this group before and after neuroleptics, or reflected as a graph over time. I am quite sure we would see that as the “chemical age” in “mental health” has proceeded, lifespans have been reduced. It is one of the clearest pieces of evidence we have that psychiatry is not really “treating” anything at all, but instead manipulating brain chemicals in somewhat random ways that have unintended outcomes of great significance, including, in many cases, an early grave.

        • I just think we will have more credibility in the long run if we don’t overstate our case, if we come across as balanced and careful. Because then they can’t discredit us as uninformed fanatics.

          First, we already have credibility, it’s not something we need to prove or earn. We can state the truth, just as we can lead horses to water; we can’t force others to recognize it, especially if they feel threatened by it.

          As for how we might “come across” as “uninformed” — if you have solid info contradicting the early death stuff, by all means share it. In the end though, what is is more important than what seems to be.

          If people think it sounds outrageous, when they discover it’s true they should be outraged, right.?

      • I think the situation is complex bit I think the drugs are the culprits.

        If someone attempts to withdraw unsuccessfully then they are a greater risk to ‘fatality’ – but the drugs cause the (genuine) dependency.

        The drugs cause the laziness and disability connected to ‘mental illness’ and the inactivity and weight gain (and bad diet due to laziness).

        NICE UK recommend consumption of the lowest dose possible, and I think this makes good sense.

        (Cigarette smoking is also a type of hopeless activity – but I believe smoking is high in Japan and the Japanese still live out long lives).

        • I also understand that smoking is often adopted by people taking neuroleptic drugs, as it appears to reduce some of the side effects. This makes total sense, since nicotine increases dopamine, which is drastically reduced by neuroleptics. So we can’t count cigarettes out as a side effect of psychiatric drug use, and we know the kind of effects smoking has on lifespan.

    • the problem with most of these studies is that they are observational. you’d really need a randomized trial to get to the truth about what is happening. those who take medication or are given prescriptions might be fundamentally different than those who don’t. for example, it is possible that medication use could be a marker for having other supportive factors like housing. perhaps that is what is what makes medication use look like it is extending lives, when in fact it is these other factors.

        • True, but if the question is simply whether antipsychotics extend lives, then wouldn’t it still be answering that question accurately? If the question is whether APs extend lives among those labeled as schizophrenic, then yeah, I see how it becomes problematic since schizophrenia lacks validity/reliability. Not that a randomized trial for a multi-year period is feasible anyway (unless those taking APs were court ordered to stay on them, the drop out rates would be huge)…

          • I think the problem is that any research conducted is likely to be more or less cooked. But, to me the distinguishing feature in early death is the (chemical)
            treatment.

  3. “In spite of billions of dollars and countless hours spent looking for genes that cause ‘mental illness,’ a specific gene has never been found. Decades of research have confirmed that the influence of genetics on ‘mental illness’ is very minimal at best.5

    “You would think that this failure would raise some eyebrows and cause some soul searching. But no, … looks like we’re going to continue to waste billions of dollars on the quixotic search for the roots of ‘mental illness’ in the brain and genetic dynamics.”

    Just an FYI, after ten years of research into the psycho / pharmaceutical industries, it does seem quite obvious to me that the DSM “disorders” are either a medicalization of normal human reactions to life experiences, or a good description of the iatrogenic “serious mental illnesses” created by the psychiatric drugs.

    And the psychiatrists are still always whining for more money, and claiming their underfunded. But it strikes me these billions spent, resulting in nothing but failures (and likely embarrassment so staggering it must be covered up at all costs), shows evidence the psychiatrists are behaving like blood sucking parasites, or a massive financial cancer, on the entirety of humanity, instead.

    “… we have no idea of how the brain creates the mind.” Why do “we” even think the brain creates the mind, is there any proof of such? Just asking, since that’s not my personal gut instinct.

    Not to be disrespectful, but much of the rest sounds a little like an ad for psychotherapy, but I was one of the 20% who did not benefit from the advise of my “holist, Christian talk therapist” / psychologist. Because she immediately gave me “some [bio-bio-bio DSM mis-] advice or messages that will get in the way of you becoming healthier and which might send you down the wrong path for a while.”

    I hope the self proclaimed “holistic” US psychologists do start denouncing and running, as fast as you can, from the bio/psycho/pharmaceutical industry, instead. I’m pretty certain the English psychologists already have.

    Although, I did learn I like Jung’s theories, from what I’ve read of them so far.

  4. As much as I fought against giving my son (now 30) medications, without them he couldn’t get to the place where he is finally able to use his mind. I hate the physical side-effects, but 8+ years of no life, rejection, isolation, aggression, non-compliance, fear…(I could go on) is no way to live. Why are we closing hospitals instead of creating centers that would support a healthy transition back using all modalities? The state hospital in Virginia sits on a beautiful piece of land with MANY boarded up buildings. Also Wingdale, NY has been rotting for years. With so much $$ being wasted, and so many good practitioners out there, couldn’t we coordinate into a 21st century solution? It’s cruel and a crime.

    • There is so much evidence to show that psychiatric medicines work only because of their placebo effect. So, if someone really really needs to be given medicines, I think it is best to give them blank pills (Germany does that) – that way, the person is not harmed by the medicine itself.
      In any case, a label (such as “you have X disease” – substitute X with some fancy name) should never be given for “mental illness” because that would trigger nocebo effects (which is the opposite of placebo effects). Nocebo effects lead to adverse outcomes. (I read about nocebo effects sometime back in a book titled ‘brain wars’ by Mario Beauregard.)

    • There are efforts afoot to create alternatives to traditional mental hospitals, like Soteria models or other sanctuary models where people can go to a calm environment with low stress to get re-oriented to consensus reality safely. But such efforts require funding, and the psycho-pharmaceutical complex has a stranglehold on most of the “mental health” dollars. I personally find psych hospitals to be horrible places to heal, but I do agree that safe spaces are critical to helping people like your son to get to a better place. Unfortunately, today’s model involves giving people drugs and trying to make sure they stay on them for life, while the rest of life’s needs are considered of secondary importance, if they are considered at all. This site isn’t really about stopping medication as much as it is about finding better ways to help. I hope you’ll join us and give us your perspectives going forward, as you have clearly seen both the serious drawbacks of the current system and the lack of viable alternatives.

      Welcome!

      — Steve

      • Don’t get me wrong. I meant a complete overhaul of the mental hospital model. They are hardly what anyone wants for those who need help. Just that the real estate is already there sitting vacant. Let’s use it constructively. We are in the 21st century using 19th (or earlier) models. Really?

        The Soteria model is very interesting and I’ll research further. I’ve been begging for a more integrative approach, but there is so much misunderstanding about the illnesses. I admit I was ignorant until my life imploded and it has been a nightmare getting the education and understanding I have now — and still learning. Waiting until someone gets put in jail to get help is dangerous, wasteful, costly, and cruel. I can’t tell you how many times I was told that was the way it works — just a matter of time. It turned out to be true in our case. Horrifying. The police shouldn’t be the first line here. But that is another issue. My son stable for now and finally at a transitional living home which seems to be good for him. Hardly perfect (ie scary diet). But it’s expensive and I probably won’t be able to keep him there long enough. I am grateful for the progress he has made and will take it one day at a time.

        Thank you for the welcome.

  5. Oh how I wish it were true. I’ve seen too much evidence to the contrary, and I am very biased towards no medications (yes, I will admit it is only my conjecture). It would be great to have a system with quality follow-up that average people could afford so that once stabilized, a person could continue to get well without medication. I agree that with a perfect system and quality support, a person could recover — that the medication isn’t fixing anything. Without support no — and I don’t mean a few hours/week talk therapy or reporting to your local social agency.

    • Hi tiredmother,

      It doesn’t have to be medication or no medication – this was the option I was given (in 1983), and I imploded.

      In the long haul it’s possible to get medication down to a non intrusive level and then very gradually reduce from there (leaving a ‘safety window’ in place).

      I had returned to gainful functioning by 1985, and by 1986 I was independent.

  6. Stories like yours give me hope and I agree that a nonintrusive level or eventually zero is preferable. If medication is needed, then it should be used as a temporary measure. But the drugs aren’t designed that way, evidently.

    I hate it that my son is on medication (I will barely take an aspirin) and I still hope that he won’t need it forever. But what do you do with someone who is so wild and delusional that he is a threat, and you have to lock the door against him as he is kicking it in? (and that’s only one example). Medication and this living center he is in has brought him to the point where I can see the real person again and actually enjoy his company. I credit this also with being around and accepted by people again. But that’s what I mean — of course medication isn’t the full answer and maybe not the answer for many. It’s very complex. I know it is fragile and yes, I fear the long-term ramifications of it all.

    This is why I envision retreats with knowledgeable doctors, nutritionists, therapists (physical and mental), vocational trainers…I could go on. Is that more expensive than the revolving door of incarceration, hospitalization, and everything inbetween? Probably not. I am calling for a new paradigm. Whistling in the wind?

    At some point my resources have been spent trying to find other means, and I am at the end of being able to help him. I sold my house, used my savings, and I am not getting any younger. The only place for him now is in the system. But no one else is there to help. I’d like other options. I know they are out there, but who can afford them? Only a few. In some ways I feel defeated after hunting down expensive rabbit holes for nothing. But I will continue to do what I can.

  7. Sounds like you knew you needed help — at some point anyway. There is a large population that won’t accept it and reject help and treatment. So family members that don’t walk away are left with the fallout. I’ve tried to get my son to go to various support groups AA (doesn’t have a substance problem), NAMI peer to peer (says he isn’t mentally ill and why do I try to label him?). It is a tragic situation for all of us, but I am seeing some positive changes lately so am hopeful. I try not to entertain the idea of another break and focus on where we are now.

    Thanks for the discussion, but I realize that every case is unique with its own set of circumstances. Makes it difficult. And all the success stories seem to be from people who have finally taken ownership of their situation, which has to be so difficult.