You’ve been told you’re sick, labeled for life, medicated, and then medicated some more. While “in treatment,” you’ve felt like an anesthetized version of yourself. A revved-up version of yourself. A one-note version of yourself, but you’ve struggled to adapt to this new “normal.”
Maybe you’ve been down the rabbit hole of medication discontinuation because you were sick of hearing your psychiatrist say, “it’s just the dose,” or “you would do well with the addition of a mood stabilizer.” Likely, you’ve visited with some of the undisclosed horrors of psychotropic dependency if you’ve lived to tell the tale of your movement from psych patient to wounded warrior.
This, the Mad in America community, gives me intense hope. Hope that as a collective we can raise awareness, heal one another, and expose the Truth for all to see. I bring this hope to my patients, every day. Because I believe in the resiliency of the human body, in the native wisdom contained in our relationship to the natural world. And I believe that “mental illness” is the symptom of all that is off, wrong, and misaligned in our relationship to primary human needs – for connectedness and for the integrity of our physical relationship to the natural world.
First, let me tell you that I was once a typical doctor, not to mention a typical American who loved pizza, soda, birth control, and ibuprofen. I believed in the science that I was taught to believe in. I felt that medication was the answer. And that symptoms were problems that needed to be fixed, suppressed, eradicated. That every patient was just one chemical prescription away from functioning “normally.” It wasn’t until my fellowship specialized in medicating pregnant and breastfeeding women, at a time when I was also pregnant, that I began to feel into a voice inside me that said, “I’m writing prescriptions that no amount of reported ‘safety data’ could convince me to take.” I largely ignored that voice until I decided to take a different route and put my postpartum autoimmune condition into remission through lifestyle medicine.
Only then was I was ready to hear Robert Whitaker’s message.
A friend gave me Anatomy of an Epidemic and I can still remember crying on the subway when I turned the last page. The entire house of cards crumbled for me that day. I never started a patient on a medication again.
I spent about 2 years taking patients off of medication, developing first-hand insight into the dependency-forming character of these drugs. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to enhance their resiliency first, before beginning a taper, that I developed my program of nutrition based, root-cause resolution of symptoms. I wanted to heal the imbalance – so often physiologic – that led to the pursuit of medication treatment before we took the medication away.
My message is from a personal journey and thousands of hours of research that has compelled me to share the Truth about prescription-based care: we’ve been duped on a grand scale.
When I talk about medicine and mental health to large audiences, I often start with the following imagery and facts: think of a woman you know who is radiantly healthy. I bet your intuition tells you she sleeps and eats well, finds purpose in her life, is active and fit, and finds time to relax and enjoy the company of others. I doubt you envision her waking up to prescription bottles, buoying her way through the day with caffeine and sugar, feeling anxious and isolated, and drinking herself to sleep at night. All of us have an intuitive sense of what health is, but many of us have lost the roadmap to optimal health, especially the kind of health that springs forth when we simply clear a path for it. The fact that one in four American women in the prime of their life is dispensed medication for a mental health condition represents a national crisis.
Humans have used mind-altering substances to try to dull and deaden pain, misery, sorrow, and suffering since time immemorial, but only in the last few decades have people been persuaded that depression is a disease and that chemical antidepressants are the remedy. Many of my patients have been to multiple doctors, bumping up against the hard ceiling of what conventional medicine has to offer. Some have even tried integrative medicine, which aims to combine both traditional medicine (i.e., prescriptions) with alternative treatments (e.g., acupuncture). After all, they are told that there are great natural complements to all the wonders pharmaceutical products have to offer. But the reason they can’t find a solution is because nobody has asked why. Why are they unwell? Why are their bodies creating symptoms that manifest as depression? Why didn’t they stop to ask this important and obvious question the first time they experienced a flat mood, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic exhaustion?
Yes, my entire training was based on a model of disease care that offers patients only one tool—a drug—and never a shot at true wellness. We’ve handed over our health to those who seek to profit from it, and we’ve been buying into a paradigm based on the following notions:
▶ We are broken.
▶ Fear is an appropriate response to symptoms.
▶ We need chemicals to feel better.
▶ Doctors know what they are doing.
▶ The body is a machine requiring calibration (via drugs). A little too much of this, too little of that.
I call this collective set of notions the Western Medical Illusion. It sets up a vicious system that ushers you into lifelong customer status, dependent and disempowered.
As you can likely guess by now, I love to rant. But I do so with the best evidence science can offer, and there’s a lot we know today about the real root causes of depression—and how to treat the condition safely and successfully—without a prescription pad. If there’s one lesson I will drive home, it’s this: shed the fear, take back your inner compass, and embrace a commitment to your journey. Even if you don’t already or haven’t taken a prescription drug, I bet you question living the rest of your life prescription free and reliant on your own inner intuition to know what’s best for you. The idea of supporting your body’s innate wisdom may sound quaint at best, or like dangerous hippie woo-woo at worst. I want to tempt you with these possibilities:
▶ Prevention is possible.
▶ Medication treatment comes at a steep cost.
▶ Optimal health is not possible through medication.
▶ Your health is under your control.
▶ Working with lifestyle medicine—simple everyday habits that don’t entail drugs—is a safe and effective way to send the body a signal of safety.
In holistic medicine, there are no specialties. It can be quite basic. It’s about mindset, readiness to shed fear, and trust in the body’s capacity to heal when properly supported. For my patients to be well, I know they will need to approach their health with an extreme commitment to the integrity of their mind and body.
Because we are looking at the body as an intricately woven spiderweb—when you yank one area of it, the whole thing moves. And because there is a more powerful way to heal.
Depression is an opportunity. It is a sign for us to stop and figure out what’s causing our imbalance. Rather than symptoms as a sign that you are broken and weak, born this way, and condemned to a struggle with low serotonin—simple, powerful changes can begin to send the body a signal of safety, and then free the mind. When the body and its interconnected systems is healed, symptoms resolve and the mind is no longer the enemy but a trustworthy tool for transformation.
Basic lifestyle interventions can facilitate the body’s powerful self-healing mechanisms to end depression: dietary modifications (more healthy fats and less sugar, dairy, and gluten); natural supplements like B vitamins and probiotics that don’t require a prescription and can even be delivered through certain foods; minimizing exposures to biology-disrupting toxicants like fluoride in tap water, chemicals in common drugs like Tylenol and statins, and fragrances in cosmetics; harnessing the power of sufficient sleep and physical movement; and behavioral techniques aimed at promoting the relaxation response. I’ve seen patients transformed in a little as 30 days. Dare to be one of them! Participate in changing the conversation around mental health in our time! This isn’t anti-psychiatry. It’s pro-informed consent. It’s pro-healing.
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.