Psychiatric drugs and electroshock, the main treatments used in psychiatric medical practice, are rough on the body. While some people like the effects on their mind (and others find them to simply “not work” or to be terrible or even agonizing), they never have a good long-term effect on the body. This is a problem for disabled/differently abled individuals.
For those with very strong kidney/adrenal, liver, digestive and other organ function, the stress of psychiatric pharmaceuticals can be fielded for quite some time before fatigue sets in. Maybe these folks can take psychiatric drugs for many years and still work at a job, maintain relationships and keep a solid sleep schedule and basic motivation. These are often the people who find the drugs to “work.” Their bodies are able to easily release the toxins and continue functioning alright.
But for those who already have any kidney/adrenal, liver, digestive or other organ weakness, damage or dysfunction, it is another story. The psychiatric chemicals do not detox easily, the kidneys and adrenals are further weakened by the stress of having to work so hard to detoxify them and the digestive system is vulnerable to getting sluggish.
Of course, there are some people who are physically damaged by the drugs to the point of losing their basic health and motivation, but still feel that they need them, that the drugs are better than not taking them. Is it fair to leave disabled people with so few choices, though? To only offer treatments that make their physical disabilities or chronic illness worse?
There’s a large range of tolerance of these drugs, with those with the strongest physical constitution more likely to tolerate the meds for a longer period of time. Those with more fragile, sensitive or weak bodies are more likely to be damaged, even permanently, by the stress of taking these drugs every day, especially if they are on multiple drugs or on them for years on end.
That’s why it is gaslighting to criticize people for seeking alternative treatments, or for opting to go about their lives in ways that don’t rely on psychiatric pharmaceuticals. Gaslighting, or manipulating people into questioning their own sanity, applies here as people are often ridiculed, put down, ostracized or abandoned for trying alternative treatments. This is usually after psychiatric drugs made them too sick to engage with life.
I was told by a doctor once, “Herbs don’t work. If they worked people would use them.” He then put me on a drug that didn’t work, and I now use herbs for sleep, relaxation, nutrients, adrenal nourishment, hormonal balancing, and physical healing with great success. The psychiatric meds I was subsequently put on, because none of my doctors knew about safe and effective alternative treatments, ended up making me bedridden for a couple of years and with neuroleptic malignant syndrome for three months.
For disabled and differently abled bodies, treatments for the mind and emotions MUST support the physical body as well, or we will only get sick physically, which is not exactly a cure for anxiety, loneliness or grief.
Many differently abled people are not aware of how vulnerable their bodies may be to these drugs, and doctors are unlikely to tell them. If doctors were doing a full physical before putting people on psych drugs to make sure it was safe for that person’s health, the process would take longer and many people would find nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances and other issues to correct before even going on them.
Cautions about the health dangers of psych meds for disabled and chronically ill folks are less effective than they should be. Even with the long lists of possible side effects, black box warnings, commercials that list all the side effects out loud, magazine ads with almost an entire page full of them, many people still think of these drugs as basically safe and medicinal, even as “good for their mental health.” This is due to (mostly indirect) pharmaceutical marketing that implies they are safe and effective, the stigma associated with “not taking your meds” if you’ve received a psychiatric label, and other agendas to control people such as family and social pressure.
Ableism is when able bodied people are seen as more relevant, valuable and somehow intrinsically mattering more than those with disabilities. The entire field of psychiatry is ableist, in offering medication that can only be tolerated by the extremely able bodied. Those who are already physically ill or disabled will be made more and more ill by psychiatry over time, and the field of medicine marginalizes disabled folks by not addressing these issues or warning them sufficiently about these concerns from the beginning. Disabled folks are not given options that are sustainable and effective for them.
The fact that psychiatric drugs will make a tired person more tired (eventually if not right away), a sick person more sick, a weak organ system weaker, shows an inherent discrimination against differently abled bodies. It shows that people with physical health concerns are being completely marginalized by psychiatry.
A field of medicine that was friendly to differently abled folks would strive to ensure that all treatments and procedures were designed to strengthen both the body and mind. Some alternative and holistic modalities do this. It’s called the nourishment model and includes things like nature therapy, person-centered nutrition that takes individual constitution into account, adaptive exercise, creative arts, herbalism, and hands-on healing. Then there are alternative treatments that can help build the body such as vitamin, mineral and supplement therapy. Disabled folks will often have better success with these, if they can tailor a program to their own specific nutrient needs and deficiencies to support their bodies.
Psychiatric drugs completely ignore the body and what it might be asking for. This is ableist. This is why the disability rate keeps rising as more and more people are being put on meds. This is why the disability community should never be gaslit, or told they are crazy for seeking and researching alternative treatments.
Of course we need to be cautious. Alternative and holistic treatments can cause harm to disabled bodies as well (none have ever caused me as much harm as psychiatric drugs though, not even close). There are very expensive products that aren’t covered by insurance that may have minimal effect or make things worse.
Most vitamins and supplements are not covered by insurance, regardless of whether they have been proven to work. This again is ableist, because it makes the treatments people with disabilities and chronic illness need inaccessible and even stigmatized.
Some nourishing methods of healing can be free or very low cost such as foraging wild weeds which have more nutrition than store bought vegetables (but this isn’t REAL medicine). Some issues of accessibility can be overcome with knowledge of plants and nutrition, community support and grassroots organizing. This is why education and stigma reduction about the need for alternatives to psychiatry for disabled and differently abled people is crucial.
Any one-size-fits-all medical system will be ableist. Alternative treatments and approaches can be much more helpful to less able bodied folks if they are catered to each individual and their specific needs, preferences, beliefs, sensitivities and health challenges.
Psychiatric drugs, on the other hand, have been shown to harm the body. They have been thoroughly researched by their own funding and have still been found to cause extreme harm. Every psychiatric drug advertisement and prescription insert must list these potential health dangers because they are serious risks. And guess who they are more serious risks to? Yes, those who are more physically vulnerable, who are less able bodied.
Ableism says it’s okay to have insurance only cover the harshest treatments, which only the most able bodied people can tolerate. Models inclusive of disabled folks would cover a wide range of options so that more people could access safer options that support their bodies, mind and emotions.
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.