We now live in a world of constant deception: Phone and internet scammers pose as trusted authorities. The news is often biased or fake. People we interact with online may not be who they say they are; they may not even be real. The products we use might be counterfeits. Images we view could be computer-generated or photoshopped.
We’re also bombarded with endless ads for newly discovered diseases. Are they all legitimate, or are some sham illnesses that were created to sell more drugs? If so, such disease mongering1 could be problematic; the pills may not only be unnecessary/wasteful, but also harmful. Who can we trust to warn us? We doubt doctors would scam us, but the huge profits to be reaped could tempt them. Patient advocacy groups and government agencies accept drug company money, so they can’t be trusted either.
Thus, you can only trust yourself to tease out any fake diseases. You may think you need a scientific background to be qualified to do so. But I’ll show how no medical knowledge is needed; you only have to use your ability to think logically. Here are four ways to logically test whether or not something really is a classic (physically-based, symptom-causing) disease:
1. Is your ‘illness’ merely a labeling of your complaint (such as feeling depressed due to ‘having depression’)? Or is it an underlying bodily anomaly that’s causing your outward complaint?
This is crucial, since a complaint can only be deemed a symptom if it’s a symptom (i.e. effect) of something else (it can’t be a symptom of itself — how could it cause itself to occur?). Otherwise it’s just a complaint. Not all complaints are a result of illness. Some are a result of life.
Let’s use this qualifier to test out the validity of some diseases:
ADHD is only a description of a complaint rather than its explanation (the DSM clearly states this is true for all its ‘disorders’2). So it isn’t a causative physical illness. But hyperthyroidism is a classic disease, since high thyroxine levels are causing complaints (insomnia, agitation, etc.) which are thus its symptoms.
Fibromyalgia is Latin/Greek for pain. It’s a label applied to a pain complaint if no bodily cause is found.3 It can’t be said to be a cause of pain; how could it be both a cause and its effect? But arthritis is a joint disease that can cause pain; if verified by exam/x-ray, then your pain can correctly be called a symptom of it.
There’s no underlying bodily disorder in Restless Leg Syndrome,4 so it’s not a symptom-producing illness; it’s a complaint followed by the word ‘syndrome’. Placing the word ‘syndrome’ or ‘disorder’ after a complaint in no way explains its cause (though it may aid insurance billing). But if brain scans show lesions typical of Multiple Sclerosis, then your shaky legs can be said to be caused by, or a symptom of, a classic illness
Finding a bodily disorder doesn’t necessarily prove that it directly caused your complaint; it could be incidental. In this case you have a real illness, but your complaint isn’t a real symptom.
2. Were labs/x-rays done? If so, was it to rule in your illness, or only to rule out others?
A physical illness would have physical markers to look for. So if a doctor diagnoses you without doing a diagnostic workup, it’s likely not a physical illness. If diagnostic tests are done, but only to rule out other illnesses, then your doctor is making sure you have no physical illnesses. Psychiatry has always been the field referred to after a physical cause is ruled out. So if your doctor illogically says: “Since your brain scan and lab chemistries were normal, you must have a brain disease caused by a chemical imbalance,” beware!
3. How was your new ‘illness’ discovered?
Was it already known to be a disease, but not well-understood/treated yet? That’s plausible. Tuberculosis, for example, was long known to be a disease but it was called ‘consumption’ and was often fatal, before infections/antibiotics were discovered. Or was your illness previously thought to be a non-medical issue and thus handled by an established non-medical field, until doctors realized it was a disease and thus took it over? That’s suspect; how could no one have had a clue, until the 1990s, that some common experience is actually a disease? A more plausible explanation is that it’s a non-illness which the medical field turned into one in order to expand its realm.
Here are examples of illness-creation enabling medicine to annex non-medical fields’ territories. Do any apply to you?
A. Mental illnesses used to be defined as non-physical. They were addressed by therapy, which used to be psychiatry’s domain. But in the ‘70s/80s, psychiatrists were displaced by cheaper, more numerous non-MD therapists (MSWs and PhDs). Then psychiatrists proclaimed, without evidence, that ‘mental illnesses’ are physical. They reinvented themselves as prescribers who “treat diseases of a bodily organ — the brain — just as cardiologists treat diseases of the heart” (despite neurologists already treating real brain diseases). This enabled them to regain dominion over the ‘mental health’ field in the ‘90s.
B. Psychiatrists also broadened ‘mental illness’ criteria, so that we could all get diagnosed: Unpleasant feelings became serious ‘diseases’ that must be managed by doctors (depression, bipolar, or anxiety disorders). They thereby usurped our personal responsibility to address/solve/adapt to whatever problems upset us.
C. People used to go to AA meetings or substance abuse counselors in order to kick an alcohol/drug habit, which was considered a non-physical problem. But then it was declared to be a literal physical (brain) disease and thus also became a doctor’s realm — addiction medicine. These doctors lure and steal clients by offering addictive medicine to addicts!
D. In general, people seeking good feelings from chemicals used to go to drug dealers or liquor stores. But the ‘discovery’ of many new ‘diseases’ that just happen to be ‘treated’ by opiates, benzos, speed, ketamine, or pot enabled doctors to encroach on their turf, too.
E. It used to be the parents’ role to raise their kids. But now it’s the domain of doctors, who’ve proclaimed that normal childhood immaturity is a disease (ADHD). Parents are told to not waste effort trying to raise their supposedly unraisable kids, who instead “need medicine for their illness” (daily tranquilizer darts).
F. Doctors then tell the school that these kids have a disabling illness that makes them uneducable. These schools must now make accommodations. This infringes on the role of teachers, who will now give up on teaching, molding, and preparing them for adulthood. They’ll instead just let them slide through school.
G. In effect, psychiatry has moved in on the role of priests by promoting faith in a new powerful and undetectable force that controls our fate: the treatable chemical imbalance. It’s religion masquerading as science.
H. Doctors even took over the role of food banks, shelters, and social assistance programs, by claiming that poverty is a medically treatable illness caused by a chemical imbalance. Well… that hasn’t really happened… yet! (“Extreme poverty” is, however, listed as a diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases.)
4. Were you given real or fake meds?
Fake diseases go with fake medicines, of which three types exist: If your ‘meds’ were proven to only be placebos, as were antidepressants,5 this implies that your ‘illness’ is fake too. It’s also likely fake if you’re given chronic daily addictive pills for it, since these don’t really help: benefits fade and unending withdrawals ensue once tolerance develops, unless the dosage is dangerously raised. The last fake type is non-addictive sedatives. They stop all sensations, thoughts, and behaviors (not just the annoying ones). So other than when used as anesthesia or sleep aids, tranquilizers can’t be seen as helpful to their users.
Using these four tests, you can now logically ascertain whether or not you’ve been scammed. But not always: To verify that your illness is real, you’ll still rely on the medical field’s finding an underlying bodily anomaly, and this isn’t always clear-cut. For example, hypothyroidism had always been defined by thyroid hormone levels falling outside a certain range, which occurred rarely. But in 2002,6 the normal range was greatly narrowed such that millions more met criteria for this illness. This led to Synthroid prescriptions, which carry risks as all drugs do, skyrocketing to become our most used drug by 2013.7 Aggressive diagnosing/medicating may partly explain why healthcare costs are much higher, yet lifespans are falling here.
- Payer, L. Disease Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers are Making You Feel Sick, 1992. New York: J Wiley. ↩
- DSM IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pp. xvii-xviii. ↩
- Shiel, W. “Medical Definition of Fibromyalgia” MedicineNet, 12-12-2018. ↩
- Bozorg, A. “Restless Leg Syndrome Clinical Presentation” Medscape, 2-22-2017. ↩
- Kirsch, I. The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, Basic Books, 2010, New York. ↩
- Faix, J and Thienpont, L. “Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone: Why Efforts to Harmonize Testing are Critical to Patient Care” American Association for Clinical Chemistry, May 1, 2013. ↩
- Brooks, M. “Top 100 Selling Drugs of 2013” Medscape, Jan 30, 2014. ↩
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.