Why Do People Choose Medication-Free Mental Healthcare Treatment?

A mixed-method study explores service users’ accounts of why they chose to be treated in a medication-free treatment center in Norway.

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A new article published in the journal Patient Preference and Adherence documents the many reasons why individuals in Oslo, Norway choose to seek mental healthcare without any pharmaceutical intervention, as is their right according to the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care.

The data suggests that Medication Free Treatment (MFT) is broadly desired. And, perhaps more importantly, it reveals that the current drug-based paradigm found in the United States, Canada, and Europe harms their service users by making medication and pharmaceutical intervention ubiquitous with treatment.

“Taken together, our findings support that although experiences are varied, a large proportion of service users had previous experience being disrespected for not wanting medication, and more than half of the service users report experiencing pressure to take medication or lack of alternatives to medication,” the researchers write.

Photo of a hand throwing pills in the trash

The researchers add, “This sheds important light on why the need for MFT units has arisen. It also highlights gaps in perception of reality among service users and health care professionals regarding the availability of options… health care professionals might not be sufficiently aware of the impact of power imbalance in communication about these issues.”

The efficacy and safety of pharmaceutical interventions for psychiatric disorder and mental illness are frequently called into question; not only do they increase suicide risk, they also are clouded with financial conflicts of interest, and it remains unclear how to safely taper and stop taking the medication.

The previous United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, Dainius Pūras, understood these drawbacks of medication and throughout his tenure urged researchers and policymakers to seek out alternatives to medication-based treatment.

In the new study, researchers at the University of Oslo led by Kari Standal sought not only to document an alternative to the expected medication-based model of mental health treatment, but also the reasons why users desired medication-free treatment.

From May 2018 to April 2020, they surveyed 46 participants with questionnaires. Five of the participants were also interviewed, in a mixed-method exploratory design. Each participant was previously or currently in treatment at the MFT unit at a general hospital in Oslo. Service users with active addictions, suicidal behavior, and/or aggressive behavior were excluded. Questionnaires were completed during participants’ treatment stay and interviews were conducted toward the end of their stay.

There were a few key reasons users cited for wanting MFT:

  1. They were aware of the negative and deleterious side effects of psychotropic medication.
  2. They had previously experienced pressure to use medication.
  3. MFT was the only alternative to medication.
  4. Medication conflicted with their understanding of their experience.
According to the researchers, “A majority of participants reported that MFT was their own desire and stated reasons that were related to the intended purpose of MFT… MFT was [also] associated with more dialogical and containing relationships in contrast to being assessed and medicated or ‘laid flat.’ Belief in a better therapeutic process without medication, wanting to cope without medication, and associations between strength, acceptance, and being medication free were also themes in the qualitative material.”

Altogether, the authors speculate that these issues may fit into a larger theme, which is that service users and patients want to be treated as equals. That is, service users want to have a choice in their treatment, or at the very least, participate in shared decision-making with their practitioner.

 

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Standal, K., Solbakken, O. A., Rugkåsa, J., Martinsen, A. R., Halvorsen, M. S., Abbass, A., & Heiervang, K. S. (2021). Why service users choose medication-free psychiatric treatment: A mixed-method study of user accounts. Patient Preference and Adherence, 15, 1647. (Link)

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Samantha Lilly
Samantha Lilly brings their background in philosophy, bioethics, and social justice to their work as a critical suicidologist, with the belief that suicidology, at its best, is social justice work. Before beginning a Ph.D. in Health in Social Science at the University of Edinburgh, Sam was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Their project, “Understanding Suicidality Across Cultures,” gave them the privilege of working alongside ethicists, scholars, and rights advocates in the Benelux countries, Lithuania, Argentina, Aotearoa, and Indonesia. Sam’s current research is dedicated to bringing feminist and decolonial methodologies to suicide prevention.

14 COMMENTS

  1. “a large proportion of service users had previous experience being disrespected for not wanting medication, and more than half of the service users report experiencing pressure to take medication or lack of alternatives to medication…”

    And now big Pharma is doing this to the entire planet with their Covid vax. (Watch “It’s the criminal banksters vs. humanity: Casino Royal for America”)

    https://www.sgtreport.com

    “This sheds important light on why the need for MFT units has arisen. It also highlights gaps in perception of reality among service users and health care professionals regarding the availability of options… health care professionals might not be sufficiently aware of the impact of power imbalance in communication about these issues.”

    I would image the “health care professionals” are aware of the fact that our entire population has been brainwashed to believe we should “trust your doctor.” Despite the fact that too many of the doctors have apparently turned themselves into nothing more than big Pharma brainwashed pill pushers.

    “In the new study, researchers at the University of Oslo led by Kari Standal sought not only to document an alternative to the expected medication-based model of mental health treatment, but also the reasons why users desired medication-free treatment.”

    The reason we want medication-free treatment is because the ADHD drugs and antidepressants can create the “bipolar” symptoms, but the “mental health” workers claim ignorance of this fact. The antidepressants and antipsychotics can create “psychosis,” via anticholinergic toxidrome. But, again, the “mental health” workers claim ignorance of this fact. And the antipsychotics / neuroleptics can also create the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome. A fact also missing from their DSM “bible.”

    “That is, service users want to have a choice in their treatment, or at the very least, participate in shared decision-making with their practitioner.”

    Anything less, has less than zero to do with freedom. Which is why psychiatry, psychology, et al – and their forced treatments – have less than zero to do with believing in freedom or American ideals.

  2. A common response when it is pointed out that in the long term those who quit the drugs have better outcomes is that they quit them because they had less “illness” and quit because they recovered. This is stated with zero evidence and simply assumed because psychiatry has concluded the drugs are safe and effective regardless of the evidence.

    Anyone who bothers to think will recognize that people are more likely to quit a drug when they have a bad outcome. Less people go, “Wow I am happy and life is great now that I am taking this medication; I am going to quit the medication now.” compared to “I am miserable still and now I am fat, impaired and have stomach issues from the drug; I am going to quit it.”

    In the entire field of medicine not complying with the doctor is associated with worse outcomes regardless of the effects of the health care. All else equal we should expect that those who do not comply with psychiatry to have worse outcomes than those who do regardless of psychiatric drug effects. Yet the opposite occurs in psychiatry to such an extent that long term those who didn’t comply have normal lives and those complying are chronically miserable and die decades earlier.

    A study found that people who decided to stop taking or not to take “antidepressants” started with worse distress and symptoms compared to those that kept taking the drugs.
    http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5057

    • Harrow’s study showed that “psychotic” patients with WORSE prognoses did BETTER off drugs than the people with BETTER prognoses did ON drugs. So the idea that those with “less illness” go off the drugs is a marketing scheme. It’s not true.

      I think the answer to the question is either 1) because it doesn’t work, or 2) because the “cure” is worse than the “disease.” As Hemmingway quipped, “It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient.”

    • Actually, had a mate who, when COVID hit, his prescription ran out. He thought: “I’m fine, I can go without this,” so he quit CT.

      Now, 18 months later, he’s asking me, “when will the suffering be over?”

      I wish I had something good to tell him, because once you destabilise, the experience becomes very individual.

      • Yes, this whole drug thing like all human things is unique to each individual. We can tell people how we went through something like withdrawal from these drugs, but, sadly each person must meet the fire-breathing dragon him or herself and tame it. And that timeline, like everything else involved in this is mostly specific to each person. We do have some shared experiences and that is helpful. The best we can do is to be encouraging, helpful, and comforting. We can also be there to listen to them and help them to get what they need, especially at the very worst moments. I think it is by our very example of strength and “success” that we can help others who must go through this personal “hell” too. Thank you.

  3. “…Why do people people choose…?”

    Because the drugs are very harmful, they cause disability and they manufacture mental illness. In contrast improvements made, from non drug means tend to be consistent.

    I refused medication because I thought the idea was ridiculous. When I took the medication the drugs disabled me. And when I tried to come off the medication I suffered from terrible drug withdrawal symptoms – which I eventually overcame!

  4. There is no such thing as “medication-free mental health treatment.” Therapy is a drug, an addiction, also. It is just basically a non-chemical interferance into the body and brain. But, it is addictive and repetitive. The “patient” develops a dependence on the “therapist.” The “patient” begins to feel that no problem can be solved without the “therapist’s direction.” If the “patient” can not see the “therapist”, a form of “withdrawal” can set in. The “patient” may actually display anger or rage or sadness and may direct that at innocent individuals. The “therapist” becomes and even acts like “God” to the “patient.” Of course, this is taken as another sign that the “patient” has and is need of the “mental illness diagnosis” given him or her and of course, the drugs, too. This is all an incorrect assumption by psychiatrists and therapists and the etc. people. This is just bullying and gaslighting. No, this is wrong. This is why “therapists” are just as dangerous as the “psychiatrists” and why “medication-free treatment” is nothing but a lie conceived to keep healthy people in some sort of unnecessary bondage. Thank you.

  5. Excellent article, pointing out facts that really should be as “plain as the nose on your face.” Sadly, mental health professionals don’t seem able to see that nose. When I was forced into a mental health hospital, I was definitely “disrespected for not wanting medication.” The psychiatrist totally pooh poohed my comments about the dangers of the drugs, dangers I was acutely aware of as my son had just died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. In addition, I experienced “pressure to take medication” by being told I’d be kept in the institution longer if I wasn’t compliant. If you’d like to learn more about my experiences, they are related in my book “Broken: How the Broken Mental Health System Leads to Broken Lives and Broken Hearts” available on Amazon.

  6. One important flaw in the reasoning of the writer is ignoring the fact that service users who are suffering mental health issues often lack the cognitive freedom to make an informed choice.

    As a social worker, I’ve often seen service users whose minds are in severe distress unable to understand their own situation and delivered from their distress by medication to be able to think coherently. I don’t deny that medication is not the cure all for everyone suffering mental health issues but to suggest they are no better than placebos is irresponsible because it would deny many sufferers relief from the symptoms of their disease. These symptoms are often horrific causing sufferer’s severe distress.

    • That’s so very odd. As I have been prescribed these psychiatric drugs and absolutely never did I think more clearly while taking these drugs. In fact, the difference in my clarity was so large, that my parents would not let them be their “go-to” person legally or otherwise if their were in a medically compromised situation. When I stopped taking the drugs and even during the withdrawal phase, I spoke and thought so much more clearly that all who know me remarked how intelligent I again sounded. In fact, while on these drugs, there were times I could not even sign my name legally. So, what is claimed in your post seems to not resonate with my reality and truth and very probably the reality and truth of others prescribed these psychiatric drugs. I am sorry to say this, but, this is dangerous talk that costs lives in so many different ways. Please read the various articles and posts of those who can tell you first-hand what really happens to the brain because of these drugs. They cause brain damage and worse. I would advise a friend to stay away from these drugs just as much as I would I would advise him or her to stay away from “illegal drugs.” In fact, these drugs are so absolutely evil, I would even warn my “enemies.” Thank you.

    • Disease? Like there’s a blood test for this? Or maybe an MRI image? Perhaps there’s some other lab assay for this “disease” that I’m unaware of?

      These horrific symptoms are caused by distress, not disease. OFTEN, these horrific symptoms are caused by the very medications that you seem to claim relieve the “disease.”

      In my clinical experience in removing people from the drugs, I find that symptoms are often better after the drugs are gone. Symptoms improve remarkably if the individual can take self responsibility for their own mood and well being (that’s the hard one).

      Like @Linda Comac above said, “plain as the nose on your face,” and “mental health professionals don’t seem to see the nose.”

      That would be you.

      I do agree that people in distress lack cognitive freedom, but that is often from the pressure to “do something,” from family, friends, professionals. The freedom would be to choose how to treat, not to always submit to chemical solutions. But the dominant narrative – what you subscribe to – says, “shut up and take your pills” is the only solution. Simply NOT TRUE.

      I also agree that many clients want to be “fixed,” and are unwilling to do the work it takes to correct the problem – and drugs are a cheap and easy way to offer something, when someone is unable to leave a job, a relationship, quit a harmful pattern.

  7. I am absolutely certain that there are “service users who are suffering mental health issues [and] often lack the cognitive freedom to make an informed choice.” But I am equally sure that there are “service users” who are fully capable of making intelligent decisions about their own care. Ignoring the opinions and wishes of those who are fully capable of making an informed choice is detrimental to the mental health of “service users.” Consider what psychologists refer to as “self-determination theory.” According to this theory, people’s need for competence, connection and autonomy must be fulfilled if they are to grow and change. If the service users wishes are ignored, their need to feel competent, autonomous and connected is totally unmet, leaving them to feel even more frustrated, argumentative and depressed. I’ve written about this serious problem in https://themighty.com/2020/12/psychiatric-hospital-dignity-after-suicide-attempt/ as well as in my book “Broken: How the Broken Mental Health System Leads to Broken Lives and Broken Hearts.” The attitude that “service users” aren’t capable of making decisions for themselves is totally counterproductive and dangerous.

    • How nice! In your post, you say that “service users” can make their own decisions; but, the words employed in your post betray everything. And I single out the phrase, “service users.” I have heard many times regarding those who seek out knowingly or unknowingly the evil of psychiatry; client or patient or the most popular—-but “service users” is a new low—Thank you.

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