We Have Overwhelmingly Lost Touch With the Human Aspect of Medicine

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From KevinMD.com: “The medical establishment has made wonderful strides in destigmatizing ‘psychiatric disorders.’ However, we have helped to create a devastating stigmatization of emotional distress. Somehow, as it has become acceptable to suffer from a ‘psychiatric illness,’ it has become increasingly unacceptable to suffer from emotional distress and the current medical practice has nurtured this change.

. . . When someone is in distress, no empathic conversation makes room for and supports an emotional experience. There is no listening ear that helps a patient identify their feelings and make sense of them. There is a medicalization of the experience as abnormal and a prescription given to essentially silence whatever emotional state we are confronted with.

When a patient comes in and complains of anxiety, this is the beginning of an important conversation. [But] in our current climate, it’s the beginning and the end of the conversation. You are now identified as ill. We miss the young man who drinks ten beers at night, the woman who’s being abused, the teen that’s being bullied. We encourage that patient to view negative emotions as something to eliminate, not an essential and rich source of information. Now it’s not the alcohol that’s the problem, or the abuser or the bully, it’s the patient. I had a patient come in demanding medication to treat her ‘anxiety.’ When pressed to clarify the context of her anxiety, she told me that she feels anxious when she leaves her young daughter alone with her questionable new boyfriend. This young woman has come to believe, with the help of medicine, among other factors, that her emotional state was pathological and not the wondrous and instinctual signal to protect her child.

We are nurturing an environment of emotional phobia where people can no longer identify and frankly fear their own emotions and the emotions of others . . . The lack of ability to identify our own humanness and, in turn, recognize it and empathize with it in others is further reaching than we might imagine.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. “The medical establishment has made wonderful strides in destigmatizing ‘psychiatric disorders.’ However, we have helped to create a devastating stigmatization of emotional distress. Somehow, as it has become acceptable to suffer from a ‘psychiatric illness,’ it has become increasingly unacceptable to suffer from emotional distress and the current medical practice has nurtured this change.”

    Wow.

    First of all, the stigma surrounding psychiatric disorders has worsened as they have become increasingly medicalised. There have been no “wonderful strides.” Second, the author seems not to understand that the allegedly critical distinction between “psychiatric illness” and emotional distress does not exist. DSM-defined mental disorders, at least those related to emotions like anxiety and mood disorders, ARE emotional distress.

    It’s not often that an article conclusively debunks itself in the first three sentences.

      • Some patients want someone else to tell them what’s wrong with them, even if doing so is the opposite of helpful. But some most definitely are looking for someone to help them explore their own needs and thinking and emotions to find a better way to live. There is also a group in the middle who are willing to believe the psychiatric story because “they’re doctors” and it sounds very “sciency,” but are to one degree or another disappointed that the promises they were given don’t come to fruition, and eventually, these people rebel, either quietly or loudly, but sometimes it takes years or even decades for them to really “get” what happened.

        I remember when I worked on a suicide hotline, I got a call from a woman who said she’d been trying different antidepressants for over a year. She was quite frantic, saying she was working on her 5th antidepressant and none of them worked, and she told her doctor that it wasn’t working and all he would say was, “You have to give it time” or “let’s try another one.” She was panicked that she’d always feel depressed and be waiting for something that would never happen. I acknowledged that this was very difficult, then asked her a simple question: Had anyone ever told her that there were other things she could do besides taking drugs for depression? She was suddenly calm. She said, “No.” I said, “Well, there are.” She said, “Oh. Well, that’s good!” and then we got to talking about what else she could do.

        I don’t think she “wanted” a diagnosis. She wanted help with a situation she didn’t understand, and the doctor told her what to do, and she tried it, having no other frame of reference. If the doctor had told her something more sane, she would have taken it up in a moment. Her only fault was trusting the doctor, not wanting to avoid responsibility for her condition.

        It is easy to make generalizations, but as I like to say, “All generalizations are always wrong.” People are different, and we ought to consider that when making our analyses.

  2. There are very few, if any, valid diagnoses in the DSM. Much of it is like an astrological chart. Most, if any real diagnoses rarely make it to the DSM. Also, even if there is a weakly possible valid diagnosis in the DSM, the symptom list rarely fits and, yes, it is not highly stigmatizing, but is fully ensconced in human bias so as to be damaging, in a multitude of ways, not only to the individual receiving the diagnosis, but to the family, the community and society at large. Thank you.

  3. EXACTLY how we got into this mess in the first place.

    All of a sudden, people are “ill” when they feel negative emotions. They go to a doctor to take away their normal anxiety, anger, fear. The human emotions that are there for a reason.

    And what they didnt realize is that these meds dont just take away the NEGATIVE ones. They impair the ability to feel love, enthusiasm, creativity, joy, elation.

    And all of this has become normalized.

    When 15% (and climbing) of western civilization is taking these drugs, thats 15% of western civilization that is significantly impaired at feeling empathy for others … Impaired at connecting with their partners, children, friends … impaired at feeling healthy fear so now we take far greater dangerous risks … impaired at being able to laugh, so there is less genuine laughter and fun and joy in the world. Many many people with SSRI-induced Anhedonia report that they only laugh or smile to “fit in” because nothing can naturally fill them with joy.

    These medications being used at this inexcusable rate are hurting us as a species.

    What in this world could POSSIBLY be more important than connecting with others? With a spouse, parent, child, friend? What is more uniquely human?!?! Money? Career? Stuff? What do people talk about on their death beds? What do they wish they had done differently? It seems to me that what we hear most is the relationships and the people in their lives, what they could have done to make those connections better or last longer.

    These medications are like surgically carving out something that was uniquely bestowed upon the human race … That emotional connection to others.

  4. An “anonymous physician” wrote this article. It was published a week ago.

    Good find to pull this out of everything that gets published on the web!

    Of course, many have been noticing this trend for years, if not the example of medicine in particular.

    But I don’t see emotion (or misemotion) itself as the problem here. A riot resulting in burned buildings and death can be justified and makes the news. And our entertainment products remain highly emotional. So, there seems to be some sort of thinkingness connected with the doctor-patient relationship, and perhaps similar relationships.

    And there is, in particular, the attitude of the corporate world to its “customers.” Though they are known as “people,” to Corporate they are treated more like a resource to be prospected and mined. And when no more wealth can be drained out of them, they become a “waste problem.”

    So, my analysis is that the corporate model is overtaking medicine, as it has done to entertainment, journalism, education and other social activities and institutions. We allowed this to happen. We like our smartphones! We were a bit naive about the whole thing, it seems. Perhaps that can be remedied.

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