There was a heart-breaking and disturbing story in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper entitled, My Daughter, the Schizophrenic’, which featured edited extracts from a book written by the father of a child called Jani. He describes how Jani is admitted into a psychiatric hospital when she is 5, diagnosed with schizophrenia when she is 6 and by the time she is 7, she has been put on a potent cocktail of psychotropic medications.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Robert Whitaker’s (2010) outstanding book Anatomy of an Epidemic was his comparative data that contrasted outcomes for mental disorders prior to the introduction of pharmacological treatments with outcomes for mental disorders after pharmacological treatments became the main, and often only, course of action. I have asked people in workshops to estimate who might be better off – someone diagnosed with what we now call bipolar disorder prior to the introduction of lithium or someone diagnosed after lithium became a standard treatment. Almost without exception workshoppers estimate that the people diagnosed before lithium was available do much worse. Whitaker’s data indicate exactly the opposite. It’s a staggering finding.
In Part One of this article series, we reviewed the contemporary research into the links between psychosis, problematic family dynamics, and other forms of childhood trauma. After reviewing this research, we find that a very interesting and important question emerges: What do all of these have in common? In other words, is there some common denominator that all of these types of trauma and patterns of problematic family dynamics share, a single underlying factor that makes someone particularly vulnerable to experiencing a psychotic crisis? Indeed, I believe that there is.
The story starts on 19th of March, 1986, when I withdrew myself from 30 mgs of Ativan daily and 360 mgs of Opiate painkillers daily—all doctor-prescribed—with no support or assistance, other than the love and full support of my lovely wife Sue. It took me 15 months of hell on earth to withdraw. So afterwards I researched the issues involved (after my brain had started to function again) and started on the long road of campaigning for dedicated withdrawal services by contacting our local newspaper and telling them my story. Horrifying as the facts read, not only was it a release for me to express my emotions and observations, but it slowly informed the general public of the dangers of long-term prescribed addiction.
Of all the beliefs that I have had about my experiences, the belief that I was ‘schizophrenic’ was the most damaging. In adopting the story that others told about me, and abandoning my own sense-making process, I held on to a belief that both hid my traumatic life experiences and rendered them irrelevant. Does it matter if we sometimes slip into the language of illness when we all agree that these experiences are meaningful, personal and have value? Yes. It does.
The 90s were labeled - rather optimistically - as the ‘decade of recovery.’ More recently, recovery has been placed slap bang central in mental health policy. Is supporting recovery pretty much good common sense? Or is the term being misused to pressure those suffering to behave in certain ways?
While making money from the publication of pharmaceutical company trials, and in the face of a complete failure by industry to adhere to basic scientific norms and make data available, BMJ and other journals — although BMJ in particular — have run a series of articles on supposed Academic Fraud. These articles feature instances of fraud sometimes as bizarre as researcher claiming he cannot show the data as it was eaten by termites. The universal feature is that these are academic studies, and academic fraud is an issue in academia.
I want to follow up my first post by outlining the principles of possible alternatives to psychiatric diagnosis – that is, alternatives in addition to the most obvious one, which is simply to stop diagnosing people.
Stephen Hawking believes there are an infinite number of universes and that alien life exists. Nobel Prize winning physicist Neils Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics shows a cat can be alive and dead simultaneously until we fix it in one state through our observation of it. These are ideas that most people would struggle to see as credible science and yet recent literature reviews reveal that physicists are far more trusted than psychiatrists.
For several decades, since the days when I was a patient, I have seen and heard how an obsession with questions damages psychiatry. Many of us have been asked the same questions day after day, year after year: ‘Do your thoughts seem faster than normal?’, ‘Do you ever have thoughts in your mind which are not your own?’, ‘Do you feel anxious?’, and so on. Hearing only what a patient says under questioning when frozen by paralysis, or subject to the hyper-arousal of anxiety, the professional misses the opportunity to hear the threads of something new, the possibility of weaving with the patient a narrative of hope and recovery.
GSK has recently announced that it will cease paying doctors for promoting its drugs and sponsoring them to attend conferences and sever the link between pay for its sales representatives and the numbers of prescriptions physicians write. My reading of GSK’s annual report leaves me in no doubt that they are changing their business model because it is likely to increase their profitability – not because they are being forced to. There is a niche in the market for a pharmaceutical company to become the leader in ethical practice. It is not necessary for GSK to be ethical in reality but to create the perception of being so.
If antidepressants are effective, and people with depression are more likely to be prescribed them, then you would expect the consequences of depression to start to lessen. One of those consequences, according to government statistics, is being out of work. But what we see is quite the opposite: Increasing use of antidepressants correlates with increased numbers of people with depression who are out of work and claiming benefits, and increasingly on a long-term basis. And this is at a time when disability due to other medical conditions has fallen.
In 2006 I undertook a neuropsychology placement during my Clinical Psychology Doctoral training course. It was in a community brain injury service. I had the fortunate experience of undertaking not only neuropsychological assessments, but also therapeutic interventions and service projects. My eyes were opened in a very positive way. Things suddenly made sense; psychology, interactions, life, all became much clearer. I now understood that we are all unique, not only because of our experiences and views on life, but because of our neurocircuitry. I began to see how our unique cognitive profiles make us who we are.
Two pieces of research have been published over the last two years that should prompt a major reorientation of the treatment of schizophrenia and psychosis, and a fundamental reappraisal of the use of antipsychotic drugs in general. Put together, these studies suggest that the standard approach to treating serious mental health problems may cause more harm than good. Long-term treatment with antipsychotic drugs has adverse effects on the brain, and may impair rather than improve chances of recovery for some. Many people ask me how the psychiatric profession has responded to this data. Surely, they think, it must have stimulated a major debate within the profession, and some critical reflection about why it took so long to recognise these worrying effects? Sadly, this does not appear to be happening.
Before the early 1990’s the use of antipsychotic medications was largely reserved for adults with severe psychotic disorders; unpleasant involuntary movement disorders (extrapyramidal side-effects) and cardiovascular risks appear to have largely limited their use outside these disorders. The introduction and intense marketing of what seemed to be better tolerated and safer (now proven not to be), second generation atypical antipsychotics (AAPs) such as risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone and aripiprazole from the mid 1990’s led to a rapid expansion of antipsychotic medication use for a wide variety of unlicensed conditions and in more diverse clinical populations.
I do not wish to discuss an individual patient. I wish to discuss the conduct of the psychiatrists at Upton House, Dr Katz in particular, who have been responsible for the administering of over 50 ECTs consecutively to a patient, and have reportedly repeatedly restrained this patient to a bed, on one occasion for approximately 60 consecutive days.
‘Psychiatric prejudice’ is a term being bandied about these days, mainly by aggrieved psychiatrists. Ordinary people, other doctors and medical students are all prejudiced, they say, because they do not appreciate that psychiatry is a proper medical activity, and critics of psychiatry are prejudiced because their analyses undermine this medical point of view. However, many people remain inclined to view the difficulties we label as mental disorders as understandable reactions to adverse life events or circumstances and, importantly, evidence suggests they are more, not less, tolerant of such situations. In my view, there is a role for medical expertise in helping people with mental health problems, but that does not mean we have to call those problems illnesses.
A report on antidepressant consumption released on 18 February 2014 by the OECD shows huge increases in prescribing of the drugs across most countries. According to the report a key factor driving this increase is the expansion of the off label use of the drugs for a vastly increased number of indications. While this may not seem like news, I think it warrants some analysis because I think what we are seeing is something more complex than simple market expansion.
Some readers of Mad in America may be aware that Scientific American published a short blog by me on 17th November 2014 - Why We Need to Abandon the Disease-Model of Mental Health Care. This blog was rather wonderfully (and slightly embarrassingly) described by Phil Hickey on his website, Behaviorism and Mental Health, as “an important milestone.” My blog attempts to summarise many of the key points of a perspective widely shared on Mad in America:
When a pharmaceutical company discovers a potential new drug, they undertake a mammoth project. The aim is to amass sufficient evidence that national organizations such as the FDA will approve sale of the drug, and the type of disorders for which it can be openly prescribed – the so-called “on-label” uses. In order to encourage companies to undertake this risk, governments place a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) has created a blog for suicide attempt survivors. By seeking out and actually welcoming the survivor voice, for the first time anywhere in the world by a mainstream suicide organisation, this represents a global breakthrough in the field.
So here we go again; another meeting with another young person who describes how he is in an acute crisis - you may call it - and is diagnosed and prescribed neuroleptics. He is told by the doctor that he suffers from a life-long illness and he will from now on be dependent on his “medication.” As long as people are met this way I see no alternative than showing that there are alternatives. If that means being "antipsychiatry," then I am more than happy to define myself and our work in that way.
The World Health Organisation was established in 1945 to provide leadership on global health matters. According to its Director General Dr Margaret Chan, it...
The recent furore surrounding publication of the new DSM has provided a much-needed opportunity to discuss and debate crucial issues about how we make sense of, and respond to, experiences of madness and distress. Many psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have expressed their dismay about the dominance and inadequacy of a biomedical model of mental illness. Whilst we share these concerns, welcome these debates and support colleagues that are willing to take a stand, The Hearing Voices Network believes that people with lived experience of diagnosis must be at the heart of any discussions about alternatives to the current system.
Tension mounts across the ideological divide as D-Day (DSM-5 Day) approaches. The APA has powerful allies on its side. President Obama has just launched Decade of the Brain 2 with the announcement two weeks ago that heralds the arrival of BRAIN ( Brain Research through Advances in Innovative Neurotechnologies). If that’s not enough, those who believe that science will ultimately explain madness can always rely on the media to fawn at their feet.