The norm in science is that there is free access to the data underpinning experiments. If free access is denied; it’s not science. In the case of branded pharmaceuticals, we do not even know what trials have been done. What is put in the public domain is not data. The selected highlights of a football game and the comments of the pundits afterwards don't change the score. The selected highlights of pharma studies and the comments of pundits routinely change the score.
For years, drugs were it. If you felt paranoid, heard voices or were diagnosed with schizophrenia, the only thing likely to be on offer was ‘antipsychotic’ medication. Like all drugs, these have a number of different effects on our nervous system. Some of the effects can be helpful, for example calming us down or making our experiences less intense or distressing. Others may be less desirable.
We have just celebrated the anniversary of the rapidly expanding global Hearing Voices Movement which was founded more than twenty-five years ago following the ground-breaking research of Professor Marius Romme and Dr Sandra Escher. Romme and Escher have advocated for a radical shift in the way we understand the phenomenon of Hearing Voices; in contrast to traditional, biomedical psychiatry which views voices as an aberrant by-product of genetic, brain and cognitive faults, their research has firmly established that voices make sense when taking into account the traumatic circumstances that frequently provoke them.
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.
A new generation of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements is likely to significantly threaten access and cost of healthcare, and limit signatory Governments sovereignty to prioritise health care policy to protect and improve the health of citizens. The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a Pacific Rim regional trade agreement involving 12 countries — including New Zealand, Australia and the US — is one such agreement, and it has the potential to significantly alter the domestic environment for health policy-making.
Over the last twenty years there has emerged a body of work that questions the assumptions that lie beneath psychiatric knowledge and practice. This work, appearing as academic papers, magazine articles, books, and chapters in books, hasn’t been written by academics, sociologists or cultural theorists. It has emerged from the pens and practice of a group of British psychiatrists.
From 1951, a system designed for heroin and cocaine addicts – prescription-only status – was applied to all new drugs. Why? These were after all the first truly effective drugs in medicine. But the ability to do good came with a likelihood of doing harm. There was a trade-off to be made between risks and benefits. The new complex trade-offs could not be put on to the label of a drug or even captured in a forty page package insert. They needed to be individual to each person.
What do you do when the media reports stories of children who have killed themselves on SSRIs? Position the stories of these children, not the drugs they were taking, as a suicide risk. Warn that more children will die if mouthy parents are allowed to speak and upstart journalists are allowed to report. And then position psychiatrists as the only people who can talk about suicide without producing an epidemic of self inflicted deaths.
In the film Avatar, scientists are keen to exploit the moon planet Pandora which is inhabited by 10-foot-tall blue humanoids called Na'vi. To do so they create Na'vi human hybrids called “Avatars” which are controlled from afar by genetically matched humans. When the scientists decide to destroy the eco-system of the planet to gain access to valuable minerals, war breaks out between the humans and the Na'vi. At this point the main character, Jake, who operates an Avatar, has to choose whose side he is on. Eventually Jake's life is saved and transformed by the Tree of Souls, which the humans are trying to destroy. Why are Avatars in the news again? The latest innovation from psychiatric research is using computer-generated avatars to help people who hear aggressive voices.
One of the suggestions in the comments from my last post has really got my imagination going. Chaya Grossberg suggested that we can all edit Wikipedia entries. I went in and got surprised at how easy this was. Then I checked the hit rates on Wikipedia to see how big an impact this could have, and I was totally amazed.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) came into favor in the wake of thalidomide as a method to evaluate drugs and their risks. They were supposed to...
In Paris today we have a lot of people mouthing words that come easily: "Je Suis Charlie." For anyone who wants to be Charlie, who wants to get to know what modern politics is all about, by feeling it in your marrow, try reporting an adverse event on treatment to your doctor. Outside your doctor’s surgery/clinic/ consultation room you can believe you are operating in a democracy. Inside the room you may be treated with courtesy and apparent friendliness but you are being treated in an arrangement set in place to police addicts. This is not a domain in which ideals of Liberty, Equality or Fraternity are welcome.
In a bold and unprecedented move for any professional body, the UK Division of Clinical Psychology, a sub-division of the British Psychological Society, issued a Position Statement today calling for the end of the unevidenced biomedical model implied by psychiatric diagnosis. In brief, the argument is that the so-called ‘functional’ diagnoses – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, ADHD and so on - are not scientifically valid categories and are often damaging in practice.
We have come to believe that technology can eradicate all human suffering and provide unblemished and everlasting happiness. We have paid for this irrational expectation with our autonomy, our dignity and our ability to endure.
We want to start an international initiative to promote the writing of recovery stories in every country, with the ultimate goal of sharing at an international level the most compelling ones from each country. Our proposal is born from an awareness that recovery stories are necessary today in order to give back to mental sufferance its meaning and transparency, to fight the biographical opacity of biological theories (the broken brain) and to guarantee decisional power to those who are offered (or imposed) mono-dimensional or dehumanizing treatments.
I was recently surfing the internet and came across an Etsy ad selling a lobotomy tool set - hammer and orbitoclast. I was tempted to make the purchase and indulge my penchant for this historical “apparatus” especially given its rise as heroic therapeutic intervention for three decades. It was a mere $168.00. Although I didn’t buy the historical torture device, that ad left me with one penetrating realization: psychiatry is here to stay.
There are some things to applaud about the recently released update of the NICE bipolar guidelines, not least the recognition that the diagnosis has been inappropriately applied to children with behavioural problems. Hopefully this will help curtail the worrying trend of using toxic bipolar drugs in this age group. As usual, however, the Guidelines overlook glaring problems with the evidence base for drug treatment in general, and miss an opportunity to stem the diagnostic creep that has come to the UK and Europe via the United States.
In order to explore the current political context of mental health services, as I will be doing in some upcoming blogs, it is necessary to establish what the modern mental health system actually consists of and what function it serves. It is only by tracing the historical development of mental health services, and analysing how and why the system arose, that we are able to fully comprehend its actual purpose.
Everyone in the world is either touched by their own mental health issues or have had a family member affected. What if they directed their buying power to an organization that would use the profits to fund exciting mental health & recovery projects both in the developing world and in their own countries; projects that would be ethical, non-coercive, personal recovery-based, and were aimed at creating recovery communities? What if they could buy products, crafts, services, art, music, books from people who had experienced mental health issues, enabling them to set up their own businesses or buy from social co-operatives that enabled distressed people to work and earn a living wage?
The DSM claims to be a scientific system of classification. The validity of any system of scientific classification is the extent to which it can be shown to reflect the real world. Fifty years of study and investigation, and huge sums of money spent across the Western world on neuroscientific research institutes, on careers and equipment, has failed to establish the validity of a single psychiatric diagnosis.
The version of psychiatry that many professionals, politicians and laypeople would like to be true is that mental illnesses are specific brain disorders with specific drug treatments, to which they are very responsive if identified early. In reality, the way we categorise mental illnesses is arbitrary, and the diagnostic criteria are over inclusive. Whilst psychiatric drugs can be helpful, the dream of a quick fix by targeted drugs has become a nightmare where we often do more harm than good in the way we use drugs, e.g. against depression, schizophrenia and ADHD.
The International DSM-5 Response Committee, sponsored by Division 32 of the American Psychological Association — the Society for Humanistic Psychology — now has an online petition against the DSM-5. This is a truly international effort. Please support the petition by signing it at http://dsm5response.com
For decades the gold standard for medical evidence was the review article - an essay looking at most or (hopefully) all of the research on a particular question and trying to divine a general trend in the data toward some conclusion ("therapy X seems to be good for condition Y," for example). More recently, the format of review articles has shifted - at least where the questions addressed have leant themselves to the new style. The idea has been to look at the original data for all of the studies available, and in effect reanalyze them as though the research participants were all taking part in one gigantic study. By increasing the number of data points and averaging across the vagaries of different studies, a clearer finding might emerge. The meta-analysis has gone on to be revered as a strategy for advancing healthcare. It has vulnerabilities.
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.
I am a very optimistic psychologist, but with reason. For 25 years I've been working with people who have had psychological problems in every conceivable area. Many psychologists have problems with burnout, especially early in their careers. For me, this has been very different. By using the treatment techniques that I do, I feel anti-burned out. It is so gratifying to see people get out of their serious problems, that I look forward to every day of clinical work.