Comments by J.A. Carter-Winward

Showing 94 of 94 comments.

  • KateL & Faster Pussykat – I’m not sure how I was insulting or condescending, and I’ve never suggested that “my way” of recovery is superior to anyone else’s. I’m sharing what has been the most helpful for me.

    I get the anger and know how it feels to be blamed for the harm I continue to deal with from the medical system. Every time I walk into a clinical situation, my guard is up, but if I am not aware of how my behavior affects the provider, I feel like I have less, not more, control over the clinical interactions and outcomes.

    The point isn’t whether a provider deserves your compassion or empathy and, as I’ve often said in the past, it isn’t about giving anyone a “pass” for bad behavior. It’s about obtaining the best possible care for yourself. If you have found better ways to get optimal care, then of course you should trust your own judgement and experiences. Good luck – JA

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  • Debbie,
    Thank you for the kind and generous words. When my emotional brain is screaming, I have to focus on calming my system. The thoughts, emotions, feelings—these are all accompanied by a nervous system response. As I’ve written in earlier articles, coming at these responses directly won’t work. You need to come at them indirectly, something I’ll be addressing in the next article. It’s about calming the system. So, if my emotional brain is screaming, for example, I don’t get on social media. I don’t reach for a candy bar or a caffeinated drink, because all these increase psychological and physiological stress. I make choices that will decrease nervous system activation in ways that are under my control. I can’t always choose the trigger, but I can choose to not make it worse.

    Finally, I wrote this piece after the bout of akathisia, not during it. 😉 Maintaining a grounded, logical approach has been what’s worked—it’s that simple. If it didn’t work, I’d be trying another way. I’m fairly averse to the experience of akathisia by now, so that is a fantastic motivator to stay on track. Best of luck to you and thanks for reading – JA

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  • KateL—hi, thanks for reading, and sorry your comment was eaten!

    I’m not suggesting people find providers who are “open to a conversation about psych drug harm,” in fact, just the opposite. If you’ve been harmed by psych meds, you are a walking, talking, breathing threat to every medical provider you encounter. If you walk in, guns blazing with “the truth about psych meds,” doors will close before they open. It takes time to cultivate these relationships.

    Much like reading a writer, it’s easy to assume all kinds of things about a medical provider, and they will pick up on it. Human beings don’t just communicate using words. You are part of a dynamic and that dynamic is informed by a million nonverbal cues. Do you ask them how their week is going? Have you expressed care, compassion, and empathy towards them? Or do you feel that’s their job, owed to you? These are all rhetorical questions, and I’m not suggesting you don’t do these things, but coming out of the gate with “drug harm” often sets us up for a complicated and confrontational relationship with providers. I know this because I did it, over and over again. The hope is that with my experiences, I can help people avoid the mistakes I made in this arena. In between the lines of these experiences are the many clinicians I alienated because I pushed the conversation of drug harm on them too soon, too hard, or too much.

    Finally, I was on state Medicaid for large portions of my adult life. I remember how the presence of my then-socioeconomic situation felt like a third entity in every clinical interaction. But it’s important to remember that when you walk into that room, you’re carrying every mean, cruel, and apathetic experience from the medical community with you, (along with the fears that accompany socioeconomic fragility), while your provider is carrying every petulant, apathetic, and demanding patient he or she has ever encountered, along with all of their fears. You are not in that room alone together! Your pasts, prejudices, and biases are all there.

    Being aware of the current or potential dynamics that are created is the first step in changing those dynamics, which can then begin to incrementally improve clinical interactions. Wishing you way more than luck – JA

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  • Ellen,
    As a writer, I’m always surprised at how my writing impacts different people in different ways. Writing isn’t a solitary act, it’s a collaboration. When you read anyone’s words, you are filtering everything through your field of experience. For example, why does one person come away hopeful while another is despairing? That isn’t simply socioeconomics – but we can’t discount the massive impact socioeconomics has on our health and well-being. Had all this happened 16 years ago instead of now, for example, the road to recovery for me would have been infinitely more difficult, because when you’re worried about basic necessities, why wouldn’t you feel extreme distress?

    If you’re worried about basic survival, feelings of fear and despair seem like perfectly appropriate neuro-emotional responses. Financial instability and struggle cast a pall of worry across everything. That said, I know people with endless financial resources who are in the throes of continued suffering due to drug harm and others who are literally living hand-to-mouth who have healed. Socioeconomic resources (or the lack) play a role, but not the only role, in recovery.

    It sounds like you’re doing much of what I’m already doing, though there is more to come in the series. It’s important to note here that it cost me more money to have my brain damaged by drugs than it does to try and heal that damage. There were no costly, unusual out-of-pocket tests done; they were done based on symptoms, covered by my fairly unremarkable insurance plan. Metabolic and nutritional panels are typically part of getting a yearly physical from a GP as long as they are deemed medically necessary by Medicare (though I’m not an expert on state-by-state coverage). That’s something you’d have to asses with your provider and again, this boils down to the relationship you’ve cultivated.

    The continued hypersensitivity you have with foods and other drug treatments can be seen as important information for you—your brain has more healing to do.

    Do you remember where you were 8 years ago? Have things improved at all? Even the slightest improvement is reason to have hope. What we’re shooting for here is progress, not perfection. Expectations can be a huge source of depression, despair, and discouragement if they are unrealistic and rigid. We can only heal what can be healed and expectations that are more fluid allow for more self-compassion and less stress on the system.

    What we’re really talking about here is grief and grieving. The loss of things that will never be whole and the continued loss—along with the daily reminders of what was, what could have been, what will never be. However, this isn’t just the experience of those of us harmed by drugs; this is the human experience. So, what are your expectations about recovery? Do those need to be adjusted to a more realistic place?

    Finally, I think of how much organic food costs and how many people can’t afford healthy food (this is such a travesty, I could write a whole piece on this alone). So you’ve got one of the most vital pieces of this in place—access to healthy food.

    Again, there was no single treatment that made me “whole.” In fact, you sound like you’re more physically functional than I am. But I continue to work on that while maintaining realistic expectations of what “recovery” looks like. If I were to contrast where I am now with where I was 30 years ago, I’d be in despair. So, I compare where I was 3 years ago to now, and it works. It costs nothing to change the view inside my mind. Take good care and thanks for reading – JA

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  • Silvia,
    Thanks for taking the time to clarify. That makes some sense; however, what I’m trying to convey here is, for example, terms like “treatment-resistant depression” continue to perpetuate the current medical/biological paradigm of mental illness. “Treatment-resistant depression” implies failed pharmacological interventions. I didn’t read the study, but I do wonder (rhetorically) if the researchers bothered to explore whether the low cerebral folate in “some patients” was due to their (likely) long-term exposure to psychotropic drugs.

    That said, I agree with you re: the complexity of genetics and the general lack of understanding most people have of it. I’m immensely glad you are aware of the complexities of brain trauma. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of good work. Take good care and thanks for reading – JA

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  • Silvia – thanks for your comment. Withdrawal symptoms from psychotropic drugs can also mimic certain types of head trauma and acquired brain injuries as well. It’s important not to confuse correlation with causation.

    While I think it’s imperative to be aware of our physiological makeup to the best of our abilities to make informed healthcare choices, it’s also important to remember that our biology and genetics are not final, deciding factors for what might emerge individually.

    I’m not sure what sources you quote here but again, the piece is about healing from drug harm, not postulating on other biological models of mental illness. Knowing “why” isn’t, for me, as helpful as knowing how I must proceed to (re)gain as much functionality as possible for myself and my family. That’s what this series attempts to do: help others find ‘how’ not ‘why.’

    Finally, part of healing for me has been to extract myself from the biological model of mental illness because it’s akin to describing a freshly baked pie as “salt.” While salt may or may not be an ingredient, focusing on that single ingredient detracts from the true nature and complexity of the pie.

    The way we approach, conceive of, and understand mental health today has been polluted by money, power, and medical hubris. The whole system needs redress. There are too many factors that contribute to our health or ill health. By focusing on genetics or biological factors, we permit a false target to dominate the conversation, which then conveniently allows us to ignore the sociopolitical and cultural inequalities and injustices that arguably play a much larger role in mental health than a genetic mutation. Take care and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Someone Else – thanks for your thoughts. I don’t know if my piece advocates or suggests that “doctors need to take back control of their power” because I don’t feel that way. The reason I was inappropriately medicated was that doctors have too much power and not enough oversight from regulatory bodies.

    The purpose of the article was to emphasize that doctors provide a service. When we, the patients, don’t know what we need, we can’t make proper health choices, and we end up abdicating our responsibility to medical providers who are submerged in a corrupt system rife with implicit bias and financial incentives to medicate. This is not unique to psychiatry. It permeates all sectors of the medical system in the US and beyond.

    When there is a profit motive, the motivation to generate as much profit as possible goes unchecked. This, unfortunately, is why we are all here on Mad in America and not out living our best lives.

    Finally, I didn’t choose the image, and it isn’t me (I wish!) but I agree, it’s beautiful and it captures how, I’m sure, many of us feel at times as we work toward recovery. Take care and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thanks, Amy. I’m glad you’re doing much better and thank you for your kind words.

    Just a thought – it may have been the probiotics, or it may have been the right time for the probiotics based on where your system was due to all your other hard work. It’s simply impossible to know if, had you tried probiotics earlier on in your recovery, they might not have made such a large difference. I only suggest this possibility because sometimes WHEN we try something is as important as what we try. That’s why I feel it’s so important to focus on the big picture and on things that make sense in the long term (such as a healthy diet, adequate sleep, etc.). “Trial and error” – absolutely.

    It sounds like you learned what worked for you, and what didn’t, and you kept marching forward–arguably the single most important healing strategy there is. Best of luck to you as well! Thanks for reading and take good care. – JA

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  • Living—that’s a good descriptor and you’re right, it is hard to think of a worse feeling. The other side of that coin is the parasympathetic response, which seems to become impaired or overridden by the fear centers of the brain. This understanding was what led me to search for ways to override, or rather, “disrupt,” the damaged autonomic responses, which is what these articles are attempting to do on some level. Thanks for reading and your comment. – JA

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  • Blu – Thanks for reading and your kind words.

    I am fortunate to have the kind of partnership I have. We had to work incredibly hard for it, too, so sharing what we’ve learned feels essential because there was no information out there when we were in the thick of it. We both appreciate hearing that our efforts offer some hope and comfort.

    The fact that you’ve come this far tells me you have an inner resilience that I wish everyone harmed by medications had because those inner resources have little to do with socioeconomics, and everything to do with a person’s ability to strive, progress, and persevere. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult this would be without a support person.

    And while having financial resources is helpful (on every level, everywhere), for us, it simply helped us widen the search net a little. In the end, the majority of the work I’m doing to recover has no bearing on socioeconomics; it demands the very resilience you show every single day. You are also an inspiration.

    Keep striving, keep healing, and please take good care of yourself. – JA

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  • Kris, I’m so sorry you were harmed by psychiatry. It feels like crazy-making because one would think they would have all the information. They actually don’t and likely don’t want it. If you haven’t already read it, I’d recommend reading “Psychiatry Under the Influence,” by Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove. It explicates how, where, and why the system went wrong and how it continues to go wrong. I found it immensely helpful in understanding the rampant biases and lack of judgment specifically in psychiatry. Take care – JA

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  • Thanks for all this, Krista. It sounds like you finally started trusting your body, and in turn, it responded in kind. This is why I’m reluctant to give specifics on my personal recovery journey–it isn’t about following my process, it’s about uncovering and finding your own, something I’m currently writing about. Many thanks and best of luck to you on your healing road. – JA

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  • Krista, thank you for reading. What you gleaned from the article was exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish with it. It can be a tough topic, not just based on how people are injured, but because of how the medical system reacts to iatrogenic harm. Your experience sounds familiar, and even today there are large elephants in the room I have to ignore to get through my medical appointments.

    I’m sorry that the medical providers you consulted weren’t as helpful as they could and should have been. My husband, Kent, just completed an article that’s going to be published here in August about some of the more effective ways we’ve found in getting help from the medical community.

    Our society identifies with what we do as part of who we are. When livelihoods are threatened, even peripherally, implicit bias kicks in because in the back of their minds, or deep in the darkness of them, they’re thinking, “It could be me next.” It isn’t right or fair because we’ve been taught to believe that medical providers put patient care and safety first. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I appreciate your comments and hope you continue to move forward as you reclaim your life. Take good care. – JA

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  • Hi Max,
    I’ve been working steadily on the upcoming pieces. My goal is to walk through my journey in a way that speaks to the most people. I can’t speak to when it’s slated for publication, but I’m sure it will be in the next few weeks or so.

    Please tell your wife that she has every reason to be hopeful, though she might not “feel” hopeful. Our emotional states often don’t reflect things we know, but they make a compelling case, which can be disastrous for people in any sort of prolonged withdrawal. It’s a constant struggle to create meaning and hope every day when things feel endless and dark. But finding that internal drive to survive and hold on is often compromised by the damage left by psychotropic drugs. This is where you and other caregivers have the most influence and sway. My guess is, whatever’s going on in your wife right now is deafening. So remember to validate, reaffirm, reassure, even if you sound like a broken record. Healing brain and nervous system trauma takes time and support. I’m glad she has you in her corner. Thanks for reading and take good care. – JA

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  • K. Free,
    Thank you for the words of encouragement. I think if what we went through happens to only a handful of people, it’s worthy of concern and investigation. The fact that it happens to so many, so often, it seems like the system is either willfully blind or knowingly complicit and either scenario is disturbing, to say the least. Take care and thank you for reading. – JA

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  • Terry,
    You’ve been through the medical wringer – I’m so sorry for all this. Our bodies consist of multiple interdependent systems, so when one system is impacted, it often cascades into other systems. This is why, as you might already know, psychiatric drug harm is often so perplexing – we simply don’t know the long-term consequences until they’re upon us.

    That said, I can’t speak to why your body is beginning to feel or hurt. I know that our bodies were designed to alert us when something goes wrong. And while we feel pain for many reasons, some don’t appear on scans or in bloodwork. If you’re concerned, I’d consult a medical provider to make sure it’s not something that must be treated. I wish you luck and a continued recovery. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Anne,
    I’m glad you believe medications helped you. I notice you don’t give any credit to the talk therapy you were in (on and off) nor to your own abilities to confront your fears and overcome them. That’s unfortunate because I think you deserve at least some of the credit.

    Anne, we know trauma can cause PTSD. But we have no evidence to support that the use of medication specifically targets PTSD receptors in the brain and corrects what went wrong in someone’s childhood. There are no such things as PTSD receptors, I should note.

    Personally, I see trauma as, not an event, but our reaction and ability to process the event. When we’re children, we simply don’t have the ability to process certain things, and it can create a lot of difficulties for us.

    That said, medications often perpetrate trauma upon trauma for many people. While you have been lucky and medications did not make your life more difficult, many of us here were not so lucky. If we can incorporate your beliefs (that medication helped you) then I think it’s a reasonable expectation that you and others who comment incorporate the lived experiences of the people here. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Revathy,
    This is quite a comment! It’s taken me a moment to try and get to the heart of what I think you’re saying. First, just to clarify, an “internet butterfly” is someone who, I gather, moves from site to site to site touching down briefly on things about which they know very little, and then flits away. That’s an interesting take considering the comment you left and the site and article on which you commented.

    As for the rest of your comment, what I’m hearing you say is you believe that when someone suffers the worst clinical outcome (death) following treatments geared toward avoiding the worst outcome (again, death) of a non-fatal condition (mental health issues), we ought to “frame” the negative outcome in a narrative light that favors the clinician and their treatment rather than exploring all possible contributors to the fatality. Am I hearing you correctly?

    I also noticed you compared mental illness to cancer. Cancer is an observable disease. Medical providers order tests, scans, and other diagnostics to determine the location, type, stage, and severity of cancer. Now, if someone came in and said, “I think I have cancer,” and the doctor said, “Okay, I’ll take your word for it. Here are some pills I heard about on TV that might help,” and that person dies, is it cancer that killed them? How would we know if no biological markers for cancer were found, let alone tested for and observed? And is that how we ought to “frame” this total show of negligence on the part of the medical provider?

    By the way, the above scenario could be characterized as the SOP of psychiatry. No “illness,” no biological markers, no evidence, no tests, no facts, just flawed perceptions, and skewed opinions, and that just isn’t how medical science is supposed to work. That’s how blind belief works, and when you couple “blind belief” with a prescription pad, it can be a fatal combination. We need medical providers to prescribe based on facts, not flawed science and biases.

    I don’t know if you’ve taken the time to read the actual studies that were conducted on psychiatric medications (these are the only medications at issue here, not all medications), taking into account the studies and results that went unpublished or got buried due to lack of positive “framing,” and long-term outcomes that categorically show worse mental and physical health for medicated patients, or if you’ve ever been curious enough to do a deep dive into the results that were ultimately skewed by corrupting influences in the pharmaceutical industry, but I encourage you to get curious.

    The onus rests on medical professionals to have the most up-to-date, accurate evidence when they prescribe medications to patients, but when it comes to psychiatry, this profession has been under excessive influence for so long, you have to want to know how corrupt it is. Difficult when one’s livelihood depends on *not* knowing.

    All this seems like brand new information for you, so I do hope you can see past your own bias and financial incentives to seek out the truth. Once you have all the information, you’re free to “frame” it however you like. But you do need to have the information before you contribute in any meaningful way to the dialog. Take care. – JA

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  • Birdsong,
    I think we’re in agreement. The DSM’s “personality disorders” are ridiculous, reductive, and often weaponized. In fact, I think PDs are even more fallacious than the mental illnesses it (the DSM) purports to define.

    What I’m hearing you say is that you would like a more accepting and inclusive society where people are simply allowed to be people. I agree with you 100%.

    However, whether we like it or not, trauma has neurological, biological, and psychological consequences that mostly occur outside our conscious awareness and often impact behavior whether we want it to or not. We are often unaware of our own triggers.

    For example, I didn’t use the word “broken” in relation to human beings, nor did I automatically assume or indicate that I think trauma was an excuse for, or behind, behavior of any kind. In your reply, you presented me with a false dichotomy: either human beings are “broken” (according to me), or they are just “people.” It seemed a bit reactive and that’s perfectly okay. My guess is you came by your feelings/thoughts about this issue in honest (likely painful) ways. I don’t want to assume, so I’ll say here that I have deep resentments concerning diagnostic labels, and it seems from your reply you share my sentiments.

    No one likes to be misunderstood, and I think being labeled with a PD is the ultimate form of misunderstanding, reducing our humanity into a fictionalized set of criteria of perceived negative traits that are subjectively assessed by someone usually unqualified to assess us.

    That said, I felt misunderstood when I read your reply. So, I took a beat to really try and hear what you were saying, and I think we’re on the same page and share the same desire: we want to be seen through a lens of our humanity, not a lens of pathology. Keep fighting the good fight and thanks for being here. – JA

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  • David, thank you for your insight. I agree with you re: connection. I read an excellent book recently about the history of the drug war (“Chasing the Scream,” by Johann Hari), and in it, an addict said that “Addiction is a disease of loneliness.” I would posit that any mental health struggle, no matter the severity or type, is a condition of loneliness. And so the opposite of addiction, depression, or other isolative mental health conditions, is connection.

    We’ve been taught that uncomfortable, unpleasant feelings are pathological. This is where I advocate for literature, because the more we learn about the human experience, the more we feel connected to the world around us.

    I don’t know where you are in the technology age, but I was around pre-internet, pre-social media, and I remember the “dark, dreadful feelings” of being unknown and unheard. A type of isolation that seems to reflect on our sense of worth—but it’s untrue. Our value does not rest within or through the eyes and minds of others. Our value is inherent. However, without others, humans do not thrive. We need one another; if the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us that.

    Technology promises us connection in the way consumption promises fulfillment. The feelings these generate are fleeting at best and often leave us feeling emptier and more alone than ever.

    Author David Foster Wallace once said that writing was “a way out of loneliness.” I know that’s true for me. I think for Heather Armstrong, it was also true. As a writer, I also know the demands that come with success. One feels an obligation to continue giving one’s audience whatever they want so they’ll keep reading. But there comes a point in every writer’s career when they must decide what kind of writer they want to be. Our audiences are onlookers who connect through consumption.

    That said, even when writers are read, we are still often not often heard. But for us, connection comes from the act of writing itself, keeping in mind that connection isn’t necessarily a physical state of being. It’s a result of our experiences in and of the world and how we choose to interact with them. So, I don’t think we’ve lost our ability to truly hear others, but I do wonder if we’ve been distracted by the technological medium. My hope is, we’ll sort it out eventually. Thanks for hearing me and take good care. – JA

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  • Thanks for reading Beth. The article was my truth as I see it from my sphere and field of experience. I’m aware that I don’t have the intimate details of Ms. Armstrong’s life. I do, however, know how the medications she took impact and damage brain function. If more people familiarized themselves with that, fewer people be eager to medicate their emotional states and would possibly find other alternatives before taking a pill. Take care. – JA

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  • Thank you for your thoughts, Julie. That sounds like a terrifying experience. I can’t speak to your diagnosis, but I can tell you that if someone–anyone, whether bipolar or not–were to discontinue their medications cold turkey as you did, they, too, would go into a “tailspin.” You called it a “mixed episode”; others might call it “acute drug withdrawal.” Your GI doctor should have known better–I’m sorry you had to go through that. Thanks for reading and take care. – JA

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  • Registered, thank you for that insight. I couldn’t agree more, actually. Though I will say that I see a similar dynamic between labels and the pills–both are used to expedite extraordinarily complex processes and, after they’re issued, tend to end the conversation.

    While I agree, all are entitled to both their labels and pills, I think it’s important, once again, to look at the cost vs. benefit. We know diagnostic labels are used for insurance purposes, or so that’s my understanding. So we must ask, as a society, do these labels give vital information that will help someone get well and navigate through the world, or do they give them permission to limp through it? If labels are empowering and validating, where does the impetus lie for change and growth?

    As for me, when someone says “personality disorder,” my brain automatically transposes that term into “trauma.” The problem is this: trauma is a psychic injury that must be addressed, just like a broken leg must be addressed. Imagine if doctors treated an injury such as a broken leg as they do disorders in the mental health model. We would live in a world of invalids–but the wheelchair and crutch industries would be booming. Thanks for reading and for your insight. Take good care. – JA

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  • Birdsong–agreed. However, I would say physiologically and psychologically speaking there’s no difference.

    “Medical” often becomes a metonym for the system and the people in it–and I include here insurance companies, society as it relates to the medical establishment and system, as well as the system itself. The schools of thought in medicine preach that ingesting a substance–as long as it’s a sanctioned substance–is perfectly OK.

    For example, drinking alcohol alone is considered problematic by society and medical/mental health providers. But popping a Xanax while solo is just fine. I know you see the absurd hypocrisy as I do.

    An example of our innate ability to parse things out to justify behavior is people who want to believe they are of a more healthy mindset, so they decide to quit consuming sugar, and instead choose alternatives such as turbinado sugar, agave syrup, or honey. What they fail to realize is their body processes (and reacts) to honey et. al. the same way as it reacts to refined sugar. Physiologically, sugar is sugar is sugar. Psychologically, they feel better about it, so they parse and justify it.

    I think this speaks to the power of marketing. We’ve been sold the idea that extrinsic forces (chemicals) have the power to undo anything that ails us. And they may, for a time.

    But by that logic, if we’re only looking at temporary relief, why not choose substances that work for almost everyone, like opioids, sugar, alcohol, et. al.? We don’t use them because we know the long-term consequences of using these things for emotional pain lead to poorer outcomes. And until the APA and NIMH, NAMI, etc. start telling the truth about clinical outcomes and longevity studies, too many end up trading what they want the most for what might help them in the short term, leaving many of them worse off than before they were medicated. Thanks again for your thoughts and for reading. – JA

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  • Scott,
    There are no words that can soothe the pain you’re in. Your loss is profound and wrenching—I’m so very sorry. I haven’t lost a child, so I can’t imagine it.

    What you’re experiencing is a natural human response to loss, grief, trauma, and tragedy. It is not illness or pathology. Grief can be a terribly isolating process, especially surrounding suicide because, as is evidenced by the responses here, as a society, we don’t know what to do with death by suicide. You’d think, having suffered so many losses of this kind, we would be better at it, but we’re not. I think that’s because we can’t fully understand it. What happens to an individual that creates in them a fatal loss of hope? What happens from one day to the next that causes them to suddenly see their lives as completely meaningless or no longer worth the struggle? I wish I knew.

    You have a unique perspective, one I also have, of knowing how it feels to be on both sides of this—feeling suicidal and being the one on the outside, looking in on someone else’s suicidality. You know both horrors intimately. I do think it’s safe to conclude that one reason for taking one’s own life comes from a desire to end pain and suffering. Suffering can be cumulative, causing many to believe there are no options, no alternatives, and no hope. I also believe that when people finally decide to end their lives, they do so because they feel monumentally and interminably alone. As you might already know, one can feel totally isolated in a room that’s filled with people.

    You wrote that you had a “terrible, unloved childhood,” and a “lifetime filled with pain and loss of hope.” You also wrote that your daughter begged you to “kill her every day for over 20 years.” Scott, that is probably the most horrific, unimaginable thing I can imagine. The amount of suffering you’ve experienced seems to square with how you’ve been impacted emotionally. It seems you are exactly where anyone would be had all this been their lives for so long.

    As you’ve read here, some people credit medications with pulling them out of a dark place. Others claim medications nearly tipped them over the edge and into the dark, and there’s a continuum of other experiences in between these two extremes. That said, Scott, if the medications are drawing you down and into a darker place, no matter how long you’ve been on them, please tell your doctor that they are impacting you this way.

    I don’t know the highlights and lowlights of your life, Scott, but I do know that you took the time, through your own pain, to reach out into the void and share this incredible loss and tragedy with us. It’s a sobering reminder of how fragile everything is. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability.

    In closing, I hope with everything in me that you fight for your right to be here. That you can find and then see all the good you are and all the good you can be. I can also tell you, unequivocally, there are people suffering all around us who feel alone and without hope just like you. You are not alone. I can’t tell you how it will get better or when. All I can do is offer you my words here, my deepest condolences, and the hope that you’re able to find a semblance of peace, however brief, within this struggle. Take good care. – JA

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  • Mike, thanks for the thoughtful and informed response. It’s nice to read something that makes so much sense. It’s been interesting to note the knee-jerk reactions here. I often like to say that psychiatry is the fast food of medicine. Sure, it will do in a pinch, and some nutritional value can be tortured out of the ingredients, but it should be a very brief stop in an otherwise healthy, rounded diet. Of course, if we look at the incidence of obesity in the US and the use of psychiatric medications together, note how people seem to be just fine with the consequences of overusing both long-term. And when things go south, no one takes responsibility, no one blames the food. Take care and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Katey,

    You seemed to have missed the nuance in my article as did many here. For those who think this article addresses the complexity of suicide in reductive or black-and-white terms, I’ll restate again: “If you read my post carefully, without your own black-and-white filter, you’d notice that I don’t place the onus solely on psychiatry: ‘Heather Armstrong’s life was taken by psychiatry, *our society’s blind and mindless capitulation to psychiatry, and our unwillingness to scrutinize their methods of madness, which lead to worse mental health, worse physical health, worse outcomes, and loss.'”*

    That is what I wrote. While parsing it out as “black and white” might feel easier for you and others, and while noting the reductive nature of the piece, sadly, I do have a word limit, so my ability to do a deep-dive into every possible factor, both known and unknown, is limited. Further, this site is dedicated to questioning psychiatry, not eating disorders or substance abuse. Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message” applies here.

    Finally, as a writer, my job is to address the complexities and that’s what this piece does–unanswered questions, and newly-posed questions that started an important dialogue of which you are now a part.

    That said, feel free to continue your own research, particularly into the history of mental illness and suicide. Your understanding of the historical underpinnings of both is inaccurate and if you’re interested in all the complexities, as you indicate in your comment, I’d suggest “Mad in America,” the eponymously titled book by Robert Whitaker. Take care. – JA

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  • Katie, thanks for your comments. If you’re ‘in the field’ then it’s important you look at both sides of the coin, not from a treatment perspective, but from a historical and data-driven perspective. Being a patient does not make you an expert, sadly, and neither does being a provider. It does make you immersed in a biased environment that can siphon off life-saving information that you and your patients must know before beginning any treatments. I’d suggest reading “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” by Robert Whitaker to start.

    Katie, the drug makers state in their boxed warnings that they don’t know the mechanisms of the drugs in terms of why or how they actually address whatever “illness” they claim they treat. They don’t know. But we do know what these drugs DO to the brain and how they impair its normal function. So, while medications are all “very individual,” what you’re suggesting with this trial and error is a guessing game that easily falls into treatment biases and other non-scientific outcomes.

    Example: We know how antibiotics and antivirals work. There’s no mystery there. If we imagine that a bacteria is a target on a wall, we target the medication arrow toward the center, hoping it resolves the issue. Yes? What psychiatry does is throw multiple drugs at the wall, and when one *seems* to stick, temporarily solving the problem, they draw a bull’s eye around the arrow after the fact. That’s not the story of medical science, that’s a story of guessing games.

    Finally, during my time as an addictions counselor, I often talked to clients about temporary, external fixes to inside problems. You’re familiar with this? You don’t trade what you want the most for what you want right now. And if you do, the tradeoff could kill you. Good luck and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thank you, Heather. As you can see, people have every right to be fearful. Even Ms. Armstrong couldn’t express her doubts about her treatment, according to many who read her blog. It begs the question… what are we all so afraid of? A divergent narrative that might run counter to our own? Is that so terrible? Thanks again and take care. – JA

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  • Danielle, thanks for sharing and I’m so sorry. Effexor was one drug I thankfully managed to not be prescribed. I’m so sorry, I know how damaging SNRIs are. I’ve been writing articles on MiA that discuss recovery from drug harm. I hope you’ll stay posted as I come at it from very different angles and perspectives that have helped me on the road to recovering my health and well-being after over a quarter of a century of being poly-drugged. I wish you way more than luck–I wish you peace. – JA

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  • Cate, thanks for the thoughts. The burden of proof does not rest on me to provide evidence as to why Heather Armstrong took her own life. I can only state what I believe, which I do, and I don’t just indicate psychiatry, but the culture’s blind belief in it as well. If Heather had died of opioid abuse and overdose, would we still be comfortable with saying, “…it ultimately doesn’t matter WHY or WHAT prompted Heather to feel as though she had only one option left…” It doesn’t it matter?

    The reason it should matter is that, of all the afflictions we as humans can perish from, suicide is quite literally the most preventable one, and yet the uptick in suicides over the past 40 years doesn’t seem to be ringing any bells as it coincides with the uptick in prescription medications that cause it. I am interested in preventing more tragedy. Thanks for reading. -JA

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  • Tim, great comment and thoughtfully put. No, my intentions were not to disparage Heather’s writing at all. I can see how it might have come across that way, though. I did read Heather’s blog a few times. When I say “I didn’t read her,” what I meant was I wasn’t a regular or consistent reader. I wasn’t a part of her “audience.” Her subject matter simply didn’t speak to me.

    The comment that her writing was a cultural fad isn’t to suggest she wasn’t talented. For example, I finished writing a YA novel back in 2006 and my agent was very excited about it. One morning, I got an email from her asking me this: “Have you heard of ‘Twilight’?” You see, my YA novel was about vampires. We didn’t go forward with selling the book because the culture had been saturated by the “Twilight” books. So, a cultural fad is something that “hits” at just the right time and in just the right way. Heather’s blog did that. She was a gifted writer, and the world is less bright and interesting without her in it. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Gradiva, thanks for your openness and willingness to hear another narrative. Your point is worthy of repetition here:
    “We are always encouraged to reach out for professional help whenever a suicide occurs but they are not telling loud enough that those people already sought professional help and didn’t help.”
    I don’t think I can emphasize the brilliance of this enough. Many, many thanks for this and your comments. – JA

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  • Lori, thanks for the comment. Words and ideas don’t do damage, but bad medical science does. Most people don’t have your experience. They suffer side effects and are told to “stick it out.” You were lucky. There are a lot of people who, based on the inability to properly metabolize medications, continue to suffer adverse drug effects long after medications are discontinued. These effects become chronic and are often called “tardive.” There are no tests for this, though, just like there has been no genome or allele that definitively links mental illness to genetic factors alone. I’m sorry, but you were misinformed. What they can test for genetically is your (in)ability to metabolize medications.

    Genetic predispositions are just that—they are not written in stone, and epigenetics give us hope that we can change some of the genetic hands we’re dealt. For example, genetic testing has shown why some people are drug-resistant, but they do not indicate the final word on why someone suffers from mental illness. When we look for specific things to confirm what we already believe to be true, this is called confirmation bias. This is what psychiatry hangs its hat on.

    Frankly, I was sold these same beliefs as you. My family tree was rife with nuts. I’m not sure there’s a family tree out there that isn’t.

    What I’m suggesting here, Lori is rethinking a system that has sold you the idea that your emotional struggles are inherent in you, inherited by you, and you are powerless to change them. But if you need to believe that’s true, that’s okay with me. I’m glad talk therapy saved your life, it saved mine, too. What continues to save me is the knowledge that the brain has the ability to change, heal, and overcome. I believe that because I’m still here. I wish you way more than luck. – JA

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  • Thanks, Jen. I appreciate your thoughtful response. It seems that people here are suggesting that my article could be the deciding factor re: whether someone chooses to get help for emotional pain or mental health struggles. This reminds me, once again, of my religious upbringing. As a child, my parents didn’t want me to play with children who didn’t believe as they believed because what if, by some chance, I lost my beliefs while playing Barbies with a non-believer?! That is not faith, that’s fear.

    Whether someone chooses to seek pharmacological intervention for their mental health struggles will not be determined by me or my negative experiences. In fact, I’m not sure how I could compete with a multi-billion-dollar industry that lulls us to sleep at night with its shiny ads and happy, smiling, functional people on TV who–thanks to their drug–are now A-OK.

    In fact, I hope people who are struggling with their mental health do land on Mad in America in their search for information about psychiatric medications. One afternoon reading the articles herein wouldn’t even make a dent in the 40+ year PR and ad campaigns implemented by the pharmaceutical industry. We need information, not silence.

    Finally, during my time reading and responding to comments yesterday, I was disturbed to learn that Ms. Armstrong expressed her own doubts about psychiatry on her blog, but the backlash was so severe, she took her post down. Let’s stop and take a moment to think about that. People who cared about her enough to read her and follow her writings… shouted down her lived experience, so much so, she had to remove her experience from the one place she felt she could share it: Her blog and the people who cared about her. It’s a little chilling to consider, isn’t it?

    Also, since this seems to be an oft-missed point of clarity for some folks, I wrote I didn’t know why Heather took her own life, but *I believe* I do. That’s not a claim of certainty.

    If you read my post carefully, without your own black-and-white filter, you’d notice that I don’t place the onus solely on psychiatry: “Heather Armstrong’s life was taken by psychiatry, *our society’s blind and mindless capitulation to psychiatry, and our unwillingness to scrutinize their methods of madness, which lead to worse mental health, worse physical health, worse outcomes, and loss.”*

    That is what I wrote. While parsing it out might feel easier for most folks, let’s stick to the facts of what I wrote. It takes a village. And there is nothing more black-and-white, Jen, than “life” and “death.” As for me, I will not be removing this blog–ever. And I will not stop advocating for the countless, unknown victims like Heather who no longer have voices. Take care. – JA

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  • Thanks, Stacey. You work in a field that relied, for a long time, on belief and subjective experience. It’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve been able to see how talk therapy (a huge fan, btw) can actually change brain function and behavior. Medications also change brain function and behavior, but longevity studies by the WHO and NICE, among others, show serious physical health consequences from long-term medication use that often lead to loss of quality of life and worsening of mental health overall.

    I had a neuropsychologist tell me once that medications “kept him from doing his job,” meaning patients who took them didn’t change, couldn’t change. Now, he knew more about the brain than anyone I’ve ever met. Whether he was right or not is uncertain, but like you, he had clients (patients in his case) who were both on and off medications, so I think his experience can be taken into account, here. He was around just as these drugs were getting their PR push from pharmaceutical money, and he was discouraged by the misleading information being spread out to the public. As a mental health professional, the onus rests on you to learn about the risks of these drugs for the sake of your clients. How do you know if it’s anxiety or akathisia? Learning the difference could be life or death.

    I’ve heard personal testimony from therapists along the same lines as you. My question to them is this: “Where are they now?” Just because a medication helps someone initially doesn’t mean the medications will continue to help, and in fact, the data suggests just the opposite. So while a person you might have known 15 years ago did great on their medication, where are they now? How are they now? This lack of follow-up by folks in the field (mental health, psychiatry, et. al.) tends to solidify the belief that medications work long-term, when in fact, the science doesn’t support that.

    The thing is, I don’t have any skin in this game. My career and life wouldn’t be impacted if suddenly someone found psychiatric medications to be indispensable and necessary treatment.

    The scientific method demands consistency and replicable outcomes which are lacking in this branch of medicine. Going on subjective experience and belief when it comes to these medications—now that seems risky. Keep fighting the good fight. – JA

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  • Arionna thanks for sharing your story. Several things struck me about your comment. First, you say you might not have survived without Nardil, but you can’t know for certain. I was also diagnosed with MDD at 17 and talk therapy and time resolved it. Had I been given Nardil, would I have survived? That’s also an unknown and all that’s about as unscientific as it can get.

    I also noticed that you stated Pfizer changed the drug without notifying you—or did the doctor not notify you? In either case, this is a dangerous, but all too familiar tactic of drug makers and the medical profession. Your life was changed for the better, and then, they played with “key elements” in the drug that caused “…a rash of suicides.” In a way, you’re making my point for me.

    You state that the drug you’re on is better than anything else, but by your own admission, you’ve never tried to deal with MDD in any other way except through pharmacological intervention. This is important and underscores why these issues must be brought to light. Coming off your medications will make all the symptoms of MDD come back with a vengeance, giving the illusion that the medication is the only thing holding it at bay. There are countless stories that run contrary to this narrative. One of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, was also on Nardil, and he took his own life during a medication change. Psychiatry also failed him, but the underlying mental illness is too easily blamed. And so this is a story we often hear time and again yet no one seems to be grasping how incredibly dangerous these medications are. I’m not sure how my words and ideas are more dangerous than brain-altering chemicals.

    To be clear, I don’t advocate for people discontinuing their drugs, and I don’t invalidate their lived experiences. I’m glad Nardil has continued to work for you these many years. I also don’t begrudge anyone their religious beliefs, yet I seem to be bumping up against beliefs and faith and personal testimony, not facts. The ideas I present here are based on fact but are being taken personally due, perhaps, to uncertainty and fear.

    Finally, you may very well have a chemical imbalance in your brain due to some or all the factors above, including your lifelong use of Nardil, but MDD and other mental health issues are not caused by a chemical imbalance—we, including the scientific community, don’t know what causes MDD et. al. One thing we do know with certainty, however, is that the medications that are given to treat these conditions DO cause chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s a noodle baker, but it’s the truth. Take care, and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Hi Deborah,

    Medications for depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and schizophrenia, among other diagnoses, all carry the warnings of increased or worsening depression, increased or worsening suicidality, and suicidal ideation and actions. All of them also have the side effect of akathisia, which, in its mildest form can be described as “restlessness,” but at its most extreme, akathisia has been linked to medication-induced suicides. Unfortunately, because we’re not having the conversation, we don’t have the data linking suicide to medication use because it’s not yet mandatory for physicians to report patient suicides to the FDA if they were on medications when they died. This is important information we absolutely need to have.

    The information you’re requesting can be found through the drug manufacturer’s boxed warnings on specific medications and the FDA. Good luck and take care. -JA

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  • Hello, Jessica.

    If someone suffers from an aggressive form of cancer and the treatments don’t work, the medical providers will observe and test whether the cancer spread, which then determines the cause of death as “cancer.”

    If someone is in a car accident and the loss of blood is extensive due to a 4-hour wait, then an amputation, the cause of death would be listed as due to “injuries sustained in a car accident.”

    If someone died from COVID during the first month, the likely culprit is COVID unless there were other comorbidities that contributed to the death such as pulmonary disease due to heavy tobacco use/smoking. Then, the cause of death would still be COVID, but the death might have been preventable absent the comorbid variables.

    If someone is suicidal and goes on medications with the potentiality of even more suicidality, the only variable in that scenario is the medications, therefore the death might have been preventable absent the variable of suicide-inducing medications.

    Your inference that Heather Armstrong’s life was disposable is troubling. Would Heather still be alive had she not undergone the brutal treatments she details in her book and other writings? I don’t know and neither do you. But, unfortunately, no one seems the least bit curious about the role medications played in her eventual demise.

    I hope we can agree that the best way to honor Heather Armstrong is to do all we can to ensure that what happened to her doesn’t happen to others. However, if we continue to dodge these important questions about medications, we’re essentially sitting back, throwing up our hands, and saying, “How sad and mysterious. Yet another puzzling tragedy.”

    Personally, I’ve lost too many people I love and care about to suicide to ignore the role medications play in this alarming epidemic. Take care. – JA

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  • Concerned, thanks for your concern. There are a lot of reasons why people choose to take their own lives. The point of the piece was to address the fact that “medication side effects” are not part of the conversation. If a medication side effect is hives and a person develops hives, the logical conclusion is the medication caused the hives. Now, if that individual went outside and rolled around on the grass, could that have caused hives? It could have. But a more reasonable conclusion would be that the person might not recall whether touching grass has caused hives before and whether they’re right or wrong, it’s safe to conclude that the medication contributed to the individual’s hive outbreak. Either way, they will need an epinephrine shot, won’t they?

    I agree, all medical treatments come with risks. I disagree that people take those risks lightly. Many people, if they know all the risks, will and often do rethink whether they want treatment. This is called “informed consent.” When the average person doesn’t know the inherent risks of psychiatric medications and is told the drug will help without learning how side effects can present, that is not informed consent.

    Finally, mental illnesses are not biological illnesses. This does not make them less valid or less serious. That is a false dichotomy presented to the public by psychiatry: it’s either real and biological, or it’s all in your head. Since we don’t know the pathophysiology of mental illness, we can’t claim to know how to treat it. This is very different from going in for a biopsy or being seen for a sinus infection. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Erin, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, the line “psychiatry killed her” is reductive, but that was purposeful. When it comes to the disease model of mental health, what we’ve been told and sold is just as reductive: psychiatry and its medications treat mental illness, and that’s just not the case for too many people.

    Are there useful applications for the many psychiatric medications on the market today? Research has yet to find them. In fact, most psychiatric medications were brought to market for their side effects, not for the purposes they were originally intended and developed.

    However, anecdotal stories abound of medications saving lives, despite the lack of clinical evidence showing their efficacy, despite the lack of veracity of the DSMs, and despite the categorically poor long-term outcomes across the board for every single psychotropic drug.

    So, what I’m hearing you say is “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Agreed. But we need to take a look at that baby and see what it’s really made of–bad science, poor outcomes, treatment bias, and PR mythology spun by drug companies who, in the ultimate display of sunk-cost fallacy, seem determined to make money from medications that have shown to not only be clinically ineffective, but harmful.

    We do need a more holistic treatment model for mental health issues. The only tool in psychiatry’s toolbox seems to be a hammer. And while some folks survive the blow, others do not. Thanks and take good care. – JA

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  • Mary, you’ve been through the meat grinder, and I’m so sorry for that. I’m glad you’re life is back on track and you’ve been able to create meaning despite the lingering challenges. I am writing a series on Mad in America about how I came to the road of recovery after being mired for over 25 years in the medical system, specifically due to psychiatry. I hope what I have to offer can give people new avenues to regain more functionality in their lives. Take good care and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thanks for your thoughts, MH. I’m glad you feel medications helped you. As stated in my lengthy response above, I agree. The reasons people take their own lives are myriad and complicated. Some people are helped with medications while others are irrevocably harmed. That said, to state that medications saved you while discounting that they harm others suggests that you believe your lived experience is valid while mine and others’ experiences are not.

    The purpose of the conversation is to reconcile the disparate clinical outcomes. I have no trouble incorporating the narrative that medications have helped people. The more inclusive the narrative, the closer it is to the truth. Unfortunately, too many people can’t seem to incorporate the lived experiences of people who have been harmed by psychiatry. It’s why this dialogue is so vital. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thanks, LI, that’s a great point. It’s true, I place my faith in empirical evidence when it comes to medical science. It’s also true that psychiatry, as a whole, lacks, empirical evidence to support its continued use of psychotropic medications in its current form. While most of the sciences use deductive reasoning behind their methods, psychiatry uses inductive reasoning, which is the shakiest logic imaginable, especially when people’s lives are at stake.

    Case in point: psychiatry uses medications that disrupt normal brain function—this fact is not disputed, not by the NIMH, the APA, nor by drug manufacturers. The route by which this disruption occurs is via certain neurotransmitters. In other words, these medications disrupt the brain’s chemistry.

    Studies dating as far back as 1979 conducted within the field of psychiatry—meaning the bias of the researchers was to prove the chemical imbalance theory, not disprove it—showed a total lack of evidence to support the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness.
    So, the brain-altering psychotropic medications being given to people every day here in the U.S. and in other developed countries were designed to treat biological illnesses that have no evident biological pathology or cause. And still, with no evidence to support a causal link between mental illness and imbalanced brain chemistry, medical professionals continue to prescribe medications that claim to correct brain chemistry due to some vague correlation hypothesized back in the 1960s. Can you account for this?

    Unless you’re suggesting that it’s all right for medicine to use inductive reasoning and correlative methods when medicating patients with dangerous, powerful drugs solely based on correlation, while as a writer and former patient of psychiatry, I am required to operate under a more rigorous standard?

    Yes, historically, people fared better without the intervention of psychiatry, and this is also borne out in several studies and meta-analyses conducted by the WHO and NICE, among other reputable organizations. You sound like a “true believer,” and so I understand how my rhetoric seems threatening. It might be difficult, as it was for me several years ago, to read books and research that run counter to the narrative. So, don’t take my word for it. The information is out there, and it’s not on the fringes, it can be found in reputable psychiatric, medical, and scientific publications. It can also be found in books by Robert Whitaker and others who risked their careers and reputations to speak out against a multi-billion-dollar industry.

    Finally, the reasons people choose to end their lives are myriad and complicated, much like mental health issues themselves. I didn’t read Ms. Armstrong’s book, but my husband’s takeaway was that Heather Armstrong believed in psychiatry. She promoted the most extreme psychiatric treatments as curative and helpful, leading untold numbers of people down a path that ultimately led the author herself to suicide.

    The fact that so many people are upset is telling. My takeaway is that when people are uncertain, they are reactionary because they are afraid. My piece advocates for our society as a whole to rethink how we see and understand psychiatry. Isn’t that worthy of a discussion? A system based on inductive reasoning and methodology will create inconsistent and unreliable outcomes. Psychiatry is one of those systems.

    Without question, psychiatry failed Heather Armstrong, and based on evidence and data provided by psychiatric research and drug makers, its treatments likely caused enough harm to tip her over the edge. Do I have the empirical evidence to prove that? I do not. Equally, neither do you. That said, yes, I demand a higher standard of knowledge, research, and care from the scientific medical community than I do from writers. Take care and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Hi, Kelli. Thank you for your thoughts, but I don’t claim this is Heather’s story. It’s the story the media seem unwilling, or incapable of writing, however. These are powerful medications. They should be approached and used with the utmost care, caution, and gravity. Unfortunately, in today’s medical model of care, the blind belief in their benefit is destroying lives and families. Thanks for reading. Take care. – JA

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  • Thanks for your thoughts. However, while many people claim to have been helped by medications, many people claim to have been harmed. My information is not faulty, it’s accurate. Again, read the boxed warnings on the medications. When they say “may cause worsening depression and suicide…” I’m assuming the drug makers know more than you or me. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • SB, thanks for your thoughts. Unfortunately, one may be through with psychiatry, but psychiatry isn’t necessarily through with them, which is to say that the effects of psychiatric treatment often outlive the active treatments themselves, leaving people in worse condition than when they began treatment. I can understand how lost Heather might have felt. Once someone rejects the dogma of psychiatry, it feels isolating and frightening. With labels come certainty and a form of identity. The medical traumas Heather endured could not have helped. As for my hobby horse, it’s my job to connect the dots. Once someone has taken medications, unless they engage in the recovery process from those medications, their conditions usually do not improve with time. This is a sad fact that many here on MiA have lived. I see it as a privilege and a duty to share my lived experience, as Ms. Armstrong did, to prevent more unnecessary suffering and loss. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thank you for the kind words. Yes, it’s hard to understand the disconnect in the psychiatric community sometimes. I know too many good folks in the field to believe they went in with writhing hands, saying “bwah hah hah.” This is an institutional problem. And once the APA teamed up with PR and advertising in the 1980s, an unholy alliance was made, creating a cultural wave that can’t be stopped by one, single person, let alone a lot of people. It’s going to take effort from every angle to stop the machinery of this lost discipline. My hope resides with the good people that can often be found within it. Take good care. – JA

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  • Hi June, that is a possibility. Often when people change or stop a psychiatric drug, especially abruptly, it can amplify the effects of the adverse effects of the medication, specifically the “worsening depression, suicidal thoughts/actions,” and a side effect called “akathisia,” which may be the precipitating factor in suicide. The cultural narrative we’ve been sold, that these medications somehow “right” disturbed brain chemistry, is false. These medications disrupt normal brain function. And when the brain adapts after trying to recover its homeostasis, it can have catastrophic repercussions. Thanks for reading and take care. – JA

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  • Thanks for your thoughts, PK. While trauma plays a role in people’s health (mental and physical), I’m wondering why we’re given the message that a psychotropic medication would address that. I believe trauma can and often does negatively impact people. But what this means is that people who have suffered trauma are even more vulnerable, which makes the thoughtless and reckless medicating practices that continue to occur even more egregious. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thank you for your thoughts, Carmilla. ‘Psychiatry’ is an institution, not a metonym for individual practitioners. I have no doubt good folks go into psychiatry wanting to help people. However, psychiatry has failed to bear the burden of proof re: its treatments and far too much harm has been done and continues to be done.

    Biases abound and dogma has replaced empirical evidence. A good contrast would be between, say, religion and science. Science adjusts its views when new observations and data are presented. Religions demand the maintenance of belief in the face of conflicting data and cognitive dissonance. That said, the data shows, irrefutably, that long-term use of psychotropic medications portends worse clinical outcomes, yet psychiatry seems to have doubled down instead of reassessing its treatments and reevaluating prescribing practices for the sake of its patients and their families. The onus rests on prescribers to do their due diligence and learn of both the risks and benefits of these medications because, as Ms. Armstrong shows us, it is a life-and-death matter.

    That said, one doesn’t need to know about “brain circuits” et. al. to know when a medication side effect is happening. But please don’t take my word for any of this. Feel free to consult the boxed warnings included with the medications disclosed by the drug manufacturers. They tell you everything you need to know about “…worsening depression, suicidal thoughts and actions.” Another helpful text is Ms. Armstrong’s book. She details the failed treatments that ultimately led her to the ultimate failed clinical outcome.

    Finally, there are people here and elsewhere who are working “day and night” to recover from the harm that psychiatric medications, and the ignorance of prescribers, have inflicted on them. Unfortunately, that isn’t my opinion. Thanks for reading and take care. – JA

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  • Thanks, James. Unfortunately, there were likely myriad reasons why Ms. Armstrong took her own life, just as the reasons people seek help for emotional states, such as depression, are also varied and numerous. My point is that when drug makers tell us their treatments can cause us to commit suicide, why would we argue with them? And why are the medications never mentioned, but alcohol use is? Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • I’m so sorry this is your story. This is something we can offer to one another–we are not alone, and the importance of this is becoming clearer and clearer to me with time. Thank you for reading and sharing. Knowing I’m not alone gives me hope, too. – JA

    *Update* I enjoyed your piece on RxISK. Thank you for sharing it. We do present a threat to the medical model. That’s not a bad thing. Take care.

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  • It sounds like you’re on the right track to recovery. I’m so sorry you’ve struggled as well. Agreed, it’s much more than physiological, but like most medical paradigms, the human body has been divvied up into parts and parcels, which ironically leads to more harm. You can’t treat a single part of a system without consideration for the whole system. I’m not sure why I even have to say it out loud. Thanks for reading and I wish you way more than luck. – JA

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  • Our stories sound similar, and that is always a heartbreaking thing. I’m so sorry you’re experiencing these consequences of medical harm. I truly hope my follow-up pieces provide you with a new understanding and new ways to recover. My husband, Kent, wrote an article a couple of weeks ago and has one coming out soon. I’d encourage you to read him as well. His support and knowledge of brain injuries have been crucial to my own recovery. Many thanks, be well. – JA

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  • To all in this thread, I’m so sorry for your suffering, and thanks to those who were able to describe akathisia in their own words and terms. It is a subjective experience, but there are some hallmark symptoms that clinicians ought to know by now. It’s shameful, really, that the onus rests on us to know more than most providers. Be well, and thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thank you for the good wishes. Yes, I know someone who says she’s had akathisia her whole life, sans medications, which further illustrates that akathisia must be a presentation, or expression, of brain dysfunction. Certainly, an acquired brain injury has a host of these potential symptoms. I’m very glad you didn’t have to suffer with akathisia for long. Thanks for reading. – JA

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  • Thank you for your kind words. I am so sorry you continue to struggle with the adverse effects of medications. It’s unfortunate that we are not alone, and our story is the story of too many lives, derailed. If you haven’t read my husband’s piece on MiA, I highly recommend it. He and I are both attempting to distill some of our experiences in forthcoming articles to provide insight that might, at the very least, help people see these injuries in new ways so they might find new paths to recovery. Thanks for reading and I wish you way more than luck. – JA

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  • Rcarpane,

    Respectfully, and “For the love of God,” please start researching medications like “Gabapentin at high doses.”
    Anti-seizure meds can actually worsen neurological damage that’s been done by psychotropic medications. I know this because I’ve taken them, and that’s was my experience.

    While “doctors will prescribe it like candy…” I assume you are not. A doctor, that is. And doctors handing medications out “like candy” is the reason most of us are in pain and have severe neurological damage.

    “If that doesn’t work,” perhaps you ought to stop reading about akathisia, since it seems to vex you…
    Mirapex is also a side-effect nightmare and I’m not willing to risk further pain and damage by submitting to a guessing game.

    As for RLS, the pathophysiology might be similar to akathisia, but that is not the same as an “advanced form.”

    Example: an advanced form of “mild chiding” would be “sarcasm,” yet many people confuse irony and sarcasm all the time.

    And while it’s ironic you wrote two identical comments on two very different subjective experiences of akathisia, (this article, and the poem by Marci Webber on this site called “Psychotic Akathisia”) it’s also ironic that your comment(s) seemed to miss the thrust of both our pieces, while providing reductive answers to questions that were not posed.

    You see, this article is not about how to best treat or medicate akathisia, it is about the wanton disregard specific medical professionals displayed when I presented with drug-induced neurological movement disorders, specifically tardive akathisia, their attitudes toward me, along with their lack of relevant knowledge about how akathisia presents individually and subjectively.

    So, in relation to your comments, Ncarpane–THAT is irony in it’s most sublime form:

    Your comment(s) show a wanton disregard toward our experience and words and then you threw out the names of more brain-altering medications–without the relevant knowledge to do so–as if they were candy.

    Which, of course, they are not.

    Sincerely wishing you peace–

    J.A. Carter-Winward

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  • I don’t know how I missed your comment. Probably because I try not to dwell on this subject too much. But I read your words and I am simply blown away. You sound like you’re maybe in the UK?

    As I write my song about this nightmare, I’ve been paying attention to the music coming out–that’s been coming out–and these children that were medicated, they are in pain.

    So many songs about psychiatry. It reminds me of the song I loved in high school by the punk band, Suicidal Tendencies, “Institution.” When parents began pathologizing teen behavior–normal teen behavior–I might add, and doctors began to tell them, “Your child needs medication.”

    And all I wanted was a Pepsi.

    Thank you for your words of wisdom ,validation, and hope–yes, I find hope in them. Because if *you* see and saw what’s happening, other good men and women in the medical profession are seeing it, too. And that gives me hope.

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  • Thank you for your comment, and yes, it is a very important distinction. The article had to be edited for length, but originally I’d included the chart for the cluster of drug-induced neurological movement disorders (DIMDs) and each are distinctive. Dystonia, not dyskinesia, is the second source of pain for me, and it is progressing.

    However, dystonia presents in so many ways, to arbitrarily say “I have dystonia,” and for people to say, “Ohh, yes, I know what that is” is akin to saying, “I have cancer.” No one says, “Oh, yes, I know what that is.” They say “Where? What kind? What stage? What is the prognosis?” Stage I skin cancer is a very different beast than Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

    Dystonia is, within itself, a cluster of different movement disorders and the etiology of it is as diverse as its presentations. For example, “childhood onset” is totally different than “task-specific” dystonia. Task-specific includes, for example, “writer’s cramp” and “musician’s cramp.” What would happen if a doctor said to a concert violinist who played for the London Philharmonic: “Your hand seizing up like this when you play the violin is a subconscious desire to QUIT the violin and do something else. Perhaps golf or soccer? Tell me about your childhood.” Think about that. It’s absurd.

    As to “my” presentation of dystonia, the short answer is that I have drug-induced, acquired dystonia that effect several parts of my body and in different ways. The fact it shows up in public more than when I’m home, in my “safe, controlled” environment is decidedly INconvenient for me and others with dystonia, but some people think it proof-positive that (drug-induced) acquired dystonia is a “cry for attention.” Trust me, I can think of better ways to get attention than suddenly having my back or neck seize, causing me so much physical pain, I am nauseated.

    My presentation of akathisia is from having it for over 14 years now. Imagine the “fight, flight, freeze” response in your brain on HIGH-ALERT, all day, every day. Isn’t it conceivable, then, that after a while, someone’s brain might perceive the constant barrage of fear from their limbic system as “pain”?

    I had a doctor suggest that the film, and now this article, is my “payoff.” That it’s an attention-grabbing behavior which supports their conclusions. I was stunned. “Yes. Because THIS is how I want to be remembered.” Any writer or artist will tell you: we want to be known and appreciated for our WORK, not for a gimmick or “schtick.” Certainly not for an illness. Pretty sure Michael J. Fox wishes his great roles in many movies and television were the first things that come to mind when we speak of him, not Parkinson’s.

    If you were to read any of my previous work–poetry, novels, short stories–less than .001% of my writing has to do with “bipolar disorder,” or the pain of akathisia. The singular exception is the book to create awareness coming out next year. So there’s no history of using any medical issues or social platforms to call attention to my work. It stands alone and I am quite proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish while dealing with drug-induced akathisia.

    Back to your excellent point: I believe akathisia, once they truly begin to accept and acknowledge its existence that is, ought to be classified in the many differing ways it presents, just like dystonia.

    For example (and of course, this is my non-medical attempt to classify): inner akathisia (with or without motor sensations), inner akathisia with suicidality, agitation, and/or rage and violent features, outer akathisia with purposeful movements, mobility-dependent relief, lower-extremity focused, distractions can mitigate movement and inner pain, etc. Acute; severe; chronic; rapid-onset; mild, intermittent…

    And on it goes. However, one thing remains a constant: it is caused by medications. Period.

    So how do you “classify” akathisia’s subjective presentation when, for some people, it feels as though they get electrical shocks? For some, the need to “jump out of their skins.” Or slow-onset, where at first it causes feelings of mild-to-moderate hyper-anxiety, feeling the need to DO something–anything. For many, it causes a type of “frozen” immobility that leaves them home-bound and unable to interact with others. They even wrap their arms around themselves as if warding off a blow that has yet to come. Others I’ve spoken to are in so much pain, breathing hurts, standing upright hurts, and their concentration? Poof. Gone, because the feelings overwhelm everything else.

    MISSD has a fantastic new video out that shows real people who have filmed themselves as they experience akathisia. One woman–the look on her face–I know it well. Her words, simply, “It hurts. It hurts.”

    So yes, distinction is vital. And the one distinction akathisia has as opposed to other neurological movement disorders is as I wrote above. It is not organic or passed down genetically, like diabetes or dystonia or Parkinson’s. No.

    Akathisia was birthed in laboratories; its creators? The very people who became research medical scientists in order to help humanity. Improve quality of life. Cure diseases. Treat chronic illnesses. I’m pretty sure no one walked into a big pharma lab with the intentions of creating this horrific condition.

    But when they realized they had? What they did NOT do is ultimately how history will judge them.

    And to all who have commented here and written that doctors-in-training ought to be required to take AAPs for 2 weeks, then go cold turkey? BRILLIANT. I agree. I recently asked my doctor if he would prescribe these meds to his own children. He didn’t reply exactly. He sort of demurred, smiled. Then, in my clinical notes he wrote, “She sure seems mad.”

    Gosh, do I?

    Thank you for your comment–and thanks to everyone who has shared and supported this message.

    Peace to you all–


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  • This is my story, and reading it… it’s given me so much hope. “Lifestyle medicine”–brilliant.

    The trick? For each person, that medicine “looks” different. It takes an extraordinary amount of time, self-awareness, body-awareness, and personal responsibility–along with a radical commitment to one’s own well-being–to heal yourself from iatrogenesis, and thank you for sharing how you’ve done it, personally.

    For me, playing the piano, every day, singing, running or other forms of working out (when my body allows), and regular behavioral therapy, creating, writing, painting, rest, mindfulness, and more.

    Then there is the cognitive, logical, evidence-based (subjective though it may be) side. Being open to any and all questions about what is, and is not, working, and then open to any and all, possibilities and answers.

    I am currently still in withdrawals from one medication, but took my last dose of the AAP, Latuda, in August of 2016. After 7 months, I developed a cluster of neurological movement disorders. You are familiar with akathisia, I assume. I had that the entire 12-years I was on medications. The “agitated, tx-resistant depression,” oh yes. The weight gain that I cannot, for the LIFE of me, get off, despite my healthy habits.

    But akathisia…

    That has been, to date, the most debilitating of them all for me, and after 14 years, and being told over and over again that NO ONE has ever had such a peculiarly “strong” reaction to these medications… that I am the “Patient A” the “Lucy” of tardive EPS’s…I want to grab every doctor who has said it to me by the collar and say “Does an afternoon on Google frighten you THAT much?”

    The penchant for deferring to authority was bred into me from the moment I knew how to perceive the world as a female, born and raised in the Mormon church. At times, I still struggle with deferring when I should, and rebelling when I most certainly should NOT. If I’m alone with two men in a room, no matter how strong I am, I find myself allowing them to speak over me and agreeing to agree, even when I don’t. It’s a trait I abhor, and yet the game must be played, at times, to get the help I need. It’s a pathological system.

    “Managing expectations” is a common phrase my doctors use with me. I’ve been told to prepare for loss of mobility–with generalized dyskinesia and dystonia. Prepare for walking assistance, they say, and eventually a chair.

    My answer? “Yes, doctors have told me lots of things in the past. So, if I’m going into a chair, I’ll be RUNNING to it, not rolling over because essentially, you keep telling me to give up.”

    I’m placing my bets on my will to survive, thrive, and overcome over their need to be right–and their scramble to have job security. And I believe the survival instinct in my case is more fierce, more powerful, than the “need” for a 6-figure income and their quickly waning relevance in the healthcare system, because mine is literally about survival, not comfort.

    The most insidious thing they did with their willful ignorance was give me medications that caused in me a fatal loss of hope. I can’t tell you how hard that was, and is, at times, to come by. But you know, don’t you? And now, as the world is waking up thanks to you, Bob, me (I hope) and others…

    …hope springs sempiternal, once again, and I thank you for giving your thoughts, time, and energy to helping those of us who are told “it’s YOU, not us.” We know that. But it helps so much to hear it, again, and again, from people like you, who have the courage to lift us all with your truth.

    Again, thank you for this.

    All my best–


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