Many people take many medicines each day

Psychiatrists are all about medication, and when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

More and more people criticize the way the mental health profession presents and administers psychiatric medicines.  Their reasons are good, and they often write in strong definite terms, which often make me nervous.

Sometimes, I ask these writers if they are anti-medicine.  Always, the answer is, “Oh no!  If medicine is helping you, you should take it.  I just mean…..”

And then they finish that sentence with something I agree with completely.  Why do they make me coax that clarification out of them instead of saying it right up front?  People might read these critics, stop taking their medicine, relapse, and lose all the ground they gained.  Medicine helps many people, and stopping abruptly can be dangerous.  Not attaching that warning to your critique of medication is irresponsible.

Sometimes, medication saves lives (like mine).  My best friend, David Hilton, spent two or three months in the hospital every two years because he kept stopping his medicine.  He had what I have and took what I take.  The last time he stopped, after having screaming arguments with all this best friends and his daughter, he stood in front of a train.

I’d say more about David Hilton, the father of the recovery/empowerment movement in New Hampshire, but years after his death, I still get upset when I think about it.  If only he had taken care of himself, he would still be here, I believe.  On his meds, he changed the world.  Off his meds, he talked utter nonsense for hours on end, and had life-threatening car accidents, before being re-committed to the hospital against his will.

People who need medication, like me and David Hilton, really NEED it.  Mine did not make me well.  It stopped my painful, debilitating, rapid mood swings and racing thoughts, and allowed me to make myself well, and achieve my goals.

Here’s a summary of the valid arguments about medication the critics are making:

  1. The professionals present it to people as the only option, not one of many options.
  2. They say you have to keep taking it for life.  That’s true sometimes, not always.
  3. These are very invasive medicines, and sometimes the treatment is worse than the disease.
  4. Doctors don’t always listen to complaints about side effects, like morbid obesity, impotence, or involuntary movement of facial muscles.  Sometimes, they tell the patient to learn to live with it, or prescribe another medicine for the side effect, which has side effects of its own..
  5. Psych meds do nothing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD is not a biologically-based disease. It’s a normal human reaction to abnormal events.  The vast majority of adults in community mental health centers have PTSD, which often masquerades as a severe mental illness. Maybe they have a mental illness along with it, and maybe not. For these people (like me), medicine will only give partial relief  People with only PTSD will only get side effects from their medication.
  6. There is now a large, growing population that has been taking psych meds for decades.  Studies are raising questions about bad effects in some long-time users.
  7. Many people say there is no scientific evidence that a chemical causes for mental illness even exists.  I’m pretty sure, from my experience, that something chemical was going on, and medication stopped it.  I still must deal with PTSD, and I had to learn how to be well.

I suspect that many of the strongest critics of the way medication is administered in the system have PTSD only, and are right when they say meds don’t help them.  The founders of the consumer rights movement in the early 1970’s, including David Hilton, were victims of forced treatment and confinement.  That’s traumatic by definition.  That might have been all they had when they were released from big asylums as young adults.

I also suspect many critics are generalizing from an accurate picture of their own experience, and trying to express their criticism in the strongest possible terms.  They are certainly the world’s top experts on their own experience, but everybody is different, especially on questions of psychiatric medicine.

Some are against medication on ideological grounds, like Scientologists and Christian Scientists, who claim to have home cures.  I can be standing right in front of them, living proof that medicine helps many people, They deny the fact,  and cling to their ideology.

David Hilton was an ideologue like that.  In fact, he dabbled with Christian Science and Scientology, and a couple of other home cure plans that told him what he wanted to hear – that he should stop his medication – instead of what he needed to hear.

He always saw medication only as a civil rights issue, not a personal health issue.  He had a right to refuse.  His reasons were ridiculous: he was 15 pounds heavier at 48 than he was when he was a star athlete in high school.  Who isn’t?  And he sometimes lost concentration in 2-hour meetings.  Who doesn’t?  He followed his ideology to his grave.  I guess he had a right to do that, too.  What a waste.

I want critics of the medical model to speak out loud, long, and often.  Continue your research, but please be more careful.  Include my experience.  There are millions of people like me.




4 Comments for this entry

  • Macdoodle says:

    The drug em and shove em program of mental health is a problem. Many people have long term or otherwise significant Axis III and IV needs that create the Mh issues. That is when it’s appropriate for a mh consumer to respond to the medication offers with “When you have a pill that changes reality, sign me up for a case.”

    Why would the same advocates who protect a person’s with psychosis’s “right” to go med free or live homeless or “independent” , not instead fight so hard for quality of care and safety first and accommodations? Why is one advocacy group almost solely funded by pharma and doing almost nothing to really help for many fed and private bucks? The system is broken and so are most of the advocates and lobbyists. But who is left to fix it?

    Long term anxiety/PTSD and pain are shown to make changes in both white and gray matter of the brain. Giving an anti depressant to tranquilize short term for the opposite condition may help temporarily and giving that long term most often pushes the brain father out of sync and makes matters worse. The rare true anti anxiety drugs like Buspar are too cheap to push and typically only take the edge off after weeks of build up in the system. They do not appear to be, nor are they the miracle fix for knowing things we should never have learned.

    The 15 minute intake and assessment by an MSW or less educated person in a crowded clinic often results in misdiagnosis, often to suit the needs of the facility and staff, more than the client/patient. Mds then often rely on that misinformation to dispense meds after and equally short “symptom check” visit.

    People with psychosis almost always require meds to be able to manage or be safe. Others may or may not. In a perfect world, after Phd testing AND follow up to make sure answers are not skewed by Axis III and IV response, then a discussion of a combo of meds and therapy would be best, but we all live here. Can someone with out a PHd do an accurate job of on the spot diagnoses? Likely not. Is on the spot how it is typically done? Yes. Is there change in diagnoses later due to new info? Rarely.

    As long as funding and time determines testing, care and access or not and advocates are on the same resource and lobby wheel, it’s going to be a long climb for most and an all or nothing, black and white stance from one side or the other, neither advancing info and access to the knowledgeable, best individual choices to achieve maximum wellness.

  • ElviaK says:

    thank you Ken! I read ” anatomy of an epidemic” and it made me sick to my stomach. I had to stop several times and didn’t make it all the way through. So painful… Because I have my memories of my psychotic breakdowns, and the hospitalizations, and the desire to be “free” from meeds, and the realization that I do have side effects (like morbid obesity that really makes me angry)… And its not as clear cut when you are actually living inside these illnesses. The ideologies sound great, and I am happy to learn more about how people deal with emotional distress without meeds… I am a very spiritual person, and find a lot of strength and relief in my meditations and prayer…even to be able to ween off some of the meeds, but it is so complex! Thank you for sharing about your friend! I saw my own self in his story…
    And I do think that the medical field needs to deepen their understanding of the wholistic terms…and incorporate the whole health of the person. Psychiatrists are far removed from that kind of a model. So in an ideal world, we would have healers who can help us get balanced and learn how to balance ourselves through nutrition, exercise, meditation, etc… And in some cases medication…though it might not be needed everyday for the rest of life, like as a norm, but rather…we might learn how to manage differently. These aren’t even available options right now. So I live in the real world, and I take my meds because, the alternative of living in a treatment center is far worse!

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