Just another day: Part II

Originally written October 16, 2006 (Updated edits in bold red)

On the heels of discussing my cynicism about pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical companies (namely, psychiatric-related), I have a few questions regarding the approach of psychiatric evalutations:

1. Why aren’t people tested for biochemical imbalances?
2. Is there a way to determine from blood work or an MRI what kind of mental illness a person is suffering from (in conjunction with the patient’s psychiatric assessment)?
3. How do doctors know the appropriate dosage for a patient? Does s/he start a patient off on what is considered “normal” for an average person and then increase or reduce the dosage based on reactions and side effects?
4. How does a doctor know when to increase a dosage? (Figuring out when to reduce a dosage SHOULD be much easier.)


Psychiatry is an inexact science. For the most part, I think much of it — regarding medication, Freud, and now, the pharmaceutical industry — is a crock.


Now, I know medication works — it has revitalized my aunt, who suffers from schizophrenia, to a point where she can function on her own. (She basically went from living as homeless person in Canada to renting her own apartment and traveling the world now.) But I’ve also seen much of its terrible effects — my father, who was so drugged up, numb, and desensitized that he couldn’t do more than eat, sleep, and watch TV; another aunt who is so drugged up that my family refers to her as just “there,” just “living”; an 18-year-old patient in this hospital who is so doped on meds that her eyes fight to stay open, has slurred speech and falls asleep anyplace, anywhere; another patient whose eyes and feelings were dulled from the effects of lithium; and other patients who are so souped up on meds that they fall asleep anywhere at any time or walk around with droopy lids, half-alive.

A psych (the politically correct term now is “behavioral”) hospital has its place. I was suicidal and needed a protective environment to pull me out of that pattern of thinking. Even God took care of Elijah as he was isolated in the desert for about 40 days. (I Kings 19:1-8) But I view psych hospitals more as a testing ground. Psych doctors, really, don’t know what they’re doing any more than I do. (Ok, maybe a little bit.) Not to say they’re a stupid lot — indeed, they are very smart and often prescribe medications based on the symptoms a patient describes: lorazepam (Ativan) for anxiety; sertraline (Zoloft) for depression; lithium (carbonate, citrate, and orotate) for manic depression; risperidone (Risperdal) for schizophrenia. There are categories and classes these doctors must know and memorize. And they do.

But really, wouldn’t you find it a bit strange to tell your doctor some physical symptoms you were having and based on what you tell him, he gives you a diagnosis of cancer? And to top it off, proceeds to recommend chemotherapy without ever performing a biopsy or drawing a single drop of blood from you? No one would go to a doctor like this. So why must patients allow this in psychiatric practice?

Medicine, as we accept it today, works like this:

We experience symptoms, tell the doctor what we’re experiencing and based on what we tell the doctor, s/he makes a diagnosis (should be more of a hypothesis, but I digress), performs blood work and/or collects a urine sample to confirm the diagnosis (which would then lead to a conclusion).


Psychiatrists diagnose patients like they all walk around with the same common cold.


Don’t get me wrong; mental illnesses ARE real. But I don’t buy the argument that depression in the U.S. is as epidemic as the media (and some statistics) report it to be. In fact, mental illness is widely overdiagnosed in people (in general) and severely underdiagnosed in men.

Blame It on the BrainA book I just began reading, Blame It on the Brain? by Ed Welch, puts forth an important observation:

“Mood swings that were once seen as a result of a bad day at the office, an afternoon battle with the children, or disappointment in relationships, are now viewed as the result of chemical imbalances in the brain, treated with antidepressant medications, or for those who want more natural assistance, St. John’s Wort and other herbs.”

I’m not a doctor so essentially my words mean nothing. But I’m a psychiatric patient and the future of my brain is at stake. I should be asking a lot more questions of psychiatrists and be more firm in demanding answers.

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2 Comments

  1. Ian Westmore said,

    December 7, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    Antidpressants and the other psych drugs are far from perfect, but they do help most people to some degree. Without them all the psych hospitals that have been closed down in recent decades would not only still be operating but expanding.
    And those with a long history of major depression with suicide attempts would become permanently confined, just as they were in the past.
    BTW-I’m seeing as I type this an ad for one of Breggin’s books. LOL! Do you know this guy’s history? The Scientology connection? His views about kids and drugs? How he thinks schizophrenics merely chose to act irresponsibly? Or how he wouldn’t be concerned if his daughter took rec drugs (seems in Beggin’s world all pharmaceutics are bad, but illicit drugs-who cares?!)
    Here are a few examples taken from his book “The Psychology of Freedom – Liberty and Love as a Way of Life”
    “‘What if your daughter wants to have sex at age ten? Or what if she is taking drugs?’ Whether my children have sex or take drugs should be no concern of mine unless I can really argue it is causing them harm. Even then, I have to prove my viewpoint to them, since I cannot use force.” page 178
    “As I dramatized in After the Good War, permitting children to have sex among themselves would go a long way toward liberating them from oppressive parental authority. This is the main reason that parents fight so hard to prevent sex between children. Sexual freedom would allow their children to become truly independent of them.” – page 209
    “Many things must be allowed in the interest of freedom, even unethical conduct.” – page 77
    “Remember that you have sovereign authority to break any contract that turns out to offend libertarian principles.” – page 61
    “I also believe that the term “schizophrenia” does reflect to some degree upon a human phenomenon, an extreme of utter irresponsibility that I prefer to label ‘craziness.'” – page 69
    “Moral authority is always oppressive…. Most forms of psychotherapy, most aspects of psychiatry in general, nearly all religions, and most parents are moral authorities.” – page 233

  2. December 8, 2006 at 11:01 am

    “Antidpressants and the other psych drugs are far from perfect, but they do help most people to some degree. Without them all the psych hospitals that have been closed down in recent decades would not only still be operating but expanding.”
    I do agree antidepressants can help people. I have had major trouble with them in the past but I now know that it’s because I didn’t go through the proper channel: my antid’s were prescribed by a PCP instead of a psychiatrist, who is specially trained for those medicines. In terms of psych hospitals, however, I don’t understand the correlation between psych drugs keeping psych hospitals open.
    “And those with a long history of major depression with suicide attempts would become permanently confined, just as they were in the past.”
    Is this a good or bad thing? (I cannot tell from your tone.)
    “BTW-I’m seeing as I type this an ad for one of Breggin’s books. LOL! Do you know this guy’s history? The Scientology connection? His views about kids and drugs? How he thinks schizophrenics merely chose to act irresponsibly? Or how he wouldn’t be concerned if his daughter took rec drugs (seems in Beggin’s world all pharmaceutics are bad, but illicit drugs-who cares?!)”
    I had never heard about this before. (It’s probably not an ad, it’s more than likely a list of helpful books I’ve read.) After reading your comment last night, I took the time to look up Breggin’s history. I read Wikipedia, but Wikipedia seems biased IN FAVOR OF Mr. Breggin:
    “Dr. Breggin testified as an expert witness in the Wesbecker case (Fentress et al., 1994), which was one of the early lawsuits against Eli Lilly, makers of Prozac. While on the witness stand, Breggin was questioned by Eli Lilly’s attorneys regarding statements he made in a 1980 book, The Psychology of Freedom (1980). In this book, Breggin made some controversial remarks about child sexuality, while musing about the role of coercion and norms within society. Some witnesses to the trial felt that Lilly’s attorneys were able to largely discredit Breggin by using this content.Ultimately, the jury found for Eli Lilly. It was later revealed that the plaintiffs and defendants had settled behind closed doors, although they lied directly to the judge when he inquired about this. Instead, they pretended to go on with the trial, but the plaintiff did not present the strongest part of the case against Eli Lilly. In exchange, Eli Lilly agreed to settle all the Prozac cases currently on the caseload of the lead plaintiff lawyer, and pay half his expenses. This allowed Eli Lilly’s lawyers to claim that Prozac had been “vindicated” by a jury trial. In fact, Eli Lilly had illegally settled the case for fear of losing it.[13][14] Peter Breggin was thus put in an unenviable position- he had testified publicly on an extremely controversial topic, but the legal team he was working for did not try to win the case.”
    [13] Fentress Case Analysis. Lectric Law Library. Retrieved on 2006-09-08.
    [14] Eli Lilly, Missing Documents, Fentress Verdict. A Report by Peter Breggin. Retrieved on 2006-09-08.
    My husband and I checked out references 13 and 14. The ‘Lectric Law Library seems to be a shady (and shoddy) Web site. Anything written by Breggin is obviously biased.
    Another thing that alerted me to the seemingly biased nature of the Wikipedia article is that the book you mention is not listed under “Books Authored.”
    Upon a Google search for his book, I find scant references. The Wiki article briefly mentions the book in the case against Eli Lilly but otherwise, I had a difficult time finding many of the passages you quoted (although I did find a few). I did find a number of references to Mr. Breggin himself and I do agree, the man sounds awfully dubious. But I think there is some validity to what he says. Other authors have written books about dubious practices in psychiatry (http://naturalpsychotherapy.com/readings.htm). I have even said at one point that he’s “crying fire about an unattended candle.”
    I agree that what he wrote in The Psychology of Freedom was completely wrong. But a broken clock is right twice a day. He may be a kook but the overall general point he makes is for patients to be wary of psychiatric medication. It’s not that I don’t trust psychiatrists as it is that I don’t trust the pharmaceutical companies making these drugs.


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