Should psych drugs be avoided at ALL costs?

My brain isn’t functioning today quite honestly so my apologies if the following makes no sense whatsoever. It’s long and I ended up rambling.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether there are any benefits to using pharmaceutical drugs. I have blogger friends who are very much anti-pharmaceuticals anything, try to avoid drugs as much as possible but take them if necessary, or think pharmaceutical drugs are a Godsend.

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. It is not to their advantage to put out completely shoddy products that do not work. I’m sure many of them bury negative data and findings that do not shed a positive light on their drugs but if something works overall, they’ll put it out there. I don’t believe the doctors who are involved in these trials are all dirty, rotten sell-outs. Some of them are very well-meaning and honest who work to make these drugs as effective as possible. Call me naïve if you like but I just can’t bring myself to believe there are more greedy docs who skew results than there are those who are concerned with advancement.

I don’t think twice about popping Excedrin Migraine when I’ve got a painful, debilitating migraine; I have no problem taking naproxen (aka Aleve) when I’ve got menstrual cramps, and taking ibuprofen isn’t an issue if I have severe muscle pain. I don’t question the safety of these drugs. I’ve used them for so long, they’ve proven to be relatively safe for me (not everyone can tolerate those drugs) and efficacious. The safety risk of taking Excedrin Migraine sometimes outweighs the benefits of not taking it. (Note: I only speak of adults in terms of ingesting this kind of medication.I don’t believe developing bodies, such as youngsters, are able to handle medication that can significantly affect mood.)

When it comes to psych meds, I am not anti-medication. Psych meds should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are some people who consider these meds to be a life-saver while others complain that it has made them miserable and worsened their lives. This is the gamble people take when choosing to ingest a psych med—most people don’t know that. Trouble is, most people don’t know when the stakes are high enough to take that risk.

I shouldn’t be in a position to judge anyone but when I hear people taking antidepressants based on circumstances—a job loss, failed relationship, loss of a life—I worry that it’s unnecessary. We are becoming a nation that is more reliant on “quick fixes” rather than developing coping mechanisms. It’s easier to pop a pill and dull your emotions than it is to face problems, tackle issues head on, and learn to work your way through it. Case in point: rising unemployment hasn’t slowed sales of antidepressants or sleeping pills.

  • I have an aunt who was a violent paranoid-schizophrenic. She was placed in a mental institution and drugged up the wazoo. Now, she’s basically existing; the lights are on but no one’s home. The drugs have killed her. She’s alive but not really.
  • My father was a non-violent paranoid-schizophrenic. It got to the point where we needed to medicate him to get him on track. The medication helped him to function “normally” but his thought processes and physical ability was significantly slowed. He once told me that he felt useless because my mother was busting her butt at work to pay for my college and he was basically an invalid because his mental illness had prevented him from being able to work. He died 4 months later. A few days after the funeral, my mom began to find his psych meds hidden all around the house. I often wonder if the drugs killed him.
  • Another aunt (this is all on the paternal side of the family) also became a paranoid-schizophrenic. She was a brilliant woman who was basically reduced to moving from place to place to the point where she eventually became homeless and could not hold down a job. She disappeared for a while but during one cold winter, was found and brought into a homeless shelter. She was placed on meds and her cognitive functions returned despite the fact that her speech was sometimes garbled. She traveled the world, went on cruises and various excursions. The change was remarkable. Psych meds improved her life and saved her—the benefits of the drugs outweighed the side effects.

As I withdraw from Lamictal, I am curious to see who I am without this drug. Will my creative juices flow freely once again or are they now somewhat hindered? Will my cognitive functioning correct itself or will I forever suffer from problems? Will my short-term memory loss issues smooth out or will I still suffer from intermittent forgetfulness? I have some side effects that may remain with me for a while or perhaps forever (though I hope not) but seeing others fully recover after taking drugs for 10 times longer than I have gives me hope.

I feel the majority of my progress has come from intensive counseling and being infused with the truths as laid out in the Bible. I’d say 90% of my progress has been due to counseling. I give the meds 10%. You can tell I don’t place much stock in them. But they’ve helped to cut down on the mixed episodes.

So far, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts are behaviors that are out of the ordinary. (Thank GOD.) I’ve been dealing with a mild depression but that stems from basing my worth based off of my career rather than any biological imbalances. The last time I suffered a severe depression, I was on Lexapro (if that tells you anything).

I’ve gotten a lot of resistance and concern from family members who question my decision to come off of the medication. They’ve seen a miraculous change in me and attribute it to being on meds. Meds aren’t a cure-all. They don’t see the counseling and shifting of thought processes going on that has helped me to develop coping mechanisms. Meds may help people “cope” but they don’t develop the tools needed to cope.

I’ve decided that I’ll probably give that Christian psychiatrist a call. My counselor recommended him and she said that he’s very neutral on meds and doesn’t shove them on anyone. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept me as a patient only to lose me in the end—she insisted he wouldn’t mind. The intake cost is hefty but since I was able to temp a few days for my job this week—I’m not permanently returning, I can swing it.

Which brings me back to my position on psych meds: I said it earlier but I think it’s a case-by-case basis. In my personal life, I’ve seen the benefits outweigh the side effects and I’ve seen the side effects outweigh the benefits. And I’ve seen benefits (not necessarily beneficial) as a result of side effects. Psychiatry is the biggest medical guessing game of all medical specialties. There are no certainties, and there’s no one medication that works best for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies make it a point to put the disclaimer on the patient information sheet that they’re not exactly sure HOW these drugs work. All that stuff about serotonin, dopamine, and neurotransmitters is pure speculation when it comes to depression. You’ll have me convinced about chemical imbalances once I can get a MRI and blood test done. Until then, it’s all trial-and-error.

So if I do suffer from relapses while withdrawing from this medication and it gets to the point where I may need to be hospitalized, I’m not averse to remaining on the drug. Better to be alive and on a psych drug than dead because I was determined not to use it at risk to my safety. If I end up having to stay on the drug, the future of giving birth to children will seem a bit more uncertain.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

As reported by The New York Times, people with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of suffering from fatal illness according to a study (that reviewed 17 other studies involving more than 331,000 people) reported in the February issue of Psychiatric Services.

In the larger studies, almost every cause of death was higher among bipolar patients: cardiovascular, respiratory, cerebrovascular (including strokes), and endocrine (like diabetes). In the smaller studies, mortality from cerebrovascular disease was higher among those with bipolar illness, but they showed inconsistent results, probably because they used smaller samples or less representative populations.

Gianna at Beyond Meds provides here take here.


Some crazy nurse in Minnesota convinced a Canadian college student to kill herself and walked her through the process of appropriately hanging herself. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air calls the nurse "the first serial suicide-inciter of the modern age." Couldn't have said it better myself.


Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons is on a roll, holding AstraZeneca accountable for its actions regarding hidden information about Seroquel and now he hosts the Seroquel documents — alongside Lilly's Zyprexa documents — that indicate buried studies. Dawdy's also running a spring fundraiser and I suggest you get your butt in gear and donate to him if it's important to you that someone holds pharmaceutical companies accountable for their actions. I've already done my part.


Sorry this post isn't filled with my normal snark and cynicism. I'm behind on a lot personally — still trying to get the hang of this self-employment thing — and this is what I can throw out for now.

20% of American children suffer from mental illness

The new SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) law that President Obama signed significantly increases health coverage for children, which also includes mental health parity. According to Nancy Shute of U.S. News & World Report, health coverage is expanded to:

“4 million more children beyond the 6 million already covered but also brings mental-health parity to the state programs that provide insurance for children in low-income families, requiring that they get the same access to treatment for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other serious disorders as they do for physical ailments.”

Then I stumble across this:

Depressed child“Mental-health needs are nowhere near being met,” says Jay E. Berkelhamer, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chief academic officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “At least 20 percent of all visits to pediatricians’ offices are related to mental-health problems.

Normally, though, overworked pediatricians may not ask if a child has a mental-health problem—and may not know where to refer him or her if they do. About 20 percent of children and teenagers have a mental-health problem at any given time, or about 8 million to 13 million people. Two thirds of them are not getting the help they need.

That means out of roughly 40-65 million kids, we have 8-13 million who are “mentally ill.” And then about 5-8 million who aren’t getting proper mental help.

Color me cynical but I think 20 percent is a disproportionately high number to classify children as mentally ill. I think the percentage of adults being classified as mentally ill is exorbitant enough, let alone children who are going through stages in their lives where they’re simply developing, encountering mood swings, being disobedient, and perhaps, being — perish the thought! — normal children.

But let’s address something else here: I don’t think it’s impossible for children to suffer from mental illness but the incidence should be significantly lower.

According to Dr. Louis Kraus, the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, suicide ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death among ages 5-14 — “although rare.” From ages 15-24, it jumps to number three.

The key word in that last paragraph is suicide is “rare.” The rate of mental illness in children should reflect that somehow. While I’m very happy SCHIP includes widespread mental health parity for low-income families, I’m also concerned children will be overdiagnosed with a “mental illness” when they may simply be dealing with the normal challenges of a difficult life.

“I used to care, but now I take a pill for that.” — Author unknown

Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons has some great posts on the bipolar child paradigm that further explore the murky world of psychiatry pushing psychiatric illnesses and psychotropic drugs on kids. I’d also recommend reading Soulful Sepulcher as Stephany recounts her and her daughter’s experiences in and out of the mental health system.

(pic from save.org)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

I could’ve been a statistic right here in this area.

suicides in PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia now boasts the sharpest increase in suicides in the country. Despite all the homicides in Philadelphia making the news, the 196 people who killed themselves in 2008 were quietly buried in the obit pages (if they made it there at all).

In light of this news, I’ve decided to place a suicide hotline web banner in the upper right-hand corner of my right sidebar. Susan of If You’re Going Through Hell Keep Going has one in her sidebar and I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ve had a couple of people comment or send me emails about how they feel they’re on the brink of losing it so hopefully the banner — one of the first things to be seen on this page — will draw some attention and prompt someone to call for help. When I was a teen, I called 1.800.SUICIDE. I can’t remember what happened exactly but I called the hotline and someone talked me into why life was still worth living. People who are suicidal don’t really want to die; they want an escape from the pain they’re feeling and they feel the only way to alleviate that pain is through inflicting death upon themselves. I hope someone who is suicidal would be willing to pick up the phone and come to the same realization that I did at the time.


Speaking of suicide, researchers from the World Health Organization and the University of Verona, Italy have discovered that SSRIs (a class of antidepressants) may significantly reduce the risk for suicide in adults. SSRIs — which include such medications as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft — are not be confused with SNRIs such as Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta. PsychCentral notes:

SSRIPrevious studies, including a 2007 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found the risk of suicide in adults was neutral, elevated in those under 25 and reduced in people older than 65. A subsequent black box warning was added to all antidepressants regarding increased risk of suicidal symptoms in people under 25 years of age.

Basically, this study just means antidepressants help those who are 25 years and older and hurt those 24 years and younger. I’m sure a new study will come out within the next year or so that contradicts this one. Especially since numerous previous studies on SSRIs found the risk of suicide to be neutral in ages 25-65.


Young adultAccording to the Boston Globe, a (really pathetic) new study shows that nearly half of young adults between the ages of 19 to 25 “meet the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.”

Whether in college or not, almost half of this country’s 19-to-25-year-olds meet standard criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, although some of the disorders, such as phobias, are relatively mild, according to a government-funded survey of more than 5,000 young adults, published in December in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, done at Columbia University and called the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, found more alcohol use disorders among college students, while their noncollege peers were more likely to have a drug use disorder.

But, beyond that, misery is largely an equal-opportunity affliction: Across the social spectrum, young people in America are depressed. They’re anxious. They regularly break one another’s hearts. And, all too often, they don’t get the help they need as they face life’s questions…

According to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey, the population for adults ages 18-24 is gauged to be around 30 million. Therefore if we’re going to take the study at its word, let’s chop the number by half (even though the number is just under half). That will put us at about 15 million young adults. The NIMH, however, estimates 57.7 million adults in the U.S. “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.” If this is the case, those 15 million young adults make up nearly 26 percent of the NIMH’s “diagnosable mental disorder” statistic. The inclusion of alcohol and drug addictions might explain why this figure might be a little high.

Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

Loose Screws Mental Health News (the ODD version)

I came across an article in my Google Alerts titled, “Harvard study: Under-treatment of mental illness contributes to crime.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link to read more of the article. Turns out the lede is:

Two thirds of prisoners nationwide with a mental illness were off treatment at the time of their arrest, according to a new study by Harvard researchers that suggests under-treatment of mental illness
contributes to crime and incarceration.

The article is poorly titled. The headline was designed to be alarming: “Watch out for those crazy people! They’re violent!” It’s not “under-treatment of mental illness” that “contributes to crime” so much as it is “two-thirds of inmates with mental illness are off medication.” There’s nothing in the article that asserts people with mental illness contribute to the crime rate in America. An interesting read but an inaccurate head.


shoppingThe New York Times had an article a few weeks ago on compulsive shopping eventually becoming a legitimate disorder. I’d been wanting to write about this for a while but Gianna at Beyond Meds beat me to it. She aptly titles her post, “It’s called poor impulse control, people .” She writes:

It’s a psychological problem. But let’s relegate out of control shopping to a brain disorder too, so people can have one less thing to take responsibility for. This is really getting ridiculous. Pretty soon we won’t be responsible for any of our bad behavior as it all becomes pathologized and out of our hands. And you can be sure they’ll be a drug for it, too. Since their calling it OCD related it’s a good bet they’ll try out SSRIs.

The DSM-V is currently being crafted in secret but everyone in the medical field fully expects new disorders (such as subthreshold bipolar disorder and Internet addiction) to pop up. Don’t be surprised if CSD (compulsive shopping disorder) pops up in it too. (pic via pro.corbis.com)


In related let’s-give-everything-a-diagnosis news, some mental health experts are assigning a new label to women obsessed with having children: baby addiction.

baby…Sometimes the desire to keep having children can be rooted in complex psychological issues dating as far back as one’s childhood. In certain cases, experts say, it can become a compulsion, an obsession or even a “baby addiction.”

While the current book of psychiatric diagnoses, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” has no entry on baby addiction, mental-health professionals say they see patients, mostly women, who desperately want to keep having newborns, even when they already have several children and aren’t managing their family situation well. That, they say, is a big red flag, no matter what term is used to describe it.

“It can be an addiction,” says Gayle Peterson, a family therapist in the San Francisco area and author of “Making Healthy Families.”

Peterson has seen several women in her practice who’ve been overwhelmed with four or five children, including those with special needs. Some of the women were suffering with depression or panic attacks and yet when their youngest child became a toddler, they wanted another baby. These women can be driven to have more children in an effort to make up for some sort of void or loss, usually from their own unhappy childhood, explains Peterson.

“If you’re just having babies to complete something in yourself that never got completed, you really are talking about an addiction,” she says.

While it might be an addiction, it’s not DSM-V diagnosis-worthy and it definitely doesn’t need medicinal treatment. Get some psychotherapy and call it a day. An addiction like this is behavioral more than anything else. (pic via sodahead.com)


And last but not least, we’ve also got a new case of “climate change delusion.” (Ha!)

Last year, an anxious, depressed 17-year-old boy was admitted to the psychiatric unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. He was refusing to drink water. Worried about drought related to climate change, the young man was convinced that if he drank, millions of people would die. The Australian doctors wrote the case up as the first known instance of “climate change delusion.”Robert Salo, the psychiatrist who runs the inpatient unit where the boy was treated, has now seen several more patients with psychosis or anxiety disorders focused on climate change, as well as children who are having nightmares about global-warming-related natural disasters.

–snip–

Of course, no one can predict what effect warming will have on our psyches. The links between mental illness and the weather can be tenuous or even downright contradictory. Depending on which studies you read, suicide is more common, less common, or equally common in hot weather. Ditto dry weather.

It looks like my post just turned into an ODD (OverDiagnosis Disorder) case. I’ll get back to you once I’m free of my concern for the environment, my desire for multiple children, and my penchant for window shopping.

Coming off of Lamictal (lamotrigine)

Medication

I am officially joining the ranks of those who are facing the challenge of Lamictal withdrawal.

On Wednesday, I went to see my psychiatrist with a plan to come off of Lamictal:

  • 150 mg for 3 months
  • 100 mg for 3 months
  • 75 mg for 3 months
  • 50 mg for 3 months
  • 25 mg for 3 months
  • 12.5 mg (depending on whether my side effects on the 25 mg are bad)

I told him that my husband and I were looking to have a child sometime next year and that I’d like to taper off of Lamictal but was open to the possibility of getting back on it should I encounter severe suicidal ideation and mixed episodes. He warned me against it and thought it was a bad idea.

He proceeded to say that it’s a maintenance medication, I have a lifelong disorder, it won’t just go away, my symptoms would probably return, I have a higher risk of attempting suicide, blah blah blah — am I aware of all these risks?

He explained people with bipolar depression after coming off of meds can actually be worse, undergo severe depressive episodes, have more suicide attempts, and yadda yadda yadda. To sum it all up, I was risking my life just to get off of Lamictal.

My pdoc was trying to scare me into staying medicated.

He then added if I really wanted to come off of my meds, I could “just stop.”

WHAT?! My eyes flew open.

He stated he’d had patients who had stopped cold turkey without a problem. According to him, anticonvulsants don’t have severe withdrawal effects.

WHAT?! His advice just flies in the face of what most doctors recommend. In fact, quitting Lamictal immediately increases the risk of seizures, which is exactly what I’m afraid of.

Philip’s experience and Gianna’s experience along with the comments on each blog are proof that many people have experienced tremendous withdrawal effects from decreasing Lamictal’s dosage. In the past, I’ve quit Paxil and Lexapro cold turkey — both with not-so-good results to put it mildly.

I insisted that I wanted to come off of it slowly so he said I could just cut my 200 mg pills in half and jump down to 100 mg and stop after 2 weeks.

For real? Two weeks, doc? I had a plan that would take me over a year and you’re reducing it to a mere two weeks? On 100 mg dosage?

Again, I insisted that I wanted to take more time. He reluctantly wrote me a 30-day prescription for 100 mg and said since I was off the medication, I had no need to see him anymore. “Good luck,” he flatly told me.

When I came home after the appointment (and a bitching session to my husband), I remembered that I’d stashed a few 150 mg pills away sometime ago after I jumped back up to 200. So as of Wednesday, my arsenal included:

  • A bottle of six 150 mg pills
  • A bottle twenty-five 200 mg pills
  • A prescription for thirty 100 mg pills

I dropped down to the 150 mg on Wednesday and have been doing all right so far. I intend to keep myself at 150 mg (cutting the 200 mg and the 100 mg in half) for at least 2 weeks, then drop down to 75 mg for 2 weeks and then 50 mg for 2 weeks. I’m most worried about coming off of the 25 mg. This is a way more accelerated plan that I hoped for but I’ve got to work with the cards that I’m dealt.

We’ll see what happens.

United States of Tara

United States of Tara

I don’t have much familiarity with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) but Showtime has a new show called United States of Tara in which the main character (Tara) has three alter egos: Buck (thinks she’s a guy), T (think she’s a 15-year-old), and Alice (turns Betty Crocker when she feels like she’s a bad mother). Then Tara is… Tara trying to be a normal wife and mother. I watched a truncated episode of the pilot and the show seems interesting. I just hope that the husband of 17 years doesn’t suddenly ditch Tara for her cuter, younger, and non-DID sister Charmaine. (I sigh because I see it coming anyway.)

I don’t personally know anyone with DID. Does anyone want to check out the pilot and tell me what they think? It’s 30 minutes. I’m curious to see if someone gets the impression that it’s a mixture of poking fun at DID and showing a realistic aspect of what life must be like with the disorder.

Update: Apparently, Showtime takes DID pretty seriously.