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Mental Health Screening: Public Service or Dangerous Marketing?

Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., Psychologist


In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged that children be screened for autism as early as three years old.1 In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all teenagers be screened for depression.2  The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also supports widespread mental health screening:

Mental health screenings are a key part of youth mental health. Approximately 50% of chronic mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% begin by age 24. At the same time, the average delay between when symptoms first appear and intervention is 8-10 years. Mental health screenings allow for early identification and intervention and help bridge the gap.3

To the ill-informed, these pronouncements appear to be of great public service. Who could argue the virtues of identifying mental health problems in our children as early as possible so that we could offer them assistance in avoiding a life of suffering?

However, to those willing to question the conventional wisdom, and think critically about the matter, quite a different picture emerges. Screening tools are dangerous to our children, but they are helpful to the mental health industry by increasing the potential market of consumers.

Whereas it is true that mental health screening is a cost-effective substitute for full psychological testing, it nonetheless presents a significant danger. This is the danger of false positives. A false positive is when a screening tool wrongly identifies a child as having a problem (e.g, the DSM definitions of depression, autism, anxiety, etc.) when, in fact, the child doesn't have that problem.

Keep in mind that childhood problems do exist, even if they aren't illnesses. So, for instance, a child experiencing traumatic circumstances might withdraw from the world and that self-imposed isolation can have devastating effects. But this is not an illness called "depression." It is an understandable problem and an expectable reaction to trauma.

The false positive problem occurs even with the most accurate of screening instruments. An instrument's accuracy is stated as sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity is the rate at which the tool correctly identifies a person with the problem. Specificity is when the tool correctly identifies a person who doesn't have the problem. Sensitivity and specificity rates of .80 are considered "levels that are reasonably good for a screening instrument."4

But regardless of this "reasonably good" accuracy, when we screen for any low base-rate event, such as the problems that are subsumed under the label "mental illness," we will necessarily have a large number of false positives. This results in many, many children being identified as the target of psychiatric intervention when there is no real problem.

To see just how dangerous this is, let's look at the statistical nuts and bolts in the table below. Take a hypothetical population of 1,000 kids and screen them for depression with an instrument that has a .80 accuracy rate. According to the CDC, 3.2% of children between 3 and 17 years old have been diagnosed with depression.5 This is a 3.2% base-rate. With this data, we would get the numbers below.

                       Actually Depressed?
Screening Results: Yes No Total
     Depressed 26 194* 220
     Not Depressed    6 774 780
     Total 32 968 1,000

* false positives

So out of 1,000 children and a 3.2% base rate of depression, there will be 32 children who actually are suffering from the problems labeled "depression" and 968 who aren't. A screening instrument with sensitivity and specificity of .80 will correctly identify 26 of the depressed kids. It will also correctly identify 774 of the non-depressed kids. However, it will wrongly identify 194 of the non-depressed kids as depressed. This is a 88% false positive rate (194 ÷ 220 = .88).

The significance of this cannot be overstated. When using a screening instrument like this, nearly 9 out of every 10 children who are identified as depressed wouldn't really be suffering from that problem. Nevertheless, they would still be subjected to the attention and potential treatment of the mental health system, with all of the accompanying stigma and other harmful effects, such as the prescription of unnecessary psychiatric chemicals.

And what do you think would happen when the children or their parents disagree with the professional's screening conclusion and become resistant to subjecting the child to treatment? Of course, it would very likely be seen as either a sign of anosognosia (lack of insight into one's illness) or as parental neglect in refusing to get treatment for their children.

This is frightening.

There are about 74 million children and adolescents living in the United States.When using screening instruments like this, imagine the untold number of kids who are not suffering from the problem but who would nonetheless be a target of the mental health industry. If all of them were screened with this tool, millions would be falsely targeted! And, if you are skeptical about whether our children would be subjected to these harmful screenings, just remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all teenagers be screened for depression.

With the screening of real medical problems, such as cancer, there is a potential solution to this false positive problem. It is to conduct a more detailed examination of the patient with laboratory tests such as X-rays, CAT scans, and blood tests to determine if the disease is actually present.

But with the problems labeled "mental illness," there is no follow up to the screening instrument because there is no internal dysfunction that can be detected with a more detailed examination. Even more in-depth psychological testing wouldn't suffice since psychological tests are also screening instruments, they're just more complicated. But, they do not assess internal malfunctioning.

Mental illness diagnoses refer to problems only, not bodily disease processes that cause the problems. In fact, the formal diagnostic guidelines in the DSM are screening instruments themselves! They are merely checklists of "symptoms." In this sense, the DSM has the same false positive danger as does any other screening instrument. Using it to diagnose "mental illness" results in an overabundance of people wrongly branded with mental illness diagnoses. Yet, those people become a fertile market for the mental health industry.


1https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0331-children-autism.html.

2https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/588334959/pediatrians-call-for-universal-depression-screening-for-teens.

3https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Public-Policy/Mental-Health-Screening.

4https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/41/10/1081/2951811.

5https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html.

6https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/AGE295216#viewtop.

The Myth of Biological Depression

3/31/2019        Uncategorized 0 Comments

Wayne Ramsay, J.D.

In the Introduction to his book Rethinking Depression (New World Library 2012, p. 3, italics his) California-licensed family therapist Eric Maisel, Ph.D., says this:

One of the goals of this book is to help you remove the word depression from your vocabulary and, as a result, from your life. If depression were an actual disease, illness, or disorder you wouldn't be able to rid yourself of it just by removing it from your vocabulary. But since it isn't a disease, illness, or disorder, you can dispense with it right this second. What I would love for you to say is "I can't be depressed because there is no disease of depression!

Similarly, in her book A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Drugs (PCCS Books, Ross-on-Wye 2009, p. 65), Joanna Moncrieff, M.B.B.S., M.Sc., MFRCPsych, M.D., Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Sciences at the University College, London, says this:

...it is important to say here that the term "depression" as currently used is misleading. ... there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that there are particular features of the brain that give rise to the particular feeling of depression.

Unhappiness or "depression" alleged to be the result of biological abnormality is called "biological" or "endogenous" or "clinical" depression. In her book The Broken Brain: The Biological Revolution in Psychiatry, University of Iowa psychiatry professor Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., says: "The older term endogenous implies that the depression 'grows from within' or is biologically caused, with the implication that unfortunate and painful events such as losing a job or lover cannot be considered contributing causes." (Harper & Row 1984, p. 203).

Similarly, in 1984 in the Chicago Tribune newspaper columnist Joan Beck alleged: "...depressive disorders are basically biochemical and not caused by events or environmental circumstances or personal relationships" (July 30, 1984, Sec. 1, p. 16). A July 2013 Readers Digest article (pp. 132-133) says "For the past 50 years, the conventional wisdom among many psychiatrists was that depression was caused by a brain-chemical imbalance such as low levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin."

The concept of biological or endogenous depression is important to psychiatry for two reasons. First, it is the most common supposed mental illness. As Victor I. Reus, M.D., wrote in 1988: "The history of the diagnosis and treatment of melancholia could serve as a history of psychiatry itself" (appearing in: H. H. Goldman, editor, Review of General Psychiatry, 2nd Edition, Appleton & Lange 1988, p. 332). Second, all of psychiatry's biological "treatments" for depression—whether it is drugs, electroshock, or psychosurgery—are based on the idea that the unhappiness we call depression can be caused by a biological malfunction in the brain rather than life experience. The erroneous belief in biological causation justifies the otherwise unjustifiable use of biological therapies, primarily "antidepressant" drugs and electroconvulsive "therapy" (see Psychiatry's Electroconvulsive Shock Treatment—A Crime Against Humanity). The biological therapies for this nonexistent "disease" of depression and other so-called mental illnesses also in theory justify the existence of psychiatry as a medical specialty distinguishable from psychology, social work, and counseling.

Many professional and lay people today think depression can be caused by a"chemical imbalance" in the brain even though no chemical imbalance theories of depression have been verified. As psychiatry professor Thomas S. Szasz, M.D., said in 2006, "There is no evidence for a chemical imbalance causing mental illness, but that does not impair the doctrine's scientific standing or popularity" ("Mental Illness as a Brain Disease: A Brief History Lesson"). Psychiatry professor Nancy Andreasen discusses some of the chemical imbalance theories of depression in her book The Broken Brain.

One of the theories she describes is the belief that "depression" (what I think should be called simply unhappiness or severe unhappiness) is the result of neuroendocrine abnormalities indicated by excessive cortisol in the blood. The test for this is called the dexamethasone suppression test or DST. The theory behind this test and the claims of its usefulness were found to be mistaken, however, because, in Dr. Andreasen's words, "so many patients with well defined depressive illness have normal DSTs" (pp. 180 182). An article in the July 1984 Harvard Medical School Health Letter reached a similar conclusion. The article, titled "Diagnosing Depression: How Good is the 'DST'?", reported that "For every three office patients with an abnormal DST, only one is likely to have true depression. ... [And] a large fraction of people who are depressed by other criteria will still have normal results on the DST" (p. 5). Similarly, in an article in the November 1983 Archives of Internal Medicine three physicians concluded that "Data from studies currently available do not support the use of the dexamethasone ST [Suppression Test]" (Martin F. Shapiro, M.D., et al., "Biases in the Laboratory Diagnosis of Depression in Medical Practice", Vol. 143, p. 2085). In her 1993 book If It Runs In Your Family: Depression, Connie S. Chan, Ph.D., acknowledges that "There is still no valid biological test for depression" (Bantam Books, p. 106). Despite its having been discredited, some biologically oriented psychiatrists are (apparently) so eager for biological explanations for people's unhappiness or "depression" that they continue to use the DST anyway. For example, in his book The Good News About Depression, published in 1986, psychiatrist Mark S. Gold, M.D., says he continues to use the DST. In that book Dr. Gold claims the DST is "highly touted as the diagnostic test for biologic depression" (Bantam, p. 155, emphasis in original).

In The Broken Brain, Dr. Andreasen also describes what she calls "the most widely accepted theory about the cause of depression...the 'catecholamine hypothesis.'" She emphasizes that "the catecholamine hypothesis is theory rather than fact" (p. 231). She says "This hypothesis suggests that patients suffering from depression have a deficit of norepinephrine in the brain" (p. 183), norepinephrine being one of the "major catecholamine systems" in the brain (pp. 231 232). One way the catecholamine hypothesis is evaluated is by studying one of the breakdown products of norepinephrine, called MHPG, in urine. People with so called depressive illness "tended to have lower MHPG" (p. 234). The problem with this theory, according to Dr. Andreasen, is that "not all patients with depression have low MHPG" (Id). She accordingly concludes that this catecholamine hypothesis "has not yet explained the mechanism causing depression" (p. 184).

Another theory is that severe unhappiness ("depression") is caused by lowered levels or abnormal use of another brain chemical, serotonin. A panel of experts assembled by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment reported the following in 1992 (The Biology of Mental Disorders, U.S. Gov't Printing Office, pp. 82 & 84):

Prominent hypotheses concerning depression have focused on altered function of the group of neurotransmitters called monoamines (i.e., norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin, dopamine), particularly norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin. ... studies of the NE [norepinephrine] autoreceptor in depression have found no specific evidence of an abnormality to date. Currently, no clear evidence links abnormal serotonin receptor activity in the brain to depression. ... the data currently available do not provide consistent evidence either for altered neurotransmitter levels or for disruption of normal receptor activity.

Even if it was shown there is some biological change or abnormality "associated" with depression, the question would remain whether this is a cause or an effect of the "depression". A brain-scan study (using positron emission tomography or PET scans) found that simply asking normal people to imagine or recall a situation that would make them feel very sad resulted in significant changes in blood flow in the brain (José V. Pardo, M.D., Ph.D., et al., "Neural Correlates of Self-Induced Dysphoria", American Journal of Psychiatry, May 1993, p. 713). Other research will probably confirm it is emotions that cause biological changes in the brain rather than biological changes in the brain causing emotions.


IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY THERE HAS NEVER BEEN EVEN ONE CASE IN WHICH IT WAS PROVED A PERSON FELT DEPRESSED BECAUSE OF A CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN HIS OR HER BRAIN


One of the more popular theories of biologically caused depression has been hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar. In his book Fighting Depression, published in 1976, Harvey M. Ross, M.D., says "In my experience as an orthomolecular psychiatrist, I find that many patients who complain of depression have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). ...Because depression is so common in those with hypoglycemia, any person who is depressed without a clear cut obvious cause for that depression should be suspected of having low blood sugar" (Larchmont Books, p. 76 & 93). But in their book Do You Have A Depressive Illness?, published in 1988, psychiatrists Donald Klein, M.D., and Paul Wender, M.D., list hypoglycemia in a section titled "Illnesses That Don't Cause Depression" (Plume, p. 61). The idea of hypoglycemia as a cause of depression was also rejected in the front page article of the November 1979 Harvard Medical School Health Letter, titled "Hypoglycemia—Fact or Fiction?"

Another theory of a physical disease causing psychological unhappiness or "depression" is hypothyroidism. In her book Can Psychotherapists Hurt You?, psychologist Judi Striano, Ph.D., includes a chapter titled "Is It Depression—Or An Underactive Thyroid?" (Professional Press 1988). Similarly, three psychiatry professors in 1988 asserted "Frank hypothyroidism has long been known to cause depression" (Alan I. Green, M.D., et al., The New Harvard Guide to Psychiatry, Harvard Univ. Press 1988, p. 135). The theory here is that the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck, normally secretes hormones which reach the brain through the bloodstream necessary for a feeling of psychological well being and that if the thyroid produces too little of these hormones, the affected person can start feeling unhappy even if no problems result from the endocrine (gland) problem other than the unhappiness. The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine lists many symptoms of hypothyroidism: "muscle weakness, cramps, a slow heart rate, dry and flaky skin, hair loss ... there may be weight gain" (Random House 1989, p. 563). The Encyclopedia does not list unhappiness or "depression" as one of the consequences of hypothyroidism. But suppose you began to experience "muscle weakness, cramps...dry and flaky skin, hair loss ... weight gain"? How would this make you feel emotionally?—depressed, probably. Just as hypothyroidism (hypo = low) is a thyroid gland that produces too little, hyperthyroidism is a thyroid glad that produces too much. Therefore, if hypothyroidism causes depression, then it seems logical to assume hyperthyroidism has the opposite effect, that is, that it makes a person happy. But this is not what happens. As psychiatrist Mark S. Gold, M.D., points out in his book The Good News About Depres-sion: "Depression occurs in hyperthyroidism, too" (p. 150). What are the consequences of hyperthyroidism?: Dr. Gold lists abundant sweating, fatigue, soft moist skin, heart palpitations, frequent bowel movements, muscular weakness, and protruding eyeballs. So both hypo- and hyper- thyroidism cause physical problems in the body. And both cause "depression". This is only logical. It is hard to feel anything but bad emotionally when your body doesn't feel well or work properly. It has never been proved hypothyroidism affects mood other than through its effect on the victim's experience of feeling physically unhealthy.

Some people think chemical imbalance related to hormonal changes must be a possible cause of "depression" because of the supposed biological causes of women's moods at different times of their menstrual cycles. I don't find that argument convincing because I've known so many women whose mood and state of mind was consistently unaffected by her menstrual cycle. Psychology professor David G. Myers, Ph.D., labels premenstrual syndrome (PMS) a myth in his book The Pursuit of Happiness (William Morrow & Co. 1992, pp. 84-85). Of course, some women experience physical discomfort due to menstruation. Feeling lousy physically is enough to put anybody in a bad mood.

Some people believe women experience undesirable mood changes for biological reasons because of menopause. However, a study by psychologists at University of Pittsburgh reported in 1990 that "Menopause usually doesn't trigger stress or depression in healthy women, and it even improves mental health for some". According to Rena Wing, one of the psychologists who did the study, "Everyone expects menopause to be a stressful event, but we didn't find any support for this myth" ("Menopausal stress may be a myth", USA Today, July 16, 1990, p. 1D).

It is also widely believed that women go through a period of depression for biological reasons after giving birth to a child. It's called postpartum depression. In his book The Making of a Psychiatrist, Dr. David Viscott quotes Dr. George Maslow, a physician doing an obstetrical residency, making the following remark: "Come on, Viscott, do you really believe in postpartum depression? I've seen maybe two in the last three years. I think it's a lot of shit you guys [you psychiatrists] imagined to drum up business" (Pocket Books, 1972, p. 88). A woman who had given birth to eight (8) children, which in my opinion qualifies her as an expert on the subject of postpartum depression, told me what she called "postpartum blues" are real, but she attributed postpartum blues to psychological rather than physiological causes. "I don't know about the physiological causes", she said, but "so much of it is psychological." She said "You feel awful about your looks", because in our society a woman is "supposed" to be thin, and for at least a short time after giving birth a woman usually isn't. She also said after childbirth a woman feels considerable "physical exhaustion". Childbirth also is the beginning of new or increased parental obligations, which if we are honest we must admit are quite burdensome. The arrival of new or additional parental obligations and the realization of the negative ways new or additional parenthood obligations will affect a woman's (or man's) life is an obvious non-biological explanation for postpartum depression. It may not be until the actual birth of the child that parents realize how parenthood changes their lives for the worse, but a letter from a female friend of mine who at the time was only three months pregnant with her first child illustrates that depression associated with childbirth may come long before the postpartum period: She said she was frequently breaking down in tears because she thought with a child her life would never the same and that she would be a "prisoner" and wouldn't have time to do what she wanted in life. A reason these psychological causes are often not candidly acknowledged and postpartum (or pre-partum) blues instead attributed to unproven biological causes is our reluctance to admit the downside of parenthood.

Another theory of biologically caused depression is based on stroke damage in the left front region of the brain. What makes it seem possible this might be neurologically caused rather than being a reaction to the situation a person finds himself in because of having had a stroke is stroke damage in the right front of the brain allegedly causing "undue cheerfulness." However, a careful reading of books and articles about neurology for the most part doesn't support the allegation of undue cheerfulness from right front brain damage. Instead, what most neurological literature indicates sometimes results from right front stroke-related brain damage is anosognosia, usually described as lack of concern or inability to know their own problems, not happiness or cheerfulness (e.g., neurology professor Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, Harper & Row 1985, p. 5).

Perhaps the most often heard argument is that antidepressant drugs wouldn't work if the cause of depression was not biological. But antidepressant drugs don't work. As psychiatrist Peter Breggin, M.D., says in his book Talking Back to Prozac (St. Martin's Press 1994, p. 200), "there's no evidence that antidepressants are especially effective". Or as British psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff writes in her book The Myth of the Chemical Cure—A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment (Revised Edition, Palgrave Macmillan 2009, pp. 144 & 152):

...contrary to current opinion, antidepressants are not superior to placebo even in the most severe forms of depression. ... The idea that antidepressants have a specific action on a biological process is still cited as the main justification for the idea that depression is caused by a biochemical abnormality. ... However, the evidence reviewed above suggests that antidepressant drugs do not exert a specific effect in depression.

Psychologist Irving Kirsch, Ph.D., wrote an entire book bebunking the assertion that so-called antidepressants have antidepressant effects: The Emperor's New Drugs—Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (Basic Books 2010). In The Antidepressant Fact Book (Perseus 2001, p. 14) psychiatrist Peter Breggin, M.D., says "The term 'antidepressant' should always be thought of with quotation marks around it because there is little or no reason to believe that these drugs target depression or depressed feelings." There is even evidence that so-called antidepressants make people feel more depressed: According to Dr. Moncrieff, "Evidence suggests that for people without mental health problems, antidepressant drugs are unpleasant to take and make them feel worse. The evidence reviewed in the previous chapter suggests that we have no reason to believe that they elevate mood in patients either" (The Myth of the Chemical Cure, p. 171). Antidepressants are, in other words, a health care scam. Their only possible beneficial effect is placebo effect. This has not prevented drug companies from making billions of dollars selling supposedly antidepressant "medications," however. As California-licensed family therapist Eric Maisel, Ph.D., asks in his book Rethinking Depression (p. 240), "Has the 'mental disorder of depression' been fabricated by the mental health industry to turn human unhappiness and the consequences of human unhappiness into a cash cow? ... You will have to decide if all this mental health labeling is a marvel of medical progress or a variation on the age-old penchant for selling snake oil." Even if so-called antidepressants did help (aside from placebo effect), that wouldn't prove a biological cause of "depression" any more than would feeling better from using marijuana or cocaine or drinking liquor.


"ANTIDEPRESSANTS" ARE A HEALTH CARE SCAM


A careful reading of the books and articles by psychiatrists and psychologists alleging biological causes of the severe unhappiness we call depression usually reveals purely psychological causes that explain it adequately, even when the author believes he has given a good example of biologically caused depression. For example, in Holiday of Darkness: A Psychologist's Personal Journey Out of His Depression (John Wiley & Sons 1982), an autobiographical book by York University psychology professor Norman S. Endler, Ph.D., he alleges his unhappiness or so-called depression "was biochemically induced" (p. xiv). He says "my affective disorder was primarily biochemical and physiological" (p. 162). But from his own words it's obvious his depression was due primarily to unreturned love when a woman he got emotionally involved with, Ann, decided to "wind down" her relationship with him (pp. 2-5) and when he suffered a career setback (loss of a research grant) at about the same time (p. 23). Despite his claims of biochemical causation, nowhere does he cite any medical or biological tests showing he had any kind of biological, bio¬chemical, or neurological abnormalities. He can't, because no valid biological test exists that tests for the presence of any so-called mental illness, including allegedly biologically caused unhappiness (or "depression").

Similarly, in The Broken Brain, psychiatry professor Nancy Andreasen gives the example of Bill, a pediatrician, whose recurrent depression she thinks illustrates that "People who suffer from mental illness suffer from a sick or broken brain [emphasis Andreasen's], not from weak will, laziness, bad character, or bad upbringing" (p. 8). But she seems to overlook the fact that Bill's allegedly biologically caused recurrent depressions occurred when his father died, when he was not permitted to graduate from medical school on schedule, when his first wife was diagnosed with cancer and died, when his second wife was unfaithful to him, when he was arrested for public intoxication during an argument with her and this was reported in the local newspaper, and when his license to practice medicine was suspended because of stigma from psychiatric "treatment" he received (pp. 2-7).

One of the reasons for theorizing about biological causes of severe unhappiness or "depression" is sometimes people are unhappy for reasons that aren't apparent, even to them. The reason this happens is what psychoanalysts call the unconscious:

Freud's investigations shocked the Western world ... Comparing the mind to an iceberg, largely submerged and invisible, he told us that the greater part of the mind is irrational and unconscious, with only the tip of the preconscious and conscious showing above the surface. He main¬tained that the larger, unconscious part—much of it sexual—is more important in guiding our lives than the rational part, even though we deceive ourselves into believing it is the other way around. [Ladas, et al., The G Spot And Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality, Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1982, pp. 6 7]

In An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis, Charles Brenner, M.D., says "the majority of mental functioning goes on without consciousness... We believe today that...mental operations which are decisive in determining the behavior of the individual...even complex and decisive ones—may be quite unconscious" (Int'l Univ. Press 1955, p. 24). A news magazine article in 1990 reported that "Scientists studying normal rather than impaired subjects are also finding evidence that the mind is composed of specialized processors that operate below the conscious level. ...Freud appears to have been correct about the existence of a vast unconscious realm" (U.S. News & World Report, Octo¬ber 22, 1990, pp. 60-63). An article in the June 2011 Psychology Today magazine tells us "Neuroscience has also confirmed another fundamental tenet of psychoanalytic theory—the idea that our motivations are largely unconscious ... 'Neuroscience tells us unambiguously that consciousness really is just the tip of the iceberg'" (Molly Knight Raskin, "The Idea That Wouldn't Die", p. 75 at 83). People's unhappiness or so-called depression being caused by life experience is not always obvious, because the relevant mental processes and memories are often hidden in the unconscious parts of their minds.


DEPRESSED? IT'S NOT YOUR BRAIN. IT'S YOUR LIFE


This critical aspect of human psychology was missed or overlooked in an otherwise excellent book, The Loss of Sadness—How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder (Oxford University Press 2007) by Allan V. Horwitz, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Rutgers University, and Jerome C. Wakefield, Ph.D., D.S.W., Professor of Social Work at New York University. Drs. Horwitz and Wakefield effectively debunk the American Psychiatric Association's concept of depression as a disorder except when there is no obvious cause in terms of life experience. They erroneously assume experiences in life and the thinking that cause sadness will always be obvious and easy to identify and that when no such cause can be readily identified, deeply felt or prolonged sorrow may indeed be a true biological or psychological "disorder" even though they, like all who support the idea of endogenous or biological depression, are unable to identify the supposed non-experiential, biological causes and simply assume such causes must exist.

I believe unhappiness or so-called depression is always the result of life experience. There is no convincing evidence unhappiness or "depression" is ever biologically caused. The brain is part of our biology, but there is no evidence severe unhappiness or "depression" is sometimes biologically caused any more than bad TV programs are sometimes electronically caused. "[T]he question is not how to get cured, but how to live" (Joseph Conrad, quoted by Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Psychotherapy, Syracuse Univ. Press 1988, title page). "When mental health professionals point to spurious genetic and biochemical causes," of depression and recommend drugs rather than learning better ways of living, "they encourage psychological helplessness and discourage personal and social growth" of the sort needed to really avoid unhappiness or "depression" and live a meaningful and happy life (Peter Breggin, M.D., "Talking Back to Prozac" Psychology Today magazine, July/Aug 1994, p. 72).

Saving Psychotherapy

3/31/2019        Uncategorized 1 Comment
Eric Maisel, Ph.D.

Psychotherapy is not quite a dying profession. But it is certainly a limping profession. Statistics indicate that over the past two decades fewer and fewer clients have gone in for "the talking cure." What's going on?

The typical reasons given for this decline are the following four. First, the pill-popping mental disorder paradigm has made meds more attractive than talk. Second, life coaching has grabbed a significant bit of psychotherapists’ clientele. Third, psychotherapists have done a poor job of branding themselves (compounded by legal restrictions against certain kinds of promising). And fourth, there is some basic passé quality to the whole enterprise, with its long-ago early-nineteenth century flavor.

On top of these, there are other reasons, too, reasons that were always there. For one, it was never really clear what a psychotherapist was supposed to be an expert “at.” Interpreting a dream? Diagnosing a mental disorder? Being a paid listener? Picking a single thing (like a client’s cognitions) as the most important thing or even the only thing to look at? Making wise suggestions? Never making any suggestions? What exactly was this sort of talk supposed to accomplish or even be “about”?

Further, psychotherapy was only attractive to a certain sort of person: basically, to an educated, psychologically-minded person who was willing to talk and willing to reveal. The client had to buy into the basic idea, that sitting, chatting with someone, and telling him or her about what was bothersome was something that made sense to do and was worth doing once a week for fifty minutes (for three hours, really, if you included the commute and the waiting time). So, right from the beginning, there was always a limited pool of prospective clients.

What's more, the staggering range of psychotherapist types, personalities, styles, and basic competences made landing on a therapist who might really serve you quite a crapshoot. Here was a person you were supposed to trust and open up to: and you might get someone wet behind the ears, or trapped on a single note (“And how did that make you feel?”), or not very wise, or icy cold, or downright cruel.  

This same variety and eclecticism that made every psychotherapist his or her own gunslinger, one using unsubstantiated Freudian language, another still poring over dreams, a third looking only at cognitions, a fourth rebranding psychological conflicts as spiritual crises, and so on, meant that it was rather hard to believe that there was actually any there there. Didn’t it rather seem like each psychotherapist was just making it up?

Of course, psychotherapy always had one thing going for it: talking to another person can help. That person need not have been a psychotherapist—it could be your brother, aunt, pastor, or best friend—but by and large psychotherapists were good at listening, empathizing, reflecting back, and so on, qualities in short supply among people not paid to exhibit them. That was always what psychotherapy had going for it. But it also had all the negatives I just described; and so, the chickens were really bound to come home to roost.

So, what might now save psychotherapy? Shifting its feet. Rather than promoting itself as expert talk of one sort—expert at “diagnosing and treating mental disorders” or expert at “reducing mental and emotional distress” or expert at “solving problems of living,” it could—and really ought to—promote itself as the best investigative tool around, one that uses the scientific method (by floating hypotheses and checking them out) rather than pretending to be a pseudo-medical enterprise or a medical sub-specialty (which it is not).

If psychotherapy shifted in the direction of promoting itself as the premier investigative tool for understanding emotional health and problems in living, and lived up to that promotion, that would change its footing, putting it on much more solid ground. It would also help therapists better know what they were actually doing in session, in addition to listening: they would be investigating. A great body of knowledge around what constituted smart investigating could grow, all therapists could be trained in something really useful and actionable (ways of investigating), and, insofar as human nature is amenable to being investigated, finally some smart investigating could commence.

I’m calling this reframed, redefined and rebranded version of psychotherapy multi-lens therapy, to put the emphasis on where it ought to have been put all along: not on diagnosing, not on problem-solving, not even on relating (which is a good and lovely thing), but on investigating. A multi-lens therapist would be trained to look at human affairs through twenty-five specific lenses (among them the lenses of original personality, formed personality, trauma, development, family, circumstance, social connection, and life purpose and meaning) rather than reducing the enterprise to the reductionist tactic of “treating the symptoms of mental disorders.” A multi-lens therapist would be trained to accept the largeness of human reality and, as a result, would work more deeply, more powerfully—and more truthfully—with clients.

The enterprise of helping another person through talking is worth saving. It always has been worthwhile and it will always continue to be worthwhile for one person to unburden himself or herself to another person, for one person to seek advice from another person, for one person to use another person as a sensible sounding board. For psychotherapy to distinguish itself from all that, for it to represent a real body of knowledge, and for it to be useful in its own right, it needs to grow and change. It needs to become the home of smart investigating and the place where you come when something human needs figuring out. It is not that yet—but it could become that.

Why I’ve (Almost) Given Up

3/31/2019        Uncategorized 1 Comment

Phillip M. Sinaikin, M.D., M.A. (retired), Board Certified in Psychiatry

Earlier this year I participated in an online symposium sponsored by the East Side Institute in New York City. Among the participants was Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America1 and other excellent books and articles critical of medical model psychiatry. He has probably drawn more attention to this topic than anyone and has lectured all over the world. And yet during this symposium Robert clearly expressed a sense of demoralization because, as he put it, despite his and so many others’ detailed, rational and inarguable critiques of medical model DSM psychiatry “the needle hasn’t moved even a little bit.”

I too have been an active member and participant in the critical psychiatry movement while practicing clinical psychiatry for over 30 years. I have lectured, written and published in mainstream and radical literature as well as putting all my thoughts together in a 375-page book published in 2010: Psychiatryland 2. I too have not seen the needle move at all or, if it has, even further in the wrong direction toward speculative functional neurobiology justifying even more diagnoses and crazy combination psychotropic medication treatment plans.

I will be honest, it was with a great sense of relief that I retired about a year ago from active practice and really haven’t looked back. But that doesn’t mean things don’t still bug the hell out of me and occasionally prompt me to spring into action. Case in point, the political and public reaction to the Parkland school shootings. Once again, I witnessed an outcry for more mental health evaluations of children and teens to make early diagnoses of mental disorders and impose treatment that will prevent future mass shootings. In addition, while there was (briefly) a discussion about background checks for gun ownership being denied for the “mentally ill” I decided I needed to speak up. But how? Oh, I know, write an op-ed piece for a major newspaper. That should do the trick and get an important discussion going. Or so I thought….

Without going into too much detail you need to know that it seems a whole lot of people feel the need to publish op-ed opinions in major newspapers. So many in fact that the papers have all kinds of rules governing submission including the maximum number of words, topics, and whether they will even acknowledge receiving the article and that they won’t get back to you.  “If you don’t hear from us in three weeks you should assume we have elected not to publish it.”

Undaunted, I decided to go ahead, shaving down the word number when required and waiting the requisite three weeks between submissions. Here is a list of the papers I never heard back from: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Pittsburgh Press. Because I live here and could call and bug them on the phone, I did get some feedback from The Tampa Bay Times. They “passed” on the article because they saw the issue I was presenting as an internal debate in psychiatry, not an issue of urgent national concern.

So, there you have it. Another non-movement of the needle. Chuck Ruby has asked for submissions to the ISEPP Bulletin so the following is the text of my op-ed article that never saw the light of day.

1 Whitaker, R. (2003). Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill. New York, NY: Basic Books.

2Sinaikin, P. (2010). Psychiatryland: How to Protect Yourself from Pill-Pushing Psychiatrists and Develop a Personal Plan for Optimal Mental Health. IUniverse.


Who decides who is too “mentally ill” to buy a gun?

As an M.D. psychiatrist who recently retired after 33 years of work in diverse clinical settings, I am deeply concerned about the role being assigned to mental health professionals in the various proposals to end mass shootings in our schools and other public places. It seems as if the American public and policy makers continue to believe that psychiatry is a medical specialty comparable to other medical specialties such as internal medicine or oncology. It is mistakenly believed that when a patient is given a psychiatric diagnosis of, for example, bipolar disorder or ADD it represents a scientific certainty, no different from a diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease, cancer or an infection made in other medical specialties. But this is simply not the case.

Diagnoses in mental health are derived from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently in its fifth revision, the DSM 5. Deciding whether someone is or is not mentally ill, (or, technically, has a “mental disorder”), and what precisely that mental disorder is relies solely on referring to the diagnostic criteria listed in the DSM. These criteria are lists of signs (observable symptoms such as motor restlessness), and  subjectively reported symptoms such as feeling depressed or anxious or confused. Some of the most serious symptoms in psychiatry such as delusions, hallucinations or suicidal ideation are of the subjective variety and therefore prone to individual interpretation, variation and distortion.

When these symptoms and signs occur in specified clusters and are of sufficient duration and intensity, they “qualify” the patient for a particular mental disorder diagnosis. How this differs from all the other medical specialties is that in internal medicine, oncology, orthopedics and the rest, the initial diagnostic assessment of signs and symptoms is merely step one. What comes next is a battery of objective tests such as X-Rays, blood tests or biopsies to confirm the initial diagnostic impression or prove it wrong. In psychiatry, this second round of testing does not occur (other than to rule out a physical cause such as a tumor or infection causing the mental symptoms). That is because in psychiatry THERE ARE NO OBJECTIVE LAB, X-RAY OR ANY OTHER DIAGNOSTIC TESTS TO PROVE OR DISPROVE A PSYCHIATRIC DIAGNOSIS.

In psychiatry, diagnoses are made by the clinician based solely on the clinical exam and DSM criteria alone. What that means is that there is a lot of room for varying “expert” opinions in mental illness diagnosis because there are no objective and inarguable biologic tests to prove (or disprove) a DSM derived psychiatric opinion about the correct diagnosis. A misbehaving difficult child could potentially be diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder or from ADD or from oppositional defiant disorder or from “depression” or even from a brand new mental disorder just added in DSM 5: DMDD, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. Am I saying that the same child with the same “symptoms” could in fact be diagnosed with any of these widely divergent mental “disorders” depending solely on the clinical opinion of the examining psychiatrist and his or her interpretation of the presenting symptoms and the DSM criteria? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying because I have seen it time and time again in my 33 years of practice.

Although most people have been led to believe that an imbalance in brain chemicals or faulty brain circuit wiring is the underlying cause of mental illness this has never been irrefutably demonstrated in any human being to be the case, despite decades of intense research. There are no definitive biologic tests of any sort to reliably diagnose the exact nature of or cause of a mental illness from the mildest to most severe conditions. So how can we trust psychiatry to play a pivotal role in determining who is mentally ill, what precisely is wrong, what treatment is indicated and what is the prognosis? We can’t! So how should medical model psychiatry be asked to determine who can safely be allowed to own a gun?

From what I’ve read, the Parkland shooter had accumulated three widely divergent mental illness diagnoses: ADD, autism and generically described “depression.” Each of these “disorders” has its own course, treatment recommendations and prognosis. How to deal with all three at once? The Sandy Hook shooter had reportedly also received mental health evaluations and treatment with diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome (in DSM 5 now autism spectrum), depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Again, what to treat? How to treat? And, does this make someone dangerous? Should anyone with these diagnoses be kept from purchasing a gun?

In my experience, the ever-evolving, fluid and yes, still highly controversial, medical model in psychiatry is resulting in more than one mental illness diagnosis at a time becoming the norm, not the exception. And since psychiatry utilizes only about 5 classes of medications in treating the over 300 identified mental disorders in DSM 5, patients are frequently subjected to numerous medication trials and complex medication combinations, often with ambiguous results.

Medical model psychiatry is not, as yet, anything like the other branches of medicine. It is far from an exact science, in fact one could reasonably argue that it is not a science at all. I am not saying psychiatry never does anybody any good. Far from it. Psychiatrists deal with some very difficult and disturbed human beings and tries to do its best to relieve emotional pain and suffering. In addition there are numerous other disciplines such as social work, psychology and counseling to help people with emotional and behavioral problems. But most often it is the M.D. psychiatrist who has the final authority in assessing diagnosis and potential for danger to self or others. But psychiatry cannot and should not be relied upon to somehow objectively and scientifically weed out the “mentally ill” who represent a threat of mass violence and therefore would be disqualified from owning a gun. Many mental illness diagnoses refer to mild often transient emotional and behavioral disturbances, many of which might not even merit a mental disorder diagnosis, but due to insurance regulations and the requirement for a “reimbursable DSM diagnosis” to pay for mental health care, a diagnosis is nevertheless assigned. But even in the more severe conditions, violence is rare. Society needs to stop trying to fall back on the current mental illness model to predict who will become a mass shooter. We need to look elsewhere (social conditions, gun ownership laws) because current DSM medical model psychiatry won’t be of any real help.

PTSD, The Grand Scapegoat

PTSD, The Grand Scapegoat


Joe Tarantolo, M.D., Psychiatrist


The diagnosis of PTSD was created in response to pressure from Vietnam veterans who wanted to be sure of their right to receive medical and financial benefits as befitting any man (the military was minimally integrated at that time) who fought in an unpopular and hateful war. We must be clear about this to be able to take PTSD out of the sphere of medical diagnoses and place it where it belongs: a social, political, and moral position in a country ambivalent about its warriors.

If PTSD is not an illness, a medical condition, if we are clear about that, we can then be able to ask pertinent questions about the function and purpose of this pseudo-illness. What purpose does this diagnosis serve? Whereas initially, post-Vietnam, the diagnosis allowed an outlet for the country’s guilt for over 50,000 American deaths and a million Vietnamese deaths for an ill-begotten war which ultimately detracted from our world status and security, we are once again faced with harrowing questions about our national character:

(1) Are we a peace-loving or warmongering nation?

(2) Are we freedom-loving? Do we love freedom more than security?

(3) Are we committed to a noble view of the “warrior class” or is our deeper value more darkly cynical?

In answering these questions certain truths should be addressed:

(1) A large chunk of our volunteer military, perhaps a majority, seek out the military for a secure job, not out of patriotic love of country or the honor and courage associated with military service. This is particularly true in difficult economic times. We now have a type of military socialism – not quite what Eisenhower warned about a “military-industrial complex” but close – where very large numbers of the populace directly rely on the war machine to earn a living.

(2) Our freedom has been lessened, not enhanced, by the misnomer “war on terror:” restrictions on movement, unauthorized government intervention wiretaps, restrictions on habeas corpus and more. This is important given that the rationale for the war machine is to “protect our freedom,” literally die for our freedom. To understand pseudo-diagnoses one has to address Orwellian misspeak.

(3) With the perfecting of drone attacks, killing increasingly comes from afar. Killing from afar runs contrary to every cultural notion of a noble warrior class. This idea got significant play under the Clinton administration with the sending of bombers but no foot soldiers to make war on Serbia. There were actually some national/international voices calling us cowards. “Why don’t you fight like a man?!”

My thesis is that the function of the PTSD pseudo-diagnosis is that it gives voice as scapegoat to disowned parts of our national laments. We might think of PTSD as scapegoat – those with the diagnosis hold the revulsion that we can’t express more directly because of political and cultural constraint.

The PTSDer gets an enormous amount of pseudo-sympathy directed at him. The complexity is that he is also held in contempt, drugged as if he is unable to bear his memories, pathetic, requiring medical attention in lieu of compassionate understanding.

He, the PTSDer, must hold both our shame and our guilt, our guilt in that we have become the primary international killers and our shame in that we kill out of fear rather than noble cause.

A true “treatment” of PTSD needs a national voice that will not be spoken. We are not allowed to “apologize for American values” nor criticize our rationale for war. Recall, a decorated veteran (J. Kerry) of the Vietnam War, running for President, was called a liar and coward because he headed a band of vets who condemned the war. On the other side of that coin we were not allowed to criticize another nominee (J. McCain) for his bombing of innocent Viet Nam civilians.

We are now faced with an overwhelming number of veterans demanding disability benefits. I suspect much of this “disability” is the inability to speak out against the “war on terror.” Rage has become pathos, spousal abuse, suicide, homicide, drunkenness, and wounded brains. As Stan White (father of 2 vets lost because of the war on terror and who has championed better treatment of veterans) says, “Anger doesn’t accomplish anything.” Indeed.

Treatment Principles: ( The term “treatment “ is problematic but for now we are stuck with it.)

(1) Best in a group where multiple points of view are aired.

(2) Group leader quickly establishes that he does not think they have a disease.

(3) Minimal emphasis on symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, etc.

(4) The object of the intervention is clarity of thought, not in “ feeling better”.

(5) Therapist must be able to hold a whole spectrum of points of view, “ God bless America” “ God damn America”.

(6) The position of the therapist/facilitator is we are dealing with a moral, political, spiritual, existential problem, not a brain disease.

(7) Encouragement to “Speak-Up” about what you think about country, war, the “enemy”, government, leaders, particularly the negative views. In the negative views one will find the anger and ultimately the deeper sadness about themselves as “failed” warriors and failed peacemakers.

(8) The object, ultimately is to transform the military scapegoat (alias PTSD) into a role model for honest debate about who & what we are as a nation & a people.

(9) The group, as they reflect & debate will discover they are a microcosm of their country/culture debate, a debate poorly articulated. As they experience the conflict within the group, they will begin to see the conflict within each individual.

(10) Bad dreams & flashbacks are respected as the mechanism whereby we dare not forget. We must all hold the various horrors together.

The Politics of ISEPP

Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., Psychologist


Within the past few weeks, we've seen many comments on the ISEPP Listserv expressing support or displeasure with political figures in America. I'm sure you are all familiar with the current difficulties felt by many U.S. citizens and even by those beyond our borders who are significantly affected by what political leaders are doing in this country. I posted a comment about this on the Listserv encouraging people to refrain from such political postings, but given its importance, I also wanted to share my thoughts about the "politics of ISEPP" with everyone, not just members.

As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, we are prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service from endorsing or opposing any particular candidate. Also, we cannot have a substantial portion of our efforts, in time or money, spent on influencing legislation. We have filed the proper paperwork to authorize our support or opposition to specific policies and legislation, not candidates, but we have to be careful how much of our time is spent doing so in order to keep it under the "substantial portion" level.

Obviously, this prohibition does not apply to our individual members in their private lives. To the contrary, I encourage all of us to speak up about our political views, to use critical thinking in informing ourselves about significant issues, and to vote for representatives who we believe will best ensure policies consistent with our views. But, and this is very important, we cannot use ISEPP's platforms, including the Listserv, in that effort. Our other platforms that are also off limits are our website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn sites.

Our mission statement declares that ISEPP is "not affiliated with any political or religious group." While this is true, it doesn't mean ISEPP isn't political. In fact, I think the bulk of our efforts are political. What I mean by this is that our work is focused on critiquing the conventional mental health industry with the goal of eliminating the inhumanity in the system and of encouraging the development of more humane and respectful ways of assisting people who are suffering from emotional distress. Thus, our motto: "Restoring Humanity To Life."

This is a political mission in the sense that it has to do with power and who exercises that power, even when our efforts are not through formal legislative bodies. We believe in self-determination and human dignity. This means the individual should maintain that power. In opposition to this, the conventional mental health system believes they, with the backing of the State, should hold that power.

This is the power to decide whether people are acting, thinking, feeling, and believing things in socially appropriate ways. In essence, it is a moral judgment about the proper ways of being. It is a travesty that the mental health industry has been given the reigns of this power since they have no expertise in morality and shouldn't be given the authority to make moral decisions.

Laws about appropriate social behavior are necessary in a civil society, but that is the jurisdiction of representative legislatures, not medical or mental health professionals, especially since the people labeled with mental illness diagnoses are not literally ill. But, neither legislative bodies nor the mental health industry should try to prescribe or proscribe beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. That would be for each person to decide in the context of his or her own religious, spiritual, and intellectual views. ISEPP's political mission is to ensure individuals retain this power.

In order to be true to our mission, ISEPP cannot ally with any political party or candidate. We ally with political policies. Given that our focus is on creating a humane system of assistance to people in distress, and respect for human autonomy, our principles span across candidate and party lines. We support the notions of compassion for fellow human beings, self-determination, dignity and worth of human life, concern for the effects of distressing social contexts, the value of faith and trust in the "process," appropriate governmental assistance to people in distress, the ideas of personal responsibility for one's actions, and the avoidance of harm and dependency. When, as ISEPP members, we limit our support to a particular party or representative, we can weaken our ability to fulfill the mission, because no one party or candidate encompasses all these tenets and many are in opposition to them.

It is easy to get wrapped up in political intrigue. Many of the painful things we see happening among our elected representatives of all persuasions seem beyond the pale. I think our human tendency to resort to anger and attack in order to soothe intolerable feelings like this is behind the political polarization that occurs. Perhaps it is an evolutionary holdover from when anger served a survival purpose - anger is more useful than despair (I think Arnold Schwarzenegger said that in Terminator 3). For what ever reason, resorting to anger in today's world, along with the accompanying bashing, blaming, name-calling, personal attacks, demonization, and righteous indignation, does not serve us well when distressing things happen. They only make things worse.

Instead, it would behoove us to recognize the incredible variation of our desires, interests, and goals. Each of us is stuck "inside" ourselves forever and we must make choices, not only in what we do, but also in how and what to think. Our reality is limited to ourselves. This includes what kind of representatives are best for us. But, we cannot get "outside" ourselves to see a universal or absolute truth about the matter, and then go back inside in order to see if we are "right." Therefore, we must accept that fact that we will forever disagree, sometimes vehemently. But, still, it is possible to cooperate respectfully instead of competing, especially when it comes to prosecuting ISEPP's mission.

ISEPP is not a forum for political ideas outside our mission. Venturing outside that political mission will only serve to create friction among us. We have plenty of real enemies to battle, we don't need to create more within our ranks. Let's move forward together, not apart.

The Value of Depression

1/18/2019        0 Comments

Al Galves, Ph.D.

There is a problem with the conventional wisdom about mental illness.  The conventional wisdom is that mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances, genetic dynamics and brain abnormalities.  That belief encourages people to ignore the meaning of the symptoms and deprives people of an opportunity to learn valuable lessons about themselves, lessons that can help them live more the way they want to live.

If you accept the conventional wisdom, you have no interest in exploring the meaning of the symptoms or listening to what they may have to tell you.  Rather, you are encouraged to get rid of the symptoms as quickly as possible and pay no further attention to them.

But what if those symptoms had important information for people, information they need in order to lead healthy, fulfilling lives?

If you believe in evolution and natural selection you would conclude that the symptoms must have some survival value, must be useful in some ways.  Were they not useful, they would have been wiped away by natural selection a long time ago.  After all, human beings have been evolving for about 30 million years; the estimated time since humans split off from the other members of the primate family.  Any human faculty which has lasted for 30 million years must be useful to our survival and well-being in some way.

If that is true, let’s look at some of the symptoms of mental illness and see how they might be useful to us.

Here are the symptoms that are used to diagnose the most common mental illness – depression.  (Yes folks, the symptoms that are listed below, and nothing else, are used by doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose clinical depression).  You would think – considering the conventional wisdom about mental illness – that there was a more “medical” way of diagnosing depression, a blood test or brain scan.  But no, the way it is diagnosed is the doctor, psychiatrist or other mental health professional asks the patient to give a self report on the following questions:

Have you felt sad or empty most of the day, nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you experienced a markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you experienced significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (a change of more than 5 % of body weight in a month) or increase or decrease in appetite nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you experienced insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleep) nearly every day for the past two weeks? 

Have you experienced psychomotor agitation (jittery, jerky, jumpy stomach) or retardation (slowed down, sluggish, groggy) nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you felt fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you experienced feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you experienced diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day for the past two weeks?

Have you experienced recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide?

If the patient responds “Yes” to five or more of those questions and if those symptoms are causing significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning, the patient is diagnosed with clinical depression.

So if we assume that these symptoms must have some survival value, how might they be useful?  What might be going on with a person who is experiencing these symptoms?  It sounds as if s/he is very upset about something.  Something is not going right in her life.  Something is threatening her ability to live the way she wants to live, to love the way she wants to love, to work (express herself) the way she wants to work.  Something precious has been lost.  He is concerned about his life, where it is going.  Is it the job, the relationship, the kids, the demands of parenting, his social status?  He’s not going to live forever.  Maybe he needs to do something about it.

It sounds as if s/he’s under a lot of stress or, perhaps shutting down after being under a lot of stress for a long time.  Perhaps this is the body’s way of protecting itself from prolonged stress.  There are worse things that could happen – a heart attack, a stroke, cancer.  In fact, research has found a strong link between high levels of stress and depression.

This sounds like a wake-up call, a message that something is not right and something needs to be done about it.  The bodymind is saying:  “Stop doing what you’re doing.  Stop focusing on the outer world, on other people, on your spouse, your clients.  It’s time to quiet down, go inside, take a serious look at your life, get in touch with what is going on.  Stop avoiding this by drinking, drugging, working, playing, sexing, competing, winning.  You need to make some important decisions or, perhaps, accept what is true about you and your life and become more comfortable with it.  You need to do some inner work.”

Perhaps this is a reaction to the loss of something that is very precious to us.  It wouldn’t have to be the loss of a person, a job, financial security or a relationship.  It might be the loss of youth, or certainty or a sense of comfort.  If something precious has been lost, perhaps it would be healthy to spend some time experiencing the pain of that loss.

How could the painful experience of loss be helpful?  If I believe that all human faculties which have survived through the 30 million years of human evolution have to be useful, that is an obvious question.  And an answer that makes sense comes to me.  Loss is useful because it tells me what is precious to me.  It tells me in a visceral way what I want to protect and nurture and tells me in a very powerful way that I better do what I can to protect and nurture those precious things.  Valuable information indeed.

What if depression is a state of being that forces people to take a look at their social relationships and that gives them impetus to do something about changing them?  That is the hypothesis of Paul Watson, a behavioral ecologist at the University of New Mexico:

It induces us to be attentive to the structure of our social network: Who has power? Who has what opinions? How do these opinions of different social partners interact to constrain or enable us to make changes in life?  Depression may have a social planning function which helps us to plan active negotiating strategies in a sober, ruminative state so we can go out and actively negotiate ourselves into a better social position with the people who have power to help or hinder us.

Edward Hagen, an evolutionary biologist, has a similar idea.  In the ancestral situation, when humans lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes, depression may have had value in compelling other people in one’s life to make changes that were in one’s interest – to induce the members of one’s tribe to come to one’s aid.

In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore has a chapter entitled “Gifts of Depression”.  Here is one of them:

Depression grants the gift of experience not as a literal fact but as an attitude toward yourself.  You get a sense of having lived through something, of being older and wiser.  You know that life is suffering, and that knowledge makes a difference.  You can’t enjoy the bouncy, carefree innocence of youth any longer, a realization that entails both sadness because of the loss, and pleasure in a new sense of self-acceptance and self-knowledge.  This awareness of age has a halo of melancholy around it, but it also enjoys a measure of nobility.

Medical researcher Antonio Damascio found that people who couldn’t feel bad couldn’t make good use of their reasoning powers.  In his book Descarte’s Error, he describes his work with people who couldn’t process feelings because of lesions in the amygdalas of their brains.  Not being able to feel bad, they were unable to make good decisions about their finances, business practices, relationships, etc.  They might buy a stock and see that it was losing value.  But, not feeling bad about it, they wouldn’t take any corrective action.

So I am suggesting that, when we experience the symptoms of depression, we would do well to spend some time and effort wondering about what has brought them on?  Have I lost something that is valuable to me?  Am I concerned about my life, my love relationships, my work, my ability to enjoy life and live the way I want to live?  Am I concerned about myself, my ability to work effectively, to pursue a satisfying career, to maintain satisfying love relationships?  Have I been under stress for a long time?  If so, what is causing the stress response?

But wait a minute.  Let’s not get too sanguine about this.  Depression is associated with suicide.  It is a very debilitating state of being.  Severe depression keeps people from doing any of the things that make life worth living – loving, working, playing, expressing, enjoying.  Let’s be careful not to make light of a debilitating and dangerous state of being.

Yes, we need some balance here.  Perhaps, depression is like many things which are good and useful in moderate amounts but dangerous and deathly in extreme amounts.  Included in that list would be the stress response, alcohol, strychnine and water, among others.  Perhaps what makes sense is to make a distinction between moderate depression and severe depression.  Perhaps, keeping severely depressed people from killing themselves, hurting others or falling into permanent disability calls for extreme measures – psychotropic drugs, treatment in psychiatric hospitals.

Balance makes sense.  But that’s not where we are today.  Today, more and more people respond to symptoms of moderate depression by ingesting antidepressant drugs, drugs which make it harder for them to experience the emotions and thoughts which might be valuable to them.  Antidepressants are among the five most heavily prescribed drugs in the United States.  People are going to psychiatrists and other doctors.  The doctor asks them the nine questions.  If they answer “Yes” to five or more of them, the doctor writes a prescription.  There is no time spent exploring what might be going on in the person’s life or how they are responding to their lives that might explain the symptoms.  

Most of us don’t have the luxury of taking off two or three days to spend in that kind of contemplation.  But we could find some time during every day to quietly allow ourselves to experience what is going on inside.  We could even take some vacation time or sick leave to spend several days on it, perhaps with the help of friends or a therapist.

If you decide to do that, here are some suggestions.

I would recommend that you find a psychotherapist to work with, somebody with whom you feel comfortable, who you sense will respect you and help you come up with your own answers.  There is something healthy about being able to say things to another human being that you have not said to anyone else, to let your hair down and expose yourself, knowing that nothing you say or do will go out of the room.  There is value in becoming more comfortable with the symptoms and looking for the meaning and potential usefulness in them.  Becoming more accepting of what is true about yourself is profoundly healing.  Therapists can help you do that.

I would recommend that you spend some time just sitting by yourself in quietness, perhaps using some of the simple relaxation or meditation exercises that you can find on the internet or in various books (my favorite is the mindfulness meditation of Jon Kabat-Zinn).  Just sitting and noticing whatever thoughts or feelings come up and paying some attention to them - not necessarily hanging onto them or doing anything with them – just noticing them.

I would recommend that you do some things that are enjoyable – perhaps reading books or articles that you want to read and definitely getting some good exercise – running, walking, bicycling, swimming, skiing.

The bottom line is that I urge you to regard the symptoms, no matter how painful and debilitating,  as a message of meaning, a message that contains valuable information that can help you live a healthier and more satisfying life.  And I encourage you to make an effort to understand the meaning of the symptoms and to use the information they offer to live more the way you want to live.

The Zombie Theory: The Era of Medical Experimentalism (Part 2)

1/18/2019        0 Comments

The reproducibility of published experiments is the foundation of science. No reproducibility – no science." - Moshe Pritsker, Ph.D., CEO of JoVE1

By the turn of the 20th century medical science had fully embraced empiricism – the philosophy that knowledge is determined by rational experiments perceived by our senses. Proof rather than deduction or revelation was the new measuring stick. Experiments were designed, theories created, measurements taken, successes heralded, and experimenters often rewarded with fame and fortune. As important, empiricism brought with it the process by which all modern science is evaluated: the scientific method. The formality and rigor of this process was transformational in science. It’s worth a quick review.

The Scientific Method

The 5-step scientific method is simple to describe, and difficult to implement – and that is the point of this exacting process. The technique is designed to create empirical evidence – sometimes referred to as sense experience – utilizing the tools of observation and experiment. Results must be measurable in the physical world. When done as designed, the method provides quantifiable observations to the scientist - the facts of an experiment. In turn, the scientist provides an explanation of the facts – the theory of an experiment.

Step 1 of the scientific method requires the scientist to ask a question about nature, to make detailed observations and to gather information. In Step 2 the scientist forms a hypothesis (theory) about the observations and creates specific predictions. Next, in Step 3 the scientist tests the predictions with a detailed, observable, quantifiable experiment. Step 4 requires the scientist to analyze the data, to draw conclusions, and to accept, reject or modify the hypothesis. Finally, and most importantly, Step 5 compels the scientist to provide step-by-step directions to duplicate the experiment, and a new scientist must independently reproduce the experiment and find the same results before any knowledge can be proclaimed.

Turn-of-the-century medics must have been truly inspired. For the first time they could listen to – and see – telltale signs of health inside a living body. They could anesthetize their patients prior to surgery, and they used sterilized instruments in a disinfected operating room, blood transfusions available as needed. As important, given the overwhelming success of Pasteur’s germ theory, new hypotheses were being introduced at a fast pace, each theory looking for other likely “germs” that were the root cause of so much human suffering.

Thus, 20th century medical experimentalism launched with new tools, a new paradigm and a multitude of exciting projects. To kick off this new era, two medical devices were revamped during the last decade of the 19th century, setting the stage for the incredible 100 years to follow: the microscope and the culture dish.

Let There Be Light

August Köhler2 was a student of zoology, botany, mineralogy, physics, and chemistry in late 19th century Germany. As a young, post-graduate staff member at Carl Zeiss AG (an optical systems manufacturer) he developed Köhler Illumination. Kohler’s invention produced even lighting across the field of view and greatly enhanced the contrast of the light microscope. During the next 45 years Kohler contributed to numerous other innovations including fluorescence microscopy and grid illumination, a method used in the treatment of tumors.

Around the same time, Julius Richard Petri was working for the Imperial Health Office in Berlin. Lab scientists were uniformly frustrated. In order to observe cultures through a microscope the cover had to be removed, exposing the bacteria to contaminants like dust, hair, and human breath. Petri had the simple idea of placing a slightly larger clear glass dish upside down over the culture dish to protect it from the external environment and, according to one science writer, “changed medical history.”Petri moved on to work in a lab in Germany for the rest of his career where he published nearly 150 papers about the spread of diseases.

“Magic Bullets”

Another German, Paul Erlich4, coined the term “chemotherapy” in 1900. Erlich theorized toxic compounds could be created to selectively target a variety of disease-causing organisms. He predicted future chemists would produce substances to seek out these disease-causing agents, dubbing the substances “magic bullets.” Erlich’s forecast was accurate. “Magic bullets” began to to materialize in science labs around the world. By 1901 blood types were discovered by Austrian Karl Landsteiner, in 1906 Frederick Hopkins discovered vitamins in England, and a Canadian, Sir Frederick Banting, discovered insulin in 1921.

It was a banner century for another “magic bullet”: the vaccine. The most celebrated was Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Once introduced in the United States (some may remember the March of Dimes immunization campaign in the early 1950’s) the annual number of polio cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957. By 1961 only 161 cases were recorded in the United States. Medical science also gave us vaccines for bacterial meningitis, chickenpox, haemophilus influenza, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, mumps, papillomavirus, pneumococcus, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, typhoid, tick encephalitis, whooping cough and yellow fever – saving and changing the lives of millions of people.

The Century’s Preeminent “Magic Bullet” – Penicillin

Before antibiotics (lit. against-life), 90% of children with bacterial meningitis died, strep throat was often fatal, and even minor infections would often lead to serious illness and death. Then in 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming5, a Scottish biologist and pharmacologist, made a fortuitous discovery from a discarded Petri dish. The mold that had contaminated an experiment turned out to contain a powerful antibiotic: penicillin. This one discovery, and the analogues to follow, has saved hundreds of millions of lives around the world. Fleming also predicted science would find many new “bacteria killers.” He was right too. Today there are thousands of antibiotics, more created every year.

More “Magic Bullets”

Here is a selection of “magic bullets” discovered and invented during the 20th century (there are many others):

• Arsphenamine for syphilis (1910)

• Nitrogen mustard – first cancer drug (1946)
• Acetaminophen (1948)

• Tetracycline (1955)
• Oral contraception – “the pill" (1960)

• Propranolol – first beta blocker (1962)

• Cyclosporine - immunosuppressant (1970)
• Lovastatin (Mevacor) - first statin (1987)

Procedures

There were amazing number of new procedures created by modern medicine over these 100 years too. Here’s a list of some of the “firsts”:

• Electrocardiogram (1903)

• Stereotactic surgery (1908)
• Laparoscopy (1910)


• Electroencephalogram (1929)
• Dialysis machine (1943)

• Heart-Lung Machine (1953)

• Ultrasound (1953)
• Kidney transplant (1954)
• Pacemaker (1958)

• "Test Tube Baby” (1959)
• Liver transplant (1963)
• Lung transplant (1963)

• Pancreas transplant (1966)
• Heart transplant (1967)
• MRI (1971)

• CAT Scan, (1971)

• Insulin pump (1972)

• Laser eye surgery (1973)

• Liposuction (1974)

• Heart-lung transplant (1981)
• Surgical Robot (1985)

Mankind has been the beneficiary of these creations and we gratefully acknowledge and salute medical science for their wondrous contributions, inclusive of all medical specialties – save one.

Again - What About Madness?

Medical scientists addressing madness contributed to this otherwise spectacular century with four “magic bullets” of their own during the first 50 years of the century, each an unmitigated disaster. The first three are collectively called Shock Therapies and include, Deep Sleep Therapy, Convulsive Therapy, and Insulin Shock Therapy. The fourth is Psychosurgery. Here’s a review.

Deep Sleep Therapy (DST)

Jakob Klaesi, a Swiss psychiatrist re-popularized DST in 1920 (after two failed attempts earlier in the century) using Sonmifen (a sedative) for his schizophrenia patients. For the next 20 years Klaesi and his colleagues dominated the mental health hospital circuit in Zurich using DST, despite high mortality rates and never ending doubts about efficacy. Undeterred, DST was promoted by many eminent psychiatrists of the time, including William Sargant of Great Britain:

"All sorts of treatment can be given while the patient is kept sleeping, including a variety of drugs. . . the patient does not know how long he has been asleep, or what treatment, even including ECT, he has been given. . . a new exciting beginning in psychiatry and the possibility of a treatment era such as followed the introduction of anesthesia in surgery."

The Australian Chelmsford scandal of 1983 finally put an end to this toxic procedure. Dr. Harry Bailey was in charge of Chelmsford Private Hospital in Australia and DST was the primary treatment for madness. Over sixteen years, 27 deaths were directly connected to DST with another 24 reports of suicide in the same year patients received treatment. Facing condemnation from families, the general public and the government, Bailey committed suicide in 1985.6 The scandal brought about new stringent laws and regulations regarding psychiatric care in Australia.7

Convulsive Therapy

Convulsive therapy took hold quickly. In 1934 Ladislas J. Meduna, a Hungarian neuropsychiatrist known as the “father of convulsive therapy,” used metrazol (a stimulant) to induce seizures in patients with schizophrenia and epilepsy. By 1937, the first international meeting on convulsive therapy was convened in Switzerland, and by 1940 metrazol-convulsive therapy was being used worldwide.

Around the same time Ugo Cerletti, an Italian neuropsychiatrist, was using electric shocks to produce seizures in his animal experiments. He noticed when pigs were given an electric shock before being butchered, they were in an “anesthetized state.” With his colleague Lucio Bini, they replaced metrazol and other chemicals with electricity. As a bonus, they surmised, ECT brought about retrograde amnesia so patients had no ill feelings about a treatment they could not remember. Cheaper and more convenient, ECT replaced chemical-induced convulsive therapy and by 1940 was being used in England, Germany, Austria, and the United States. (NOTE: Cerletti and Bini were nominated, though not selected, for a Nobel Prize.)

There was a marked decline in the use of ECT from 1950s to the 1970s because the public perceived the procedure as dangerous, inhumane and overused.8 However, because ECT was convenient and cost-effective, mental health providers balked. By 1985, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) convened a conference on ECT and concluded, while controversial, ECT was effective for a narrow range of psychiatric disorders. In 2001 the American Psychiatric Association expanded the role of ECT and, by 2017, ECT was covered by most insurance companies. This incredibly cruel and torturous “treatment procedure” is gaining popularity - again.9

Insulin Shock Therapy (or Insulin Coma Therapy)10

Dr. Manfred Sakel was a young doctor in Vienna in 1928 when he was given the task to reduce the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms of opiates. Experimenting with a newly discovered pancreatic hormone – insulin – he unexpectedly found a large dose would cause his patients to go into a stupor and, once recovered, were less argumentative, less hostile, and less aggressive. Thus, Insulin Shock Therapy (IST) was born. For the next 30 years IST was the go-to method for tens of thousands of mental health patients as IST doctors proudly proclaimed an “80 per cent cure rate for schizophrenia.” 11

The actual procedure was intense. Insulin injections were administered six days a week for two months or more as the daily dose was gradually increased until hour-long comas were produced. Seizures before or during the coma were common as were hypoglycemic aftershocks. Often patients were subjected to ECT while comatized. Given the profuse cases of brain damage – and an estimated mortality risk rate ranging from 1-5%12 – IST fell out of use in the United States, and nearly everywhere else, by the 1970s.13

Psychosurgery

In 1930 Antonio Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, used the term “leucotomy” (lobotomy) for the first time to describe a surgical operation that destroys brain tissue by extraction, burning, freezing, electrical current or radiation. The objective is to sever the connections between the frontal lobes and deeper structures in the brain. Approximately 40,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States alone from 1930 to 1970. By the way, the majority (nearly two thirds) were performed on women.14

Use declined rapidly due to increased concern about deaths and brain damage caused by the operation, and by the introduction of neuroleptic drugs. By the mid-1970s the use of psychosurgery had declined to about 100–150 operations a year and disappeared completely by the 1980’s. Remarkably, Moniz (and Walter Rudolf Hess) shared the Nobel Prize in 1949 for this discovery, though not without controversy that still exists in the scientific community.15

What A Century

For medical scientists focused on physical human ailments, it was a stupendous century. Life expectancy is approaching 80 years in the United States, up from 50 years at the beginning of the 20th century. We are routinely treated with medicines and procedures for debilitating diseases that diminished, disfigured and often killed our ancestors not long ago. As important, the consistency and precision provided by empiricism and the scientific method paid off for all medical specialties during those amazing 100 years – save one.

For medical scientists focused on madness it’s been one grotesque failure after another. These scientists put us to sleep for weeks at a time, induced comas for months at a time, used chemicals and electricity to convulse us, and surgically destroyed our brain tissue, all in an effort to fix our brain diseases. Along the way all of them ballyhooed their successes, using their special brand of science and patient testimonials to convince us of the medical necessity and efficacy of their “magic bullets.”

Then in 1950, as if a reprieve for past travesties, a fifth “magic bullet” appeared: neuroleptic (lit. nerve-effecting) drugs. This new state-of-the-art medicine was primed to replace the first four fiascos. Given the track record of Psychiatric Medical Model Theory (PMMT), it’s a wonder anyone took them serious.

Unfortunately, nearly everyone did.

NEXT TIME: Part 3: Thorazine to the Rescue

Medicine men devised all manners of disabling methods—for three centuries—finally discovering drugs as an easy and efficient means of achieving disability."
- David West Keirsey, Disable Madmen, (https://professorkeirsey.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/disable-madman-part-i/)


Endnotes
1The Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes experimental methods in video format. https://www.jove.com/.

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_K%C3%B6hler.

3 How Julius Richard Petri's Dishes Changed Medical History
https://www.medicaldaily.com/how-julius-richard-petris-dishes-changed-medical-history-246396.

4 Erlich shared the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Élie Metchnikoff for their contributions to the field of immunology.

5 Fleming, Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain jointly shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.

6 You can read more about this at https://chelmsfordblog.wordpress.com/aftermath-of-the-scandal/

7 In her book First Half, Toni Lamond described her experience at Chelmsford: "I was given a semi-private room. On the way to it I saw several beds along the corridors with sleeping patients. The patient in the other bed in my room was also asleep. I thought nothing of it at the time. Although it was mid-morning, the stillness was eerie for a hospital that looked to be full to overflowing. I was given a handful of pills to take and the next thing I remember was Dr Bailey standing by the bed asking how I felt. I told him I'd had a good night's sleep. He laughed and informed me it was ten days later and, what's more, he had taken some weight off me. I was checked out of the hospital and this time noticed the other patients were still asleep or being taken to the bathroom while out on their feet." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_sleep_therapy.

8 Later on, the public’s negative perception of ECT was further tarnished by the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

9 Read about Pennsylvania’s Rotenberg Center at https://doctorcima.com/2012/06/

10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin_shock_therapy#Decline

11 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin_shock_therapy

12 Ebaugh, FG. (1943). A review of the drastic shock therapies in the treatment of the psychoses. Annals of Internal Medicine. 18 (3): 279–296. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-18-3-279.

13 In 1953, British psychiatrist Harold Bourne published The Insulin Myth, arguing there was no sound basis for believing that insulin counteracted the schizophrenic process. He said treatment “worked” because patients were chosen for their good prognosis and were given special treatment. Bourne submitted the article to the Journal of Mental Science. After a 12-month delay, Bourne received a rejection, telling him to "get more experience." https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Insulin_shock_therapy.html

14 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobotomy. In addition, in Japan the majority of lobotomies were performed on children with behavior problems.

15 There have been calls in the early 21st century for the Nobel Foundation to rescind the prize it awarded to Moniz, characterizing the decision at the time as an astounding error in judgment. To date, the foundation has declined to take action and has continued to defend the results of the procedure.

Does Mental Illness Exist?

1/18/2019        Uncategorized 0 Comments

Wayne Ramsay, J.D.

All diagnoses and treatment in psychiatry assumes the validity of the concept of mental illness or mental disorder.  Coverage for psychiatric and other mental health treatment in health insurance policies is based on the same assumption.  However, many mental health professionals have questioned the validity of the concepts of mental illness and mental disorder.

The best known of these is psychiatry professor Thomas Szasz, M.D., whose book The Myth of Mental Illness was published in 1961.1

However, even before this, in 1958, Philadelphia psychiatrist Philip Q. Roche, M.D., who was winner of the American Psychiatric Association's Isaac Ray Award for outstanding contributions to forensic psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of jurisprudence, in his book The Criminal Mind, said:

[I]n the natural world there is no such thing as mental disease or defect, but rather certain patterns of behavior to which, in a given social context, we apply certain names which enable us to talk about and to effect certain changes in the social relationships of those who exhibit them and to effect changes in the individuals themselves. At best, we are left to the imposition of purely arbitrary criteria in selecting such persons.2

In his testimony before the Mental Health Committee of the New York State Assembly (state legislature) on May 18, 2001, neurologist John Friedberg, M.D., said, “I do not believe in mental illness....Psychiatric drugs and electroshock inflict real injury in the name of treating fictive maladies.”3

In 2012, neurologist Fred A. Baughman, M.D., said “there is no such thing whatsoever as a psychiatric or psychological disease.”4

In 2018, Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., a psychologist and Executive Director of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP), said “The conventional mental health industry goes to great lengths in an attempt to perpetuate the myth of mental illness ... ISEPP's goal is to dispel the myth of mental illness....The problems we've dubbed mental illnesses are about inter- and intra-personal, spiritual, existential, economic, and political matters, not real disease."5

In 2013, in their book Mad Science, Stuart A. Kirk, D.S.W., Tomi Gomory, Ph.D., and David Cohen, Ph.D., said:

…we have argued, the existence of a disease of mental illness has never been established...together we've amassed over seventy five years of teaching mental health courses in graduate schools of social work to thousands of students and practitioners...after more than ten decades of determined research and the expenditure of untold sums, no one can verify that madness is a medical disease....There is, of course, the unpredictable but remote possibility that the psychiatric system produces it's ‘Gorbachev,’ a widely acknowledged leader and spokesperson who says plainly and loudly that the emperor has no clothes, that while many people could use help for their distress or have their disturbance contained to preserve our peace of mind, there is no mental illness.6

In a lecture in 2015, psychologist Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., said, “Nobody should be diagnosed with mental illness.”  After her lecture I asked Dr. Caplan if she really meant nobody.  She said yes and that is the reason the concept of mental illness itself is not valid.7

In 2015, in his book Deadly Psychiatry and Organized Denial, Dr. Peter C. Gøtzsche, a physician specializing in internal medicine, and professor of Clinical Research Design and Analysis at the University of Copenhagen, said:

Quite often, psychiatrists prefer to talk about a mental disorder, rather than a mental illness or disease, which is because psychiatric diagnoses are social constructs....psychiatrists have blown life into a social construct that is nothing but a variation of normal behavior and have given this construct a name, as if it existed in nature and could attack people.”8

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “social construct” as “an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a society”.9  Physical realities are not social constructs. For example, cancer is not a social construct.  Cancer is not a social construct because it exists whether we believe in it or not.  On the other hand, “crime” is a social construct: There is nothing in nature that defines hurting or killing a person or an animal as wrong.  Crime exists only because we define certain actions as crimes or our common agreement that certain things are crimes.

My argument here is that “mental illness” is only a social construct, not a real disease.  Mental illness exists only in the way crime exists and does not exist in the way cancer does.  There is no evidence for mental illness or disorder as a biological fact rather than as a social construct:

In 1974, in his book The Death of Psychiatry, psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., wrote, “None of the conditions that we now call mental ‘diseases’ have any known structural or functional changes in the brain which have been verified as causal.”10

In 1988, Seymour S. Kety, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience in Psychiatry, and Steven Matthysse, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychobiology, both of Harvard Medical School, said “an impartial reading of the recent literature does not provide the hoped for clarification of the catecholamine hypotheses, nor does compelling evidence emerge for other biological differences that may characterize the brains of patients with mental disease.”11

In 1992, a panel of experts assembled by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment concluded: “Many questions remain about the biology of mental disorders.  In fact, research has yet to identify specific biological causes for any of these disorders....Mental disorders are classified on the basis of symptoms because there are as yet no biological markers or laboratory tests for them.”12

In 1996, psychiatrist David Kaiser, M.D., said “modern psychiatry has yet to convincingly prove the genetic/biologic cause of any single mental illness.”13

In 1998 in his book Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, Elliot S. Valenstein, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, said: “Contrary to what is often claimed, no biochemical, anatomical, or functional signs have been found that reliably distinguish the brains of mental patients.”14

According to neurologist Fred Baughman, M.D., in 1999, “there is no scientific data to confirm any mental illness.”15

In 1999, in their textbook Neurobiology of Mental Illness, three psychiatry professors at Yale University School of Medicine (Dennis S. Charney, M.D. et al.) said “We have so far failed to identify bona fide psychiatric disease genes or to delineate the precise etiological and pathophysiological basis of mental disorders.”16

In 2000, in his book Prozac Backlash, Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said “In medicine, strict criteria exist for calling a condition a disease.  In addition to a predictable cluster of symptoms, the cause of the symptoms or some understanding of their physiology must be established....Psychiatry is unique among medical specialties in that...We do not yet have proof either of the cause or the physiology for any psychiatric diagnosis.”17

In 2001, in his book Commonsense Rebellion: Debunking Psychiatry, Confronting Society, psychologist Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., said “no biochemical, neurological, or genetic markers have been found for attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, compulsive alcohol and drug abuse, overeating, gambling, or any other so called mental illness, disease, or disorder.”18

In 2009, Allen Frances, M.D., chairperson of the Task Force that created two editions of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM IV (1994) and DSM IV TR (2000), criticizing the proposed Fifth Edition of this book published in May 2013, noted that “not even 1 biological test is ready for inclusion in the criteria sets for DSM V.”19  In 2013, in his book Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out of Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM 5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life, Dr. Frances said “The powerful new tools of molecular biology, genetics, and imaging have not yet led to laboratory tests for dementia or depression or schizophrenia or bipolar or obsessive compulsive disorder or for any other mental disorders...We still do not have a single laboratory test in psychiatry....thousands of studies on hundreds of putative biological markers [for mental illness] have so far come up empty.”20

In a lecture at the University of New England in 2013, British psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Sciences at University College London, said “There is just absolutely no evidence that anyone with any mental disorder has a chemical imbalance of any sort...absolutely none.”21

In 1991, in his book Toxic Psychiatry, psychiatrist Peter Breggin, M.D., said “there is no evidence that any of the common psychological or psychiatric disorders have a genetic or biological component.”22 Twenty-four years later, on the Coast to Coast AM radio show on February 9, 2015, Dr. Breggin said “There is no known physical connection to any psychiatric disorder. There is no genetically determined cause. It's all drug company propaganda, because the pharmaceutical industry with its billions of [advertising] dollars, and the medical industry, thinks you're more likely to take drugs if you think you have a genetic or biological disease.”

In 2015, in his book Deadly Psychiatry and Organized Denial, Dr. Peter C. Gøtzsche, a physician specializing in internal medicine, and professor of Clinical Research Design and Analysis at the University of Copenhagen, said “it hasn't been possible to demonstrate that people suffering from common mental disorders have brains that are different from healthy people's brains.”23

So, if mental illnesses, mental diseases, or mental disorders or syndromes must have a biological etiology or cause to qualify as illness, disease, disorder, or syndrome, none have been proved to exist.

Mental illness being a social construct and not a real illness, disease, syndrome, or disorder is illustrated by the fact that homosexuality was once considered mental illness or disorder but is not now in 2019.  Homosexuality was officially defined as a mental disease or disorder on page 44 of the American Psychiatric Association's standard reference book, DSM II: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the 2nd Edition), published in 1968.  In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its official diagnostic categories of mental illness.24  So when the third edition of this book was published in 1980 it said “homosexuality itself is not considered a mental disorder.”25  The 1987 edition of The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy states: “The American Psychiatric Association no longer considers homosexuality a psychiatric disease.”26  If mental illness were really an illness in the same sense that physical illnesses are, the idea of deleting homosexuality or anything else from the concept of illness by having a vote would be as absurd as a group of physicians voting to delete cancer or measles from the concept of disease.  But mental illness isn't “an illness like any other illness.”  Unlike physical disease where there are physical facts to deal with, mental “illness” is entirely a question of values, of right and wrong, of appropriate versus inappropriate.  After homosexuals successfully demanded acceptance of their sexual orientation, it no longer seemed appropriate to call homosexuality a “disorder.”

If anyone should be able to define what is and is not a mental disorder, it is Allen Frances, M.D., chairperson of the Task Force that created the 1994 and 2000 editions of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  According to Dr. Frances, “there is no definition of a mental disorder.  It's bullshit.  I mean, you just can't define it.”27

Actually, you can: The defining characteristic of a mental illness or disorder is simply disapproval: Anything in a person's mentality that most people greatly disapprove of qualifies. This is true whether it is homosexuality or unusual political or religious beliefs, or anything else.  For example, when the “New Hampshire Hospital was established, in 1842...in the first year, more than a quarter of admitted patients suffered from an ‘overindulgence in religious thoughts,’ with several claiming to be prophets”.28  Political dissidents have been committed to mental hospitals in the Soviet Union and China29 — and the USA: When I observed commitment hearings in Washington, D.C., many were “White House cases,” people who went to the White House to protest something and were involuntarily “hospitalized.”

Today's almost universal belief in mental illness can be compared with another, at one time, almost universal belief that was also only a social construct: witchcraft.  Belief in witchcraft resulted in the infamous Salem witchcraft trials and the conviction and execution of supposed witches.  A witch was defined as a person who was in league with the Devil and had supernatural powers.  There actually were no such persons.  Just as it was impossible to be a witch, it is impossible to be “mentally ill” in a genuinely biological, medical, or scientific sense. Scientific determination that a person is mentally ill is as impossible as scientific determination that someone is a jerk.  Calling someone mentally ill or disordered reveals an attitude rather than stating a fact.

What if we did find a biological cause of a supposed mental illness or disorder?  Were that to happen, psychiatry professor Thomas Szasz once said, the finding of a physical cause would make the problem a physical illness, and whatever mental changes occurred as a result would be symptoms of bodily disease.30  For example, brain cancer, stroke, and bacterial or viral infection of the brain are not usually considered causes of mental illness even when they cause abnormalities in thinking or behavior.  Since nothing can be an “illness” (or disease or syndrome or disorder) without a biological abnormality, and the finding of a biological abnormality makes the problem a physical illness rather than a mental illness, “mental illness” is actually an oxymoron or nonsensical term.

People can and do experience debilitating depression, anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, phobias, panic attacks, hallucinations, and delusions, and they may be violent or suicidal, but there is no evidence the reason is usually or typically biological abnormalities or, in other words, illnesses.

Because “mental illness” is an invalid concept, all laws predicated on “mental illness” should be repealed or invalidated by courts.  Nothing should ever happen because of diagnosis of fictitious disease.

References

(1) Thomas S. Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness (Harper & Row 1961). 

(2)  Philip Q. Roche, The Criminal Mind (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy 1958), p. 253. 

(3) John M. Friedberg, M.D., “Neurologist John M. Friedberg on ECT”, May 18, 2001, http://ectjustice.com/neurologist-john-m-friedberg-on-ect/, accessed January 5, 2019.

(4) Fred A. Baughman, M.D., in his lecture at the Empathic Therapy Conference 2012, “The ADHD Stimulant Epidemic”, at 33 minute, 2 seconds point, available on DVD at EmpathicTherapy.org. 

(5)  Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., April 2018 Bulletin of the International Society for Ethical Psychology & Psychiatry, https://psychintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Apr-2018.pdf, accessed January 5, 2019

(6)  Stuart A. Kirk, D.S.W., Tomi Gomory, Ph.D., & David Cohen, Ph.D., Mad Science (Transaction Publishers 2013), pp. 195, 301, 302, 328, italics in original, underline added. 

(7)  Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., “Diagnosisgate”, conference of National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (narpa.org), Washington, D.C., August 23, 2015. 

(8) Dr. Peter C. Gøtzsche, Deadly Psychiatry and Organized Denial (People's Press 2015), pp. 26 & 145. 

(9) “Social construct”, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20construct?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld, accessed January 5, 2019.

(10)  E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., The Death of Psychiatry (Penguin Books 1974), pp. 38-39. 

(11)  Seymour S. Kety, M.D. & Steven Matthysse, Ph.D. in Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. (ed.), The New Harvard Guide to Psychiatry (Harvard University Press 1988), p. 148.

(12)  The Biology of Mental Disorders (U.S. Gov't Printing Office 1992), pp. 13, 14, 46, 47. 

(13)  David Kaiser, M.D., “Commentary: Against Biologic Psychiatry”, Psychiatric Times, December 1996, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/bipolar-disorder/commentary-against-biologic-psychiatry, accessed January 5, 2019.

(14)  Elliot S. Valenstein, Ph.D., Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health (Free Press 1998), p. 125.

(15)  Fred Baughman, Insight magazine, June 28, 1999, p. 13.

(16) Dennis S. Charney, M.D. et al., Neurobiology of Mental Illness (Oxford Univ. Press 1999), p. vii.  

(17)  Joseph Glenmullen, M.D.,, Prozac Backlash (Simon & Schuster 2000), pp. 192, 193. 

(18) Bruce Levine, Ph.D., Commonsense Rebellion (Continuum 2001), p. 277.  

(19) Allen Frances, M.D., “A Warning Sign on the Road to DSM V”, Psychiatric Times, June 26, 2009, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/diagnostic-and-statistical-manual-mental-disorders/warning-sign-road-dsm-v-beware-its-unintended-consequences, accessed January 5, 2019.

(20)  Allen Frances, M.D., Saving Normal (Harper¬Collins 2013), pp. 10, 11, 244.  

(21)  “Joanna Moncrieff—The Myth of the Chemical Cure; The Politics of Psychiatric Drug Treatment”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IV1S5zw096U, at 53 minutes, 52 seconds point, accessed January 5, 2019.

(22)  Peter Breggin, M.D., Toxic Psychiatry (St. Martin's Press 1991), p. 291.

(23)  Dr. Peter Gøtzsche, Deadly Psychiatry and Organized Denial (People's Press 2015), p. 26. 

(24)  “An Instant Cure”, Time magazine, April 1, 1974, p. 45. 

(25)   American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed. (DSM-III - 1980), p. 282. 

(26)  Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 15th edition, 1987, p. 1495.

(27)  Allen Frances, M.D., quoted  by Gary Greenberg, “Inside the Battle to Define Mental Illness”, Wired Magazine, December 27, 2010, https://www.wired.com/2010/12/ff_dsmv/ , accessed January 5, 2019.

(28)  Rachel  Aviv, “God Knows Where I Am”, in M. Kaku (ed.), Best American Science Writing 2012 (HarperCollins 2012), p. 246-247. 

(29)  Richard J. Bonnie, LL.B.,“Political Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union and in China”,  J.Am.Acad.Psych.Law 30:136-44 (2002), http://jaapl.org/content/jaapl/30/1/136.full.pdf, accessed January 5, 2019

(30)  Thomas S. Szasz, Lexicon of Lunacy (Routledge 1993), p. 33.

Recommended Video

“There is no such thing as mental illness”, Stefan Molyneux, YouTube.com (2011)

THE AUTHOR, Wayne Ramsay, is a lawyer with the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights.org).

The Case Against Randomized Controlled Trials – An Initial Foray Existential Psychoanalysis: Is It Art, Science or Self Healing Miracle?

Joe Tarantolo, M.D., Psychiatrist


“… the tyranny of randomized controlled experiments…” (David Brooks, New York Times, October 8, 2018)

“… Science Without Humanity…” is 1 of the 7 deadly sins of Mahatma Gandhi

“Most clinical research is not useful.” (John Ioannides, MD - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uok-7NPFn4k)

“… it is essential that psychoanalysis be situated as an existing practice within the art of science… a controlled randomized comparison study has not been conducted…” (Dr. Aida Alayarian, J.A.S.P.E.R. International, 2018 Vol 2, Issue 1)

When in confusion about good and evil, it is often helpful to turn to Nazi atrocities for clarification. Although the Third Reich did not/has not cornered the market on “bad,” they were expert and like many clever evil doers they sucked in those with an insecure hold on their own morals. They did many heinous “experiments” but the most famous was the Dachau hypothermia experiments. Robert L. Berger, MD examined these experiments (see “Nazi Science – the Dachau Hypothermia Experiments, NEJM, 1990, Vol 322:1435-1440.) The experiments were directed by Sigmund Rascher, a deadbeat Nazi with no experience in scientific research who wanted to impress Himmler. The debate has been: given the unethical malice of the experiments – at least 80 of the 300 “volunteers” died – should the data be used anyway in the hope that they, the data, at least might contribute to scientific knowledge? Allegedly Dr. Rascher wanted to find the best way to re-warm soldiers and pilots who were subjected to cold water i.e. sinking ships, crashed airplanes. In sum (I’d rather not give details of the sickening experiments) Dr. Berger demonstrates the scientific uselessness of these experiments: “…critical shortcomings in scientific content and credibility… without an orderly experimental protocol… with inadequate methods and an erratic execution… riddled with inconsistencies… data falsification and… fabrication… [unsupportable] conclusions… a consistent pattern of dishonesty and deception… all the ingredients of a scientific fraud…”

But, there is a problem here for me. There is the implication that if Rascher had not been a medical nincompoop, had been a serious intellectual, had adhered to coherent scientific protocol, maybe then the data would pass muster, putting aside the obvious ethical lapses – clearly these were not “volunteers” fully informed about risk! My contention is that science without humanity is not only a “sin” but it is useless. As David Cohen and David Jacobs point out, Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT) of antidepressants are “clinically and scientifically irrelevant” (see Cohen & Jacobs (2010). Randomized Controlled Trials of Antidepressants: Clinically and Scientifically Irrelevant, The Institute of Mind and Behavior, Inc., 31:1,2, pp. 1-22; & Jacobs & Cohen (2010). The Make-Believe World of Antidepressant Randomized Controlled Trials — An Afterword to Cohen and Jacobs. The Institute of Mind and Behavior, Inc., 31:1,2, pp. 23-36).

I believe this goes for all RCTs.

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PLACEBO IS A BASTARDIZATION OF SELF HEALING

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Cohen and Jacob's critique, however, focuses on the design of the studies, the capriciousness of the medical diagnostic category model, and the toxicities of drugs. They also make clear that the RCT model tries to “stamp out high placebo rates rather than reveal their clinical implication.” (p 1) Let me say more about this because here is where my bias is most pronounced. The premise of the RCT method is if you completely fool/trick the subjects (e.g., in the antidepressant drug experiments), then the experiment is worthwhile, i.e., the subject does not know if they got the real drug or the sugar pill. Of course there is a relatively easy way to do that. Simply use an active placebo rather than sugar pill. Big Pharma will not do this because efficacy of the drug disappears when using an active placebo. Fooling and tricking the subjects, in my estimation, is not ethical, even if you tell the subjects in advance that they will not be told whether they are getting the real thing. There is some evidence, by the way, that placebos often work even when the subject is told that they are receiving a placebo (personal communication, Irving Kirsch, ISEPP Conference, Toronto, 2018). Evidently some people find the ritual of taking a pill beneficial.

So what exactly does a placebo activate? I would say self-healing or better yet, inter-self healing. My position then is that using placebo with its implication of trickery is unethical. Placebo is a bastardization, I believe, of the biological mystery of self-healing. I have often opined that my patients get better in the waiting room. The decision to take on their suffering in and of itself has healing power: the will to live, a hope that past traumas can be tamed, that honest dialogue with an expert all promote healing, self-acceptance and self-care, social integration, building self resiliency. I recently attended a Harvard course on Psychiatry and Neuroscience with more that a dozen psychiatrist and neurologists wedded to the medical model. It was not my cup of tea. They did not attempt to define either consciousness or will, for example, and repeatedly made associations of brain connection with behavior and mood. Cogently one presenter said, “In the brain everything is connected to everything,” indeed! But one truth that we all shared was that a principle “side effect” of antidepressants was “apathy.” So if you maintain an existential philosophy, as I do, this is the killing power of drug treatment. Without the will we don’t heal. The higher power is not the drug or the analyst or a god but rather the biological miracle of self-healing promoted by inter-self dialogue. Some call it psychoanalysis.