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Turning a Child’s Intensity Into Their Greatness

Turning a Child’s Intensity Into Their Greatness

Howard Glasser

My passion in the medication debate stems from my clinical work with families with challenging and intense children. I got to see that with 2-3 weeks – at most within 2-3 months for the most difficult children – that the very same intensity that had gone awry became the very fuel for that child’s greatness. And I got to see that their extra added intensity was therefore a great blessing, rather than cause to label them with a diagnosis – predicated upon a view of the symptoms as pathology requiring medications.

I got to see that entirely different course of action could light up an infinately greater runway for a child and their family instead of taking a course of actions that so often endangers a child with unforeseen side-effects, perhaps the worst of which is the meta message to the child that something is drastically wrong with them in regard to their life force because neither they or their parents or teachers can handle it – we need to make their intensity go away.

If we really saw life force/ intensity as a blessing that could be transformed into greatness we would never ever dream of doing that. Life force is precious. It is common to us all and some simply have the gift of having more than others. Without it we’d be lost. Without it we might not even be able to get out of bed. Without it we wouldn’t be able to live our dreams or live or fulfill our passionate lives. We need our future generations of children to have their intensity intact so that can do the great things we need them to do. We can’t afford for future generations to be lost with their intensity suppressed.

Besides, at most medications simply give the illussion of improvement. In a way “improvement” pale in comparison to what I found to be consistently obtainable “transformation.” Before the meds kick in and after they wear off the problems are still there – nothing has changed and there has been zero healing. Isn’t healing what we want. Don’t parents and teachers deep down simply want all along to see this child use their intensity in great ways. With medications the parent is none the wiser on how to best help this child nor is the child any the wiser on how to best help themselves. There must be a better way and there is.

The reason I can say this is that by grace I stumbled upon devising a method of helping these children that I came to eventually call The Nurtured Heart Approach and that is what I will write about mostly in this blog. I will do my best to tell you how the approach came to be and what kinds of impacts it is having, as well as giving you some sense of what it is and how it works. As this is my first blog I will save most of it for subsequent notes but for now I want to say that what I found through this work has given me great hope and that is what I want to inspire in you.

I don’t want to waste my time fighting the pharmaceutical companies. Other people have that talent and I applaud that. I simply want to show over and over again that with the right kind of approach these very same children of concern can easily be “transformed” to be the best children on the planet.

I’ll give you one example for now – Tolson Elementary in Tucson, Arizona – has been using this approach now for over 10 years and in since that time, as a school with well over 80% free and reduced lunch and other demograpgics that go with an at-risk population, they went from a school with the highest rates of suspensions, bullying, teacher attrition, use of diagnosis and medications in their large school district – a school designated as failing and with a high rate of special education – to a school that is designated as excelling – going from over 15% special education to less than 2%, to almost zero bullying, suspesions, teacher attrition, with zero use of diagnosis and medications and more.

They did this because they began changing drastically the way they relate to children. This is what I will describe as these blog posts unfold and evolve.

I certainly believe in symptoms. I believe there are kids loaded with symptoms that frustrate, annoy and drive parents and teachers to distraction. However I also believe that the energy that drives these very same symptoms can be rerouted to greatness. Greatness can be awakened in the most difficult children with methods that are geared to how these children respond to relationship and energy. Then we don’t have to hope that they will find a “way” to channel their energies to activities like scouting or dance, baseball or soccor or any other activity. Not that these are bad. It’s just that there’s a better solution – where the child awakens to who they really are as a great person and as that assimilates and integrate then we will have a child who acts-out in an entirely different way – they act-out in greatness and manifest that wherever they go.

Heading Off Complaints of “Anti-Psychiatry Bias”

Heading Off Complaints of “Anti-Psychiatry Bias”

Niall McLaren, MBBS, FRANZCP
Psychiatrist, Brisbane, Australia

The 2017 report of the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Commission on the "right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health" (UN Human Rights Council, 2017) attracted very strong criticism from mainstream psychiatrists (Dharmawardene and Menkes, 2018). It was seen as biased against the biomedical model of mental disorder in general, and against psychiatrists in particular. This criticism was completely misdirected (Cosgrove and Jureidini, 2019; McLaren, 2019). A further report has just been released (UNHRC July 2019) but, before leaping to the barricades, it is most important that psychiatrists fully understand the meaning and significance of these reports.

Firstly, the Special Rapporteur, appointed in 2014, is Prof. Dainius Puras, a distinguished Lithuanian child and adolescent psychiatrist and epidemiologist, and a person with the highest international credentials to chair this type of project. As a working psychiatrist, it is not rational to belittle his conclusions as "anti-psychiatry" although it is true that he is resolutely opposed to bad psychiatry. It is also factually wrong to see these reports as open to the "bias" of a single individual. Second, for readers in Australia and New Zealand, his conclusions must be seen in the context of the often bitter criticism of mainstream psychiatry drawn forth by two current enquiries, the Australian Productivity Commission Enquiry into Mental Health (2019) and the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health (2019). Psychiatrists who believe they are offering the best of all possible treatments for the best of all possible reasons, and are thus above criticism, urgently need to read the public submissions before delving into the latest UNHRC report.

The intellectual basis of Puras' current report includes many propositions with which there will be no disagreement, as per the following items:

1. ....In the present report, the Special Rapporteur highlights the importance of the social and underlying determinants of health in advancing the realization of the right to mental health...

7. ...States also have an obligation to create supportive and enabling environments that foster mental health and well-being....

21.... States do not invest enough resources in mental health in general...

28. Actions taken to realize the right to mental health must be of good quality, and they require evidence-based data and information that is multidisciplinary....

However, the main thrust of the report will cause angst among many psychiatrists, to wit, that the ever-growing emphasis on a biomedical approach to mental disorder is inappropriate:

1. ...A rights-based approach to the promotion of mental health offers an alternative to the biomedical, disease-oriented model that adopts a narrow, individual focus on the prevention of mental health conditions....

19.... the outsized influence of pharmaceutical companies in the dissemination of biased information about mental health issue...(leads to an) overreliance on coercive, punitive and overmedicalized measures... (which) demonstrate a lack of political will to support, replicate and sustain evidence-based social interventions that foster well-being, prevent discrimination and promote community inclusion.

21.... States do not invest enough resources in mental health in general... a larger proportion of available resources are directed to ineffective systems, reliant on excessive medicalization, coercion and institutionalization, breeding stigmatization, discrimination, disempowerment and helplessness.

28....Responses to mental health conditions that are based on the use of coercion... are becoming the rule. Continued investment in policies and services, with prevailing patterns of coercion, excessive medicalization and institutionalization, are a serious obstacle to the effective realization of the right to mental health. Such systems reinforce vicious cycles of stigmatization, discrimination and social exclusion, and may be more detrimental than the mental health conditions they are supposed to treat.

For the many psychiatrists who firmly believe that biological reductionism is not just the correct approach to mental disorder, but the only conceivable approach, these are inflammatory remarks. The idea that our forms of treatment could, on balance, be inequitably distributed, do more damage than good, at greatly excessive short- and long-term cost, and with dismal efficacy, will be reflexly rejected. This defensive response would, however, be exceedingly unwise. All is not well in psychiatry, as the existence of the above-mentioned enquiries indubitably demonstrates.

If, however, psychiatrists manage to convince themselves the enquiries are just some bothersome window-dressing from which no good will emerge, there is ample, highly reliable evidence that theirs may not be the best of all possible worlds.

1. The Royal College of Psychiatrists was recently forced to acknowledge that, despite its previous attempts to deny the possibility, antidepressants are addictive (RCPsych 2019). This accounts in part for the relentless increase in numbers of people taking these drugs in Western countries (now 16% of adult population in UK). At the same time, there is emerging evidence that people taking antidepressants are likely to have a worse outcome (Hengartner, Angst and Rössler 2018).

2. Antipsychotic drugs shorten the lifespan (Correll et al 2015). That is, people who, for example, are detained and compelled to take drugs against their will just on the basis of potential "reputational damage" (whatever that means) are likely to die younger as a direct result, albeit with their reputations intact. At the same time, recent studies have added to the already strong evidence that antidepressant drugs are neither as effective nor safe as the manufacturers claim. Hengartner and Plöderl (2019) concluded:

The data presented herein suggest that antidepressants significantly increase the suicide risk in adults with major depression.

3. Drug companies in the US have acted unethically and, in at least some cases, illegally, to produce an "epidemic" of opiate addiction which now claims about 50,000 lives a year and shows no signs of abating. As a result, the life expectancy in the US has declined for several years in a row, the first time this has ever happened in a developed country in peace time. This is part of a pattern of scandalously venal and/or illegal conduct by drug companies for which they have been fined a collective $42billion in the US over the past ten years (Gotzsche, 2015; Whitaker and Cosgrove, 2015).

4. The argument that ECT is "essential and irreplaceable" in treatment of mental disorders evaporates under close scrutiny (Read and Arnold, 2017). It should be noted that the recent Guidelines on ECT issued by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP 2019) do not address the critical point of whether ECT is necessary. In fact, analysis of readily available figures reveals that it is not, that the main driver for the rapidly increasing use of ECT in Australia is the financial rewards it generates for the private psychiatric industry (McLaren, 2018).

5. The relentlessly expanding list of diagnostic categories of mental disorder has long passed the limits of common sense. What we are now seeing is the medicalisation of normality (Horwitz and Wakefield, 2007; Frances, 2013).

6. Long-term use of drugs with strong anticholinergic effects, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, is associated with an increased risk of dementia (Coupland et al 2019). Overwhelmingly, these drugs are approved on the basis of short-term trials, often only weeks, whereas large numbers of people take them for decades. Long-term studies demonstrate that their efficacy is grossly over-rated  (Wunderink et al, 2013) while reanalysis shows that many trials are unreliable (Le Noury et al, 2015).

7. With the NIMH Research Domain Criteria project (Insel et al, 2010), psychiatry has committed itself to a project of biological reductionism which is hugely expensive, has no rational basis and can never succeed (McLaren, 2011). This is not a matter which can be countered by claims such as: "They used to say that heavier-than-air flight was impossible, too." It is the case that mental properties cannot be  reduced to or explained away by their physical mechanism (Stoljar, 2010). No psychiatrist has ever argued a remotely plausible case that the ordinary, or even extraordinary, techniques of laboratory science will ever tell us anything interesting about mental disorder, let alone explain it with no questions unanswered, yet the great bulk of psychiatric research funding will now be directed to basic biological sciences.

8. On March 6th 2018, the RANZCP issued a press statement claiming inter alia that:

The prescription of antidepressant or antipsychotic medications is something that a psychiatrist only ever does in partnership with the patient and after due consideration of the risks and benefits (RANZCP 2018, emphasis added).

This claim was manifestly untrue and it was impossible for those who authorised it to believe otherwise. 

This strongly suggests that even though psychiatrists are very happy with their work and don't see any need for criticism, many people on the receiving end of it aren't quite so enthralled. By effectively abandoning the psychosocial elements in their former mantra, psychiatrists have painted themselves into a biological corner, but there is no Plan B. For anybody who takes psychiatry seriously, I see grounds for despair. Psychiatrists more and more are showing at best, the trappings of a medieval guild (Cosgrove and Whitaker 2015) or, at worst, an ideology or cult (McLaren 2013). Blame for this rests squarely on psychiatry's lack of a model of mental disorder and its adamantine refusal to accept the criticism which is the only path to rectifying that deficiency (McLaren, 2018).

Science proceeds by criticism of the status quo; in the canon of science, not even that proposition is beyond criticism. Attacking critics such as Puras will never conceal the intellectual hole at the heart of modern psychiatry. Indeed, the extreme defensiveness of psychiatrists attests to their intellectual insecurity. As psychotherapist and author Gary Greenberg noted:

It's the universal paranoia of psychiatry that everybody who disagrees with them is pathological. You can't disagree with a psychiatrist without getting a diagnosis... (they) diagnose the critic (Reece 2013).

If and when, by their constant breaching of the most fundamental rules of the conduct of science, psychiatrists succeed in destroying public confidence in their profession, it will be both supremely ironic and a tragedy for the mentally-disturbed.


References:

APC Enquiry into Mental Health (2019). https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/current/mental-health#draft.  Accessed July 14th 2019.

Correll, CU et al. (2015) Effects of antipsychotics, antidepressants and mood stabilizers on risk for physical diseases in people with schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. World Psychiatry. Jun; 14(2): 119–136. https://doi.org/:10.1002/wps.20204.

Cosgrove L, Jureidini J (2019). Why a rights-based approach is not anti-psychiatry. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 53: 503-504. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867419833450.

Coupland, CA et al (2019). Anticholinergic Drug Exposure and the Risk of Dementia. JAMA Internal Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0677. Published online June 24, 2019.

Dharmawardene, V, Menkes, DB (2019) Responding to the UN Special Rapporteur’s anti-psychiatry bias. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 53: 282–283.

Frances, A (2013).  Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life. New York: Wm. Morrow.

Gotzsche Peter (2015). Deadly Psychiatry and Organised Denial. London: Artpeople.

Hengartner M, Angst J and Rössler W (2018). Antidepressant use prospectively relates to a poorer long-term outcome of depression: Results from a prospective community cohort study over 30 years. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. Published online April 20, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1159/000488802.

Hengartner, M. P., & Plöderl, M. (2019). Newer-generation antidepressants and suicide risk in randomized controlled trials: A re-analysis of the FDA database. Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics. Published online June 24, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1159/000501215.

Horwitz AV, Wakefield JC. The Loss of Sadness: how psychiatry transformed normal sorrow into Depressive Disorder.New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Insel, TR et al (2010). Research Domain Criteria (RDoC): Toward a New Classification Framework for Research onMental Disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 167: 748-751

Le Noury, J et al  (2015) Restoring Study 329: efficacy and harms of paroxetine and imipramine in treatment of major depression in adolescence. BMJ 2015; 351 https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4320.

McLaren, N. (2011). Cells, circuits and syndromes. A critique of the NIMH Research Domain Criteria project.  Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry 13: 229-236.

McLaren, N (2013). Psychiatry as Ideology. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry 15: 7-18.

McLaren, N (2018). Electroconvulsive Therapy: A Critical Perspective. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry 19: 91-104

McLaren, N (2018). Anxiety: The Inside StoryAnn Arbor, MI: Future Psychiatry Press.

McLaren, N (2019). Criticising psychiatry is not ‘antipsychiatry’  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 53: 602-603.    https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867419835944.

RANZCP (2018) Press release March 6th 2018: RANZCP deeply concerned over stigmatising reporting of mental health treatment. Since deleted; available at https://www.MIA.com/2018/03/psychiatrist-writes-ranzcp/.

RANZCP (2019). Professional practice guidelines for the administration of electroconvulsive therapy.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 53: 609–623

RCPsych (2019). Position statement on antidepressants and depression. PS04/19. Royal College of Psychiatrists, London.

Read, J, and Arnold, C (2017). Is electroconvulsive herapy for depression more effective than placebo? A systematic review of studies since 2009. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry 19: 5-23.

Reece, H. (2013). Interview Gary Greenberg, The Atlantic, May 2nd 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/the-real-problems-with-psychiatry/275371/.

Stoljar D (2010). Physicalism. Oxford: Routledge.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (2019). https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/mental-health/priorities-and-transformation/royal-commission. Accessed July 14th 2019.

UN Human Rights Council (2017, 2019) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

(2017) UNHRC Document A/HRC/35/21 , available at: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/35/21.

Whitaker R, Cosgrove L (2015). Psychiatry Under the Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Wunderink, L et al (2013). Recovery in Remitted First-Episode Psychosis at 7 Years of Follow-up of an Early Dose Reduction/Discontinuation or Maintenance Treatment Strategy. JAMA Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.19Published online July 3, 2013.

Is There Such a Thing as a Normal Woman? Part 1: Sexism in Psychiatric Diagnosis

Is There Such a Thing as a Normal Woman? Part 1: Sexism in Psychiatric Diagnosis

Paula Caplan, Ph.D.


Note: Part 1 is about sexism in psychiatric diagnosis. Part 2, to appear in the next issue of the Bulletin,  is about sexism in relation to mother-blame and psychological/psychiatric theory and research, with suggested solutions for these realms. Portions of this article are based on the author’s September 28, 1999, keynote address of the same title to the Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored New England Conference on Women and Mental Health, Hartford, CT.

Even this far into the 21st century, if one examines psychiatric diagnoses, stereotypes and myths about and expectations of mothers, and classic theories of psychological development, it is hard to find any possibilities for women to be considered normal. Instead, they are usually considered pathological or otherwise deficient.

The ways that psychiatric diagnoses are conceived, constructed, and applied leave the field wide open for sexism and indeed for every conceivable form of bias. Mother-blame in clinical journals and mother-blame as hate speech result in the pathologizing of virtually anything that mothers might do. And classic theories of psychological development and designs of research questions and methodologies have often been profoundly sexist. None of this is surprising, since the vast majority of the world continues to be pervaded by sexism, so it naturally shapes virtually every realm.

Sexism Due to Lack of Science in Psychiatric Diagnoses

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, often called the therapist’s Bible, is widely used to pathologize all women (and many men). It is a product that is a multi-million-dollar business, because it has been translated into two dozen languages for global use, and it is marketed by its publisher, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), as a scientifically-based document. The APA’s profits come not only from publication of the manual itself but also from sales of a variety of related books and other products. I was a consultant to two committees that produced DSM-IV, but I resigned after learning of the profoundly unscientific way the manual was put together and the dishonesty of its head and many of its members about the lack of science and the harm it causes.1 What I saw as an insider was that, when junk science can be described in a way that supports the aims of the select few who make the final decisions, it is presented as good science, and when well-done research conflicts with their aims, they ignore, distort, or lie about it. I have said that that process should be called "Diagnosisgate" for these reasons.(See ISEPP's position on the DSM here).

To give just one rather representative illustration of how unscientific the manual is (for far more examples, see citation in Endnote1), let us consider how the DSM authors dealt with their idea of creating a category now called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. That category, according to the DSM committee's own published information, would apply to at least a half-million North American women.3 The category first went into the DSM at a time when Robert Spitzer, then DSM head and one of the originators of this category, acknowledged in a press conference that psychiatrists had no cure to offer for this disorder beyond the nutritional, vitamin, and self-help suggestions published in the pages of women's magazines. However, he said that the category needed to go into the manual so that psychiatrists could find out how to help women who suffered from "it". The scientific basis (or its lack) was not really examined until seven years later, when the next edition of the DSM was being prepared. At that time, DSM-IV head Allen Frances had cannily appointed an all-woman committee to evaluate the research, and they were longtime experts on the subject, most or all of whom received money from Big Pharma. The PMDD committee wrote a report approximately 125 pages long and including a review of more than 400 research articles. It looked impressive.4 In their own summary, the committee said outright that almost none of the papers was relevant to the question of whether there is a premenstrual mental disorder. Many of the papers were instead related to such premenstrual physical experiences as bloating, breast tenderness, and food cravings -- or even to reports of increased irritability, for instance, but by no means to anything one might conceivably consider a "mental illness". The committee said that the few reports that were relevant were "preliminary" and had many methodological problems. On that basis, one might have expected the committee to tell Dr. Frances that there was no scientific justification for claiming there is a premenstrual mental illness. Instead, they reported that they could not reach a consensus.

Frances then announced that he had appointed two other people to decide the fate of this category, but he refused to name those people. I telephoned him, said the debate about this category had perhaps become unnecessarily adversarial, and suggested that we try together to focus on the welfare of the women who might be given this label, since both his group and opponents of the category were presumably most concerned about those women. I pointed out that I had given his PMDD committee documentation of the harm that had already been caused to women who had received this label. I said it would be reassuring if he could present some evidence at least that more women had been helped than harmed by this diagnosis. He responded, "Well, of course, there's no way of knowing that." But of course, there is a way of knowing that. That is what scientific research is for, and scientific research is supposed to be the basis for decisions about the DSM.5

Ultimately, under media pressure, Frances announced the names of the two persons who would decide the fate of the PMDD category. Psychiatrist Nancy Andreasen was a longtime advocate of the notion that all emotional problems are caused by brain disorders and had served on DSM committees with Spitzer, one of the category's inventors. Psychiatrist A. John Rush specialized in research about “depression” and had received Big Pharma funding for research about it. This pair recommended that the category be included in the DSM-IV and that it go not just in the appendix that was said to be for disorders requiring further study but also in the main text of the manual, which is supposedly reserved for well-supported categories. Further, they said it should be listed under Depressive Disorders -- even though, astonishingly, one did not have to be depressed to meet the PMDD criteria. (But remember, A. John Rush received Big Pharma funding to study “depression.”) This was particularly disturbing in view of the fact that it has been documented that women who report feeling upset premenstrually are significantly more likely than other women to be in abusive or other upsetting life situations. Therefore, diagnosing them as premenstrually mentally ill leads us in the wrong direction, away from focusing on the real sources of their problems.

Around that time, the DSM people began to claim – though evidence on this point was appallingly poor, and there was even evidence disproving it – that “antidepressant” drugs were the most important treatment for women given this label, and committee members accompanied Eli Lilly staff to a meeting where they persuaded the FDA to approve repackaging and renaming (in pink and purple) of Prozac to be called Sarafem and prescribed for women labeled with PMDD.6

When women tell me they feel badly premenstrually, I believe them. I know that hormonal changes can affect one's feelings. But so, for instance, can a sprained ankle, and sprained ankle is not included as a mental illness in the DSM, nor are the vast majority of other physical problems.

What Allen Frances and his colleagues did with the science related to "PMDD" is just one example of how fast and loose they played with the research, a pattern that leads to other problems. If one imagines the enterprise of psychiatric diagnosis as a sphere, consider that the DSM marketers claim it is filled with good science, but we know that is not true. If one removes from that sphere all of what is wrongly called good science, it leaves a vacuum. What goes into a void where there is no objectivity? Every conceivable form of subjectivity and bias. It is unsurprising, then, that sexism – as well as racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism and homophobia, and others – pervades the creation and application of psychiatric labels.7

Harm from Psychiatric Diagnoses

The DSM is probably the single most powerful source of support for the medical model of emotional anguish, with the strikingly similar psychiatric listings in the International Classification of Diseases adding still more force. It  is deeply worrying that use of the medical model for emotional problems increases the likelihood of therapists unthinkingly prescribing psychotropic drugs (inappropriately, without obtaining fully-informed consent and/or without explaining to the person the full range of possibly helpful options), even electroshock, and ignoring the potentially negative consequences of applying a diagnostic label. The vast range of kinds of harm that begin with the labels includes the person's loss of custody of their children, loss of employment, loss of health insurance or skyrocketing of premiums on the grounds that the person has a pre-existing condition (the mental illness), and legal rights to make decisions about what happens to them, such as whether to have electroshock, take medication, and be physically confined, isolated, or restrained. Other adverse consequences of labeling include the dehumanizing of the labeled person and creation of a we/they world, in which therapists are more likely to feel superior to and qualitatively different from the people they are supposed to help. These are not inevitable consequences of labeling, but they are common ones.

Vast numbers of women (and men) who have real but undiagnosed physical health problems are inaccurately diagnosed as having mental disorders instead.  Some physicians are quick to assume that any woman with complaints of any sort is hysterical, dependent, and attention-seeking and thus mentally ill. Other physicians' intentions may be more honorable, but when their training has not included the physical symptom picture presented by a given patient, they mistakenly conclude that nothing physical can be wrong and that therefore the problem can only be psychological. These phenomena account for many women being regarded as mentally disordered.

Many well-meaning therapists tell me that they believe they minimize risk from diagnosis by classifying all of their patients as having Adjustment Disorder, because it sounds so innocuous. However, a lawyer told me the following story about a client of his. The client, a woman who had recently moved to his state to begin a graduate program in psychotherapy, was told during the first week of classes by the program director that any student who had not been a therapy patient should seek some therapy sessions right away, just to see how it felt. The rationale was, "Soon you will be a therapist, so you need to have that experience of being a patient." The obedient student went promptly to a walk-in clinic at the local hospital and explained to the psychiatrist on duty why she was there. The psychiatrist agreed to see her for some sessions, during which they discussed anything that was bothering her, such as feeling lonely after having moved to a new place where she knew no one. Subsequently, the patient was in a vehicle accident and incurred physical injuries, for which she was treated at the same hospital. She was bewildered to receive a letter from her health insurance company, in which she was told they would not pay her medical bills from the accident because she had lied to them on her insurance application form. When she contacted them to protest that she had not lied, they replied that she had denied that she had a mental illness on the form when she applied to their company for insurance. "But I don't have a mental illness," she replied. The insurance company employee said that she clearly did have a mental illness, because her hospital chart showed that the psychiatrist had given her a DSM label. "But the psychiatrist knew I wasn't there because of a mental illness," she protested. That did not matter. The insurance company officials claimed that, simply by virtue of some therapist's having assigned her a DSM label (which the therapist likely did so that the insurance company would pay for the therapy), this woman was now irrevocably considered mentally ill. What power the DSM has! It is far too often erroneously assumed that anything in the DSM is true and that any therapist who uses a label from that manual is using it accurately.

I am aware that some people feel that receiving a label, or receiving a label and then psychotropic medication, has been extremely helpful to them, and I do not question that. But in general, psychiatric labeling tends to narrow our vision of the causes of women's and men's pain and anguish and of the ways we might help. 

Sexism and Specific Diagnoses

The DSM is the most influential basis for how we as a society decide who is normal, but the very foundation of the book is nebulous. "Mental illness" is a construct, and even the DSM authors acknowledge the impossibility of creating a good definition of it. When that overarching construct is ill-defined, how can each of the hundreds of categories and subcategories of alleged mental illness have any validity? Here follow just a few examples of labels that were constructed and/or are applied in sexist ways – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Self-defeating Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder used to be the "normal reaction" in the DSM, because it was described as likely to develop in anyone who had experienced major trauma. However, Dr. Allen Frances in DSM-IV removed the statement that the criteria are normal reactions to an abnormal situation, and the statement was not restored in DSM-5. This is devastating for battered, raped, or severely emotionally and verbally abused women as well as for others, such as people who have been traumatized by war, because it means that deeply human reactions to trauma are classified as mental illness at the drop of a hat.8 This is not only inaccurate but also severely damaging, because in addition to struggling with the effects of trauma, the labeled person now has to grapple with feeling something is wrong with them for not being “over it” yet.9

Borderline Personality Disorder is a label often given to victims of battering, abuse, and severe harassment -- most often women -- making it another classification that conveys the messages that “You should get over it” and “You are seriously defective, probably with a chemical imbalance in your brain.”10 From my own experiences listening to many traditional therapists, I have observed that it is a label they often give to patients they dislike.

Self-defeating Personality Disorder appeared in the appendix for categories requiring further study in DSM-III-R but not in subsequent editions. It was a slightly masked title for what was originally called “Masochistic Personality Disorder” and was to be applied to people who, for instance, put others’ needs ahead of their own and settled for less when they could have more. The danger of this category was especially great for women, who are traditionally socialized to fit these patterns, and even more for victims of wife battering, rape, and child sexual abuse, who are more likely to be women.11 The absence of the term from the current manual by no means prevents practitioners from using this label – or even if not using the label itself, interpreting women’s suffering as caused by a sick enjoyment of the abuse, failure, deprivation, or other harm they suffer. In addition, the use in the current manual of terms like “unspecified” or “other” disorders in practice allows the professional to call anything at all a mental disorder.

The sexism in the DSM  is illustrated by the fact that there is no male equivalent in the DSM of either Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (for instance, no Testosterone-Based Aggressive Disorder) or Self-defeating Personality Disorder (since Self-defeating Personality Disorder is in many ways a somewhat exaggerated form of traditional female socialization, a male equivalent might be called John Wayne Syndrome or Macho Personality Disorder). Sociologist Margrit Eichler and I decided, for educational and consciousness-raising purposes, to design an alleged mental disorder we called Delusional Dominating Personality Disorder (DDPD), the consequences of a somewhat exaggerated form of traditional male socialization.12 We designed DDPD using the DSM format and submitted it to the DSM committee for inclusion in DSM-IV. We pointed out that not all men suffer from DDPD and that some women do. We also noted that DDPD is frequently seen in major military and political leaders and the heads of large corporations. For brevity’s sake, I shall only list here the first four of the 14 proposed criteria for DDPD. They are:

1. Inability to establish and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships.

2.Inability to identify and express a range of feelngs in oneself (typically accompanied by an inability to identify accurately the feelings of other people).

3. Inability to respond appropriately and empathically to the feelings and needs of close associates and intimates (often leading to the misinterpretation of signals from others).

4. Tendency to use power, silence, withdrawal, and/or avoidance rather than negotiation in the face of interpersonal conflict or difficulty

(The full list of criteria is included in Caplan, 1995, cited in endnotes.)

We created the category more than two decades ago, and I began to speak about it in lectures. Every time I read the full list of criteria to any group of any kind, as I read the first few, people would laugh. As I read the next few, they would fall silent and appear to be listening carefully. By the time I would get to the last ones, they were shouting out things like, "I KNOW people like this! Why aren't they considered a problem?!" Needless to say, the DSM committee gave no sign that they even considered it for inclusion in the manual. Although virtually everything that women may do can qualify for "mental disorder" according to the DSM, traditionally-socialized masculine behavior that often causes pain, physical harm, and even physical illness in people who meet DDPD criteria and to the people with whom they live and work is far less often considered pathological by those who create the official diagnostic categories. That is why people laughed when they heard the first criteria of DDPD: They were surprised that anyone might suggest calling hurtful or inhumane "masculine" behavior a mental disorder. It is encouraging that in recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the harm caused by what has come to be called toxic masculinity, though it is important to recognize that this is a widespread social problem and should not be called a mental illness, lest the methods for reducing such social problems be overlooked rather than implemented.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a category leading to dangers for girls and women, because in a sexist society such as ours, there are a great many causes for grief, sadness, a sense of helplessness or hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, irritability, difficulties with sleeping or eating, and other emotions, beliefs, and problems listed under this category in the DSM.  Since having such feelings after bereavement or other major loss are deeply human ones and should not be called signs of mental illness, it is important to mention a particular part of MDD’s descriptions in the current and previous editions of the DSM. There has been a justified outcry that in DSM-5, it is said that MDD should not be diagnosed if the person has been bereaved less than two weeks. It is both absurd and dangerous to consider these kinds of feelings pathological as soon as the first two weeks after the loss are over. But what should also be known is that in DSM-IV, Allen Frances’s edition specified that MDD could be diagnosed in a bereaved person as long as the person had any of the following: “marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms, or psychomotor retardation.” Since these are very common characteristics of bereavement, the DSM-IV allowed for application of the MDD label to a person on the first day of their loss, making it in that way even worse than DSM-5.14 This matters, because in all of the justified outcry about the two-week limit in DSM-5, it is crucial not to render invisible the suffering of all of the bereaved people who were hurtfully diagnosed with MDD based on DSM-IV.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is similar to Major Depressive Disorder, given that what is called “anxiety” is usually fear, and in a sexist and violent society, there are myriad reasons for girls and women to be afraid.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder’s unscientific nature, described earlier, is not the only problem with the category. Because its name confines its application exclusively to women, who have menstrual periods through many decades of their lives, it has opened the floodgates for the pathologizing of nearly everything about women. Most women have had the experience of their legitimate feelings and concerns being dismissed on the grounds that they must be premenstrual. And as the medical community has joined with Big Pharma, both “peri-menopause” (the time recently delineated for purposes of pathologizing as when hormones start to change when women move toward cessation of menstruation) and menopause itself (the cessation of menses) have been treated as causes of “mental illness,” and there is a long tradition of demeaning and pathologizing older and old women based on the notion that without the hormonal levels typical of women who are still menstruating, they are unfeminine, unwomanly, “dried up,” somehow less than human. I am not being entirely flippant when I suggest that it’s only a matter of time until the APA creates a category of psychiatric disorder for girls from birth till their first menstrual period and attributing it to the fact that their hormone levels differ from those of menstruating women.

 

In summary with regard to psychiatric labeling, once you add to all who have been or could be diagnosed with the labels discussed above,  plus all the women who could qualify for any of the other hundreds of mental disorders listed in the DSM, is there any chance we could find a normal woman?

As if the ways described here of pathologizing women were not enough, myths and stereotypes about mothers and sexism in psychological theories and research add much to that pathologizing, and some of these will be addressed in Part 2 of this two-part essay, which will appear in the Bulletin’s next issue.


1Caplan, Paula J. (1995). They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal. DaCapo/Perseus Books.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

5Ibid.

6Ibid.

7Caplan, Paula J., & Cosgrove, L., Eds.sp (2004). Bias in psychiatric diagnosis. Rowman and Littlefield.

8Ibid. and Caplan, Paula J. (2005). The myth of women’s masochism. iUniverse.

9See Caplan, 1995, and Caplan, Paula J. (2016). When Johnny and Jane come marching home: How all of us can help veterans. Open Road.

10Becker, Dana, & Lamb, Sharon. (1994). Sex bias in the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 25, 55-61. Becker, Dana. (1997). Through the looking glass: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder. Westview.

11Caplan, 1995.

12Caplan, 1995.

13Hickey, Philip. (2017). Elimination of the bereavement exclusion: History and implications. Madinamerica.com, October 5. https://www.madinamerica.com/2017/10/elimination-of-the-bereavement-exclusion-history-and-implications/

From His Friends and Colleagues: In Memory of Bertram (Bert) P. Karon, Ph.D.

From His Friends and Colleagues: In Memory of Bertram (Bert) P. Karon, Ph.D.

 

The following are tributes by friends and colleagues of Bertram (Bert) P. Karon, Ph.D., in memory of his courageous and noble dedication to improving the lives of those labeled and stigmatized with mental illness diagnoses.


Ron Bassman

Cindy Baum-Baicker

Janet Boyer

Cynthia Call

Paula Caplan

David Cohen

Ty Colbert

Martin Cosgro

Mathy Milling Downing

Al Galves

Rebecca Hatton

Delores Jankovich

Daniel Mackler

Robert Morgan

Wayne Ramsay

Mark Richardson

Lloyd Ross

Richard Shulman

Hans Toch

Anmarie Widener

Turning Negative Emotions into Positives

Turning Negative Emotions into Positives

Al Galves, Ph.D.

What are the negative emotions?

Anger
Jealousy
Fear
Guilt
Sadness
Anxiety
Others?

 Why do we think they are negative?

 They aren’t comfortable.

 It’s interesting to wonder about why these important feelings are uncomfortable.  Perhaps it is because we need to be motivated to do something about the concerns that are causing them.

 They are associated with behavior that is dangerous.

 It’s important to make a distinction between the emotion and behaviors that are associated with the emotion.  All emotions are valid, OK and potentially useful.  But the behavior that results from emotions can be either helpful or dangerous and hurtful.

 They can make us sick.

 When these emotions are stuffed and repressed, they go inside, put a strain on the body, impair the immune system and cause sickness.

 What evidence is there that these emotions are useful?

 Evolution or Creation

 Whether you believe in evolution or creation, there is evidence that the “negative” emotions are beneficial and useful.  If you believe in evolution, you understand that the human organism has been evolving over the past 30 million years. Any faculty or state of being that wasn’t useful and didn’t have survival value would have been wiped out long ago by the process of natural selection.  If you believe in creationism, why would God have given us a faculty or state of being that wasn’t somehow useful?

 Research

Antonio Damasio

 In his book Descarte’s Error, Antonio Damasio describes his study of people who, due to lesions on their amygdalas, were unable to experience emotions.  He found that such persons were unable to make good use of their reasoning abilities. Unable to feel bad, they couldn’t learn from mistakes.  For example, they would see a stock they owned going down in value but wouldn’t feel bad about it so wouldn’t sell it.

James Pennebaker

 People who write about the most traumatic experiences of their lives have better immune system functioning and are healthier than people who write about impersonal topics.

 Method Actors

The immune systems of actors function better while they are experiencing emotions and it doesn’t make any difference if the emotions are “positive” or “negative”.

 Medical students

Medical students included in the “Bland-No emotions” group were 16 times more likely to contract cancer than those in the “Acting out” group.

 Joseph Ledoux

 Signals that are received through the eyes, ears, nose and skin pass through the amygdala (the part of the brain which processes emotions) before they go to the neo-cortex (the part of the brain which processes thinking, problem solving and analyzing), evidence that the human organism is “designed” to enable the emotional processing and reasoning faculties to work together.

 How are these “negative” emotions useful?

Five basic ways in which they are useful:

 They tell us what’s important, what we care about, what we like, what we don’t like, what we are afraid of, what we want to get rid of.

They help us get clear about our values.

They help us make decisions.

They give us energy and motivation.

They help us understand other people and, therefore, to behave in better ways.

Following are some examples:

Anger: Anger tells us what we don’t like, what we want to get rid of, what is threatening us, what we want to overcome.

Jealousy: Jealousy tells us what we want and don’t have or what we have and don’t want to lose.

Fear: Fear tells us what we want to avoid, what we want to be careful about, what can hurt us, what we must protect ourselves against.

Sadness: Sadness tells us what is precious to us and what we want to nurture and protect in our lives.

Anxiety: Anxiety gives us the energy, the mental acuity and the stamina to do things that we want to do but which are going to be difficult and scary.

Guilt: Guilt tells us what we think is wrong, keeps us from doing things we think are wrong and enables us to make amends to persons we have wronged.  It enables us to act in accordance with our moral code.

What do we have to do in order to use them?

 1. Experience them.

We experience them in our bodies.  We first get in touch with them through bodily sensations.  What we have to do is let them in, sit with them, wait with them, let them work in us. Many of us have been told that these emotions are bad, that they can’t be trusted, that they only lead to no good. So, as soon as we begin to feel them, we find a way to avoid them.  We get busy, we act out, we take drugs and alcohol, we escape.  If we only would let them work in us for five minutes or so, we could take the first step to turning them into positives.

2. Find out what they are telling you.  What is behind them?  What are they about? What is the message?

This is easier said than done. It may take some time to get the message from the emotion.  One thing that will help is to find a quiet place in which to sit.  Sit in a comfortable position.  Tell yourself that you are open to receiving whatever the message is.  Take some time to relax, let the tension out of your body and allow yourself to receive whatever messages come up from inside of yourself.

Here are some other rules of thumb that may be useful in taking this step.

• Anything which gets in the way of you loving the way you want to love and working - expressing yourself and using your abilities - the way you want to work is going to cause one of these “negative” emotions.

• Welcome whatever thoughts come up.  Even if they don’t make sense or seem to be coming out of left field, they may be the start of a useful insight.  If they seem weird, ask them what they are doing there and what they have to tell you. Be open to answers.

• It is not necessary to push yourself hard at this point.  It works better to relax and allow things to come to you – all by themselves – without you making it happen.

3. Take some action based on what you have learned or decide not to take action.

This may be the hard part.  Since these emotions are usually about something which is bothering you or is in your way, something you want to get rid of or you want to confront, it may take some courage to take action.  And since action will often involve confronting other people you will have to learn how to confront without making them defensive.

Here are some rules of thumb for taking action.

• If you are confronting another person, use the rules of assertiveness.

Describe what is going on for you, what you are noticing, how you are feeling using “I” instead of “You”.

Tell the person that you are having a problem with what is going on, that you don’t know what the solution is and that you’d like her or him to join with you in finding a solution.

Take responsibility for your feelings, your thoughts and your desires.

Say what you want – calmly and directly.

Don’t take responsibility for the other person’s feelings.

• If you are afraid, ask yourself what you are afraid of.  When you get the answer, see if it is a fear that you can walk with, that you can manage without letting it stop you.

• Ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen and see if you could live with that or somehow mitigate it.

• Be aware of the ways in which you habitually stop yourself from taking action.  We often stop ourselves by saying things like:

"I don’t want to be petty."

"I’m afraid if I say something or do something, things will get worse."

"It’s not that important."

"I’ll just let things ride and see what happens."

"Who am I to think I should get what I want?"

"If I do what I want to do, they’re going to think I’m mean and nasty and not a nice person."

Check these thoughts out to see if they really make sense and if you want to let them stop you or not.

What if I don’t want to take action?

After experiencing the emotion and getting its message, you may decide not to take any action.  If so, you need to find some way of discharging the energy that is in the emotion.  Examples of how some people use this energy effectively is exercise, sports, creative activity, talking to friends, writing, playing music, and helping other people.  Any activity which uses energy and is not harmful to self or others will work.

So what is the bottom line?

These so-called “negative” emotions are valid, beneficial and potentially useful.  They tell you what is important to you and what you need to do in order to live more the way you want to live.  If you want to use them, take the following steps:

1. Experience them.  Let them in and let them work on you.

2. Learn from them.  What are they telling you?

3. Take action based on them.  If you decide not to take action, find a way of using the energy in them that is helpful to you and/or others.

The Dewey-Bull Theory of Emotions

The Dewey-Bull Theory of Emotions

Thomas Scheff, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of Sociology

Many years ago (1894), the noted philosopher John Dewey published a theory of emotions that today might seem peculiar, at least at first glance. He proposed that each emotion is a bodily process like breathingonly painful if obstructed. Dewey’s articles were ignored because, oddly, he provided no examples: he didn’t describe the patterns of obstruction that cause grief, anger, fear or shame to be painful.

Much later Bull (1951) partially responded to Dewey’s theory. She provided one example: grief is painful only if there is too little crying. No attention has been given to these writings; little evidence has been offered to support them. This note describes a small bit of evidence that might be relevant: my own personal experience of catharsis of obstructed emotions (Scheff 1979, 2007).

Some 50 years ago (I am nearing 90), I had a personal experience of removing obstructions of grief, anger, shame and fear. It occurred when I enrolled in a small informal class called Re-evaluation Counseling (1965). Although not mentioned in the class or it’s supportive writings, it seems to be based on the Dewey-Bull theory. After the first class, I cried every day for almost a year. Since at the age of 40 I hadn’t cried since childhood, I was quite surprised and gratified. The crying seemed to remove or at least decrease a substantial amount of pain and doubt.

Similarly, instead of bearing anger for much of a day and night, I saw that my little screams produced a flash of heat in my whole body that ended the anger. After a few minutes. I was no longer angry. A great relief, since in those days I was often angry.

A prolonged burst of happy laughter seemed to remove shame or embarrassment completely.

Unlike the other three emotions, fear was infrequent. But a few moments of intense sweating and shaking removed fear the few times that it occurred.

There is a complication which I can only mention in passing in this brief note: not all crying, shouting, shaking and laughter removes obstructions of emotions. For example, one can cry for many, many hours without removing the obstructions. I would guess that most of the crying, laughter and shouting that we see is like this. To remove obstructions, these actions must be under control, even though the person who is crying, laughing and/or shouting may not know that they have control. But in my experience, there have been moments when I needed to attend to business other than my emotions. To my surprise, I could stop and start the cathartic process at will. I have called this feature “aesthetic distance” because it resembles that emotional reactions of audiences in the theatre (Scheff 1979).

Most people in modern societies seem to have little interest in emotions. They take their beliefs about them for granted. In actuality all emotion terms, especially in English, are undefined and highly ambiguous. For example, most of the emotion research in psychology is not about emotions themselves, but about facial expression of emotions. Facial expressions are visible, without dealing with the problem of emotions, which are partly internal. In this way, they think they are studying emotions, but they only deal with a very small aspect.

Since the public and most of the researchers seem to be certain that the four emotions dealt with in this note are inherently painful, it will be difficult to convince them that they are not. According to this theory, we need not only to think differently about emotions, but research them directly, and also stop hiding them from self and from others so one can experience each emotion directly.


Bull, Nina. 1951. The Attitude Theory of Emotion. New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Monographs.

Dewey, John. 1894. The Theory of Emotion. Psychological Review. 1; 6 (553-568) and 2; 1 (13-32).

Jackins, Harvey. 1965. The Human Side of Human Beings. Seattle: Rational Island.

Scheff, Thomas. 1979. Catharsis in Healing, Ritual and Drama, Berkeley: U. of Calif. Press.

Scheff, Thomas. 2007. Easy Rider, pp 194-195. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse Press.

 

Why the Myth of Mental Illness Lives On (Part 1)

Why the Myth of Mental Illness Lives On (Part 1)

Wayne Ramsay, J.D.

“The opinion that mental illness does not exist has been advanced by, among others, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, sociologists Thomas Scheff and Erving Goffman, and psychologist Theodore Sarbin”.1  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 this:

I do not believe in mental illness.  ...  Psychiatric drugs and electroshock inflict real injury in the name of treating fictive maladies.  ...  My opinions are based on my years of experience with patients and review of records from all over the country as an expert witness in electroshock malpractice cases.2

In 2011, Steve Balt, M.D., a psychiatrist at the UCLA-Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, acknowledged “some argue convincingly that mental illness is itself a false concept," citing an article by psychiatry professor Thomas Szasz.3  Dr. Szasz published his book The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961, which now in 2019 is 58 years ago.  If mental illness is a myth, why do people still believe in mental illness?

One reason is the effects of repetition over time.  The more often one hears a myth stated, the harder it is to bring oneself to use one's own powers of perception and reason to examine and question it.  Almost everything we read in newspapers and magazines, and almost everything we see on television or hear on radio, and much of what we read on the Internet, discusses “mental illness” as if it were as real and valid a concept as heart disease or cancer.  We tend to believe what those around us believe, and eventually “most of our stored misinformation is virtually [metaphorically] cast in concrete.”4

Another reason the myth of mental illness and other widespread myths persist is the risk to anyone who questions what almost everyone believes.  Dare one be the first to declare the emperor has no clothes?  People who clearly understand the mythical nature of a widespread belief risk the disapproval of others, or worse, if they speak the truth about these myths. Historians have said those questioning the concept of witchcraft in the 1690s when the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials took place risked being accused of being witches themselves.  According to Peter Charles Hoffer, research professor of history at the University of Georgia, in his book The Salem Witchcraft Trials—A Legal History:

In the 1600s, popular or “vernacular” belief in witches was repeated in the writings of the most learned men.  ...  In the late sixteenth century, many educated men assumed that there was a spirit (invisible) world, and that the Devil and His witches could move freely through it.  ...  Everyone believed in witches ... no lawyers stepped forward during the [witch] trials to help the accused”, but if they had, the people making such accusations “would probably have accused the lawyers of witchcraft before long.”5

Just as lawyers speaking on behalf of defendants in the Salem, Massachusetts witchcraft trials of the 1690s would have been in danger of being accused of witchcraft themselves, as a lawyer representing or speaking in defense of people accused of mental illness today, a reaction I sometimes get is people accusing me of being crazy.  As psychiatry professor Thomas Szasz says in his book Suicide Prohibition—The Shame of Medicine, “The individual who assumes the task of setting such dislocations aright runs the risk of being destroyed in the process.”6

A related reason for the persistence of the concept of mental illness is support by supposed experts—psychiatrists and psycholo­gists—who make money and acquire professional prestige with the use of the concept.  Their status as experts would be lost and their incomes would drop dramatically if the falseness of the concept of mental illness were widely and generally acknowledged. As Judi Chamberlin wrote in her book about psychiatry, “Leaving the determination of whether mental illness exists strictly to the psychiatrists is like leaving the determination of the validity of astrology in the hands of professional astrologers.”7  Support for a myth from those perceived as experts, even if they actually are not experts, makes a myth harder to question.

The inexplicit nature of the concept of mental illness also contributes to the perpetuation of this myth.  Consider another myth: Can it really be proveevil spirits do not exist, and that they do not possess people?  Even as perceived by those who believe in it, the concept of mental illness is as amorphous and difficult to pin down in specific terms as the idea of evil spirit posses­sion.   Some, like Millen Brand in an article in 1970 in The Jour­nal of Contemporary Psychotherapy titled “Is Mental Illness a Myth?” argue against the notion that “because ‘mental illness’ isn't a medical or physical illness, it doesn't exist at all.”Psychologist Vernon W. Grant, Ph.D., in his book This Is Mental Illness, says this:

There is, again, a certain tendency in popular thinking to suppose that mental illness includes something more than the symptoms.  Thus a person is said to be doing or saying certain things because is mentally ill.  The illness, supposedly, causes him to act and speak as he does.  ...  It would be misleading, however, to say that the abnormal ways of feeling and perceiving are caused by “mental illness.”  These ways of feeling and perceiving are the illness.  Too often the term suggests a mysterious some­thing behind the unusual behavior.9

Other mental health professionals argue there is a mysterious some­thing behind, or causing, the person's behavior, or so-called symptoms, and that this mysterious something is a still undis­covered “chemical imbalance” in the brain or some other brain abnor­mality. They argue mental illness is, by definition, a disease of the brain, even if current science can find nothing wrong with the brains of supposedly mentally ill people.  Mental health professionals can't agree among themselves about whether mental illness is physical or non-physical. Being a vague concept makes the concept of mental illness more difficult to disprove and reject than it would be if it were clearly defined.

Also helping to perpetuate the myth of mental illness is the desire of some people to avoid personal responsibility for their actions and their lives.  These are the people who telephone or write to me hoping I will, as a lawyer, help them prove that because of their supposed mental illness they are not responsible for something they did.  These also are the people who go to a mental health professional and in effect say “Doctor, make me happy”: It is much easier to swallow supposedly antidepressant pills than get a better education or a better job, or a better marriage or intimate relationship, or be cured of a serious health problem like cancer.  People who neglect or mistreat their children sometimes rely on the concept of mental illness to relieve them of responsibility for how their children turn out as adolescents or adults.  What have they done wrong?  In many cases, the answer is plenty.  But they prefer to believe a disease (mental illness) that “could happen to anyone” intervened and that “It's no one's fault.”

Another reason is our dis­comfort with ignorance.  When we don't understand the real reasons for something, we often create myths to give us an illusion of understanding.  Believing a myth is more comfortable than acknowl­edging ignorance.  For example, ancient man did not understand the why behind rain and therefore created the myth of the Rain God.  As man gained a knowledge of meteorology and hence a true knowledge of the why behind rain, the Rain God was no longer needed, and the Rain God idea was discarded.  Earlier in human history, being baffled by the thinking and behavior of some people, people theorized the existence of evil spirits or demons and created the myth of demon possession, the belief that people behaved strangely or wrongly because they were possessed by evil spirits. In the words of A. John Rush, M.D., “Deranged behaviors were typically con­sider­ed curses from the gods by the Ancients... During the Dark Ages, Western civilization returned to beliefs in possession and super­natural forces as explanations for psychiatric disorders.”10 Today we attribute thinking or behavior we dislike and don't understand to mental illness.  However, mental illness is just as much a myth as curses by gods or possession by evil spirits.  Often we just don't know why people think or act as they do.  Rather than acknowledge our ignorance, which makes us uncom­fort­able, we create myths such as evil spirits or mental illnesses to provide an explanation.

Why aren't all crimes considered mental illnesses or the result of mental illness?  Some people do say “all criminals are sick.”  However, for those of us who don't agree with this viewpoint, the difference between crime and mental illness typically is this: When we feel we understand the motives behind the disapproved behavior, we make the behavior a statutory offense.  When we do not understand the motives behind disapproved behavior, we cover up our ignorance of these motives by creating a myth—the myth of mental illness—and say mental illness caused the behavior — and punish the supposedly mentally ill person with involuntary “hospitalization” or an involuntary outpatient commitment order, and forced psychiatric “therapy” such as “involuntary medication”, or involuntary guardianship of his person and property.  The myth of mental illness deludes us into believing we understand the reasons for disliked behavior that we in fact do not understand.

Another reason for continued belief in mental illness is drug company advertising designed to convince everyone mental illness is biologically caused.  Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, in her book The Truth About Drug Companies—How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It approvingly quotes bioethicist Carl Elliott saying “The way to sell drugs is to sell psychiatric illness.”11  Psychiatrist Colin A. Ross, M.D., makes a similar comment in his auto­biographical book The Great Psychiatry Scam—One Shrink's Personal Journey: “Whatever makes mental illness be biological sells drugs.”12  In Saving Normal—An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life, psychiatrist Allen Frances says —

Psychotropic drugs are now among the very top best sellers for the drug companies.  Their stock prices would be cut by more than half were it not for the antipsychotics, anti­depressants, stimulants, antianxiety agents, sleeping pills, and pain meds.  ...  At the very top of the Pharma hit parade are the antipsychotics at a resounding $18 billion a year.13

Do you think drug company executives and advertising departments will tell the depressing truth about their products if widespread awareness of the truth would cause their company stock to be worth less than half what it is now?  It is more likely they are determined to maintain the myth that mental illness is biological and to hide the harm done by psychiatric drugs so they can continue to earn huge profits from selling them.  Adver­tising mental illness as biological when it is not to sell more psychiatric “medications” is unethical, but as Dr. Angell warns us in The Truth About Drug Companies, “Drug companies are in business to sell drugs.  Period.”14  And drug companies have huge advertising budgets.


REFERENCES

1 Judi Chamberlin, Own Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System(National Empowerment Center 1977), p. 8

2 John Friedberg, M.D., https://ectjustice.org/neurologist-john-m-friedberg-on-ect, https://web.archive.org, archive date: February 19, 2017, accessed August 5, 2019

3 Steve Balt, M.D., “Is the Criticism of DSM-5 Misguided?”, psychiatrictimes.com, December 22, 2011

4 I borrow this phrase from Donald G. Smith, How to Cure Yourself of Positive Thinking, E. A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., Miami, 1976, p. 73.

5 Peter Charles Hoffer, The Salem Witchcraft Trials—A Legal History(University Press of Kansas 1997), pp. 4, 78, 87, 89, 90

6 Thomas Szasz, M.D., Suicide Prohibition—The Shame of Medicine(Syracuse University Press 2011), p. 105

7 Judi Chamberlin, Own Our Own(note 1, above), p. 9

8 Millen Brand, “Is Mental Illness a Myth?”, The Jour­nal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, Summer 1970, Vol. 3, p. 13

9 Vernon W. Grant, Ph.D., This Is Mental Illness(Beacon Press 1963), p. 4, italics in original

10 A. John Rush, M.D., “Diag­nosis of Affective Disorders” in Depression Basic Mechanisms, Diagnosis, and Treatment(Guilford Press 1986), p. 2 

11 Marcia Angell, M.D., The Truth About Drug Companies—How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It(Random House 2005), p. 88

12 Colin A. Ross, M.D., The Great Psychiatry Scam—One Shrink's Personal Journey(Manitou Communications, Inc. 2008), p. xv

13 Allen Frances, M.D., Saving Normal—An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life(HarperCollins 2013), p. 104

14 Marcia Angell, M.D., The Truth About Drug Companies—How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It(Random House 2005), p. 250

Don’t Be Fooled by Fake News

Don’t Be Fooled by Fake News

Don't Be Fooled By Fake News


Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., Psychologist


There is a pernicious problem in the media that has existed for some time, namely, "fake news." But unlike the political rantings intended to mislead the public and denigrate the sources of opposition information, this kind of fake news is truly fake and that claim can be demonstrated.

The fake news I am referring to is the multitude of claims made by mental health researchers that show up in professional journal articles and popular news headlines, but that have no empirical basis. Instead, many times the results of research are presented in language that gives the impression of impactful scientific discovery supporting the reality of mental illness, as illness. It serves to mislead and misinform both lay and professional audiences. This is unethical and counter to the principles of "do no harm" and "informed consent."

A typical example was a very recent article published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism with the title, "Antidepressants reduced risk of mortality in patients with diabetes mellitus: a population-based cohort study in Taiwan". This title is clearly stating that antidepressant drugs were the causative factor in reducing deaths among diabetes patients. It is also implying the value, safety, and effectiveness of the drugs for the treatment of depression. However, if one looks at the study's methodology and results, it is clear this is fake news.

Because the study was retrospective and the people were not randomly assigned to groups, with one of the groups being prescribed antidepressants and the other not, causation cannot be determined. Correlation is the only conclusion possible. Thus the oft cited caution: "Correlation does not equal causation."

The study found that people who are prescribed antidepressant drugs had a lower risk of death. The relative risk figures ranged from .20 to .73, meaning the risk of death for those taking the drugs was between 27% and 80% lower than those not taking the drugs. Using a 9% risk of death for diabetes patients over 10-years, this would mean those who take antidepressants would lower their risk to between 2% and 7%. Such a finding gives the impression that the drugs are beneficial, not only for depression but also for reducing mortality.

However, to be intellectually honest, the only thing that can be concluded with this data is that antidepressant drug use is correlated with lower mortality among diabetes patients. It cannot be concluded that "Antidepressants reduced risk of mortality...." [Italics added] as is stated in the article's title.

Let's look further into the data to see the real news. According to the researchers, the higher mortality non-drug group was composed of more people who were: male (lower life expectancy than women), elderly (more likely to die), and poor (less access to medical care). The non drug group also had a higher incidence of heart failure and more severe complications from diabetes (perhaps because of being male, older, and poorer?).

These factors are given only cursory attention in the article. The researchers point them out, yet they don't appear to place much significance in them. Still, they can clearly explain why on average those in the non-drug group died earlier than those in the drug group, independently of whether or not antidepressants were used. At the very least, these factors cast significant doubt on the researchers final conclusion as stated in the article's title.

So, the correlation between antidepressant use and mortality may very well be bogus. The real correlation is very likely between mortality and these other factors. The apparent correlation between antidepressant use and mortality is meaningless. The next time you see headlines claiming bold medical findings, especially those related to mental illness, take the time to consider how most of those studies are based on correlations, not sound evidence of causation.

A popular website humorously demonstrates this problem of "spurious correlations." At this site you can see several examples of apparently strong correlations between two variables that have no true causative relationship. For instance, there is a .95 correlation (unheard of in medicine or the social sciences) between per capita cheese consumption and dying by becoming tangled in your bedsheets. If we took the approach of the above antidepressant and mortality study researchers, we would conclude that eating cheese causes us to die by getting entangled in our sheets! What a financial hit to the cheese industry but a boon to other completing snack companies.

Other meaningless but very strong correlations shown on this site are:

  • the number of people who drown by falling into a pool and the number of Nicolas Cage films. Watching Nicolas Cage films causes people to fall into pools and die.
  • U.S. spending on science, space, and technology, and the number of suicides from hanging, strangulation, and suffocation. Increased spending on science, space, and technology causes people to commit suicide by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation.
  • the per capita consumption of margarine and the divorce rate in Maine. If you want to stay married in Maine, don't eat margarine.

Incidentally, a troublesome finding of the antidepressant/mortality study, and that wasn't reflected in the title, is that one of the seven psychiatric drugs tested was correlated with a 48% increased risk of death. The drug is called a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase A (RIMA), which increases the effects of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. This drug is said to offer "a multi-neurotransmitter strategy for the treatment of depression." 

Only one short sentence in the antidepressant/mortality article mentions this potential danger of RIMA, but says nothing else about it. It is also given trivial mention in the concluding remarks: "Most ATDs but not RIMA were associated with significantly reduced mortality among population with comorbid DM and depression." [Italics added] Notice that statement didn't say that RIMA increased the risk of death. Why wasn't the article entitled, "Newly developed drug for depression shown to increase risk of death."?

Be careful what you read. Don't trust the headlines as they are usually written in a way to grab attention, not fully summarize the matter. Moreover, don't unquestionably trust the mental health industry as its leaders have a political and financial agenda that many times outweighs any interest in accurately portraying research results. Be informed and take the time to learn the truth.

The Zombie Theory: Thorazine to the Rescue (Part 3)

The Zombie Theory: Thorazine to the Rescue (Part 3)

R. L. Cima, Ph.D.

As long as I live, I shall balk at having psychoanalysis swallowed by medicine. - Sigmund Freud

 

WHO’s Counting

Within the last 70 years, with the assistance of a trillion dollar worldwide pharmaceutical business and their partners in academia – and a willing populace – human beings are being drugged into “balance” to treat fictitious brain diseases in astronomical numbers.  In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 300 million people around the world have depression disorder, 60 million have bipolar disorder, and another 23 million have schizophrenia disorder and other psychoses- all of them in need of psychiatric medication.  According to WHO, it’s likely that accurate numbers are significantly higher as poorer countries have no way to record mental illness.  Leading the way – the United States. 

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported in 2017 more than 40 million adults were prescribed one or more psychiatric prescriptions in America (2013).Race, you should know, is a factor.  One in five white adults, one in ten black adults, one in twelve Hispanic adults, and one in 20 Asian adults are prescribed psychiatric medications.  By gender, the difference is as significant.  Nearly twice as many women (20.8%) are taking psychotropics than men (11.9%).  Age matters too.  About one in ten 18-39 year-olds are psychiatric patients, nearly one in five 40-59 year-olds, and, out in front by a wide margin, a solid one fourth of adults between the ages of 60-85 are prescribed psychiatric medications.  By the way, why is “mental illness” dependent on race, gender and age?  How does the psychiatric medical model (PMM) scientist explain this? 

Children

There are 75 million children in the United States in 2019.3 Nearly 17 million are diagnosed with a brain disease.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD disorder, 4.5 million with a behavior disorder, another 4.4 million with anxiety disorder, and 1.9 million with depression disorder.4 And why are nearly one in five children being drugged?  The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) declares there are eleven psychiatric symptoms and disorders for which psychiatric medication may be prescribed for children.  The list includes bedwetting, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression disorder, eating disorder, bi-polar disorder, psychosis, autism spectrum disorders, severe aggression and sleep problems.5  

Toddler & Infants Too

From the New York Times, May 2014:

“About 15,000 American toddlers 2 or 3 years old, many on Medicaid, are being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to data presented Friday by an official at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”6

From Medical Daily, December 2015:  

“The report shows that psychotropic drug prescriptions among babies nearly doubled in one year, from 13,000 prescriptions in 2013 to 20,000 in 2014, despite the lack of evidence that shows they are effective and safe for young children . . .  psychiatrists often prescribe these drugs . . . for behavioral issues like unusual aggression, temper tantrums, or lethargy.”7

What Are We Taking – and Why Are We Taking Them?

From PsychCentral, here of the top 25 psychiatric drugs that were sold in America – and the reasons we take them – in 2016:8

Knot in the Mood

More than 338 million prescriptions were written just for anti-depressant medications in 2016, by far the winning diagnosis.  And depression isn’t as simple as you may think.  There are all kinds of depression including atypical depression, bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II, catatonic depression, cyclothymia, depressive personality disorder, double depression disorder, dysthymia, melancholic depression, minor depressive disorder, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, psychotic major depression, recurrent brief depression, and last, but not least, seasonal affective disorder, affectionately known as SAD.  

Is there a common denominator for all of these chemicals?  Of course, and it’s easy to see.  All 25 chemicals address the same innate, unavoidable, uncomfortable, and sometimes-hard-to-shake-life-altering-human-experience:  mood.  And yes, that includes ADHD, including the effect ADHD has on the mood of others.  Ok, you may notice, schizophrenia is about consciousness, not mood.  Nonetheless, the PMM provides treatment for schizophrenia and other aspects of consciousness with the same mood medications:  tranquilizers.  Anything else these chemicals have in common?  Yes, of course, and it’s easy to see too.  Twenty-two of them are central nervous system depressants (CNSD), and three of them are central nervous system stimulants (CNSS).  What’s that about and why is it important?

Lost In the Shuffle

Rhône-Poulenc, a French pharmaceutical company, was developing antihistamines for nausea and allergies in the late 1940’s.  Scientists noticed some chemical compounds exhibited exceptional sedative effects.  Dr. Henri Laborit, a French surgeon, called this effect artificial hibernation, and described it as “sedation without narcosis.”  By 1951 Laborit was conducting clinical trials of the newest compound – chlorpromazine (CPZ) –  for use as an anesthetic booster for surgery patients.  He proclaimed CPZ the “best drug to date” in calming and reducing shock during surgery.  Known as "Laborit's drug" among colleagues9, by 1953 CPZ was released for use in the operating room.  

Laborit was also a persistent advocate for clinical trials for psychiatric patients using this new wonder chemical.  His persistence was rewarded.  On January 19, 1952, CPZ was administered to a manic patient named Jacque.  Jacque’s improvement was reported to be “dramatic.”  After three weeks – and 855 mg of CPZ – Jacque was released from the hospital.  Word spread quickly about this “breakthrough.”  Dr. Pierre Deniker10, another French surgeon, ordered CPZ for a clinical trial at the Sainte-Anne Hospital Center in Paris.  His findings were even more dramatic.  Often doubling Laborit’s doses, Deniker found CPZ had much more than sedative effects.  His patients showed “remarkable improvement in thinking and emotional behavior.”  By the end of 1952, Deniker abandoned old, ineffective, and harmful shock methods and began to treat mental illness with CPZ.  

Soon after, Kline & French Pharmaceuticals (today's GlaxoSmithKline) purchased the rights to CPZ from Rhône-Poulenc.  By 1954, Smith-Kline & French received FDA approval to market CPZ as Thorazine to treat schizophrenia.  The world’s first psychiatric medication was created – and marketed.  Advertisements and professionals soon were boasting how “Thorazine helps to keep more patients out of mental hospitals.”  Please remember, hospital beds were required because psychiatric patients needed time to recover from electrocution, the surgeon’s knife, or chemically induced, months'-long comas.  While a chorus of public outcries about the inhumane treatment of psychiatric patients had already begun to empty the beds of these tortuous asylums, psychiatric scientists and drug company marketers attributed this exodus to the “dramatic” success of Thorazine.

Then, in October 1955, Deniker’s Saint-Anne Hospital Center convened the first international Thorazine (CPZ) conference.  Attendees included scientists from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Luxembourg, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.  Soon to follow were thousands of papers from scientists around the world publicizing their own “dramatic” successes with Thorazine for an ever-widening variety of brain disorders, affecting millions of patients.  By 1957, Laborit, Deniker (and Heinz Lehmann) were awarded the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for their contributions to the clinical development and use of Thorazine - dubbed “the world’s first anti-psychotic medication.”11     

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the pharmaceutical ads for Thorazine were ubiquitous.  Thorazine was prescribed for bursitis pain, cancer pain, emotional stress, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, “management of menopausal patients,” child behavior disorders, acute alcoholism, severe asthma, depression, hiccups, catatonic schizophrenia, schizoaffective conditions, epileptic clouded states, agitation in lobotomized patients, confusional states, senile psychoses, gastrointestinal disorders, psoriasis, and more.12 By 1964, fifty million people around the world had used Thorazine.13

In his book The Creation of Psychopharmacology (2002)14, David Healy, the renowned British psychiatrist, professor, scientist, author – and current director of an ECT clinic in Wales – proclaims the discovery of Thorazine as significant to medicine as the discovery of penicillin.  As important, he asserts, Thorazine was also the first profitable psychiatric medication for pharmaceutical companies.  He marks the convergence of these two events – a wonder treatment and profitability – as the genesis of what he termed “biological psychiatry,” and the 1980 publication of DSM-III as bonding psychiatry to the biological cause of mental illness, forever.  Healy also details the prodigious growth of pharmaceutical companies and their promotion strategies, including coordination with academia to find new mental illnesses, and to manufacture the medications to treat them.  

There were huge profits in the making for this burgeoning “take-a-pill-for-it” market, and Big Pharma began to flourish.  By the end of the 1960’s pharmaceutical companies had created dozens of “new and improved” medications for a growing number of new mental illnesses.  By then, Thorazine was regarded as just another, less effective medication, now criticized by its competitors for its notorious side effects.  And what were these “new and improved” medications from Big Pharma?  More tranquilizers.

Was the discovery of Thorazine really as significant as penicillin?  Yes, it was – if you are a proponent of the PMM.  Dr. Healy is, and he has company.  So is 94%15 of the general public and, presumably, 99+% of professionals.  However, if you are PMM antagonist, then Thorazine was – nothing more and nothing less – the world’s first tranquilizer, and a precursor to the hundreds of tranquilizers to follow.

A Lost Cause

Take a look at this chart of the top ten diagnosed brain disorders, and their causes:

There are a total of 713 medications manufactured by drug companies for the top ten brain disorders, for which there are no known causes.  How is that possible?  By the way, these are just the top ten diagnoses.  You can see the entire list of "Medications for Psychiatric Disorders" at www.drugs.com.16 Please be warned.  If you are looking for a cause for any of the brain disorders of the PMM, you will be disappointed.  There are none.  

So, do you wonder too?  What in the hell are they treating?  

Jacque to the Future

When Jacque took his first dose of CPZ in 1952, everything changed in psychology and psychiatry.  In just a few decades, psychological diagnoses became medical diagnoses, needing medical oversight, medical solutions, and medical doctors to do so.  Now, a psychiatric medical patient sees a medical doctor for psychiatric medication to address a brain disorder.  Behaviors once considered understandable responses to the challenges of life by psychology became “symptoms” to the doctors of the PMM, and the “symptoms” became evidence of the underlying medical deficiency, derangement, disease, disorder, disability, disturbance, or dysfunction (the 7 D’s of the PMM).

We are approaching 50 million men, women, children, toddlers and infants in the United States who are taking pills for brain disorders.  And business is booming.  Psychiatric medications – the majority tranquilizers, a handful of stimulants, and an occasional analgesic – now number in the thousands, more created every year.  Not a single cure, and not a single cause for any of the ever-growing brain disorders of the PMM.  

Did I mention business is booming?  

Welcome to Zombieland

Psychiatry entered the last half of the 20th Century on an upnote, despite a horrendous track record for the first 50 years.  The PMM scientists created a new, simple, humane, and easily administered treatment solution for mental illness, and by the 1960’s big pharma was making money hand over fist.  Only one thing was missing to unify this marriage.  Healy’s “biological psychiatry” needed a coherent, science-based, peer-reviewed theory to explain how all these miracle drugs worked.    

Well, they found one.  It’s about bad brain parts.  And a Zombie comes with it.

NEXT TIME:  Part 4:  The Dope About Dopamine – and Other Ridiculous Notions    

“When the doors to that dorm opened up a strange group of men would exit. They would seem to be in a hurry, but unable to coordinate their movements. Their heads would hang down and half expressions would ripple across their faces. They would run their hands over their heads over and over, and open and close their mouths while sticking their thick tongues out. Their gait was particularly peculiar, with stiff legs dragging their feet along, all the while seeming about to topple. We called this the ‘thorazine shuffle.’” - John Lash - Behind the Thorazine Shuffle, the Criminalization of Mental Illness (2012)17


Psychiatric Drugs For Babies? More Kids Aged 2 And Under Getting Prescribed Antipsychotics:  https://www.medicaldaily.com/psychiatric-drugs-babies-more-kids-aged-2-and-under-getting-prescribed-antipsychotics-365236

Some of his colleagues referrered to the effect as “non-permanent, pharmacological lobotomy."  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipsychotic#History

10 Pierre Deniker Foundation – for research and prevention of mental illness. https://www.fondationpierredeniker.org/what-is-it

12 For a thorough review of thorazine advertisements see:  http://www.bonkersinstitute.org/medshow/thorazine.html

14 See a review of The Creation of Psychopharmacology@https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279263/

17Behind the Thorazine Shuffle, the Criminalization of Mental Illness. https://jjie.org/2012/03/16/behind-thorazine-shuffle-criminalization-of-mental-illness/

 

A License To Kill

A License To Kill

Gail Tasch, M.D.

I was able to get a medical license in Florida, one of the more difficult states to get a license due to its history of medical fraud and abuse. In order to maintain a license in the state one has to take a “Medical Errors” continuing medical education course at licensure and every two years afterwards. I read the course and took the easy test and fulfilled the requirement. The course always begins with citing the 1999 study that stated that over 100,000 people die yearly from medical errors. I remember when this study came out and it made news headlines.

For the next license renewal 2 years later, I received the medical booklet for the course and the writer of the course said that now 200,000 people a year die from medical errors. Now this information isn’t coming from some "granola eating people" (that’s how the medical world refers to natural health practitioners) or some other offshoot group from Portland spreading “misinformation.” These courses are mainstream medical education. I was stunned by the doubling of the statistic and even wore the booklets out carrying them around and showing them to people. I brought the course booklets to dinner parties to show to other professionals and friends to see if they shared my outrage (none did).

So at the NEXT license renewal, lo and behold, the course in the booklet reported that “now it is closer to 400,000 people that die each year from medical errors.” Why is no one seriously looking at this statistic? My psychologist friend is fond of telling me “there are no doctor police!”  In medical school we are told that each doctor kills an average of 6 people during their practice. Looks like we are crushing it.

There has been some comparison of the healthcare system’s safety record to the airline industry. Hospitals made an effort to copy the airline industry’s stellar safety record with more team decision making and “time outs” in the operating room to ensure surgery took place on the correct side of the body, one of the most common surgical errors.

The number of fatalities in the aviation industry has fallen from approximately 450 to 250 per year.  This stands in comparison to the healthcare system where there is an estimated hundreds of thousands of preventable medical deaths each year.  This amounts to the equivalent of about three fatal airline crashes per day.  The renowned airline pilot, Chesley Sullenberger noted if such a level of fatalities was to happen in aviation, airlines would stop flying, airports would close, and there would be congressional hearings and a presidential commission.  No one would be allowed to fly until the problems have been solved.

 Sully has been passionate about safety for many years and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Patient Safety and he is a member of the Greenlight Group, a team of experts supporting a number of global healthcare research and development initiatives.  He noted that in healthcare mistakes affect just one person at a time.  Mistakes are buried, failures are buried.  Sully has referred to an era in aviation where pilots acted like gods with a small "g" and Cowboys with a capital "C".  He said sadly some of this culture would still appear to remain in parts of healthcare.  He believes patient safely should be a priority at all levels in the healthcare system, from the emergency rooms to the board rooms.

Unfortunately, there is less and less transparency regarding medical errors. The USA TODAY newspaper reported that “The federal government this month quietly stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients' bodies or make a host of other life-threatening mistakes.”

People are likely to die in other ways from our healthcare system. Dr. Gary Null published a very well researched white paper Death by Medicine.  In the paper, Dr Null reports that over 700,000 people die each year due to the healthcare system making healthcare treatment the number one cause of death in this country. It is very easy to me to think about friends and family members who died from the treatment they received. My wonderful sister-in-law died from the chemotherapy she received, not the lung cancer that plagued her.

Peter C. Gotzsche wrote an article for the British Medical Journal called “Does long-term use of psychiatric drugs cause more harm than good?”  Dr. Gotzsche concludes that psychiatric drugs are responsible for the deaths of more than a half a million people age 65 and older each year in the Western world.  He feels the benefits of psychiatric drugs are minimal.  He believes that psychiatric prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.  He believes that psychiatric drugs alone are the third major killer, mainly because antidepressants kill many elderly people through falls.

We are told as psychiatrists in our training that when prescribing atypical antipsychotic medications, we take 15-25 years off one’s life. These drugs cause weight gain, diabetes, chronic disease, and early deaths.

According to an article in the Journal of the World Psychiatric Association, antipsychotics, and to a lesser degree antidepressants and mood stabilizers, are associated with an increased risk for several physical diseases, including obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders, hyponatremia; cardiovascular, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal, hematological, musculoskeletal and renal diseases, as well as movement and seizure disorders. Higher dosages, polypharmacy, and treatment of vulnerable (e.g., old or young) individuals are associated with greater absolute (elderly) and relative (youth) risk for most of these physical problems.

The rationale is that they work so well that the tradeoff is justified. There is an attitude that because someone has mental health symptoms they don’t deserve the respect a “normal” person does. The psychiatric profession goes to great lengths to keep the current paradigm in place.

How would one best avoid these medical errors and adverse effects from medical treatment?  First of all, many of our illnesses are preventable. Eighty to ninety percent of visits to doctors and hospitals are for conditions that are preventable.  For instance, 50% of people over 50 years of age suffer from hypertension, a mainly lifestyle related problem. 

For the health care system in general, patient safety should be an integral part of medical training. Sully would say, “Safety should be a part and parcel of everything we do.  Every decision that is made, whether it is administrative, budgetary, or otherwise should take safety implications into account because there is such an important business case for doing so.” Unfortunately there is a great lack of accountability in our medical system.

I personally do not go to mainstream doctors, I went to midwives when I was having children, I don’t even have health insurance, but I do have an inexpensive catastrophic policy. I do not get mammograms or flu shots.

Our medical system provides the most expensive care, not what is in the patient’s best interest. When one does require care, one has to search out like minded practitioners. Unfortunately we do not have good mental health treatment but societies such as ISEPP and Mad in America are doing great work to reach people in need of help so that one can receive the very best care.


Wakefield, M. (2000). To err is human: An Institute of Medicine report. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31(3), 243-244.

USA Today August 6, 2014.

Death by Medicine. March 2004. Gary Null, PhD; Carolyn Dean MD, ND; Martin Feldman, MD; Debora Rasio, MD; and Dorothy Smith, PhD.

Committee on Quality of Health Care in American. To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1999.

Makary MA, Daniel M. Medical error: the third leading cause of death in the U.S. BMJ. 2016;353:i2139.

Does long term use of psychiatric drugs cause more harm than good? BMJ. 2015; 350. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h2435 (Published 12 May 2015).

JRSM Open. 2016 Jan; 7(1): 2054270415616548. Published online 2015 Dec 2. doi: 10.1177/2054270415616548 Aviation and healthcare: a comparative review with implications for patient safety Narinder Kapur,Anam Parand,Tayana Soukup, Tom Reader, and Nick Sevdalis.

World Psychiatry. 2015 Jun; 14(2): 119–136. Published online: doi: 10.1002/wps.20204. Effects of antipsychotics, antidepressants and mood stabilizers on risk for physical diseases in people with schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. Christoph U Correll, Johan Detraux, Jan De Lepeleire, and Marc De Hert.