Ken originally published this blog as “Criticizing Critics I Agree With”
Psychiatrists are all about medication, and when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
More and more people criticize the way the mental health profession presents and administers psychiatric medicines. Their reasons are good, and they often write in strong definite terms, which often make me nervous.
Sometimes, I ask these writers if they are anti-medicine. Always, the answer is, “Oh no! If medicine is helping you, you should take it. I just mean…..”
And then they finish that sentence with something I agree with completely. Why do they make me coax that clarification out of them instead of saying it right up front? People might read these critics, stop taking their medicine, relapse, and lose all the ground they gained. Medicine helps many people, and stopping abruptly can be dangerous. Not attaching that warning to your critique of medication is irresponsible.
Sometimes, medication saves lives (like mine). My best friend, David Hilton, spent two or three months in the hospital every two years because he kept stopping his medicine. He had what I have and took what I take. The last time he stopped, after having screaming arguments with all this best friends and his daughter, he stood in front of a train.
I’d say more about David Hilton, the father of the recovery/empowerment movement in New Hampshire, but years after his death, I still get upset when I think about it. If only he had taken care of himself, he would still be here, I believe. On his meds, he changed the world. Off his meds, he talked utter nonsense for hours on end, and had life-threatening car accidents, before being re-committed to the hospital against his will.
People who need medication, like me and David Hilton, really NEED it. Mine did not make me well. It stopped my painful, debilitating, rapid mood swings and racing thoughts, and allowed me to make myself well, and achieve my goals.
Here’s a summary of the valid arguments about medication the critics are making:
- The professionals present it to people as the only option, not one of many options.
- They say you have to keep taking it for life. That’s true sometimes, not always.
- These are very invasive medicines, and sometimes the treatment is worse than the disease.
- Doctors don’t always listen to complaints about side effects, like morbid obesity, impotence, or involuntary movement of facial muscles. Sometimes, they tell the patient to learn to live with it, or prescribe another medicine for the side effect, which has side effects of its own..
- Psych meds do nothing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is not a biologically-based disease. It’s a normal human reaction to abnormal events. The vast majority of adults in community mental health centers have PTSD, which often masquerades as a severe mental illness. Maybe they have a mental illness along with it, and maybe not. For these people (like me), medicine will only give partial relief People with only PTSD will only get side effects from their medication.
- There is now a large, growing population that has been taking psych meds for decades. Studies are raising questions about bad effects in some long-time users.
- Many people say there is no scientific evidence that a chemical causes for mental illness even exists. I’m pretty sure, from my experience, that something chemical was going on, and medication stopped it. I still must deal with PTSD, and I had to learn how to be well.
I suspect that many of the strongest critics of the way medication is administered in the system have PTSD only, and are right when they say meds don’t help them. The founders of the consumer rights movement in the early 1970’s, including David Hilton, were victims of forced treatment and confinement. That’s traumatic by definition. That might have been all they had when they were released from big asylums as young adults.
I also suspect many critics are generalizing from an accurate picture of their own experience, and trying to express their criticism in the strongest possible terms. They are certainly the world’s top experts on their own experience, but everybody is different, especially on questions of psychiatric medicine.
Some are against medication on ideological grounds, like Scientologists and Christian Scientists, who claim to have home cures. I can be standing right in front of them, living proof that medicine helps many people, They deny the fact, and cling to their ideology.
David Hilton was an ideologue like that. In fact, he dabbled with Christian Science and Scientology, and a couple of other home cure plans that told him what he wanted to hear – that he should stop his medication – instead of what he needed to hear.
He always saw medication only as a civil rights issue, not a personal health issue. He had a right to refuse. His reasons were ridiculous: he was 15 pounds heavier at 48 than he was when he was a star athlete in high school. Who isn’t? And he sometimes lost concentration in 2-hour meetings. Who doesn’t? He followed his ideology to his grave. I guess he had a right to do that, too. What a waste.
I want critics of the medical model to speak out loud, long, and often. Continue your research, but please be more careful. Include my experience. There are millions of people like me.