“May Not Be Curable?” Really?

The Striatum; part of the basal ganglia; neura...

Here is my response to a series begun by Adrian Warnock at Patheos, who will be hosting a Patheos-wide conversation on Mental Illness. It is very distressing to read this sort of hopeless prognostications by one of the Church’s leading spokespersons of the Charismatic Renewal. I note that he is “a trained psychiatrist”:

“Mental illness may not be curable, but often does respond well to medical treatment.” What bleak words!  I’d like to share a more hopeful narrative, one of complete recovery from psychosis. But first, let me push back on the idea that ‘medical treatments are effective’ — can you  offer supporting evidence?

The truth is,  you are actually better off living as a schizophrenic in a third world country without medical treatment, as your outcome of recovery without relapse is far better, according to two World Health Organization studies. These found 63.7% of the patients in the poor countries were doing fairly well at the end of two years. In contrast, only  36.9% of the patients in the U.S. and six other developed countries were doing fairly well at the end of two years. The researchers concluded that “being in a developed country was a strong predictor of not attaining a complete remission.” In the developing countries, only 15.9% of patients were continuously maintained on neuroleptics, compared to 61% of patients in the U.S. and other developed countries.

And study after study conducted since the 70’s support this underreported fact, that patients do far better without psych drugs. There may be short term immediate effects, but there are greater relapse incidences. This has been demonstrated by the Vermont Longitudinal Study, the Rappoport study, and for example, this  study by Martin Harrow, in which NIMH-funded researchers followed the long-term outcomes of schizophrenia patients, and they found that at the end of 15 years, 40% of the schizophrenia patients who had stopped taking antipsychotics were recovered, versus 5% of those who had stayed on the drugs. Long-term outcomes for patients with “other psychotic disorders” were also much better for those off the drugs than for those who stayed on the medications.

You can find  links to these studies and the other information about them, here: http://www.madinamerica.com/2011/11/antipsychotic-drugs-and-chronic-illness/ Many of the contributors to that site, which is a wonderful resource for cutting edge science and encouraging words for those who struggle, have made the same conclusion as Dr. Jonathan Cole, the author of the ’77 NIMH study who titled his report, “Is the Cure Worse  Than the Disease?.”

For  those very scientific reasons, I would be very reluctant to be part of a church support group that “had a partnership with non-Christian psychiatrists”, particularly if they were promoting psychotropic drugs. But I have found there are spiritual reasons to reject psychiatry’s  chemical remedies, as well.

Because, like Amy Simpson, I too grew up with a mother who was Schizoaffective (a combination of bipolar and schizophrenia),  and I myself had a post-partum psychotic break. My mother came to know the Lord before she died, and also had to withdraw from her psych drugs because of  treatments for emphysema. Her social worker was astonished at the calmness and lucidity she enjoyed without the mind-numbing effects of carbamazepine — she truly had the ‘peace that passes understanding’.  And  I also recovered fully from my own nervous breakdown, and from a lifetime battle with crippling anxiety — all without medication. I refuse both the stigma and the diagnoses, and proudly proclaim that there is great hope   for those fighting  for this kind of a dignified life.

Many of us who have recovered reject the accepted narrative  that we have a crippling chemical imbalance in our brains that dooms us to a lifetime of substandard living, and a dependance on drugs. We recognize these disorders are more than brain diseases, they are also spiritual crises. Jesus can and does heal those with “mental illness”. I am one of the captives he has set free:  https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/good-news-about-psychosis-recovery-i-did-it-using-no-bad-drugs/

Explore posts in the same categories: Christians and Psychotropics: An Uneasy Exchange, The Nervous Breakdown

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2 Comments on ““May Not Be Curable?” Really?”

  1. Karen Butler Says:

    In answer to this objection by a commenter on Warnock’s site:

    “hi karen, as a psychiatrist i see first hand the consequences of people trying to manage schizophrenia and other severe mental illness WITHOUT medical treatment. Typically people lose their friends, money, house, job and pride. Stories like yours are i am afraid the exception to the rule. antipsychotic medication does have side effects, but so does managing without medication.”

    I wrote:
    “There are effective alternatives for care –Soteria and Open Dialog, which I link to below. But first, please read the article I cited regarding Harrow’s longitudinal study, which was published in March 2013 in the “Schizophrenia Bulletin”, here: http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/03/19/schbul.sbt034.abstract Harrow and Jobe discuss their study, and this quote is key:

    “From an alternative perspective, the reduction in relapses and low relapse rate, after 6-10 months, could indicate a medicine-generated psychosis in the first 6-10 months, which then recedes. Using this perspective, the first 6-10 month increase in relapses after withdrawal may be influenced by biological conditions generated by the previous continuous use of antipsychotics, with this interacting with schizophrenia patients’ underlying greater vulnerability to psychopathology. The discontinuation effect includes the potential of medication-generated buildup, prior to discontinuation, of supersensitive dopamine receptors, or the buildup of excess dopamine receptors, or supersensitive psychosis, as indicated by multiple studies by Seeman and others of dopamine-blocking agents using animal models.”

    Robert Whittaker discusses the ramifications of the study, here: http://www.madinamerica.com/2013/03/do-antipsychotics-worsen-long-term-schizophrenia-outcomes-martin-harrow-explores-the-question/
    He urges opinion makers like Torrey and Insel — and I would urge Adrian Warnock and David Murray, who are their Christian counterpoints of gate-keeping– to read it, because the current paradigm of care desperately needs to be reassessed in the light of the wealth of evidence that Harrow and Jobe wrote, “prolonged use of antipsychotics is harmful for some or many patients.”

    There are alternative models for treatment, like Mosher’s model of Soteria– some links to research here: http://www.madinamerica.com/2012/03/the-soteria-project/
    and also the very sucessful Finnish model of Open Dialog — which has achieved a 90% decline in Schizophrenia with little relapse, with very little use of psychotropic drugs. It aims at treating psychotic patients in their homes, and seems very hospitable to a Christian worldview — much more humane than emergency treatment orders and forced drugging. Read the founder Jakko Seikkula’s PDF discussing 5 year outcomes here: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&cad=rja&ved=0CFcQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iarecovery.org%2Fdocuments%2Fopen-dialogue-finland-outcomes.pdf&ei=JEGFUc-LEYO0iQKKrYCQBA&usg=AFQjCNGJjuoIB7zCcMZ0InCqhrBWql7NPw&bvm=bv.45960087,d.cGE

    I am going to write an article as soon as I am able, to discuss the biblical worldview so prevalent in Soteria and Open Dialog. It is demonstrable in the kind of hospitality these programs offer. It is a key to healing for sufferers of that spiritual and bodlily crisis that a psychotic episode *is*– versus the cruel and frightening inhospitable paradigm of care the world of psychiatry currently, and I may say, ineffectively, offers.

  2. Similarly, the landmark study, in 1987, of 50,000 Swedish Army conscripts, mentioned above, found that those who admitted at age 18 to having taken cannabis on more than 50 occasions, were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia in the following 15 years. In fact, psychosis cases were restricted to patients requiring a hospital admission. These findings have not been replicated in another population based sample. As the study did not control for symptoms preexisting onset of cannabis use, the use of other illicit drugs, the study does not resolve the correlation versus causality question but has fueled a major debate within the scientific community. This study also used self reporting for cannabis dosage.

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