The Psych Ward
I don’t know why you clicked on this page, dear reader, but let me tell you why I wrote it.
I have visited Pych wards. I have never been confined to one, but seeing what they have done to those I love, I have become a passionate advocate on behalf of those who would have their distresses and differences forcibly medicated so that others might have a more comfortable existence. I did that to two of my children. I grew up with a mother who had it done to her.
Here is what might be news for you: Our experience with Psych wards could soon be yours. Perhaps you have a child in a medical crisis that is not well understood, and you disagree with the doctors over her care — you might have your child taken from your home for over a year and housed in a locked ward, like Justina Pelletier, sick with a newly discovered mitochondrial disease, now diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.
Or you could be hospitalized and medicated against your will now that diagnostic categories have spread a wider net: for example, a perfectly natural grief that extends past two weeks can now be labeled ‘Major Depressive Disorder’. Beware of a too-passionate display of such an emotion, such as this grieving mother’s, who was forcibly confined for over five weeks and then forced to pay for her ‘treatment’
One day after the bodies of her son and estranged husband were discovered on December 18 of last year, Christina Schumacher was declared “a danger to herself and others” and hospitalized against her will, without a judge’s review. She remains there still. ”I am not ill,” she told the Burlington Free Press, “I am simply a mother who is grieving the tragic loss of her young son . . . This is my journey, and in no way is it up to anyone to judge how I mourn.”
But sadly, an opposition to meds and Psychiatry is seen by many as taking a ‘holier than thou’ sort of attitude. “Pill Shamers” is the label we are given. Like, somehow because I survived a post-partum psychotic break without using meds (which I did) I can tough it out better than you can. Or, that we are anti-science (yet, interestingly, as this Mental Health Professional clearly explains, Psychiatry itself is “Not Based on Valid Science.” ) Clinical researcher Dr. Peter Gotzsche, co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, a clearinghouse for medical research all around the globe and an expert on deciphering graphs and data and meta-analysis (he was responsible for the research that led to the new mammogram protocols) discusses common myths about psychiatry here, and concludes:
“My studies in this area lead me to a very uncomfortable conclusion: Our citizens would be far better off if we removed all the psychotropic drugs from the market, as doctors are unable to handle them. It is inescapable that their availability creates more harm than good.”
I have become vividly aware of the effects of stigmatizing diagnoses and bad drug effects on those I love, and have read about them widely. So now I am an unwilling expert on things such as Tardive dykinesia and Akathesia… and death. Some of mine became suicidal from the unbearable restlessness of Akathesia, and my mother suffered life threatening renal failure after years on Lithium — the best treatment she experienced — but sadly, Lithium nearly killed her, after over twenty years of use.
After that near-collision with death, she went thru a series of drug experiments that were less fortunate than Lithium, and was a kind of human guinea pig for the rest of her life. The witty brilliant woman who majored in Chemistry at Cal completely disappeared –flat does not begin to describe her — until a real healing of her soul and body occurred as she gave her life to Jesus, and it was the Gospel that renewed my Schizoaffective mother’s mind, when she was dying of emphysema and had to go off her psych meds. The change was astonishing, even to her social worker, who marveled at her lucidity, and peace.
I have had two children wearing psychiatric labels. When one began to understand psychiatry as a tool of social control and began ‘cheeking’ her meds because they were making her psychotic and paranoid — and she had never been that way before — she began to educate me as well about psychiatry’s annexation by BigPharma, and we began to wean ourselves from the system, and from all the drugs. It has not been easy. She had Tardive dyskinesia–Tourette’s like involuntary tics — and Akathesia — an unbearable inner restlessness that can lead to suicide — as well as severe drug withdrawal syndrome. Her post-pill life has not been easy, but she now has her right mind back, and she is finally free of the whole body disfiguring shudders of Tardive dyskinesia, because we stopped the drugs early enough in her journey.
I deeply regret the psychiatric holds I placed on her, with all their forced drugging, and have promised her, never again will I arrange that coercive ‘treatment’. I have explained to her that I was ignorant of the real nature of these neuroleptics because of my mother’s positive response to Lithium. My daughter has forgiven us, has given her life to Jesus, and experienced great changes in her lucidity and functioning.
So I am not holier than anybody. I am not saying grin and bear it. Daily, I watch my daughter courageously struggle to repair her body and life. I do not downplay, or not take seriously, the real devastation of ‘mental illness’. I have experienced it. But I have seen my own family even more devastated by these drugs, and I am concerned for those others without advocates who are being preyed upon by Big Pharma — particularly children, the poor and elderly — as Dr. Angell relates in a New York Review of Books critique of Whittakers book. As a twenty year veteran editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, she writes with some authority here that her critics
“simply assume that psychoactive drugs are highly beneficial, but none of them provides references that would substantiate that belief. Our differences stem from the fact that I make no such assumption. Any treatment should be regarded with skepticism until its benefits, both short-term and long-term, have been proven in well-designed clinical trials, and those benefits have been shown to outweigh its harms. I question whether that is so for many psychoactive drugs now in widespread use. I have spent most of my professional life evaluating the quality of clinical research, and I believe it is especially poor in psychiatry.”
I have struggled with “problems in my life” as well. When I myself experienced a psychotic break, I recovered without drugs, and have stayed in recovery, drug-free. In the old days, such a florid episode would have been called a “nervous breakdown” and would have been recognized as the result of stress and trauma. Sufferers in the past generally recovered from their psychotic breaks, and went on to live productive lives. Now they are coercively ‘treated’ with brain-damaging chemicals and slapped with a stigmatizing label, and dismissed after a fifteen minute consultation with a prescription, and given no supportive care. No wonder so many commit suicide in the first six months after diagnoses. As Suzanne Beachy, the mother of a son who gave up on life after being labeled a schizophrenic after suffering a psychotic break soon after the 9/11 attacks, eloquently writes:
Being told that mental illness is like diabetes is misleading and discouraging. This is not a fair comparison.Diabetes is due to a well understood defect in a body part, the pancreas. Mental illness, on the other hand, literally means that your mind is sick. Your mind, unlike your pancreas, is not just a body part. Your mind enables you to relate, set goals, dream, and have hope. If you and the people around you believe that your mind will be defective and sick for the rest of your life, you are left without hope of ever having the agency to build a life…We need not burden distressed young people with hope-sucking labels of chronic mental defect. There is a better way.
The truth is, you are actually better off living as a schizophrenic in a third world country without medical treatment — 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. These astonishing facts led the respected journalist Robert Whittaker to write his groundbreaking book, “Anatomy of an Epidemic.”
There are promising alternatives to coercive care for first episode psychotics– one in particular, is the Finnish approach to it, called Open Dialogue, which was recently criticized in the HuffPost. But Dr. Mary Olson explains why Open Dialogue is really successful, and counters well the criticisms of this groundbreaking approach.
Because of these kinds of contributions by an interesting array of thoughtful critics to coercive treatments for people in crisis, I have found the Mad in America website a really good resource for reliable information on Mental Health Issues. It was begun by the journalist Robert Whittaker, whose book “Anatomy of an Illness” is a must-read for anyone with “problems in their family.” They have a library of articles on ADHD, and links to news such as this recent one in the NY Times: “A.D.H.D. Experts Re-Evaluate Zeal for Drugs”
I especially liked this cogent article by behaviorist Dr. Phil Hickey, explaining why “Psychiatry is Not Based on Valid Science.” I hope, patient reader who has come this far in reading, that it helps you understand the issues even more clearly. If you are a parent with a child in crisis, The AbleChild network, “Parents for a Label and Drug Free Education” is there to help as well, if you meet greater resistance to your decision from schools not to drug your child.
My mother came to know the Lord before she died. Her conversion gave her the mind of Christ. And because she also had to withdraw from her psych drugs because of treatments for emphysema, she truly had a life-altering change in her life. 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 because 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.
So here is a link to my archives containing a collection of articles critical of Psychiatry. And here are some particularly critical of the church, for exchanging her rich birthright of caring for the distressed with gifts of hope, practical hospitality and pastoral counsel, for psychiatry’s mess of potage :