I'd come upon this interesting 2 part interview from 2011 with Robert Whitaker in 'Behavioural Healthcare', on the topic of 'Transforming our thinking about psychiatric medications'. Interviewers Lori Ashcraft and Bill Anthony.
Part One, July 2011
Part Two, October 2011
The introduction, likening the Wizard of Oz story and Toto pulling back the curtain, to the somehow unmasking of psychiatric drugs, drew me in to the piece. And I've been thinking on the answer from Bob Whitaker, in Part Two, page 3, to Lori's comment about maybe becoming stronger if she hadn't had to take psychiatric medications for 30yrs:
"I think that is a very important point. We have been conditioned
today to think that when you are feeling emotional pain or psychiatric
distress, then that may be a symptom of a mental disorder, and you can
take this pill to squash that symptom. But there is evidence that if
people can struggle through an initial bout of depression or other form
of psychiatric distress without going on medication, they can come out
stronger on the other side.
But clearly that can be hard and it can be painful, and at least in
certain situations, it can be risky to forgo the medications. If a
person decides to forgo the medications, then it would be nice if he or
she could get other psychosocial support."
The challenge nowadays is to be able to access psychosocial support for mental distress when the first recourse is to pop a pill to make it go away. For physical pain this can work, pain that is occasional and not to do with major issues, as in paracetamol or ibuprofen for a headache or flu. The problem with psychiatric pills for mental distress is that the treatment can be worse than the cure.
And for those of us who are find ourselves in an alternative universe, an escape from the trauma or stress, nowadays called psychosis, used to be called nervous breakdown, then it is a harsh bringing back to reality with brain altering chemicals. Dictated by doctors under the mental health act, otherwise known as compulsory treatment. Depending on the skill of the practising psychiatric nurse as to whether this is forced or persuaded.
I really don't like the psychiatric drugs so wouldn't want to swallow them if I could help it. They make me dependent and vulnerable, unlike myself and lacking in decision-making abilities. And take me considerable inner strength and resilience to get off them. By taking charge of my own mental health, defying the labels and prognosis, and recovering.
Therefore I think this inner strength and resilience has to be a positive thing, even when psychiatrists and psychiatry don't seem to like it and do everything they can to squash it. Or that was my experience. Even yet I get psychiatrists trying to tell me what to do, what to say, what not to say etc. It's very irritating. You know who you are. Even recently I had to tell one that I was 60, not a teenager, and knew what I was doing in my blog writing.
There's something in psychiatry that won't let go of the patient, even when they are getting better and have insight. Almost like they could be out of a job if all their patients recover. Yes that's the point of it all, in my opinion. Getting better, recovering. Has anyone told the psychiatrists? That there is a time to let go and let live. And people can have insight in the midst of their psychotic experience. Maybe not the same insight as the psychiatrist. But some would say the psychiatrist has left their insight at the door of the psychiatric hospital, on the way in.
I'm being cheeky and provoking. It's needed, especially in the topsy turvy world of psychiatry. Where it's difficult to tell the mad people from the others, except for their badges, uniforms and suits. Otherwise we just wouldn't know, would we? I remember a time when the psychiatric nurses weren't in uniform and if I didn't see their badge well I really wasn't sure who was a patient. It wasn't obvious. And nowadays the uniformed ones are the maddest, in my opinion. They must be to do what they do.
I hear from other carers who say that the person they care for doesn't believe they are mentally ill, don't have schizophrenia etc. I reply that's good, it shows they have insight. But I'm in the minority because the carers who aren't survivors don't usually have the same opinion as me. They probably think I'm mad and lack insight too. We agree to differ. It's a matter of having been there, done that, wore the tee-shirt sort of a thing.
Until you've been a psychiatric patient, labelled and forcibly drugged then you won't really know what it's like. It can't be imagined. Same as having a baby, what that feels like. Or, for me, what having an alcohol or drug addiction feels like, which I can't imagine. I've never liked alcohol or been tempted by recreational drugs. So why would I have an opinion on resisting them if addicted to them?
But I do have strong opinions about psychiatry and the need for alternative treatments. Also ways of encouraging inner strength and resilience in children and young people, in adults too. So that they can be self governing, self aware, self confident, while also being responsible citizens and balanced individuals. A life worth living, for all of us, including when our mental health is being challenged.