Monday, September 27, 2010

Shipwrecked souls

Kristin at Borderline Families has leveled a well-aimed broadside taking issue with an article by Craig Garner appearing in the Huffington Post. You can read her blog post here. Having read the Garner piece, I find myself agreeing with Kristin's point that Mr. Garner is supporting the psychiatric industry by trotting out the usual uninformed views of mental illness (he should know better) such as when he writes "that the family experiences fear after a loved one is diagnosed with “mental illness”. He guesses that "this is because they are wondering if they are susceptible to the “illness” as well."

Kristin saying that the thought never entered her head that she would somehow "catch" the illness was exactly my reaction at the time, but unfortunately this is the clichéd question that every Frequently Asked Question about mental health poses. Haven't we moved beyond this simplistic idea? Obviously not, judging from what Mr. Garner wrote . My reaction at the time was that reassuring Chris's brothers that they weren't going to catch this would have the opposite effect. "Oh, no. This is obviously a possibility or why else would she bring this up!" Like Kristin, my fear was for my son as I watched him clearly not get better on the drugs that every doctor we came into contact with claimed would make him better.

The part of her post that I can really identify with is her experience with the Menninger Clinic. Our experience was with CAMH in Toronto, but it really doesn't matter where you go for help because the professionals who are supposedly providing the help haven't a clue about mental illness or what they are going to do about it. Nonetheless, we are expected to trust their superior knowledge. Yes, I would characterize their contagious "I'm so sorry attitude," as handwringing.

The inability of The Menninger Clinic to explain their philosophy for treatment was dumbfounding. It was as if they created this layered confused recital so that we thought that they were so damn intelligent that we would defer without question. Did they want us to believe that their program was so developed and intricate that the layperson was unable to grasp the concepts?
For two days staff members stood before us wringing their hands commiserating over our difficult situations. Then each commenced on a well rehearsed speech describing various aspects of their treatment philosophy. The specialized language and convoluted blather left most couples writing notes to one another or sitting on the edge of the plastic seats, trying to stay warm and attentive. I wondered whether their techniques were so cutting edge that it was hard to nail down the complexities or was it simply that the thesis had been lost in psychobabble. I think that the reputation of The Menninger Clinic was a towering house of cards. If we all exhaled at the same time, it would have crumbled.

It would have been far better for Chris and our family if we weren't greeted at CAMH like we were entering a funeral home. Some honesty would have gone a long way, too. "Gee, your son needs some help in going through a crisis. It may be related to his interactions with the family environment when he was growing up, or he may just need nutritional support or a combination of several approaches. We can give him a drug for a short period of time, but the drugs have side effects. The best thing for you to do is to take the perspective that it is a crisis that will pass, with proper psychological support for him and for you. He's not going to get better overnight, and it may take him a few years to get back on his feet, but recover he will and he may even surpass all previous expectations. Chances are he'll recover quicker if you learn how to engage him.

Unfortunately, the stereotype of mental illness is perpetuated by handwringing professionals who act like funeral home directors. That part is definitely contagious.


  1. We ran into hand-wringers all over the country in our search for relief for our daughter. Unfortunately, we were sucked in by their overwhelming concern and, as a result of our blind, desperate obeying of the system, my daughter lost years of her life.

    Can we make up for that time? No. Why? Because the psychotropic drugs ruined aspects of her thought process. The neuroplasicity of the brain is hard at work, but it will take time and because my daughter is still battling one of the most tenacious of the drugs, benzodiazepines, she is far from out of the woods.

    I, too, have my fantasies of how this could have gone very differently. The mention of the first psychiatrist my daughter saw, the very same one who prescribed the benzos, can still illicit tears from my daughter. "She ruined my life." What if she had asked - have you tried a nutritionist, a naturopath, meditation, yoga???

    The Alternatives Conference which begins in Anaheim, CA this week took a hit yesterday. Will Hall, a presenter who is an authority on the lessening and tapering off of psych meds was told that he had to 're-write" the language of his lecture. (Censorship, plain and simple.) NEC did not withdraw approval but they did say that references to coming off meds had to be removed in the program. They were concerned it would be interpreted as medical advice. (like the people attending can't make informed decisions; they had to step in a "protect" the attendees.

    In other words, Big Pharma reached in and placed a piece of tape over Will Hall's mouth. He decided not to attend. Here is the letter will Hall posted -
    The psychiatric industry is rampantly silencing all alternative approaches to treating mental health issues. If it closes off the $$ pipeline that the psychiatric drugs provide, than it has to be muzzled.

    How do we make an impact, be a true voice for change that gets listened to?

    I feel completely defeated by this weekend's facebook analysis of what went down leading up to the conference and Will Hall's silencing.
    Rossa, stop in and read Daniel Fisher's fb page, Meg Park's, Ed D. Knight's and my page, too, have some interesting comments. So discouraging...

  2. How stupid do they think we are that we can't listen to Will Hall and interpret his disclaimer as a disclaimer - "of course, this should not be interpreted as medical advice." This is done all the time. People write this all the time. So, how come he can't say it orally in a presentation? (We have to put up with television telling us that "what we are seeing is for entertainment purposes only.") We're getting dumber and dumber, I guess.

  3. They psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries want to squash this kind of thinking before it takes hold on any fence-sitters. Will Hall is a compassionate articulate thinker and speaker. Too much for them to contain..

  4. I have found your blog through various other blogs, including the NYT. I am very interested in your topic and your point of view. I've been dealing with the psychiatric community in the southeast and Birmingham in particular. It's pretty discouraging to say the least. I have tons and tons of questions!! Here in Birmingham, I have not found one single alternative to psychotropic drugs. No wonder people stay on them for so long. No one, not even un-self-reflective patients, knows there is anything else to do.

  5. The altneratives are never there until people start taking their personal health into their own hands. Birmingham could be London or Rome in this regard. I live in a country that people associate with the best that psychiatry has had to offer, and I found out very quickly how plugged into psychopolypharmacy they are here. So, right off the bat, as you observe, people are isolated if they want something better.

  6. In answer to Anonymous, There are alternatives available in every community. Diet and exercise are a huge part of the alternative approach. Mediation centers are a dime a dozen, they have become so popular. See a nutritionist or naturopath - once or twice and you are on your own. These alternatives are NOT expensive ways to treat mental health issues. But, they have proven to be very effective. The long term efficacy is the key. Eventually drug therapy will cause problems but the alternative approaches are good for you no matter where you live or what your life style dictates.

  7. Yes, and trust me - if I were the one with the problem, I think I would be extremely open to trying these approaches. Unfortunately in my case, it is an elderly relative, who delights in calling the psych "doctor," and shaking his hand, and feeling part of some process, I don't know what. My relative will not listen to me as I have tried to take him to psychiatrists who have tapered people off. And his own psych won't hear of it. And the relative does not listen to me. We need an alternative with a voice at least a quarter strong as that of the prevailing industry. Thanks for all you do.


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