Will Hall, author of The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Medications, has articulated my thoughts on the dangers of the pendulum swinging too far in either direction. We've experienced the one extreme (the biochemical model) of being told that psych meds are the only solution for brain "disease," that medication is normally forever, and that side effects are tolerable and manageable. The growing backlash to that extreme rightfully came about because truthful information was being withheld. But there are now a lot of people working to force the pendulum in the other direction, the one that promotes the idea that medications to treat distress are more dangerous than they are in many cases, that mental illness will go away if people would only get off their meds. A lot of the recovery movements complaints are with how psychiatry has abandoned the nurture of the psyche, therefore perhaps we over-vilify the meds -- the most obvious thing psychiatry does do these days. (It's an easy target.)
I agree with Will, that we are in danger of creating a backlash if we don't take a more balanced approach. (Remember, we want the pendulum to swing disproportionately on our side for as long as possible.) One way to avoid the backlash is to be careful not to replicate the mistake of withholding or denying information that doesn't fit our sometimes simplistic view of getting on or off the drugs.
In the comments section to his post, Will writes:
I think, in our efforts to alert the world about the dangers of psych drugs, we sometimes overstate the case. Psychiatry has erred for so long in favor of meds, we shouldn’t make the opposite mistake by exaggerating the dangers of drugs.That is not to deny that people are killed and seriously damaged by medications, but if we express only these accounts we are distorting a complicated picture.
What I am seeing these days is people and families who read Bob’s work and think that getting off meds is the solution. Often it is, like a magic bullet in reverse. Sometimes it’s not. I fear if we promote coming off meds, we are setting ourselves up for a backlash just like is happening now to those who promoted taking meds. Maybe a smaller backlash, and maybe the overarching message is better, but I’d rather be honest at the outset.
Will Hall is always worth reading. He knows his stuff and he's willing to admit what he doesn't know, and that people and situations are complex. Here's the link to his post at the Mad in America site.