Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lookin' for keys in all the wrong places

The commenter I introduced in my last post also took issue with me for not being properly holistic. He referred to another blog post of mine and decided that I, in collusion with female psychiatrist and infantilizer, Dr. Stern, had forced Chris back on meds. No, it did not happen like that and what I wrote in the post he referred to does not detract from my opinions of the meds. (And, Chris, of course, could have refused the meds.) The commenter then pounced on me for my going along with meds which he felt is hypocritical of me since I claim to be "holistic."  Since when did "holistic" mean anything but all-encompassing, perhaps leaning towards the natural?

This little anecdote is my way of introducing a bit of science into this post. I tend to question the scientific basis of "schizophrenia" because (a) nobody was using science to diagnose and treat Chris; when a bit of nutritional science was later introduced into his regime, it ultimately led nowhere; (b) where do you begin to look for possible causes?; (c) today's "science" is tomorrow's discredited science; (d) many people get better without resorting to science, etc. etc.

There are dozens of possible medical reasons that can produce psychotic symptoms in an individual. Only one of these medical causes may apply to the particular patient. Where do you start to look if science is not taking schizophrenia seriously enough to investigate your particular case? The problem with science in the past has been that it seems to have adopted an all or nothing approach for mental illnesses. The dopamine receptor theory was forced on just about everybody because treatment was relatively straightforward. Get everybody on the medication. Ask no questions.

There is change happening. While there is more and more understanding of the trauma informed aspect of schizophrenia and other mental health diagnoses, there is also growing interest in medical testing for specific conditions that have gone undetected in the past.

From time to time I refresh myself on possible medical reasons for Chris's condition, and nothing has jumped out at me as an avenue to investigate further. However, Chris recently consulted a new shaman who hooked him up to special machine originally invented to test the health of Russian cosmonauts. I'm guessing that this machine is the CMD-Prognos or something similar. The shaman (who I call the plant power guy) pronounced that Chris's immune system is giving off absolutely no visible signs of life. Amazing Guinness World Records kind of thing. He gave him some vials of plant power extract to take. So, now, after nine years of looking, there is a possible medical cause - an immune deficiency disorder. The problem is, linking immune deficiency to schizophrenia and other disorders, is still in its infancy. Science just isn't there yet. See the latest article in Scientific American. An Immune Treatment Finds New Uses for Mental Health. What the article doesn't talk about is the expense for a single vial of this treatment. I've heard six figures. Can the shaman restore Chris's immunity levels to something in the range of normal? Will this also clear up his tendency toward psychosis? Should we do further testing? Is there further testing we can do?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Are mothers welcome in the recovery movement?

I've been thinking a lot about the recovery movement lately. Most of my contact with it comes through the Mad In America site. I recently got into an exchange of comments on the MIA site with a person who appears not to want to hear what I had to say because I was a mother, and therefore not a person who qualifies as having "lived experience." The fact that mothers, too, have lived experience in the recovery movement is not respected in the recovery movement, I am sad to say. Many people in the movement have their own stories to tell about how their parents contributed to their problems. This particular commenter assumed because I am a mother writing about my son that I am an oppressor, an infantilizer, even a castrator, and kept pestering me to allow my son to speak for himself, which is rather a silly attack because there is nothing stopping my son from speaking for himself. He can create his own blog, get his own Twitter account and go for it. But I own my experience and I feel that mothers, too, have a place a the table, whether others in the recovery movement like it or not. Many in the more radical wing of the recovery movement do not want to hear from people who hold opinions that even occasionally differ from their own firmly entrenched view and the hit list includes parents, psychiatrists, people who accept their diagnosis, people who claim they can function on meds, people who believe that vitamins and diet cured them, people who think they have a brain disease, etc. Is the recovery movement big enough and sophisticated enough to learn from each other's lived experience?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

You, too, can write like Jim Gottstein

The Mother Bear Community sent me the following request which I am circulating. Please consider writing a letter to the appropriate persons (listed below) re the potential federal mental health policy changes that were discussed today in Washington.

Dear Rossa:

Fellow Mother Bear CAN advisor, Jim Gottstein, Esq., of President and CEO of the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, has sent a letter to his State Senator stating his concerns about potential Federal mental health policy changes, including psychiatric (diagnoses) profiling, that may be discussed at Thursday's Senate HELP Committee Hearing on Assessing the State of America's Mental Health System. (HELP- U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions).

If you are in the U.S. and concerned about possible mental health policy decisions and would like to write a letter to your Congresspersons, State Senator(s) and/or the Chairman of the Committee, Tom Harkin, D-IA, you might find the links below helpful:

PscyhRights Letter and recommendations (to review concerns and/or customize your own letter)
Names and contact information for Senate HELP Committee members (right vertical column).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Presidential report ties violence to substance abuse

A recent article from Slate Magazine discusses the inaccuracy and stigma surrounding the term "schizophrenic." The part of the article that actually interests me is the quotation from the presidential commission report in 2003 (President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health) that linked violence in schizophrenia to substance abuse. Isn't it more than high time that the current presidential initiative on gun violence begins to ask the important questions: Could ingestion of legally prescribed brain altering chemicals into your body also be considered a form of substance abuse? If not, why not? If the answers received indicate "yes," then, in order to prevent the kinds of violence we have witnessed in Newtown, Aurora, etc., what further initiatives can be taken regarding the widespread use of psychiatric medication by the general public?

Slate: According to a 2003 report by a presidential commission on mental health, an alarming “61 percent of Americans think that people with schizophrenia are likely to be dangerous to others.” The report continues: “However, in reality, these individuals are rarely violent. If they are violent, the violence is usually tied to  substance abuse."

Since it is highly unlikely that the current government will accept that logic that brain altering chemicals are brain altering chemicals, whether legally prescribed or obtained on a street corner or in the comfort of our own homes, then it is up to we the people, to say loud and clear, psychiatric medications are a form of substance abuse, especially when prescribed for too long, at too high doses, and in tandem with too many other medications.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reciting the Koran to heal schizophrenia

This past week-end, Ian and I took an EasyJet flight to Marrakech, Morocco, a city three hours away by air. I wish I were there in the swinging sixties - no, actually no need, as I'm sure the city, the old part, the Medina, hasn't changed a bit. The hippies are mostly gone, of course, but occasionally  you spot young tourists in jeans and a certain knitted stripey head gear that was a cross between a cap and a voluminous beret to cover your dreads.

When I go on these trips, I'm always hoping to find material for my blog. I usually do, which is serendipity, or what Carl Jung calls synchronicity. But, what were my chances in Marrakech, a city where I don't know the language (the Arabic one, at least) or the culture?  Amazing, as it happened.

The second day we were there, Ian and I hired a local guide through the hotel. Ali took us on a walking tour of the Medina, to places that we wouldn't normally see as a tourist because the labrynthine streets make it notoriously difficult to find your way back to your hotel. We got deeper and deeper into the ancient heart of the town, stopping at one point to look at an old caravan hotel, where the owners slept upstairs and the animals stayed in the courtyard below. At one point, Ali pulled us aside to explain that we were passing a special hospital. He pointed to a low doorway framed by beautiful, but crumbling Moroccan tiles. The door was open and there was a sign posted in Arabic announcing the hours that the clinic was open.

"Here in Morocco," Ali said, "we sometimes put our faith more in old practices than in modern medicine. This is a place where mentally disturbed people come and they are encouraged to recite the Qur'an. It's all about belief, but people get cured." He pointed to another doorway to the left of the clinic. And that's where they do, how do you call it?" He pretended to have a wound and started to suck the blood out. "Blood letting," I said.  I edged closer to the door of the clinic, and sure enough, a man was sitting on a bench in the tiny room, reciting the Qur'an.

When I got back to the hotel, I looked up the following Internet explanation. According to this writer, not surprisingly, it's the special vibration of the words of the Qur'an, that intrinsically heal.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lloyd Sederer, psychiatry and violent crime

I'm seriously considering how much time I'm going to spend in my life and on my blog focusing on depressing topics, something I seem to be doing more of lately. January is not a good month for being optimistic, it is true. I tend to get more and more depressed listening to the daily litany of woes called "the news." Perhaps sensing that I was in need of a cathartic experience, my middle son sent me the video of the python clinging for dear life to the wing of a Quantas flight and that cheered me up considerably - until I realized that the poor python died of hypothermia by the time the plane landed. Let's just say its death didn't lift my mood.

But then, along comes RSK, the blogging lawyer behind Refusing Psychiatry (Without Pissing Off the Neighbors). He's almost a breath of fresh air! I can't resist this guy's charm, meaning  his formidable writing and meticulous analytic skills. I've always admired "le mot juste" and this guy's writing them in spades. I've blackened the particularly delicious bits, below.

Lloyd Sederer, psychiatry and violent crime

The forced-drugging crowd think they can make hay with the Sandy Hook shootings. New York's director of Mental Health wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed about what he calls the tragedy of mental health law. . . . .

. . . One of the most frightening examples of Orwellian "newspeak" I've seen in a long time, is Lloyd Sederer's call for "user-driven design" of mental health services. User-driven, in the context of the easier forced treatment regime which Sederer favors, must be when patients become pieces of burning fuel to drive roaring combustion in the engine of state psychiatry, producing nothing, taking society precisely nowhere, but deafening and blackening the soul.

Sederer cynically complains that law plays a more prominent role in psychiatry than in any other medical specialty. But psychiatry is more an arm of the law than it is a real medical specialty. Psychiatrists themselves wanted it that way and planned it, beginning at least as early as the 1940's. And without such a prominent role of law - that would be without involuntary commitment or forced treatment, and without the insanity defense excuse for criminal acts - psychiatry would have a much-reduced presence in society or none at all. As Thomas Szasz often suggested, it might just wither away.

Read more here

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Re-examining the Biochemical Model after Newtown: The Effects of Stigma and the Need for Better Family Coaching

Re-examining the Biochemical Model after Newtown: The Effects of Stigma and the Need for Better Family Coaching

by Rossa Forbes

January 7, 2013

The media discussions around the horrific event that unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut just before Christmas once again focus the world’s attention on the nation’s gun control laws. Let’s hope that this time, the right actions for the right reasons will be taken to prevent these kinds of atrocities from occurring. This latest gun tragedy is also a topic of much debate in the mental health communities.

Discussion of what particular DSM mental health label Adam Lanza had, as with previous mass murders, is a red herring. That being said, our culture, our school system, the way we treat our family members has more and more adapted itself to psychiatric classification and labeling. The drugs used to treat these labels are more or less the same, thereby undermining these distinctions. Those of us in the more militant wing of the recovery movement believe that people have emotional problems in adjusting to living no matter what category they are deemed to fall under in the DSM.
What I am about to say will not stop the kinds of tragedies we see in Newtown, but it may save some individuals like Adam Lanza from becoming mass murderers.   Read more here

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My letter to New York Times re Paul Steinberg op-ed

I rather doubt my lengthy letter to the editor will appear in the New York Times on-line edition, so I decided to print it after the comments (see below) that did appear. I have since submitted to the NYT an abridged version of my original letter. The Steinberg op-ed appears here.


The Many Unknowns of Schizophrenia     Published: January 1, 2013

To the Editor:

As a clinical psychiatrist, I found Dr. Steinberg’s article troubling. It is a common problem in our field that psychiatrists speak of schizophrenia as if it were a well-understood condition, with a clear pathology and clear, effective treatment.

In fact, our understanding of this phenomenon is evolving and unsettled. What we call schizophrenia is probably a syndrome with many causes, and with a wide range of outcomes, with and without treatment. Many people do benefit from standard treatments, but many do not — and many find these treatments objectionable because of metabolic and other toxicities.

Moreover, many people find the current system of mental health delivery to be disrespectful, coercive and violent. It would be hard to imagine forced treatment for other medical conditions, like cancer or cardiovascular disease.

It has been my experience that when people are treated in a respectful way, offering options and choices rather than dictating treatment, better outcomes occur. Similarly, when we doctors are honest about the limitations of our knowledge, and humble about the power of our proffered treatments, there is more room for the person at the center of concern to find a path of care that can be helpful and effective.

For a tiny minority of patients, with substantial histories of violence, it is appropriate that the legal system, after an adversarial process, compel patients to accept treatment against their will.

I am worried that Dr. Steinberg’s article communicates more certainty about the nature and treatment of schizophrenia than is warranted, and makes too little room for patients and their families to make informed choices about care.


Framingham, Mass., Dec. 26, 2012

The writer is a psychiatrist and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

To the Editor:

Paul Steinberg makes valuable points about the dismantling of sound psychiatric care for psychotic illness. He notes that in the name of civil liberty, severely disturbed people end up undertreated, at the expense of the “rights” of the community to be safe.

People suffering the harangues of command hallucinations and terrorizing paranoid delusions cannot demand civil liberty, failing any test of the capacity for informed consent (which requires an understanding of what refusing treatment means).
More important, it is in the interest of people with acute psychotic torments to get care, to protect them from doing horrific acts and, often, committing suicide. The right to treatment has been muddled by the misguided legal impositions.

In the past, egregious overuse of electroconvulsive therapy, toxic medication and long involuntary hospitalization motivated a reasonable patient rights movement. Times have changed. Treatment is more often withheld as insurers and risk managers shrink the obligations of decent care.

Oakland, Calif., Dec. 26, 2012
The writer is a psychiatrist.

To the Editor:
Paul Steinberg says, “It takes a village to stop a rampage.” Most of the millions of Americans with schizophrenia commit no violent or nonviolent crimes. As a nation, we have no monopoly on mental illness, nor do we have the worst mental health system in the world, or the most liberal protection of civil liberties. These are not the causes of our extreme firearms violence.

Dr. Steinberg is right that some practitioners are insufficiently interested in treating serious disorders. We do need mobile early intervention teams, collaboration among community mental health professionals and police, and less reliance on medications. Our people deserve better access to known best practices, true insurance parity and affordable, accessible services.
A nation can stop rampages, but it is doubtful that a more restrictive, coercive mental health system will help achieve that goal.


Scotch Plains, N.J., Dec. 28, 2012

The writer is chairman of the department of psychiatric rehabilitation and counseling professions, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

To the Editor:

I am deeply offended on several levels by Paul Steinberg’s op-ed opinion, which he presents as facts. Dr. Steinberg has taken it upon himself to link schizophrenia to Adam Lanza. He seems to be the only person saying so from what I have read so far on both sides of the pond (I live in Europe). The media has variously reported autism spectrum, Aspergers, OCD, anxiety issues, but not once have I seen the word “schizophrenia.” There is nothing from what we know about Adam Lanza to date, that suggests schizophrenia to me.

But, Dr. Steinberg’s piece suggests something more troubling beyond the willingness of a psychiatrist to publically diagnose someone he has never met (which is highly unethical). He invokes his credentials as a psychiatrist to scapegoat psychiatry's perennial bogey-man, schizophrenia. Remember, the media has not speculated on schizophrenia, and it is interesting that autism bloggers and activists seem to accept that Adam Lanza had something recognizable as a form of autism, but in unanimous agreement that autism did not pull the trigger.

Propagandists know that the "big lie" has a certain emotional credibility with the public that is missing from the small lie, and that the public will more readily fall under its spell.

What does substituting schizophrenia for autism accomplish, one may ask? Well, for a start, it immediately crystallizes in the mind of the public the recent mass murders when the word “schizophrenia” actually was reported as possible diagnosis. By going for the “big lie” in a period when the public is desperate to DO SOMETHING, Dr. Steinberg skillfully shifts the debate to forced treatment, something which is not on the agenda of the autism community. The autism lobby is big, relatively strong, and child-focused. The schizophrenia community is small, diverse, and not well organized or funded. Why take on autism (and children) when you can conveniently use schizophrenia to accomplish your policy goals?

There are countless people, well-informed bloggers, and even the letters writer here, who appear to have accepted Steinberg's propaganda at face value. Perhaps this is because The New York Times gives Dr. Steinberg an authoritative platform by not allowing readers to comment directly on the piece? Why is that?

Yours sincerely,


Rossa Forbes