What If Psychiatry is Wrong?
There have been astounding advances in the development of medicines to treat mental illnesses in recent years, and increased access to these treatments. And yet rates of mental illness are soaring. More people are committing suicide, more people are on disability, more people are addicted to prescription drugs and, in a very real sense, the world is an angrier and less friendly place.
Maybe these medicines work in peer reviewed studies. Maybe they allow individuals with severe mental illness some relief of difficult symptoms. But, on a societal scale, they’re not doing much good. We’ve medicalized a whole host of responses to the challenges of everyday life and put the answers to these challenges into pills and we’re still suffering, unable to relate to each other and unable to temper, let alone overcome, even moderate setbacks in life’s expectations.
As a field of study and treatment, psychiatry is failing miserably.
The DSM V has introduced new disorders and increased the spectrum and scope of existing diseases. We’ve normalized disfunction. We’ve gotten to the point where we expect our children to need meds as they become unable to cope with the normal difficulties we all face as we enter the world. We’re richer and in possession of technology and opportunity that no one even dreamed about years ago. Still, communities are fraying, self-responsibility seems quaint, and work has been devalued.
In our pathologizing every little difficulty people may face, in our elevation of individual challenges over sacrifice and service, we have become anxious and dissatisfied. And the traditional places of refuge and strength, like family, religion and groups of like-minded people are the first places psychologists look for trouble. We discount these affinity groups that made most people happy long before psychopharmacology became a thing. In an odd sense, pharmaceutical companies have fueled this run from tradition and, as people seek treatments that just don’t seem to work, they peddle even more medicines to offset the failures of the first.
In this twisted world of modern psychiatry and psychology, the answer to poor efficacy and side-effect of medicine is even more medicine.
I’ve tried to present alternatives, or at least to get people to think about ways to live that are healthy, community-based and wholesome. My book, Practicing Mental Illness: Meditation, Movement and Meaningful Work to Manage Challenging Moods, is an effort toward this end, but I haven’t been able to sell it and, probably because of some fault of marketing skill on my own part, I haven’t been able to get many people to listen.
So I’m taking a break. Summer is here and I’m very positive about the future. I plan to spend this summer at the beach with my family, with new dedication to my day job, and a move on to other projects. This will be my last Practicing Mental Illness newsletter for a while, maybe ever.
I know that when you don’t keep producing content readers go away. I know that my work has introduced me to interesting dedicated people, and even has helped a few of them. I have a few more pieces I’d like to write and may intermittently send something out. But right now I’ve said everything I have to say on mental illness and its treatment. If you’re interested in my ideas they’re all in my book.
I’m not bitter. I don’t feel like I’ve failed. I’m glad I reached out with the work I’ve done. But I m done, at least for now. So thanks for spending a little time reading me each week, and please keep working to set aside and overcome your suffering. And please help others with theirs. You’ve all been an inspiration to me, and I wish you all well. My email, firstname.lastname@example.org, will stay on if you’d like to be in touch, and I encourage you to stick with your efforts to be well. For you can be well.
All the best. Please be kind to yourselves and, especially, to others. It is possible to manage mental illness and live well with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. I’ve learned how, so now I’m going to go do it. You’re each very special to me. Don’t discount yourself and never stop working. And have a great summer.