Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Monday, May 17, 2010

Everything You Know Is Wrong

Hello, I know it's been ages since I last blogged. My life has taken a turn for the exceedingly busy in the past few weeks, and looks set to become busier still. My new database upgrade finally went live last weekend, but that meant having to work on Sunday and then having to pull 9 hour days for the next week trying to get everything sorted. Fairly obvious conclusions: all the people who participated in the beta testing had either no problems or very minor problems that were quickly sorted. The people who were "far far too busy" to do any beta testing? Yes, astonishing isn't it, that they had all the bugs. And guess who they tried to blame.

Well, the great thing about User Acceptance Testing is that we can now turn around and say - "So you have bugs? That's funny. You SIGNED IT OFF saying you were happy with the upgrade." Maybe next time you won't be "far far too busy" to do beta testing.

In the meantime, I have mostly been doing huge amounts of reading. After my stinging £9 fine at the library last month, I decided to just bite the bullet and buy books off the internets so I can take my time with them - and ended up flying through the pile of reading materials that keep arriving in brown cardboard boxes.

I've read two incredibly interesting books in the past week, both of which seem to be quite well researched, scientifically documented books which totally contradict the conventional wisdom regarding certain health issues, and the industries which have grown up around them. One was Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, which takes on mental health, and the effects of the Pharmaceutical Industry. The other is Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon, which takes on the myths about weight loss and dieting, and discusses the effects of both the diet industry (and by proxy the huge world of Corporate Beauty by which I am unfortunately employed) and the food industry.

The takeaway message from both books seems to be, "everything you have been taught is wrong."

Or, if not wrong, heavily biased and influenced by corporations with a massive financial stake in the "solutions". There was a sentence in Bacon's book which absolutely blew my mind - paraphrased, because I don't have the book with me, but I shall correct it when I get home and check. "Corporations which prioritise public health over profit are liable to be sued by their shareholders." Yes, I know I'm a massive idealistic hippie, but something about that struck me as so... wrong... beyond even wrong. Just massively, actively *evil*.

I'm still processing the information that I read in both books. They will probably require re-reading and further research, for the simple fact of "if this is true, why haven't I seen this shouted about elsewhere?"

The Whitaker book started with a seeming paradox: despite the introduction of dizzying amounts of new drug-based treatments for mental illness, mental illness rates have skyrocketed over the past 50 years, with the rates of disability due to mental illness seemingly to be growing exponentially faster in more recent years. Sure, life is more stressful than it has been in previous decades. Part of this is due to the increasing medicalisation of non-medical issues. People who were previously thought of as "shy" are now diagnosed with "social anxiety disorder" and prescribed medication. And diagnostic tools have grown more detailed, diagnosing conditions which may have gone uncaught before, while public acceptance of mental health issues is growing and the stigma is shrinking. And yet the figures on mental illness continue to grow, and what's more, on the whole, the long-term prognosis for the mentally ill has actually worsened when looked at on a statistical basis.

Whitaker chases down increasing evidence that many of the growing manifestations of the more severe mental illnesses are actually iatrogenic. That means that the illness was exacerbated - or even CAUSED - by the very medication administered to "cure" it.

The author traces the entire history of the drug-based treatment of mental illness back to its birth in the mid-20th Century, out of the "magic bullet" theory of medicine which resulted from the discovery of antibiotics and other life-changing medications. Psychiatrists wanted magic bullets of their own. The difference was, that physicians looking for a treatment for infection knew the general mechanics of how infections were caused - once they discovered that infections were caused by microbes, they went looking for medications that killed those specific microbes.

Mental illness, however, was more nebulous. Theories about what caused it were myriad; actual scientific evidence, however, was thin on the ground. The first few treatments for mental illness (major tranquillisers such a Thorazine, for example) were discovered by accident, as their psychiatric effects were noted as side effects from targeting other symptoms.

And so the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental illness was invented. And yes, I say invented, rather than discovered, after reading this book.

I, myself, was long taught the "you have a chemical imbalance in your brain" theory. In fact, I've parroted what I was told by my doctors in this very blog - "I have to take medication for my bipolar disorder, like a diabetic has to take insulin."

Whitaker chases down the evidence, disorder by disorder, drug by drug, that psychopharmaceuticals do not cure chemical imbalances in the brain - they CAUSE them. These drugs do not "normalise" disturbed brain chemistry. They actually create pathological brain chemistry themselves, first, in the short term, by disturbing the natural flow of neurotransmitters, and then in the long term, as the brain struggles to compensate. And the longer one stays on these medications, the more disturbed the brain chemistry becomes. It appears that the medication, and the brain's compensatory mechanisms which change single-event illnesses into long-term conditions requiring revolving door hospitalisation.

Whitaker talks about Bipolar Disorder - how cases of this once-rare illness have skyrocketed in the past few decades - in line with the increasing use of anti-depressants. Case studies abound, of people who never had a manic episode until they were put on anti-depressants. It ameliorated their depression, but also pushed them into mania. That idea knocked me for six, as it was almost an exact description of mine own diagnosis. I found myself going back through mine own history, trying to remember if I'd had manic episodes before I was first put on anti-depressants. The uncomfortable truth is that I did - manic episodes and bipolar symptoms appeared in my late teens. But after going on anti-depressants, manic episodes changed from rare events to appearing with increasing frequency and duration, as I started rapid cycling. It's a common theme within the mental health world - you are put on one medication for your initial illness, then another to compensate for the side effects, and then another, and next thing you are on a cocktail of interacting psychoactive substances.

It's a terrifying idea, that the past 20 years of mental instability, of going on and off medications, of lost jobs and broken relationships - could actually have been exacerbated - or perhaps even caused - by the very medications I was prescribed to "cure" them. Reading through the book, no less than four of the various medications I've been on over the years were implicated in long-term mental health problems. It makes me angry. It makes me feel like I was LIED to - though, honestly, were the psychiatrists lying if they actually believed the chemical-imbalance meme themselves?

But I got off lightly. Reading both the case studies and the meta-analyses in the book, I feel... well, the phrase "dodged a bullet" rings a bell, though I don't feel like I dodged it. I feel like I escaped with a flesh wound rather than a crippling injury.

Perhaps this book has resonated so deeply with me because I have recently weaned myself off medication - and had the experience of seeing first-hand, both how hard it is to withdraw from the stuff - and also, how much better, more human, more alive I feel now that it has gone from my system. But this book changes my feelings about it from a simple personal experience to the idea that this is a much wider problem. And something worth shouting about.

Read the book, I urge you. If you suffer from mental illness of any stripe - or if you know someone who does - or even if you care about issues of justice and patients rights and the prioritisation of profit over public health. It's not just eye-opening. It's brain-changing stuff.


Blogger Monica Cassani said...

good job...I like both these books you mention and at one time or another have talked about both...

Whitaker's work is covered extensively on my blog.

great to see this getting out there.

4:22 pm  
Anonymous Beyond Meds said... profile on google isn't working...this is me too


4:52 pm  
Blogger Masonic Boom said...

Thank you - I was going to ask if you had a link to your blog, as your screen name wasn't working, but I can access it through the Beyond Meds thing.

5:34 pm  
Blogger Forest Pines said...

Hah, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has users who say they're too busy to test what I've developed, then come back and complain about bugs once they've already signed it off.

1:17 pm  

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