America and increasingly, other Western countries, are fond, nay passionate, about diagnosis and labeling any disease.
In 2017 we have diseases we never thought were diseases. Restless Leg Syndrome, Dry Eye Disease, the list goes on. Soon we’ll have ‘bad hair disease’ and ‘thin nail syndrome’ too.
If this were for altruistic reasons I’d say, well at least there’s an upside. If it is for profit and expansion of profit then I find it sinister.
The profit of producing a medication that ‘can’ help with a ‘disease’ is enormous. Don’t underestimate the incentive for a company to literally further their profit cause by jumping on the bandwagon and getting a condition codified as ‘disease’ or ‘syndrome’ or ‘disorder’ and then offering a ‘cure’
Firstly, few pills if any are cures. They are placebos, they veil and hide conditions, they assist, but they rarely cure. Those that do are typically not in the mental health field, there are not many cures for mental health, there is management.
But management whilst sometimes essential and good, can also go too far.
A friend of mine is on four pills for their mental health issues, and yet, in my humble estimate they do not need to be on but one if that (for anxiety). The others they have been given because the system perpetuates our belief that a pill is all we need to ‘feel better’ and it takes away our personality responsibility and gives us an out. When we feel desperate and we are struggling, who isn’t going to take that option? My friend may think four pills for psychotropic medication isn’t very much but think about the side-effects of each one of those pills and the long-term effects. Think about how changed you are with one pill and then multiply by four.
The deleterious effect of over-medication is well documented but does not seem to trickle down into our decision-making. When suffering from a frozen shoulder I was given a total of eight pills to potentially help me. I didn’t end up taking seven because every time I read up on the side-effects I realized, it simply wasn’t worth it. The one I tried, when it was very painful was a muscle relaxant, it helped, it felt great, but it was also by way of side-effects an anti-depressant and it paralysed the bladder muscles. I got a bladder infection and haven’t touched it since.
I see this as a good example to compare to any over-medication or even, unnecessary or too strong medication. The side-effects often outweigh the benefits. antidepressants especially SSRI’s were only ever invented and meant to be used for six months maximum, I know people who have been taking them for over ten years. But if you are suffering and a pill helps, it is hard to take the high road. My shoulder hurt, I wanted relief I wasn’t sleeping, the pill gave me relief. I only stopped because the side-effects outweighed the relief but what if they hadn’t?
I’m not knocking those who are in chronic pain, that’s a different issue altogether, and few of us can know how bad it is to live in chronic pain until we have been there.
But going back to mental health prescriptions, it’s my belief that we dose too frequently without due consideration of alternatives, which are often not available because we pour our resources into medication rather than other treatments. If you have insurance, you can get six weeks of therapy which is usually nowhere near enough, and you can get year of medication. This seems deeply skewed in favor of medication.
The VA had many issues with over-medication and suicides as a result of over medication returning vets and not offering other forms of therapy aside medication. This is true nation-wide and explains why people take more and more pills. The first one works for a while, then it does not, the placebo effect wears off, the doctor gives them another pill to take in addition to the first pill and so it goes on.
But we know doctors over-prescribe and we know they do this because they are incentivized to do this. We know they have a motive for doing this and we know the manufacturers have a motive and we know the system is built upon that motive (profit) thus, profit over health should make us suspicious enough to question our medication regiment at every turn. But when you are not feeling in your right mind, how likely is it you will do that? More often, you’re just trying to survive and get out of bed each day, can you be expected to really check every medication you receive and balance it against the side-effects?
Likewise, if the system is biased toward medication our entire societal rhetoric is going to be slanted in favor of medication. We literally are indoctrinated to believe medication is the answer. But what if it’s not?
I won’t argue that in some cases it is the ONLY viable option and this would include, short-term panic/PTSD/grief/anxiety/delusion/psychosis because medication to reduce these symptoms and get someone back on track appear to work very well. Likewise, there are no existing alternatives to the treatment of Schizophrenia that I know of, that can replace a medication regiment and this can be true in the case of extreme Bipolar and some other mental health problems.
But for others, taking a plethora of anti-anxiety medication doesn’t actually in the long-term do very much and it can have very negative side-effects such as reduced or lost libido, weight-gain, thyroid disturbance and metabolic changes. Ultimately if it’s not working then we’re only taking it as a placebo, and if we’re only paying for it because of a system that encourages this, we’re handing money to Big Pharma and not trying to change the way we respond to mental health needs.
EMDR and other methods that are natural and not medication can be as or more useful for the treatment of trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, mania, episodic psychosis and other disorders than medication and studies evidence this but are suppressed by those who stand to profit from medication. There simply is not sufficient money in other methods for Big Pharma and Big Business to change their inculcation of our society. Likewise, without profit there is less research into alternatives. It is a vicious cycle.
Examples of this include;
ADHD has been shown to respond better to diet-modification than any existing medication.
PTSD has been shown to respond better to EMDR and biofeedback therapy than any existing medication
Anxiety has been shown to respond better to exercise and meditation as well as Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) therapy than the side-effects of existing anxiety mediation that can be emotionally and physically addictive.
Adults survivors of sexual abuse have responded better to talk therapy than long-term medication alone.
Studies of schizophrenics show diet-modification can reduce symptoms on par with existing medication.
So if we know that diet changes can alter mental health as can exercise, meditation and other natural therapies, the only reason our society doles out the medication is because there are larger profit margins in medication than alternative treatments. In other words, we don’t care about cures or best case scenarios we care about profit.
What this means is when you visit your doctor especially in the case of seeking a diagnosis you need to bear this in mind. I realize that is hard if you personally are the one suffering, and that’s why having someone who understands this going with you, can be useful. It doesn’t mean don’t ever trust doctors but take what they say with the knowledge that they may be biased, ask questions, don’t accept what you are told without doing your own research and querying anything you are concerned about.
More people die from medication side-effects than we realize and this can include the more subtle side-effects such as increased suicidal ideation. It is also worth noting that ethnic differences may play into how we respond to medications just like Native Americans are sensitive to alcohol. Fewer studies are done on women than men, fewer studies are done on people of color, or non Anglo patients, and thus, we really don’t know the long-term effects of certain medications on say, an Asian or Black patient.
Often after some public act of violence we find out the person involved had been taking many medications, which proves that those medications were not doing their job at all and were if anything, pushing that individual over the edge. If medication were a cure, concerns like long-term depression and bipolar would be a thing of the past. At best they can mask or manage and it is well-known that there are other methods of managing that we can take personal control over and thus, feel we are part of our effort to get well.
The Big Pharma profit bottom line taints the idea of taking medication simply because it’s the right choice, as we can never be sure this is the right choice so much as the status quo or the choice the system has put into place as an efficient money-making scheme. If that sounds paranoid, consider the plethora of drugs that are continually bombarding our marketplace and the continual advertisements for drugs on TV and in the media. How can Big Pharma be so successful without having sufficient people taking their medications? Surely this means, some who are taking it, have been influenced to do so, without due consideration of other options?
When you hear on TV the side-effects of medication read quickly in a quiet voice at the end of an advertisement, consider that these are but some of the typical side-effects and how much your body and mind change under the influence of drugs. Just because these drugs are legal doesn’t mean they don’t have that effect and many times people point to the high numbers of individuals taking say, anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications and how we have become more acquiescent and prone to influence as a result.
Trying to do meaningful talk therapy with a medicated patient is tough, I can vouch for that, and yet, the majority of patients I saw were medicated. If then people believe talk therapy is not effective, we may want to query what came first, the meds or the therapy and if the latter, how can we know the true effectiveness of talk therapy unless we can conduct it without the influence of medication. In such cases, talk therapy in my estimate was more successful because it takes a sharp and clear mind to process and not a dulled and medicated mind.
Again, I realize some instances require medication. But for those that may not, even if all you do is get a second opinion you may save yourself being over medicated. There is no one size fits all. Sometimes mental problems are not diseases, they are problems that we can solve. Other times they are unyielding and become as much a disease as say, cancer, but knowing the difference between those two extremes is crucial. Too many teenagers are over medicated before their growing brains even finish growing, we don’t know the effect taking this medication will have long-term nor the effect of labeling them with a mental disease. Many times it’s hard to know if someone has a mental disease or is just going through difficult times / teenage years and thus, jumping to the conclusion that they have a serious mental disease should not be our first port of call.
Medicating kids for ADHD is likewise, our easy ‘go to’ option, but how many of us consider the studies of diet and supplements as an alternative to mediating young brains? Sure, it’s harder to be watchful of diet and sometimes prohibitively expensive but then, so is medication. The rise of certain disorders could be true or could be a manipulation of the drug companies who wish to medicate a larger percent of the population. As diagnosis goes through trends, we see great numbers labeled bipolar at one juncture, only to shift to another diagnosis later one, it begs the question, is diagnosing an imperfect science? Given that it varies from person to person I would say it most certainly is, and we should not treat a diagnosis of mental health in the same way we would say, an X-ray showing a broken bone. Always check and double-check. If in any doubt, seek a second opinion, the cost of having an imperfect diagnosis could be life changing.