Taken as prescribed, medications kill 100,000 people per year

What use do you make of your physician?” said the king to Molière one day. “We chat together, sire; he gives me his prescriptions; I never follow them, and so I get well.”

The 100,000 per year body count  is for the United States only. Medications, properly prescribed and properly taken, kill twice the number of people per day than car accidents do. The unsettling death statistics from prescribed meds is not something we hear much about. Yet many, if not most of us, simply take the medications we are given and probably take more than we need. It’s one thing if a person has a life threatening illness or condition and needs the medication in order to survive. But many people are taking prescription medications that they could shed if they changed their habits and did a bit of research into alternatives.

I got to thinking about this today when I visited a friend of mine in the hospital. She’ll be 90 years of age this month. She loves to tell me what her mother told her — to always buy the best food, because otherwise, instead of paying the grocer, you’ll be paying the doctor. She eats butter, not margarine. Up until a few weeks ago, my friend was on no prescription meds. None. She has a heart condition that gave her occasional problems in the past, but she always refused meds for the problem.  Today, the doctor informed her in my presence that she will need to take the meds he had prescribed her the rest of her life. After he left, she complained bitterly to me that she hated being on “these things.” I congratulated her for managing to dodge these bullets up until now, that she probably was healthier for having done so, and suggested that taking the meds now for the rest of her life was a small price to pay for avoiding landing back in the hospital. By all indications, she should be able to resume her normal activities within a month. But, she will be hounding her doctor to keep the medications to a minimum, I can guarantee it.

My favorite doctor, the one I prefer to go to avoid health problems in the first place, is Andrew Saul, Ph.D. When people protest that vitamins, not just meds, kill people, thereby implying that vitamins are inherently dangerous, Saul always asks the question, “where are the bodies?” He has done extensive data gathered from 61 U.S. poison control centers, which reported a mere 10 deaths linked to vitamins over the past 25 years.

Saul also recounts that “More than 1.5 million Americans are injured every year by drug errors in hospitals, nursing homes and doctor’s offices, a count that doesn’t even estimate patients’ own medication mix-ups. . . (O)n average, a hospitalized patient is subject to at least one medication error per day.” 

Just as I was about to push the publish button for this post, I was delighted to see that there is a new website about prescription medication side effects that contains a database for logging adverse effects. RxISK.org  The medical and research team behind this venture includes Dr. David Healy and author Robert Whitaker, and many other prominent names in pharmacology and other disciplines.

ALGERNON MONCRIEFF: The doctors found out that Bunbury could not live…so Bunbury died.

LADY BRACKNELL: He seems to have great confidence in the opinion of his physicians. I am glad, however, that he made up his mind at the last to some definite course of action, and acted under proper medical advice. (From Act III of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde)

The humorous quotes on this page were directly cribbed from Andrew Saul’s website: www.doctoryourself.com

There is hope for even chronic cases of “schizophrenia”

Ron Unger is the best blogger I know who can decode schizophrenia to the outside observer and offer  healing words of wisdom. His most recent post is a must read. It’s a lengthy look at what Carl Jung believed about schizophrenia. For people who want to know if there is hope for people with ” schizophrenia,” here’s what Jung wrote:

In regard to the latter (i.e., severe cases), Jung stated: “It would be a mistake to suppose that more or less suitable methods of treatment exist. Theoretical assumptions in this respect count for next to nothing. Also, one would do well not to speak of ‘methods’ at all. The thing that really matters is the personal commitment, the serious purpose, the devotion, indeed the self-sacrifice, of those who give the treatment. I have seen results that were truly miraculous, as when sympathetic nurses and laymen were able, by their courage and steady devotion, to re-establish psychic rapport with their patients and so achieve quite astounding cures” (p.265).

Jung then addresses certain countertransference issues:

“But even so one can bring about noticeable improvements in severe schizophrenics, and even cure them, by psychological treatment, provided that one’s own constitution holds out [in my own experience, I have had situations where I continued the long-term psychotherapy of several patients in inpatient state hospital settings, later transferred into my practice, in which I was physically attacked, reported to have sexually molested the patient , etc, to very positive outcomes, e.g., to the point where family thought their family member was originally misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, never having to return to the state hospital after many years of residing there, etc]. This question is very much to the point, because the treatment not only demands uncommon efforts but may also induce psychic infections in a therapist who himself has a rather unstable disposition. I have seen no less than three cases of induced psychoses in treatments of this kind” (pp. 265-266).

Schizophrenia, conversion disorder, stress and immigration

Year ago, when Taylor, my youngest son, was in third grade, he had a friend “Jeremy” (not his real name). Like us, Jeremy and his family had relocated from North America to Europe that year, where the father was employed in high tech. Jeremy was an only child. His mother told me that when they were in the final stages of moving, Jeremy woke up one day and said he had lost all sight in both his eyes. He was blind for about a week or two. You can imagine how terrifying that was for all concerned.

That’s what stress can do to the human mind, or, to turn it around, that’s what the powerful mind can do to the human body. When researchers note that there is a higher proportion of “schizophrenics” seen in the Jamaican immigrant population in England, this doesn’t surprise me. There are enough Jamaican immigrants to form a ready research pool. Moving continents and cultures is a shock. Schizophrenia is a stress reaction but no stranger than going blind is. You have to see it to believe it.

I came across a similar story to Jeremy’s when I was searching for the latest article on the teenage girls in Le Roy, New York who developed bodily tics and twitches. Jeremy had what by all accounts would be  “conversion disorder.” It used to be called hysteria.

What did happen to the girls in Le Roy? There is a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine  by Susan Dominus. Dominus writes that when the environmental explanation for the phenomenon did not hold up, and the diagnosis was the stress-related conversion disorder, here’s what happened.

To many parents, the diagnosis was woefully inadequate, even insulting.“It’s a very hard pill for me to swallow — what are we, living in the 1600s?” the guardian of one of the girls said. Besides, kids are always stressed, and some of these kids may have been less stressed than most. On CNN, James DuPont, the father of an afflicted girl, said, “A lot of these kids were just, you know, having a happy, normal life.” Miller told me she did not buy the diagnosis, not one bit. “My daughter hasn’t had any trauma,” she said. “She was just happy, going along. She was as happy as can be.”

Like with schizophrenia, it is hard for many people to equate the really strange behavior with the stressors that many of us take for granted in our own lives.

According to Dominus:

A common thread emerged among the five girls I interviewed extensively: none had stable relationships with their biological fathers. And the father of a sixth girl had seen little of his high-school daughter until his concern about the tics galvanized their relationship. Another student was a foster child who switched foster homes shortly before his tics came on; yet another is in the custody of an older sibling. Another two have spotty contact with their fathers. One young woman I interviewed was close to homeless after she and her mother left her father’s trailer. They’re staying with a friend of a friend while her mother, who was laid off two times in the last year, tries to scrape together first and last month’s rent so they can get a place of their own.

Dominus also reveals that Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, who has diagnosed a mysterious and ill-defined “PANDAS-like illness” was unaware of the trauma in his patient’s lives:

When I spoke to him in late February, Trifiletti told me that the girls he was treating were showing dramatic signs of improvement. Katie’s parents said they believed that she was responding well to the antibiotics; Chelsey’s family reported that the drugs are helping her as well. But another patient of Trifiletti’s said she was still fainting.

When the subject of the girls’ personal backgrounds came up — the biopsychosocial factors that might be affecting their health — Trifiletti said he had not had the time to ask them about those kinds of things. The abuse, the troubling family circumstances — much of it came as news to him. “Jeez, I didn’t realize the extent,” Trifiletti said. “These aren’t things people want to talk about. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. It’s hard to distinguish between the drug and the placebo effect.”

Schizophrenia is much more common than conversion disorder. Yet, medicine stubbornly resists linking schizophrenia to trauma or stress factors. Medical science favors the biochemical imbalance theory of schizophrenia, almost exclusively. It’s quite insulting, really, to those of us who are wanting answers for schizophrenia, and more importantly, more meaningful help, that conversion disorder is taken more seriously than schizophrenia from the psycho/social point of view.

The psychological explanation, of course, hasn’t stopped some of the Le Roy parents from putting their teenage girls on drugs. The Dominus article reports that at least one girl is on eleven different medications! One can only presume it is because the parents don’t believe that stress alone can produce something so strange.

Well, stress can, and does.

Below are some readers’ comments to the Dominus article.

..Shame on you New York Times for writing such an offensive article. We are not in the dark ages. And to go so far as to blame these girls “instability” on living with single moms is disgusting. These girls don’t have conversion disorder. This is just a made up diagnosis for doctors that have egos so big they can’t say the words “I don’t Know”.

And, the following quote from simon Wessely is offensive to every person who has an illness that is not yet understood by science.

“Wessely, the epidemiologist, cited a medical-journal paper whose title had long resonated with him: “If You Have to Prove You Are Ill, You Can’t Get Better.”

Here is another quote from a recent Washington post article on chronic lyme that I think is more fitting for what is going on in Le Roy.

“Just because scientists don’t understand the cause of a disease doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”

AS Minnesota
..All of the comments here that suggest that somehow their doctors were being “mean,” or were incompetent, or just not empathic enough because they conferred a psychological etiology just seems to further prove the point that for many folks, it IS in their head! Someone who honestly assumes that their doctor is mean for suggesting a psychological contribution has obvious psychological issues. Do you honestly think your doctor is intentionally trying to be mean to you? Why so defensive?? What is so threatening about a psychological diagnosis?? We experience physical symptoms as a result of psychological stress all the time. Nervous about an upcoming performance or a big date (i.e., psychological cause), and so you get an upset stomach (i.e., physical symptom)? Financial stress or work stress (i.e., psychological cause) giving you a splitting headache (i.e., physical symptom)? Honestly, people. Given the complexity of the human brain, it is utterly preposterous that all ailments are due to a physiological cause. Anyone who doctor shops enough will find someone who will eventually render a medical diagnosis (no matter how random or “rare”) that suits their PSYCHOLOGICAL need to have a medical explanation rather than a psychological one. Whenever I hear people maligning the “it’s all in your head” comment, I think to myself, “where else would it be?? OF COURSE it’s all in your head. that’s where the most complex organ in your body sits.”

Matt Evans New Jersey
..There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. – Rod Serling

TV Ontario’s new series on mental health

Toronto blog correspondent “Liz” has tipped me off to a new TV Ontario series on mental health. The series kicks off with a psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist (author of The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World) joining a debate with psychiatrist Norman Doidge (author of The Brain That Changes Itself) and Roger McIntyre, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Toronto), discussing whether we are any closer to understanding the source of mental illness.

Here’s the link to the debate. It’s actually quite an interesting discussion, especially McGilchrist’s contribution. Read the promotion for the series (below). I think TVO should be looking for its better understanding of mental illness outside of the mental institution (CAMH) with which it is partnering. CAMH is notorious for retracting its job offer to David Healy in 2000 when Eli Lilly objected to his comments that Prozac and SSRIs can lead to  suicide. (see footnote* about the Healy affair at the bottom of this page)

Institution are there to preserve the status quo, no more so than when they are psychiatric institutions. You may recall that Chris spent time in CAMH’s Early Psychosis Unit. I question whether anybody at CAMH now has a better understanding of mental health than when Chris was there in 2003. Nobody at CAMH talked to us about brain plasticity. In fact, they told us that if Chris didn’t take the drugs his brain would atrophy. (This was their way of panicking us to buy into the drugs.) The doctor labelled him “schizophrenic” after speaking with him for an hour – tops. We were told that he would probably need the medications for life.

No sirree, if I were TV Ontario and looking for ways to understand the source of “mental illness,” I wouldn’t go to institutions that, for self-serving reasons, fail to understand mental illness. I were TV Ontario, I’d be looking to writers, poets, ex-patients to explain.

Mental Health Matters
..by Sandra Gionas Tuesday March 6, 2012

When our Agenda on the Road series was winding down, and we began to rethink how we would engage our audience across the province, we envisioned leaving the studio, not spurred by geography, but rather by a cause or idea that resonates in people’s lives.

And there are few topics which affect as many people as mental health issues. Whether or not you are the one in five Canadians who will have a mental illness during your lifetime, you will certainly have a child, parent, sibling, relative, friend, colleague, or neighbour who will. While we’ve come a long way in understanding more about mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it, we still have far to go.

What we here at The Agenda, indeed TVO, hope to accomplish in the months ahead, is to engage our viewers and bring about a better understanding of mental health. To help us to that end, we have partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). What this partnership will bring to our Agenda audience is access to the knowledge capital at CAMH, as well as engaging live chats, Q&As, and blog posts from the medical front line; from the community leaders at the world-renowned facility.

We even took our partnership to new heights in January, in a basketball challenge with CAMH clients at their Queen Street site.

The Agenda team after a spirited afternoon of basketball.

Aside from basketball, we’ve been engaging with CAMH professionals and clients since the beginning of this season, in order to enrich our own understanding of the issues, and the mental health community around CAMH.
To that effect, from today forward, we will be airing a mental health-themed discussion on The Agenda every other Tuesday. We will be launching our permanent Mental Health Matters microsite in mid-April, with a plethora of mental health stories, using the depth and richness of TVO’s archived content, along with additional resources. All this will culminate in Mental Health Matters week at TVO, which will coincide with Canadian Mental Health Week, May 7-13, 2012. Look for five nights of original programming, both in studio and with studio audiences (more information on how you can join us will come in the weeks ahead).

And the programming and web content won’t begin and end there, with us. Big Ideas, TVOKids, TVOParents, Allan Gregg in Conversation, Saturday Night at the Movies, and TVO Doc Studio will also focus on Mental Health Matters, both online — beginning in April — and on air during Mental Health Week.

Which brings us to tonight’s kick-off broadcast. Noted British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist is the author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, a book examining the relationship between the brain’s two hemispheres. He’ll sit down for an interview with Steve Paikin.

McGilchrist’s appearance on Monday night at the Gardiner Museum — which will air on Big Ideas during Mental Health Week — was standing room only.

After his feature interview with Steve, Dr. McGilchrist will join our roundtable for a discussion on where mental illness resides: Is it in our biology? Or does it occur because of social pressures? In other words, we’re starting small, with a simple debate on Nature versus Nurture!

We hope you join us in the weeks ahead, and of course tonight – by watching the program at either 8:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m., or by watching our live stream at 8:00 p.m., and joining our live chat, hosted by myself and producer Daniel Kitts. And please don’t forget to come back here to let us know what you thought of our programming, to share your own stories, and to join us on this very important journey.

Follow me on Twitter @sandragionas

*On December 7, 2000, shortly after Healy’s talk he received an email from Dr. Goldbloom, who was retracting his previously offered position at CAMH. The reason Goldbloom indicated was as follows: “Essentially, we believe that it is not a good fit between you and the role as leader of an academic program in mood and anxiety disorders at the Centre and in relation to the University. This view was solidified by your recent appearance at the Centre in the context of an academic lecture. While you are held in high regard as a scholar of the history of modern psychiatry, we do not feel your approach is compatible with the goals for development of the academic and clinical resource that we have.”[18] However, Healy believes that his job offer was retracted because his critical views of the pharmaceutical industry and especially Eli Lilly. This has been denied by the then-President of the University of Toronto, Prof. Robert Birgeneau who stated in a letter to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) that Healy’s contract was “not influenced in any way by Eli Lilly or by any other pharmaceutical company.”[19]

Eli Lilly was a significant contributor to the University of Toronto. It supported 52 percent of the budget for the Mood and Anxiety Disorder Clinic that Healy would have headed up. In addition it gave a 1.5 million dollar gift to CAMH to help its fundraising campaign. Furthermore, there was precedent for Eli Lilly removing its financial support in response to anti-Prozac comments or publications. In March 2000, the Hasting Center published an article by Healy which indicated that Prozac induced suicide. Eli Lilly pulled their support of $25,000 per annum. The Hasting Center re-reviewed the article but stood behind its decision.

Why I don’t invest my faith in the latest scientific findings

I am reprinting an interesting comment to Dr. Sandra Steingard’s Mad in America blog post entitled Why I Prescribe. The writer of the comment demontrates how fickle scientific “truth” can be. The option she refers to in her opening paragraph is the option to accept or decline meds.

Marianne on March 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm said:

I wish I had been given an option when I was 18 and heard voices. I am 62 now, and still hear them from time to time, but I have figured out what they are. I took “anti-psychotics” for years. They made me eat more and didn’t change the voices.

I had to go along with the doctors to get out of hospital, that is lie to them.

For several years, their theory was that schizophrenics had “too much dopamine”. In 1968, when I was started on phenothiazines, there was something called the Thorazine Shuffle, or “pseudo-Parkinsonism”.

One never hears that term now, even though the side effects still include Parkinson-like rigidity. I also found out that phenothiazines are actually pesticides and Parkinson’s didn’t exist before pesticides were used for killing pests. (Insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides).

Now there are so-called professionals telling people that Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical in the brain! I still have journal articles from the 1960′s and 1970′s with the theory that was the opposite, and also about when L-dopa was being used for Parkinson’s patients, with short-term effects.

Can you explain how dopamine went from causing schizophrenia to being the “feel good chemical” without some major tampering by scientists?

I also cannot find a doctor who will work with me to get off of drugs. A long history of a label has caused me extreme misery over the years.

If only someone had told me those voices were from inside of me, instead of ECT and meds, and counseled me that things would be ok…I was only 18. If only there had been some compassion.

Reply ↓

Sandy Steingard

on March 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm said:


Thanks for your comments. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the so-called pleasure and reward center of the brain. As Whitaker and others point out, there is no evidence that there is an abnormality of dopamine in the brains of people who hear voices or experience other psychotic symptoms. The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia – that there is too much dopamine in the brains of people who experienced psychosis -was proposed because the neuroleptic drugs are known to block dopamine. Over many years, scientists never found any evidence to support the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia.
Perhaps you could copy some of the articles from this website so you could discuss it with your doctor. Philip Thomas, MD posted an excellent blog on this topic today.


Working the system

I just left a comment over at Michael Cornwall’s Mad in America blog post. In my comment I linked to an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times about the reasons behind the vast surge in the autism diagnosis.

The LA Times article provides plausible reasons for the jump in autism rates that are not what meets the eye. According to the author of the article, autism has boomed in large part because parents want access to state funded services, and they talk amongst themselves about how to work the system to their advantage.

Three-year-old Benjamin was nothing like the severely impaired children Bailey had seen in clinic waiting rooms. But he didn’t speak much, was mesmerized by ceiling fans and liked to be left alone.

On the day of his evaluation by specialists from the L.A. Unified School District, Bailey purposely didn’t feed him breakfast. “I wanted him to look as bad as possible,” she recalled. “It’s not like he didn’t deserve services. I just wanted to stack the odds in our favor.”

It worked. Benjamin threw a tantrum. Over the next three years, the district paid for speech therapy, motor skills training and the attention of a one-on-one aide throughout the school day.

….. Peter Bearman, a sociologist at Columbia University, has demonstrated how such social forces are driving autism rates.

Analyzing state data, he identified a 386-square-mile area centered in West Hollywood that consistently produced three times as many autism cases as would be expected from birth rates.

Affluence helped set the area apart. But delving deeper, Bearman detected a more surprising pattern that existed across the state: Rich or poor, children living near somebody with autism were more likely to have the diagnosis themselves.

Living within 250 meters boosted the chances by 42%, compared to living between 500 and 1,000 meters away.

The reason, his analysis suggested, was simple: People talk.

They talk about how to recognize autism, which doctors to see, how to navigate the bureaucracies to secure services. They talk more if they live next door or visit the same parks, or if their children go to the same preschool.

The influence of neighbors alone accounts for 16% of the growth of autism cases in the state developmental system between 2000 and 2005, Bearman estimated.

In other words, autism is not contagious, but the diagnosis is.

I thought about posting the L.A. Times article when it appeared in December 2011, but decided not to at the time. I try to stick to the knitting on my blog, meaning I stick to schizophrenia as much as possible, and weigh the pros and cons of posting information about other diagnoses, even though, there is much in common between many mental health diagnoses. I decided to post the link today because both the Cornwall article and the L.A. Times article are excellent contributions to our growing understanding of how social factors shape trends in mental health diagnoses diagnoses.

Cornwall writes:
When I-Ward closed I was transferred to an adult clinic as a therapist for about 3 years until the bio-psychiatry, big pharma agenda made possible by NAMI testimony got the statewide Bronzon legislation passed. That law said that so-called severely and persistently mentally ill adults should be given priority for the allocation of adult services that are funded by the state and federal government.

It was supported by bio-psychiatry claims based on their incurable brain disease model that asserted that consumers were best served to be maintained by medication and case management. The law didn’t say therapy had to be eliminated, but the statewide cowardly mental health director’s association saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to announce the wisdom of eliminating therapy ASAP to placate NAMI, and the growing power of Psychiatry in every county system.

Psychiatrists: Put away the prescription pads and bring out the controllers

A new industry has been born — the vast brain training industry, which is only going to increase in market share.

Being a natural skeptic, I am somewhat dubious about the claims that brain training will alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia, but I applaud any efforts to help people get back onto their feet that don’t involve drugs. In my experience, almost any therapy that Chris undertook that didn’t involve drugs helped him improve without debilitating side-effects. The brain is not the mind, however, and it’s this distinction that may be lost when it comes to helping people overcome schizophrenia through the use of video games. Brain training implies that the person has brain and cognitive deficits, that as far as I know, have not been scîentifically proven when it comes to schizophrenia. Much of schizophrenia has to do with the “soft science” of treating emotional issues.
Treating schizophrenia: Game on

Michael Merzenich has a plan for how to convince sceptics of the worth of his brain-training video games: prove that the software can help people with schizophrenia.

Erika Check Hayden
29 February 2012

The brain-training industry — which was projected to grow from US$265 million in 2008 to between $1 billion and $5 billion by 2015 — markets games that claim to boost skills such as memory or focus in healthy adults. But for those likely to need it most, such as elderly people, there has been no convincing evidence that the games work any better than the mostly free activities that physicians routinely recommend, such as physical exercise, socializing with friends, taking up a new hobby or playing a musical instrument. “Really well-designed clinical trials to test the efficacy of these devices are few and far between. It’s sort of like the Wild West,” says Peter Snyder, a neurologist at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.

Merzenich, however, feels that he has fought long enough to prove the validity of brain training. Now, he says, it is time for regulators to weigh in. Treating schizophrenia with software would mark a change for psychiatry, which tends to focus on dispensing drugs in the first instance. Vinogradov says that the growing realization of drugs’ shortcomings and a shift away from the idea that brain deficits are immutable are sparking desire for alternative options.

“The dominant force in psychiatry has been the focus on treating symptoms, not the underlying dysfunction. The patient is this passive object to whom you give pills, as opposed to actively helping to stimulate constructive interaction with his or her environment,” Vinogradov says.

And Merzenich doesn’t plan to stop with schizophrenia. The Brain Plasticity Institute in San Francisco, another Merzenich-founded company, is studying brain-training software for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to traumatic brain injury. “If we do this in a disciplined way, with scientific confirmation that is beyond question,” Merzenich says, “we’ll very rapidly evolve into a very important aspect of psychiatric medicine.”

This could be your new relationship with your psychiatrist.
scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin

Another study shows biological view of mental illness increases stigma

from Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012

Schomerus G, Schwahn C, Holzinger A, Corrigan PW, Grabe HJ, Carta MG, Angermeyer MC. Evolution of public attitudes about mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Objective:  To explore whether the increase in knowledge about the biological correlates of mental disorders over the last decades has translated into improved public understanding of mental illness, increased readiness to seek mental health care and more tolerant attitudes towards mentally ill persons.

Method:  A systematic review of all studies on mental illness-related beliefs and attitudes in the general population published before 31 March 2011, examining the time trends of attitudes with a follow-up interval of at least 2 years and using national representative population samples. A subsample of methodologically homogeneous studies was further included in a meta-regression analysis of time trends.

Results:  Thirty-three reports on 16 studies on national time trends met our inclusion criteria, six of which were eligible for a meta-regression analysis. Two major trends emerged: there was a coherent trend to greater mental health literacy, in particular towards a biological model of mental illness, and greater acceptance of professional help for mental health problems. In contrast, however, no changes or even changes to the worse were observed regarding the attitudes towards people with mental illness.

Conclusion:  Increasing public understanding of the biological correlates of mental illness seems not to result in better social acceptance of persons with mental illness.

No surprise here. Despite increased pushing by pharma, academia and physicians of the biological model of “mental illness,” “no changes or even changes to the worse were observed regarding the attitudes towards people with mental illness. The results of this study correlate with the Auburn University study, which concluded:

In general, the disease view did not improve attitudes, except in terms of blame. It did, however, tend to provoke harsher behavior. In contrast, the psychosocial view induced treatment no different from that toward normal others. The results provide little support for the claim that regarding the mentally disordered as sick or diseased will promote greater acceptance and more favorable treatment.

Now, I ask myself, why would anybody think that labeling someone as sick and diseased (a stigmatizing label to begin with) would improve other people’s tolerance of the mentally ill? It would improve drug sales, though. (Just a thought.) What would improve people’s tolerance of the mentally ill are effective non-drug therapies that allow individuals to thrive and take their rightful place in society – the quicker the better. This amazingly simple idea seems to have eluded many people who claim they are helping the mentally ill. Many jobs depend on having a steady, long term supply of mentally ill clients. Lack of effective therapies and over-reliance of drug therapies will ensure that a large population of the mentally ill will continue be be stigmatized.

New schizophrenia memoir chapter

I’ve decided to post random chapters from my book into this blog. I’ve noticed that seeing the chapter “live”  sharpens my eye to make further editorial changes. So, what I will do is introduce some of the chapters that have already undergone extensive editorial work with a brief word of explanation. In this chapter, Chris has been admitted to hospital for the first time (during the first semester of his second year at university). He is living far away from home.

Further editorial suggestions are always appreciated.

Chapter 5 My Name is Legion On Sunday evening, the dean sent me an e-mail. He had received an encouraging verbal report on Chris from Jessica, the residence assistant at Chris’s dorm. She had visited with Chris for close to twenty minutes earlier that day and had delivered his guitar to him, which he was delighted to receive. She reported that he was about to be moved to the Early Psychosis unit of the hospital and that he already seemed to be much more aware of his surroundings than she had observed during the fall term — he was now making eye contact and his speech was clearer. They joked about hospital food compared to Trinity food. Chris told Jennifer that he wanted his family to know he was eating okay, doing fine, feeling healthy, and, as the doctors thought he might be released as an outpatient the next week, so he did not want his plane ticket cancelled.

Based on Jessica’s report, and comparing his own observations of Chris during the fall semester, the dean wrote that the news sounded encouraging. He added that during the fall, he had noticed that Chris was tired, spending long periods in the dorm hallways at night, simply staring, or sitting in the computer room for lengthy periods with no lights on. Whenever the dean spoke with him, Chris seemed surprised but answered briefly. At times, the dean continued, Chris would sit by himself in the dining hall, seemingly content to be alone; other times he’d seek out company but tended to watch from the periphery. Chris’s friends told the Dean that Chris often followed them to a pub but declined to go inside.

I heard later from the chaplain that Chris sometimes stood for long periods in the college courtyard, like a statue. Once he stood in the rain for hours, the rain thoroughly soaking his new tweed jacket. These revelations were painful, but perhaps none as painful as learning much later from Jane that when she and Jessica went to clean out Chris’s room, it was littered with plastic bags of excrement and bottles of urine. The turd in the planter had indeed been a harbinger of things to come. My sister noticed that Chris also kept a copy on his bookshelf of Karl Menninger’s classic, Whatever Became of Sin? When I probed Chris months later about his lack of eye contact, he said he couldn’t make eye contact with people because he felt his eyes would do them harm, but also that their eyes would do him harm.  He was becoming acutely aware of good and evil. This explained in part his reading preferences and why he spent every day that term on his knees praying.

For a few confusing days following Chris’s admission to CAMH, I didn’t have the contact details of the treatment team and I relied on reports from the dean, the chaplain and my sister. Three days after Chris was admitted, I got a name and a phone number from the chaplain of one of the doctors familiar with Chris’s condition. When I got through to her, I soon realized that Jessica’s optimistic assessment of the speed of Chris’s turn-around was bit premature. Chris’s belief that he was going to be allowed to come home turned out to be wishful thinking on his part.

“Well, he’s not one of our sickest patients,” the doctor said, but apparently neither was he one of their better patients. Her tone implied sick, very sick. “Our team here doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Chris to leave the hospital. He’s a voluntary patient, but if he pushes to leave the hospital to get on a plane,” the doctor warned, “we’ll change his status to certifiable.” 

“This is not our preferred option, ” she continued. “We’d prefer to keep the goodwill and trust. As a voluntary patient Chris will be given a day pass and allowed out today to go back to his dorm room and gather a few things.”

Before we finished our conversation, I had promised the doctor that our family would visit Chris as soon as we could arrange the plane tickets.  This year we would move Christmas to Toronto.

Peter Strand offered us the use of his house over Christmas while he and his family were visiting relatives in the United States. We were overwhelmed by his generosity.

The plane reservations took about a week to arrange. During this period, I began looking at everyday things differently. Faces on crowded sidewalks that I had given no thought to before, suddenly became wolf-like with golden eyes that were staring directly at me. Images began to ooze off advertising billboards like a Salvador Dali painting and the bright colors bled into each other. I felt I was losing my mind. My adrenaline was surging; my heart was continuously pounding. I was experiencing a primal understanding of the prolonged effect of anxiety on the nervous system.

Just before leaving for Toronto I made an appointment with the medical service at work and obtained a supply of Xanax to keep me on an even keel. I had never taken an anxiety blocker before, but I felt I needed one now because life was beginning to take on a grotesque quality.

This was, by far, the biggest crisis that Ian and I had encountered in our twenty years of marriage. It was the biggest crisis I had encountered in any aspect of my life. Thankfully, Ian and I had always relied on our church, both in Ottawa and Geneva. We needed it now more than ever. The problem was, I didn’t know how to pray. The idea of becoming emotionally invested in prayer was still a foreign concept to me; I just didn’t get it. Father Nicholas was accustomed to this kind of Christian and more than willing to share his expertise with me. Through a series of conversations and e-mails, he gave me a beginner’s introduction to prayer, which I found comforting.

I dug out my Good News Bible for the first time in years. I randomly opened the book and my finger fell on the verses where Jesus cures the man possessed by demons. What a coincidence. I was struck by the realization that mental illness has been for around a long time. Jesus asks the man’s name and he answers, “My name is Legion, for there are many of me.” What stirred my interest was that Jesus cured the man. This really was good news! I was elated until another thought dampened my fledgling hope: Since Jesus cured the demon possessed, why today are there so many men and women live on the edge of society, in our streets and homeless shelters? Why do we in the church speak of so often of faith, but are reluctant to believe in miracles?