Schizophrenia – needed by bad psychiatry

I try to avoid Dr. David Allen’s blog Family Dysfunction and Mental Health, because, Dr. Allen, alas, does not understand schizophrenia and seems resistant to ex-patients explaining to him that their issues relate in some way to overt trauma or family dysfunction. Some of my blog’s energetic readers have taken him on in the past, but to no avail. He, like 99.9% of psychiatrists, thinks schizophrenia is always the special case, some kind of weird creature unrelated to trauma and not treatable in a trauma-related context. Family dysfunction only has an impact on other conditions, apparently.

None-the-less, Dr. Allen’s latest blog post, linking the increase in psychiatric diagnoses to the disability benefits juggernaut is quite interesting, and he makes some good points. I also have to give Dr. Allen credit that his blog is open to all, unlike some sites where you have to be a mental health “professional” to sign in and comment.

However, then there is Dr. James Woods comment to the Allen post below. Can you imagine getting better if Dr. Woods (or 99.9% of psychiatrists) was your shrink? Before you take on a shrink (and yes, they can be helpful), find out how schizo positive he or she is. My educated guess is that most psychiatrists will say all the right things, but keep you on the drugs and other dependencies because they really see you as mentally disabled. Here’s a nasty thought of mine. Homosexuality as a mental illness label  got away from psychiatry in the 1970s through mass action by the gay rights movement, but “schizophrenics” will have difficulty organizing themselves against psychiatry if they are on disability and heavily drugged. Truly a malicious thought on my part.

Kudos for an extremely well-written and timely article, David.

As a psychiatrist myself, I try to avoid disabling people and rather concentrate my efforts on enabling people.

While certainly there are some diseases such as classic autism, moderate to severe schizophrenia, moderate mental retardation etc. which require disability, (and I am delighted to participate in securing disability services for these patients) we must remember as psychiatrists that many of our disorders are episodic; and tend to get better with treatment.

We need love (sic) work and play.

James Woods M.D.

I guess Dr. Woods does not consider people with schizophrenia as people, otherwise he, too, would avoid disabling them. Anyone want to picket his office? Oh darn, he didn’t leave an address!

The picket line

Schizophrenia should take a leaf from the Gay Pride movement. I have written several posts on the double standard that psychiatry exercises when it comes to a schizophrenia diagnosis. Scratch beneath the surface of most psychiatrists and you find the medical school training hardwired into their DNA. Medical school tells them that schizophrenia is a brain disorder, that it is most likely genetic, and that the “disease” is chronic. In other words, there is something really wrong with you by nature.

If you want help in overcoming a diagnosis of schizophrenia, it would be useful to interview your psychiatrist to ferret out the true feelings about your “illness” before you invest a lot of time and money thinking that this person is going to help you. Of course, in the end, nobody can help you but you, but some people can “encourage you” to be you, damn what others may say.

Psychiatry also believed that homosexuality was a mental illness, just like schizophrenia, just like depression, just like all the other labels that exist today that are still on the books in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Maybe homosexuality is a mental illness, just like schizophrenia, but who cares as long people who have “it” are otherwise happy and fulfilled?

The Gay Pride movement serves as a useful roadmap for what could happen to schizophrenia. In 1973 homosexuality was dropped from the DSM simply because homosexuals didn’t consider themselves mentally ill and objected to the stigma, and they began “outing” the psychiatric profession on their entrenched attitudes. To most psychiatrists, if someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia actually “recovers”, then it is obvious to these thinkers that the diagnosis was wrong. Other mental disorders don’t suffer the same stigma, hence the double standard.

My suggestion is when psychiatrist shopping, to ask your shrink point blank where he or she stands on schizophrenia. Is he or she “schizo” positive? Chances are you will hear all the right words at first, enough to make you invest a bit of time and energy. Soon enough it should become apparent where the doctor’s convictions really lie.

Take a leaf from Gay Pride. Are you really “mentally ill” just because the DSM says so? Suffering the stigma of the medical profession and society in general does nothing to further you as a human being. Start picketing doctors who are not SZ positive. Man the barricades. You can change much about the way you are treated simply by being dropped from the DSM.

Does schizophrenia need celebrity endorsement?

I am discouraged of late that schizophrenia isn’t getting the press it deserves. More people (1 in a 100) have schizophrenia than autism (now 1 in 150), though autism seems to be catching up fast. Autism is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term “infantile autism” was coined by Dr. Leo Kanner in the 1930s. Schizophrenia has been around since the dawn of time.

Schizophrenia has built-in problems that might prevent it getting a full campaign à la Jenny McCarthy’s with autism. Schizophrenia occurs in adults. Autism attracts attention because it happens to children (and yes, it is a devastating problem). Money pours into children’s causes. Adults, let’s face it, are a harder sell. Another problem: Nobody wants to admit publicly to having schizophrenia. Better to be bipolar. Bipolar seems to be enjoying a wave of popularity right now, right up there with depression. The distinctions between bipolar and schizophrenia are artificial and tend to fold into each other over time. The drugs to treat them are the same. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear rumours that Britney is bipolar. Schizophrenia is a career killer. Britney is still out there and trying her best, even if she has her off days.

Where is the outrage? Schizophrenia has a natural recovery rate of 30%. Imagine that a little dedicated effort could double that rate and make recovery happen sooner. By dedicated effort I do not mean more meds. I mean less meds or no meds. My celebrity would endorse a holistic approach to health and talk openly about helping people to help themselves. My celebrity would speak about the value of vitamins, diet, family support, love, and provide a more balanced view of the role of medications than what we have been hearing up until now. I would love it if a little pill could cure our ills without creating more problems, but I gave up on that fantasy a long time ago. The real discrimination in schizophrenia is that people are not being helped to get better in bigger numbers sooner. Mentally ill people will have limited access to employment and other opportunities many of us take for granted as long as they remain mentally ill.

Jenny McCarthy was outraged. She did something about it. I read her book Louder Than Words. I was turned off at first. She throws four letter words around like rice at a wedding. This detracts from her message. But I looked past that and I realized that she was absolutely right to be outraged and to not accept the bleak prognosis her son was handed. She did her homework and she got going. So did the gay rights lobby. Back in 1973, homosexuality was dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness. Psychiatrists were not at all happy about that because they still considered homosexuality a mental illness. But they could not withstand the onslaught of the gay rights movement picketing their offices and conventions. A mental illness wiped out by the stroke of a pen. The success of the gay rights lobby raises interesting questions about the nature of mental illness and of how it is determined and it shows what outrage will do.