NYC Therapist Talks: Psych Drugs- Helping or fueling an epidemic?

NYC Therapist Talks: Psych Drugs- Helping or fueling an epidemic?

Our society's use of psychiatric medications, of course, has soared since that time, and here's what I discovered: The number of adults, ages 18 to 65, on the federal disability rolls due to mental illness jumped from 1.25 million in 1987 to four million in 2007. Roughly one in every 45 working-age adults is now on government disability due to mental illness.

This epidemic has now struck our nation's children, too. The number of children who receive a federal payment because of a severe mental illness rose from 16,200 in 1987 to 561,569 in 2007, a 35-fold increase.


Here is just one of many such studies. In the 1980s, Martin Harrow, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, began a long-term study of 64 newly diagnosed schizophrenia patients. Every few years, he assessed how they were doing. Were they symptomatic? In recovery? Employed? Were they taking antipsychotic medications? The collective fate of the off-med and medicated patients began to diverge after two years, and by the end of 4.5 years, it was the off-medication group that was doing much better. Nearly 40% of the off-med group were "in recovery" and more than 60% were working, whereas only 6% of the medicated patients were "in recovery" and few were working. This divergence in outcomes remained throughout the next ten years, such that at the 15-year follow-up, 40% of those off drugs were in recovery, versus 5% of the medicated group. (Read Article)

from Robert Whitaker on the Huffington Post, author of "Anatomy of An Epidemic"


Is psych medication overrated?  There are so many ways to research this topic, ranging from statistics on suicidality, number of physicians who practice psychiatry vs psychotherapy, number of psychotherapists involved in writing the mental health "bible", the DSM (hint- not many).  A good place to start is usually- follow the money.

As a therapist, I struggle with being forced into the medical model and using a system that smacks of profit margins and quick fixes rather than actually helping people.  There are certainly people who have been helped, and very clearly have brain diseases that are ameliorated by psychiatric medications, but how interesting that in countries, many of which are considered "third world", the results are similar- schizophrenic patients who are NOT on medication, but have a stable support network and an outlet to deal with what they need to deal with, do better than in countries where the first line of defense is to throw pills at the problem.

As a therapist, I'm a huge fan of Tom Hodgkinson's book "The Freedom Manifesto", which offers suggestions for some outlets- not just for people diagnosed as schizophrenic, but for anyone who feels like a cog in a machine instead of a living human being.  Low self-esteem?  Turn off the tv and stop reading magazines.  Period.   Struggling with diets?  Start growing your own organic food, or at least stop buying things with bar codes.  Find a farmer's market or a community garden in your neighborhood.  Bored?  Stop idolizing celebrities, and make some music and art of your own.  Anxious (or my favorite diagnosis to pick on- "Restless leg syndrome"?) Get a bike and limit the time you spend looking at screens and advertisements.  Want to feel unique? Stop shopping at Urban Outfitters and American Apparel (they have questionable politics, and are just out to get your money, anyway) and get creative with your wardrobe- thrift stores are gold mines!

These sound like common sense things to do, but they're harder to implement than you'd think, and they also have a bigger payoff than you'd imagine.  The system puts a lot of effort into keeping you embroiled in it- this includes going to therapists, psychiatrists, or 12-step groups that try to pressure you to accepting whatever label they're trying to put on you and foster a lifelong dependent relationship rather than helping you get on your feet and living your best life. The system is out to sell you happiness, which has a huge implication- that left to your own devices, you are essentially unhappy.

A modern, effective therapist is about helping you address the various areas of your life that you are least happy with, and helping you get closer to what you want, but ultimately, the key player is you, not a pill, a 12 step group or a therapist.



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