Author: Sasha Kildare
I recently read a very long blog, “The Movement Against Psychiatry,” on MentalHealthExcellence.org that has since been pulled down but can still be found on Vice.com. It discusses different facets of mental health including the anti-psychiatry movement, which piqued my curiosity.
A Google search yielded this ungrammatical description for the anti-psychiatry session of the 20th International Conference on Applied Psychology and Psychiatry:
“Anti-Psychiatry is an improvement in light of the view that psychological treatment is much of the time more hurting than steady to patients Anti-psychiatry is advancement in light of the view that psychological treatment is normally more hurting than obliging to patients…”
The September 9, 2020 MedPage.com article, “Op-Ed: Why Anti-Psychiatry Now Fails and Harms,” provides background, “Dating back to at least the 1960s, the so-called “anti-psychiatry” movement began as an understandable reaction to various missteps of psychiatry, such as the over-medicalization of mental health, the inhumane management of asylum care, and the inappropriate pathologizing of minority groups.”
The op-ed points out that originally the movement helped spotlight glaring inequities, which somewhat helped the psychiatry profession address those inequities, but, by 2020, the movement has shifted to something akin to the anti-vaccine movement. The op-ed says, “Those who espouse anti-psychiatry ideology often lay charges against the very existence of psychiatric disorders and the wholescale efficacy of psychiatric medication.”
When overprescribing happens
The Directors’ Statement from the 2020 documentary film Medicating Normal states, “The film acknowledges that psychiatric drugs do help alleviate suffering for a segment of those who take them. However, it is estimated that of the 1 in 5 Americans taking such meds, 30% to 35% are gravely harmed by the very treatment meant to help them. Medicating Normal focuses on the predicament of this group.”
How about pro-brain health?
The anti-psychiatry movement doesn’t address glaring cultural and socio-economic root causes of mental health conditions, including the lack of access to preventive healthcare and food that provides the necessary nutrients that enable proper brain function.
The brain is our most complex organ, and our psyches are just as complex. There are many basic preventive mental health measures that aren’t widespread. A lot of that has to do with culture.
In numerous ways, our culture erodes mental health. Take sleep for example. In the last few days, I heard two successful professionals celebrate each of their hero’s extraordinary work ethics that sacrificed sleep. During a podcast, a film director and software developer identified Elon Musk as one of his heroes in part because Musk worked “25-hour days.” The other, a judge briefly interviewed on the radio, spoke with reverence about working for a famous judge who worked all hours and emailed her in the middle of the night.
There are a few genetic outliers who can get away with this, but the average person pays for poor sleep hygiene with their health. If you have a predisposition, lack of sleep could trigger a mental health condition, such as depression, mania, or anxiety.
So many factors go into brains going awry. In addition to sleep deprivation and nutrition, factors include toxic stress, obesity, overly sedentary lifestyles, trauma experienced in childhood and as an adult. Regarding trauma, every individual should be able to assess their ACE score and its implications. Mental health should be taught in junior high and high school.
Why aren’t those in the anti-psychiatry movement advocating for brain scans, brain health, integrative psychiatry, and early psychosis intervention programs?
Neuroscience still has a way to go
In 2016, neurobiologist Lu Chen, PhD gave a speech discussing the challenges in neuroscience at the Stanford Chinese Family and Faculty Club’s quarterly speaker series. Highlights from the speech were published in a November 8, 2016 article “We know very little about the brain”: Experts outline challenges in neuroscience” published on Stanford Medicine’s Scopeblog.Stanford.edu:
“We know very little about the brain…. Understanding exactly how the neural pathways function could lead to improved treatments for depression, genetic disease, and many other conditions,” she explained.”
Dr. Daniel Amen’s book The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More was published this year. It hails the evolving field of neuroscience as key to developing superior treatments. He points out that symptoms do not necessarily pinpoint the underlying causes of brain disorders, which can interfere with coming up with effective treatment regimens.
An integrative approach to psychiatry is what finally worked for me. Almost every one of my summers between the ages of 18 and 26 involved near-death experiences and hospitalization. Although symptom-free most months during those years, the medications were piled on when I did have symptoms. It was not until I was 26 and received wrap-around treatment and outpatient follow-up for 18 months that I was able to maintain on a low dose of a single medication and discover the lifestyle accommodations I need to make, including regular exercise.
When I returned to college at 29, I was also fortunate to spend a semester working with an educational psychologist who taught me how to accommodate my processing style. With his help I was able to graduate, and I have used the methods he taught me ever since for work and for writing projects.
My experience has been that an integrative approach to mental health teaches you how to:
- Recognize and fight the pain of mild depression before it triggers relapse into addiction.
- Accommodate circadian rhythms prone to imbalance to help avoid mania, depression, or relapse.
- Change thinking patterns.
- Develop healthy ways of dealing with stress.
“Op-Ed: Why Anti-Psychiatry Now Fails and Harms” concludes, “Psychiatry is far from a perfect science and must continue to evolve and improve over time and in response to criticism. But the wholescale assault on psychiatry as a profession invalidates the many positive treatment experiences people have had and robs others from the chance to benefit from much-needed, evidence-based care.”