Posts filed under ‘Psychiatry’

FDA May Require Testing of Electroconvulsive “Therapy” Devices

You may remember a couple of posts I made last year at this time about the importance of speaking up when the FDA opened itself up to comments on the issue of reclassifying the as yet untested ECT (shock treatment) machines from a class III to a class II. The situation was simple — in all the years the machines have been in use, the industry has never had to prove that they are either safe or effective. For decades people have been having their frontal lobes assaulted by electricity in varying amounts from just plain dangerous to thoroughly destructive on machines with no standard of testing to ensure that they’re working as designed, much less designed to address any established clinical use at all. This is not only frightening but a terrible insult to the rights and safety of the approximately 100,000 people who face ECT each year in the US (by choice or force) and only serves those profiting from the shock industry. In essence, the hundreds of thousands of people who have undergone this so-called treatment are the experiment — the living test.

Well, the good news is that it seems that the FDA’s protection of the shock industry may be coming to an end…

Peter Breggin, MD for the Huffington Post:

Friday afternoon, January 28, 2011: The FDA’s panel for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) voted to place ECT machines in Category III for all but one indication. If the FDA accepts the panel’s recommendation, the agency will require testing for all uses except “catatonia” which was recommended for Category II, requiring less stringent testing.

A tiebreaker by the chair was needed to propose putting ECT machines into Category III for depression. Given acute trauma caused by the treatment and the evidence for long-term memory and cognitive problems, it reflects poorly on the panel that the vote was so close.

Indeed. Despite the polarized response to the matter from proponents and opponents of giving ECT a pass, each side claiming history has proven their point, the fact of the matter is that the FDA is supposed to be ensuring our expectation of some level of safety. If an industry is unwilling or unable (or in this case both) to prove its product safe and effective given the established (and frankly, lax) channels, then that product has no business being passed off as a reasonable course of action in our nation’s hospitals. This shouldn’t have come off as a vote on ECT’s supposed merits but on its decades-long exemption from the system — and that shouldn’t be a close vote at all.

It’s a little early to cry victory as it remains to be seen whether the FDA will follow the panel’s recommendation, what result that will actually have and how much the overlapping psychiatric and shock industries will play off of the catatonia exemption.

If the diagnosis of catatonia is given this loophole, we will see more and more people diagnosed with this disorder…It’s similar to what happened to children: massively increasing the diagnosis of bipolar disorder to justify giving them adult mood stabilizers and antipsychotic drugs.

Unfortunately, the FDA is already waffling about whether or not it will in fact require the usual testing for Category III devices. In response to questions at the hearing, the agency staff said it was not certain whether a Category III designation for ECT would require the same rigorous testing routinely carried out for safety and efficacy. No one on the panel seemed to think the treatment should be phased out until safety and efficacy were proven.

Psychiatric reform moves ahead a step at a time, falters, and hopefully moves ahead again. The classification of ECT into Category III for most conditions, which at this point is only a recommendation, is a step forward and a somewhat positive sign to those of us who have called for this for decades. We hope the FDA will uphold its obligation to the public to thoroughly test such a dangerous device for safety and efficacy.

Since the psychiatric and shock industries have essentially shaken off the burden of responsibility for the safety of the consumer (certainly at the industry level the term is more fitting than patient) and the FDA is apparently questioning its convictions about the protection of the public, the burden rests on the people. As neither of those entities are wholeheartedly committed to moving forward of their own accord to ensure the safety and the efficacy of products on the market and ECT cannot prove itself under any honest scrutiny, the burden then falls on the people to pressure them toward forward momentum and to keep the scrutiny honest…but then, has there ever been a time when that wasn’t the case?

January 31, 2011 at 11:01 am 6 comments

Free John (Psychiatric Prisoner)…Action Requested: via Beyond Meds

Sometimes blogs like this give us the opportunity to do much more than offer up snapshots from  our fairly ordinary lives or our opinions on the state of the world around us. Just as with every word we speak out in the real world, we have a multitude of opportunities to say something that matters. When someone’s words offer us a chance to become a part of the solution, those words become an action whether in speech, on paper or in the glow of our screens — and that is why I so often visit and repost from Gianna Kali’s Beyond Meds.

The following is lifted entirely from Beyond Meds. These are Gianna’s words not mine. I say that to give credit, not to separate myself from it as there is nothing in the post that I do not fully endorse. That’s why it’s here.

John Hunt is a trauma survivor with a diagnosis of ‘paranoid schizophrenia’. He has spent over four years locked up in Carraig Mor psychiatric treatment centre in Cork city, Ireland.

He has been over-medicated on an array of psychotropic medications with dangerous adverse effects. He has had tardive dyskinesia, akathasia and has developed incontinence. His physical/ mental/ emotional/ spiritual health has been severely neglected and has deteriorated since being in Carraig Mor.

He has had no access to a rehabilitation team or psychotherapist and no day release in two years. There are no plans to rehabilitate John and return him to the community where he belongs. He is merely maintained and contained. John and his family have no voice in relation to his future. We are afraid that John’s physical health is being damaged considerably. We cannot stand by and watch this happen any longer.

Sign the petition to free John Please take action here.

Facebook cause: The incarceration of John

The blog: The incarceration of John

Check back later for more links. Grainne is being swamped with calls from reporters today, but she will update me with more links when she is able. Please look a the other work Grainne has done for this blog as it’s extremely inspiring and will also shed more light on what is happening to John.

June 21, 2010 at 9:14 pm

iTherapy 2.0

Welcome to the future of reductionist psychiatry. You can now be diagnosed, labeled and treated without a doctor ever having to even look you in the eye or hear the stories that make you tick. Just click the boxes for your symptoms, fill out the questionnaire and the complexities of the human psyche can be unraveled as quickly as e-filing your taxes in the last hour of tax day. Never mind the subtle differences that define us or the experiences that got us here.

This is not some luddite rant about the technology takeover, though to some extent there is a worthwhile wariness in that discussion. I’m talking about the power of the DSM, which was never meant to be a stand-alone collection of boxes to check off in diagnosing, now essentially uploaded and online to be used in just that fashion.

From Australia’s The Age:

MENTALLY ill Australians are increasingly being diagnosed and treated online in virtual psychiatric clinics, without ever seeing a doctor.

Patients suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are being assessed by computer and given ”e-prescriptions” for online counselling courses instead of medication or treatment sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist…

With e-therapy, patients are clinically diagnosed after completing psychiatric reviews by answering online questions

“Assessed by computer”? It makes you wonder what we need all these psychiatrists for? Apparently all we really need are the DSM committee and a handful of tech guys to work out the interface and we’ll be well on our way to solving those pesky problems that keep cropping up and reminding us how hopelessly human we all are.

One positive point is that it presents a shift from medicine and toward some sort of counseling but I see that aspect of it as short lived. It seems likely to follow the trend of “real life” psychiatry and revert to drug based care, printing out its e-prescriptions for the latest in pharmaceuticals. Also, it makes you wonder — if these kinds of treatments are so effective, why do we need a computer to veer away from drugs? I can see computer based communication and the easy transfer of information as useful but only as a supplement to truly involved care from a living, breathing human – not a replacement. I question the quality of online counseling when compared to real counseling. Of course it’s limited to relatively minor difficulties like depression, anxiety and PTSD. They wouldn’t dare try to treat the as yet uncharted depths of serious mental illness — would they?

In Melbourne, David Austin, the co-director of the National eTherapy Centre’s Anxiety Online program, which is run from Swinburne University of Technology, said the service did not attempt to treat people with more serious conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder but there was scope for that in the future.

“Within five to 20 years we will have a proven e-therapy for most of the psychological conditions. Once you do that, you have 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week low-cost access for everyone,” said Professor Austin.

Everyone. Oh good. At least they’re planning ahead. This is where the drugs are likely to come into play as most things perceived as serious mental illness are treated with drugs as a chemical problem in the brain not simply a coping, life handling or perception problem.

Patients log on anonymously to complete modules on cognitive behavioural therapy and breathing and relaxation techniques through videos, podcasts, online forums and interactive questionnaires.

Next month, courses will begin for people with eating disorders and gambling addiction.

I’m convinced computers can be of some benefit in a therapeutic setting whether it’s to impart information, the support found in many forums or supplemental counseling. The biggest problem, though isn’t in the counseling aspect of it but in the assessing. While the move to computer based diagnosis promises to extend mental health care to more people, we need to question the level of care and its potential to do more harm than good. We’re talking about diagnosing people online that we’ve never met. The internet has proven to be an unreliable way to get to know people. Something gets lost in translation between the keyboard at one end and the screen at the other. That’s why some people hide behind them, filtering and crafting their online persona and others with the best and most honest intentions just don’t come across as themselves. Many would argue that the computer isn’t even a good way to determine whether someone is dateable but somehow we think we can ascertain someone’s mental and emotional state and diagnose them which will have a huge and far reaching impact on the course of their lives.

We are all complex individuals to varying degrees. One can no more experience another’s state of mind through a computer’s screen than the fullness of a symphony through its crackling plastic speakers. I can’t imagine letting the care of someone’s mental well being hinge on that poor a translation.

June 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Kifuji on the Defense

The controversial Dr. Kifuji, prescribing psychiatrist for Rebecca Riley, appears to have evaded any criminal responsibility by exchanging her testimony for immunity. She is, however, up against a malpractice suit and some of the things that have come up are startling in terms of just how Rebecca’s very early death transpired and the role Kifuji played in all of it. I know I’ve brought up the doctor’s role in this before but every new fact that comes out is more frightening and infuriating than the last.

The Patriot Ledger ran an article that covers many of the almost too-bad-to-be-true circumstances that point to the fact that if Rebecca and Dr. Kifuji had never met, Rebecca might still be here. Regardless of your opinions on children and drugs, this case was wrong all around and the result of at least three people’s indefensible actions. Kifuji was more a drug dealer than a psychiatrist and while that’s not particularly uncommon, the young ages of her patients makes her a standout, even among the over-drugging crowd and the predictable end result in Rebecca’s case shows her to be  both reckless and ill qualified.

From the Patriot Ledger article:

Years before she became a board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji was diagnosing children as young as 2 as bipolar and hyperactive – and prescribing powerful cocktails of mood-altering drugs to quiet them.

By the time Kifuji finally passed the psychiatric board exam – on her fourth try – one of her youngest patients, Rebecca Riley, had a little more than a year to live.

The lack of involvement on Kifuji’s part was shocking. She saw Rebecca primarily for twenty minute sessions to adjust doses. Often she just used these sessions to put on paper her approval for the adjustments her mother was already making, having increased doses on her own and experimented with drug cocktails using drugs prescribed (also by Kifuji) to Rebecca’s siblings.

She relied almost exclusively on what Carolyn told her about the kids when diagnosing them and ordering increasing amounts of drugs for them.

Kifuji also trusted the mother to keep tabs on Rebecca’s heart rate and blood pressure for signs of problems with the four drugs she was on. Kifuji, a pediatrician who later became a psychiatrist, told Novotny during the deposition that she didn’t realize she had a blood pressure cuff in her office and could check the girl’s vital signs herself until after Rebecca was dead. She said she didn’t take Rebecca’s pulse with her fingers because Carolyn Riley told her the child’s pulse “was within normal range.”

Even a well intentioned mother shouldn’t be solely in charge of monitoring a child’s heart rate and blood pressure let alone a woman hell bent on gaining access to more and stronger drugs at the expense of her daughter’s health. Also, any pediatrician turned psychiatrist should think of performing such simple tasks as second nature. If not that, then what is a doctor for? How do you not even know you have basic medical equipment in your office? How does a doctor fail to check a child’s pulse? Oh, that’s right — her mother said. If that’s all there is to doctoring, it’s no wonder some might see her as just a drug dispenser. They can do the rest at home, it’s a mere technicality that you must be licensed to prescribe.

  • Asked why she didn’t report Carolyn Riley to child welfare authorities after learning that the mother had increased the children’s doses at least twice without checking with her first, Kifuji said: “I just can’t report to the DSS. I need to … my role is to work with the parent and not judging them.”
  • Asked if she ever told Carolyn not to give Rebecca cold medicine on top of all the drugs the child was on, Kifuji says no, “but it’s because Rebecca didn’t get sick, and I was never asked ”

Right — let a mother chemically abuse and experiment on a child but whatever you do, don’t judge and certainly don’t  give them any more information than they asked for. The article goes on to point out other times that Kifuji refilled prescriptions before they should have run out, never asking for an explanation, just dishing out more and more drugs.

She prescribed clonidine – the drug that killed Rebecca – during the child’s first visit to control the “impulsivity” that Carolyn Riley described. Rebecca was 2 at the time.

Impulsivity at two hardly makes a child a psychiatric oddity but when you look at some of her notes regarding Rebecca’s apparently troubling behavior it’s easy to get the notion that Kifuji sees childhood as a disorder unto itself.

“Then consistently hyper all the time. Climbs up to top of jungle gym without any fears and thinking. Gets into everything. Just walk up to someone and smack them. Never gets aggressive. Hits kicks and spits when she’s being disciplined and laughs. Started to say things scared her. Whines and fusses a lot.”

Kifuji described the toddler as dysarthric, meaning she could not properly pronounce some words.

“A bit tired since yesterday. Coming down on flu. Fine as long as she takes clonidine. Sleeps throughout. Without clonidine gets very hyper and impulsive.”

“Climbs up on top of bureau. Tantrums or sobbing when she was told to clean up her toys” and “she wasn’t listening to her mother.”

This child was drugged for one reason — she was stricken with a case of toddlerhood. Dr. Kifuji seems to see no distinction between behavior and disease. Now that psychiatry has largely gotten away from talk therapy, we’re supposed to see psychiatrists as doctors of the brain — linking behavior to dysfunction in the brain. If that’s the case, Kifuji doesn’t make it very well. She’s like a mad scientist but without the science.

She explained that some researchers believe the area of the brain called the amygdala is different in people with bipolar disease. But she admitted she didn’t know where the amygdala is in the brain.

Of course you don’t need to know the brain at all to dispense drugs in the manner that Kifuji had begun making a career of (there is a timeline of Rebecca’s “treatment” at the bottom of the article). You only need to know that if you sedate a child enough, you can drug the behavior out of them. Sure, that child may be a “floppy doll” sitting in the corner but a quiet floppy doll and certainly not disruptive and if enough people will pay you to drug the childhood out of their children to one extent or another, then you’re in business.

Yes, the parents physically gave the drugs to Rebecca but they were used as a weapon and that weapon was provided by Dr. Kifuji. If she had given them a blackjack instead and told them how many times you have to hit a kid for effective behavioral treatment, this would be a different case entirely. Our view of prescribed medicine as care makes us resistant to the notion that drugs can be poison but they clearly can be and often are, particularly with psych drugs. When this happens, we need to respond accordingly.

There are no less than three guilty parties here in a case of chemical assault that ended in a child’s death. It’s bad enough that Dr. Kifuji was granted immunity making it impossible to hold her criminally accountable, even as more facts come to light pointing to her role not in anything resembling care but in a death. If she is not held civilly and professionally accountable, we’re saying her actions are acceptable, even desirable and we’re signing off on a prescription for some seriously detrimental treatment. I’m relieved to see she’s at least going to be made to answer for her actions. She’s certainly got a lot to answer for in this suit. Now we’ll have to wait and see what passes as accountability these days.

April 14, 2010 at 10:47 am 4 comments

The Last Thing We Need…

Somehow the push for psychologists to gain prescription privileges has thus far flown under my radar. As soon as I became aware of it, a host of fairly obvious thoughts ran through my head. As any return readers might have guessed, not in favor of such a move. Now that we’ve broadened the range of thought and emotion caught up in the net that is psychiatry’s drug craze, we’re moving toward increasing the number of people casting such nets. In a  culture where powerful and often deadly (but highly salable) drugs are the accepted answer to each of life’s concerns, the last thing we need is more prescribers. Needless to say, I’m not alone in these concerns and a recent article on Psych Central’s World of Psychology essentially echoes my thoughts on the matter.

If psychology wants to remain a science based upon the understanding of human behavior — both normal and abnormal — and helping those with the “abnormal” components, it would do well to avoid going down the road of prescription privileges. But perhaps it’s already too late…

It never ceases to amaze me that people can speak to a psychiatrist, present them plainly with the source of their emotional troubles, walk their doctor through their problem from onset to complete breakdown and be told they have a biological illness and given a prescription. Psychology as a profession is still in a position to offer real care for very real problems that result from life’s many stumbling blocks. The question is, is that enough?

The fundamental problem with psychologists gaining prescription privileges is the inevitable decline over time in the use of psychotherapy by those same psychologists. This is precisely what happened to psychiatry — they went from the psychotherapy providers of choice, to the medication prescribers of choice. Now it’s hard to find a psychiatrist that even offers psychotherapy…

By switching to a heavily prescription-based practice, a psychologist will be able to nearly double their salary. Can you imagine any other field where you can double your salary with an additional 2 years’ worth of training? Are proponents actually suggesting that money has little or no significant impact in helping a person make career decisions? (We only have a few decades’ worth of research to demonstrate how money does indeed influence our decision-making process.)

Back when prominent psychiatrist Loren Mosher resigned from the American Psychiatric Association (APA),  it was for just this reason. He saw his field’s practitioners getting all too cozy with drug makers — and then from cozy to dependent. It began with the blending of psychiatry and psychopharmacology in the early seventies and continued into what we see now — a field whose approach is virtually devoid of any connection between life and trauma, favoring instead to label everything a chemical imbalance with a chemical cure. It has become the goal of many psychiatrists not to pinpoint and address peoples’ actual sources of distress but, as a sales force for psychotropic drugs, to capitalize on their patients’ struggles with an endless but ever-changing and supposedly improving parade of pharmaceuticals. From his resignation letter:

After nearly three decades as a member it is with a mixture of pleasure and disappointment that I submit this letter of resignation from the American Psychiatric Association. The major reason for this action is my belief that I am actually resigning from the American Psychopharmacological Association. Luckily, the organization’s true identity requires no change in the acronym…These psychopharmacological limitations on our abilities to be complete physicians also limit our intellectual horizons. No longer do we seek to understand whole persons in their social contexts — rather we are there to realign our patients’ neurotransmitters. The problem is that it is very difficult to have a relationship with a neurotransmitter — whatever its configuration.

When you look back to the late sixties and early seventies, when psychiatrists were seeing the vast majority of psychotropic prescriptions filled by general practitioners in a trend of declining credence in psychiatry, todays push seems all too familiar. That’s when psychiatrists started to flesh out the chemical imbalance theory as an exclusive (at the time) answer and a justification of their field, positioning themselves as the sole experts on the topic of biological cause to emotional struggles. It was never backed by objective scientific discovery or even verifiably observed in study but it sold well and justified the existence of psychiatry as an institution and a higher authority on the matter than GPs. The APA and its congregants could hold up the theory disguised as fact and point out that it was they and not GPs who came up with this exclusive supposed answer.

Is that where we are with psychology? In a time where we — as patients and consumers –are conditioned to think our emotional troubles and extreme states of mind are rooted not in our environment but in our chemistry, psychologists offer little in the way of addressing the chemical cause we’ve been sold. They are sitting back watching psychiatrists sell theories and pills in a monopoly while they are increasingly regarded as new age hucksters selling psychobabble. If they are going to remain socially relevant and commercially viable, they need to market themselves as better stewards of the same keys. It would appear, by the early actions of proponents of prescription privileges, that they would do this by taking on the legitimacy offered by psychopharmacology and the balance and apparent of purity of intentions offered by addressing factors like stress,abuse and emotional damage. You can already see them holding themselves up as not having gone down the road of greed and corporate influence but if they’ve taken the high road, it’s largely because the low road has been closed off to them. Sure, there is a great number of psychologists who truly believe in and act on the ability to relate emotional discharge to environmental input but if their era sunsets, the new blood will be trained in the new paradigm and it will be a lucrative one. I’m sure we can scarcely imagine what that will do to the notion of choice in mental health care.

April 3, 2010 at 9:48 am 5 comments

A Senseless Passing, Reckless Drugging and a Strongly Worded Letter

I don’t have the time or energy to really delve into these intertwining stories so I’m just touching on them and providing links but I do think we should be paying attention to what is allowed to pass for care in this country and what is allowed to pass for accountability.

Florida has a terrible track record, pumping its youth and especially its children in foster care, full of pyschotropic drugs. Foster children in Florida are drugged about three times as much as children outside of the system. These drugs have  serious negative effects on developing minds and bodies and one of those effects is suicidal ideation. With that many kids drugged down and such extreme responses, it’s painfully obvious that many of those children are going to suffer terrible outcomes.

This was never more true than in the heart breaking story of Gabriel Myers, a child just seven years old who committed suicide by hanging while on a cocktail of psychotropic drugs including Seroquel. Seven years old. Suicide at that age is unnatural. A child that age taking his own life has been failed by somebody — maybe everybody. It took a long time in my mind to get to even thinking about what this says about broken systems, medication, responsibility and social failure — all I could think about was what a terribly sad, troubled and short life Gabriel had.

Florida’s response? From a CBS News article that does go on to present some critical views of the use of psych drugs in children:

The apparent suicide of 7-year-old boy Gabriel Myers, who was taking several psychiatric medications, has led to the introduction of a bill in the Florida legislature, which would assure that powerful mental health drugs dispensed to Florida foster care children would be more closely monitored…

The bill requires caregivers and doctors to report any adverse side effects, which DCF must document.

The bill also requires children to have a mental health treatment plan that includes counseling for children prescribed such drugs.

Monitoring? We need more than paperwork. Keeping track of your failures and an immediate reversal of your direction are two different things. Gabriel’s prescribing psychiatrist, Sohail Punjwani, is tied to a string of kids drugged down on powerful psychotropics and having horrible negative effects — facing everything from sedation and dizziness to hallucinations, suicidal urges and death either at their own hands or from the drugs directly and while he’s not the only one, he’s certainly at the center of the situation. It’s okay though. He got a strongly worded letter: From the Miami Herald:

A South Florida psychiatrist who was treating a 7-year-old foster child before the boy committed suicide last year has received a warning from federal drug regulators who say he failed “to protect the rights, safety and welfare” of children enrolled in clinical drug trials.

In a strongly worded letter dated Feb. 4, regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Dr. Sohail Punjwani over-medicated children who were enrolled in clinical trials for undisclosed drugs. One girl, the letter said, slashed her wrists while hallucinating.

A strongly worded letter? Strongly worded letters are written in response to bad stays in hotels not children dying at the hands of their reckless doctor. Surely, showing a complete disregard for the safety of your youngest patients warrants more than a letter. But then, it seems disregard for patient safety is just the tip of a particularly damaging iceberg. It would appear as though Punjwani, so far without interference from any overseeing agency, may have been using foster children in clinical trials. If that’s the case, the problem is systemic.

If experimenting on kids is the lowest of the low, I don’t even know what to say about hand selecting discarded or displaced children for a pseudo-science project. It is a clear use of a person’s social viability to define them as candidates for clinical trials.  You will never see a news report of senators’ children being hand picked for psychiatric experiments. With or without the pretense of clinical trials, children in this country have become the little white mice in psychiatry’s living lab and all too often their real lives are the mazes we watch them stagger through. That’s not good enough.

March 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

Saving Normal?

A recent opinion piece by Allen Frances for the LA Times is plainly pointing out the dangers of the new DSM’s broad strokes and the potential to paint too many “normal” people as mentally ill. It’s notable enough that mainstream press is presenting any criticism at all about psychiatry in general and the DSM in particular but Allen Frances was one of their own and no silent partner or low level underling either. He was the chairman of the committee that created the DSM-IV.

Our panel tried hard to be conservative and careful but inadvertently contributed to three false “epidemics” — attention deficit disorder, autism and childhood bipolar disorder. Clearly, our net was cast too wide and captured many “patients” who might have been far better off never entering the mental health system.

The first draft of the next edition of the DSM, posted for comment with much fanfare last month, is filled with suggestions that would multiply our mistakes and extend the reach of psychiatry dramatically deeper into the ever-shrinking domain of the normal. This wholesale medical imperialization of normality could potentially create tens of millions of innocent bystanders who would be mislabeled as having a mental disorder. The pharmaceutical industry would have a field day — despite the lack of solid evidence of any effective treatments for these newly proposed diagnoses.

Where the DSM-versus-normality boundary is drawn also influences insurance coverage, eligibility for disability and services, and legal status — to say nothing of stigma and the individual’s sense of personal control and responsibility.

It’s interesting to see someone in psychiatry addressing the notion of false epidemics of mental disorder when a committee decision and ever changing public opinion are all that separate a “real” epidemic from a false one. That said, committee decisions and public opinion have proven quite powerful and if you look back, the release of each DSM has brought on a rash of newly mentally ill. If history proves a good indicator, there will be millions of people who are normal today and mentally ill in 2013 — all thanks to a book with the power to categorize and medicalize the human condition. How much sorrow is too much? How excited can you be about everyday things before you are manic? And now with the proposed introduction of psychotic risk syndrome, anyone who isn’t deemed mentally ill can be subject to the book’s reach simply out of fear that they may be in time.

What are some of the most egregious invasions of normality suggested for DSM-V? “Binge eating disorder” is defined as one eating binge per week for three months. (Full disclosure: I, along with more than 6% of the population, would qualify.) “Minor neurocognitive disorder” would capture many people with no more than the expected memory problems of aging. Grieving after the loss of a loved one could frequently be misread as “major depression.” “Mixed anxiety depression” is defined by commonplace symptoms difficult to distinguish from the emotional pains of everyday life.

The media seldom addresses views critical of psychiatry but for psychiatrists to come out against the new proposals in such a public way is truly indicative of what’s at stake with the new DSM. You can bet that if psychiatrists are picking sides on this, it carries huge implications worth looking at. It doesn’t take much to see the power inherent in handing over our culture’s ability to define “normal” to a small committee comprised exclusively of people with something to gain and Frances is not exaggerating when he calls it “wholesale medical imperialization.” How much control are we willing to hand over? How far are we willing to let anyone go in defining us? How widely cast will the net be before it captures you? This is not an issue of special interest only to those marked as seriously mentally ill. Every label of mental illness is serious and with an ever broadening range of perceived illness encroaching upon a shrinking concept of normal, you may not be off the hook. Frances’ article says that it may not be too late to save ‘normal’ but I question whether ‘normal’ is worth saving.

See also: Allen Frances’ Opening Pandora’s Box: The 19 Worst suggestions for DSM5 in Psychiatric Times.

March 4, 2010 at 10:24 am 3 comments

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