Editors note: We recently got challenged by one of our supporters who is a medication user and wants people to stop invalidating medication users. We are going to intersperse our challenger with data to make sure people can weigh both sides of the story.
Psych med critics who practically say all psychiatric medications are bad for everyone all the time –dismiss the experiences of apparently millions of people, who take psych meds, as merely personal anecdotes. Psychiatric survivors talk about their negative personal experiences with psych meds all the time.
So, yes, there is another side of the this story that obviously gets very little mention here, except when people like me speak up. Saying all meds are bad all the time is as silly and unscientific as saying they are always good for everyone.
If someone dropped into this group from Mars, they probably would have no idea that millions of people take psych meds, and presumably feel they are helped by them, and that the trade-offs of known costs/risks, etc. are worth it.
Our answer: The real data on risks and efficacy is endlessly debated on http://MadInAmerica.com. This commenter is not familiar with this research. It’s worth checking out before you know whether the decision you’ve made about trade-offs is trustable.
How do psych med critics tell people their medication choice is uninformed?
Would this be a fair summary of what Corinna and other broadside psych med critics say about those who take psych meds? “If you believe psych meds are helping you, most likely it is the placebo effect, which means you could get the same perceived benefit without any possible side effects or costs. You probably don’t realize the risks and side effects, and likely have been misled about them. So even if you feel they are helping, you probably don’t realize or understand that the risks?”
For example, you may feel they are helping with problem A, but they are causing problems B and C, which is a net negative, whether you realize it or not. So you are most likely not making a free and informed choice? Further, there are other, better (or equally effective) approaches for whatever your mental health issue is, and these have far fewer, or no, side effects, and often are cheaper.
Our answer: Well, we do try to say it a bit softer than that, and also we don’t usually dump the whole situation all at once. How can you make a fully informed decision if you don’t know about all the risks or efficacy information about the treatment you have chosen? Or about alternative treatments? We are not anti-medication, we are pro-informed choice. There is a list of about six things people should be told before they start psych meds, and most people do not know these things.
How does saying meds “don’t work” sound to people who think they are working very well?
How would such “shotgun” criticism sound to, and be received by, someone who is taking psych meds, and finding them to be of great benefit? Consider this scenario:
Jane, a composite of various people I know, and Corinna probably knows, suffered terribly for more than a decade with “bipolar” issues. She tried to kill herself at least 5 times, and came close at least twice. She was hospitalized, had few friends, and often alienated those she had with her behavior, when she was manic or very depressed. She ran up financial bills and legal troubles when manic. She dropped out of school a few times, couldn’t graduate, and rarely held a job more than a few months.
But then she went on medication, and her life is 1,000% better she says. Since being on the psych med, she has been able to graduate, find a decent job, and keep it for the past 5 years. She has not been hospitalized in years, no suicide attempts since being on this med, has more and better friends than ever, and is now in a decent relationship (by her accounting) for the first time in many years.
Yes, she has some side effects and concerns about the meds, including long-term risks, but she feels that she would probably be dead without the meds and, in any case, feels the benefits far outweigh the existing (e.g. some weight gain) or possible known side effects.
She attributes most of her dramatic improvement to this med. She doesn’t believe she is “cured” or “recovered,” but she feels she’s 70 to 80% better than she was, and now has hope, and sees an upward trajectory, whereas before she only knew suffering and despair.
Our answer: Well, this is why our messaging needs to be careful. The idea is that “Medication helps some people, but not everyone, and they may be increasing the amount of disability in our country.” This is because in the aggregate which means, on average, the vast majority of medications are no more effective than placebo in the long run. But aggregate does not mean everyone. Just like any average of data, there are people who do extremely well and extremely well and extremely poorly with any kind of treatment.
Corinna’s personal recovery story included a time where medications seemed very helpful, but later the medications started causing a movement disorder and severe sleep disruption and both resolved when Corinna came off medications. Also, many medication critics talk about “numbing emotions,” and Corinna never felt numbed on medications. But when when she came off medications, there was an incredible emotional intensity and beauty to her life that she didn’t even know she’d been missing.
Jane might be advised to work on reducing the medications that are causing the most problems with side effects, to work with an extremely slow taper according to good tapering practices found in this list of resources. Most people find a “minimum effective dose.” Once people know the difference between medication withdrawal effects and the return of the “illness,” many people find that the biggest effect of their medication is simply relief of withdrawal symptoms.
Are we giving a respectful message?
There are real people like this, just as passionate about the benefits from meds, as others here are about how unhelpful, or even harmful, they are. Suppose Jane tells you all of this and more; her feelings, perceptions and experiences with her mental health problems, before and after taking the med. How do you think broad, general criticism would sound to her, or to a neutral bystander? Personally, I’d find it patronizing and invalidating of me and my experience.
Never mind your negative experience with a drug. Everybody’s different. If this drug did not help you, please try to wean yourself off (slowly, of course). Don’t tell people, “You may think the benefits outweigh the downsides, that the trade-offs are worth it, but I and Whitaker and “The Movement” know, and are telling you that, regardless of your individual circumstances and experiences, you are mistaken.”
Do you really see that as a position of respect for diversity of perspectives and experiences and inclusion? Is that the message you really want to convey? It’s one thing to rail against Psychiatrists; quite another to essentially dismiss all your peers. Aren’t their experiences and perspectives every bit as valid, important and important to note as anyone here? I would sure hope so.