What do you believe about psychiatry?

Good evening, my lovely readers. Or morning, depending on where you are in the world. I wrote this earlier this week with a plan to post it once the Twilight review series was over, but I think I need to share it now. I'm writing a follow-up post, too; make sure to subscribe so you don't miss it if you're interested.

I'm a writer. And I'm a blogger. As such, I do a lot of reading and a lot of blog-following, because you can't write something until you've read a lot of that something by other people. As often happens when I read book blogs, I ended up following rabbit trails on and off GoodReads one night. Somehow, I ended up reading a lot of reviews of books and a lot of articles about the same topic: the evils and lies of psychiatry.

psy·chi·a·try (n) the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental and emotional disorders - American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition

Which, of course, was a topic I found intriguing, as a psychiatric patient myself. I'm bipolar, taking Lamictal, seeing a counselor weekly and a psychiatrist regularly. I'm also a bit of a teenage activist, so I tend to get very opinionated and impassioned about stuff. It happened when I learned about abortion and the pro-life movement; it happened when I learned about human trafficking; it happened when I learned about feminism; and, now, it happened when I learned about depression, suicide, and mental illness. That's why it's probably not surprising that I got a bit upset as I read more and more of the pure vitriol so much of the online community has for psychiatry.

bipolar disorder: click image to enlarge

I know the evils of psychiatry. I know the struggle of misdiagnosis; I was originally diagnosed with regular depression. I know the problems with medications that are mis-prescribed; my original diagnosis led to an antidepressant, one of the worst things a bipolar patient without mood stabilizers can take. That antidepressant led to missed classes at college, convulsions on the science building's bathroom floor, an ambulance ride, multiple hospital visits, and a serious withdrawal episode the weekend I went off the drug. I'm familiar with the frustrations of finding the right medication once you do have the right diagnosis; after the disaster of my antidepressant, I took Wellbutrin for a while, which didn't have as extreme a reaction, but definitely made my symptoms worse rather than better. I can definitely understand the distrust and even hatred for mental hospitals and in-hospital psychiatric care: thanks to my antidepressant withdrawal, I spent 24 hours in a psych ward. It was indisputably a nightmare of an experience, one of the worst days of my life.

If I had given up my search for help after my second medication failed me, by now I would probably have disavowed psychiatry. If I had gotten one of the many cold, jaded psychiatrists out there who have somewhere along their career journey lost the heart for their work, I definitely would have disavowed psychiatry. But I found the will to try just one last shot at medication, and I got really lucky with a rather animated family friend for my psychiatrist. So now, I'm going along my pleasant, normal way, living with both medical and therapy treatment (the combination most psychiatrists who know their stuff recommend). I'm bipolar, but I'm handling it well. I'm not cured, but I'm not a zombie or a corpse, either. Anyone who has experienced bipolar disorder or regular depression knows what a miracle that is, and I have psychiatry in large part to thank.

A lot of the problems people have with psychiatry are not the results of properly-practiced psychiatry, of a correct diagnosis by a caring, knowledgeable doctor and the correct medication taken as prescribed. They're the results of medication mix-ups, misdiagnoses, doctors who aren't up to date with their field, doctors who don't listen to their patients, or patients who don't take medication as prescribed. Even the most basic information about psychiatric drugs my doctor taught me lets me know that the stories people use to prove the evils of psychiatric drugs have nothing to do with the drugs. They're due to medicine prescribed to people who shouldn't take it, prescribed without the proper warnings of side effects, confused with medicine of a similar name at the pharmacy, taken with other drugs that don't interact well, or not taken according to the doctor's instructions.

The anti-pharmacy supporters put together a lot of their supposed evidence to fight the 'big money-fueled lie industry.' They try to blame an antidepressant for an elderly woman's suicide, but the problem wasn't the antidepressant; it was that the antidepressant and her actual prescription, a painkiller with a similar name, got mixed up at the pharmacy. They try to blame mood stabilizers for murders that make national news, but in many cases it's not the mood stabilizers creating the issues; it's the fact that the murderers decided to quit taking their mood stabilizers without a doctor's okay or supervision. They try to blame the whole psychiatric field when a doctor starts treatment with a load of expensive drugs instead of therapy and the patient ends up involved in murder, suicide, or both; but the problem isn't psychiatry, it's the individual psychiatrist who went for the money and quick fix instead of taking the time to properly help his patient.

self-harm: click to enlarge

The issue of proof, of studies and statistics, only hurts the case for psychiatry. No mental illness can currently be cured, which leads many people to believe mental illness is a myth entirely. There is so little proof of mental illness -- but there is more today than there ever has been. A scan of a healthy brain compared to brain scans of PTSD, OCD, or depression sufferers will show obvious differences that any layperson can notice. A lack of knowledge about polio never made Jonas Edward Salk believe it was a myth. A lack of a cure for cancer hasn't convinced anyone it's not worth researching. On the contrary: the less we know about a debilitating, even fatal illness, the more urgent research on that illness becomes. So why isn't the same true for mental illnesses, which cause an American to die of suicide every thirteen minutes, and force many others to alter their lives to cope with crippling anxiety, OCD, and ADHD, to name only a few?

brain scans: click to enlarge

When it comes to saving lives from the threat of mental illness, medication without therapy isn't usually enough. Therapy should always come first. However, therapy without medication often isn't enough, either. The wrong medication, a psychiatrist who doesn't know his stuff or pay attention to his work, a misguided or misunderstanding therapist -- all of these can equal death to a psychiatric patient. In my (and one of my doctors) opinion, psych wards in their current state in America are one of the worst things you could do to a person. This medical field is definitely in need of major reform. Even at its best, psychiatry without a support system doesn't generally help, either. But neither does a support system without psychiatry solve the problem. Mental illness is real, it is a medical condition, and it requires medical treatment. The corruption of "big pharma" and the problem of jaded, uncaring doctors affect psychiatry just as they affect every other branch of medicine, but modern psychiatry with its flaws and its miracles is better than no treatment at all. Without it, I probably wouldn't be here today.

I'm not going to throw more statistics at you or quote the numbers. If you want to know those statistics, those numbers, you can find them easily with one Google search. I may be a writer, but I'm not making up stories here. I'm telling my story. I can't decide what you believe about psychiatry, and neither can the former psychiatrists, the pharmacists, the psychiatric patients, or the hospital staff who tell horror stories about the dark side of the field. You shouldn't let any of us, pro-psychiatry, anti-psychiatry, or in-between, decide for you. You need to decide for yourself.

Whether or not you (or someone you know) is (or could be) a psychiatric patient, you need to decide what you think about psychiatry. Will you stand up for us, the mentally ill, in desperate need of medical care? If you don't, then you've decided it doesn't matter. Whether you make jokes about us or not -- whether you've decided you don't believe our problems are real or you've simply decided to stay out of it -- whether you sit back in silence or speak out in derision -- anyone who does not speak up and say mental illness is not a myth is perpetuating the idea that it is.

It is easy for someone to look at the corruption in the psychiatric and pharmaceutical fields and say "there is no such thing as mental illness." It happens often enough to make a lot of people wonder. But no amount of corruption in this world can make a falsehood true. It is easy to say "no such thing" when you're looking at the evil... it's a lot harder when you're living with the good.


  1. You are very brave for sharing your wonderful insight into the world of bipolar. Can I ask want age you were diagnosed? I am told it can not be diagnosed until after puberty but that leaves kids with signs and symptoms of bipolar in limboland. Thanks for advance! Posted by a Mom of a possible kiddo with bipolar disorder.

    1. Hi! Thanks for commenting :) I was properly diagnosed shortly after my nineteenth birthday, after an incorrect diagnosis of depression about a month and a half before that. My diagnosis was the result of a reaction to a medication - a reaction only possible if I were bipolar. However, fun fact: I wrote in my journal when I was fourteen that I thought I was bipolar.

      Symptoms do show up much earlier than diagnoses are usually made. From about twelve until fifteen I could tell something was wrong, but I felt nobody believed me or could see it. I wrote about that in my diary a lot.

      My advice would be to keep watching the symptoms and talk to your kid about it. Kids understand a lot more about themselves and their health than adults give them credit for. If you think something is wrong, and if you think you know what it is, pursue it. You may need to try a few psychiatrists and/or psychologists/therapists before finding someone who believes you and can give you and your kid the help you need, but it's worth it. The faults in the psychiatry system affect kids too, but the benefits can be theirs as well once you find the person and the treatment that can help you.

      I'd recommend your first step would be finding the right counselor. Talk therapy should always be the first treatment tried, and it can be enough by itself in many cases.


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