Life this year is stressful the world over, but more so for those who are caught up in the various political and economic fiascos resulting from the pandemic.
I want to step away from that subject right now as I am starting an ambitious writing project. I promised myself a few years ago, that I would set the record straight about what I believe really happened to me back in 1994 at the start of the period when I was first given a diagnosis of depression. The sequelae from then on are all too easy to understand given the psychiatry paradigm that has been around since the publication of the first edition of the American DSM (Diagnostic and statistical manual), which made the American Psychiatric Association millions of dollars.
I had no idea of the falsehoods that were presented to us as research, defining mental illness diagnoses and the treatments, which were supposedly evidence based. There is plenty of argument to be had to this day and of course it will be a battle to convince the majority mainstream psychiatric profession to change their views, particularly if it means doing themselves out of a job.
The current situation is that there is more and more hype with regard to the rising numbers of people suffering with traditional mental health diagnoses like anxiety and depression and therefore the perceived need for increasing the mental health workforce.
I completely agree that there are many people suffering from emotional or mental distress at the present time. There are many who have been recently bereaved or have suffered in all too familiar ways as a result of being ill themselves or knowing those close to them who have been seriously unwell with covid. I believe the mistake is in medicalising the normal response to difficulty and suffering. Not only that, there is also the worrying trend for people to be prescribed medication for these normal reactions and those very same drugs have a complex and bewildering effect on the way our brains function.
I have been there. Yet I also know how hard it is when you have desperate people in severe emotional distress begging for some kind of relief and you as a doctor are so unable to give them the necessary time to really listen and understand what is going on. However, knowing what I do now, I would be extremely reluctant to go down that path.
Our culture is such that we have developed a very low tolerance for suffering and we have lost the ability to discriminate what is normal from what is pathological. Yet we are the same human species that has been on this planet from time immemorial and managed our societies with varying degrees of kindness and compassion for one another. If we have learned anything, then surely it is that accepting our differences and managing our expectations of one another with as much tolerance as possible, is a healthy way to live.
In some ways, the anti-stigma campaign that I fought so hard to promote has made things worse. More and more of our children and young people are being diagnoses with a mental illness and their behaviours labelled as abnormal. It’s only a few years ago, the very same youngsters may well have been dismissed as just manifesting a stage in growing up. The truth is, that the latter is much more healthy for all of us. But it is hard when social media has become so dominant and learning dysfunctional behaviour from others is easy.
When I was at school, I never heard of anybody hurting themselves. I did not know anyone who had completed suicide. Of course these things were not talked about because there was a general feeling that to do such a thing was selfish and weak. Families were ashamed and it was not long ago that a suicide attempt was a criminal act. I am glad I did not know that I could have used a variety of behaviours to draw attention to my plight.
I was an unhappy child for many reasons, but despite the misery, I made it. I came through and got myself to university. I know how things could have been better for me, but also I believe that if I had been a child in today’s world, it would have been a whole lot worse and I very much doubt I would have arrived at medical school before my 18th birthday as I did then.
I can easily see the connection between what happened during my childhood and the crisis I experienced later in my life when I was diagnosed as being depressed. I saw it then but was told I was wrong. If they had maintained an open mind and the connection recognised as significant by the psychiatric community, then it is highly likely that my symptoms could have been seen as normal.
Normal doesn’t exclude support or help. I am not suggesting that I could have carried on with the life I had as a junior doctor then, without being able to replenish my energy and strengthen my inner being or that I could have made it without psychological support. But I know that being given a label of major depression and being told I was seriously ill opened the gateway to the acceptance of treatment. I wanted to get better. I was treated with drugs that changed the way I could respond to psychotherapy, as well as gave me terrible side effects, which the doctors told me were further evidence of the depression; drugs which were likely responsible for my suicidality. I had numerous ECT treatments and finally irreversible brain surgery. It was not just me who was harmed, so was my family. We continue to pay the costs to this day, almost 30 years later.
I have no wish for others to have their lives ruined by the same lies that caused my well- intentioned doctors to give me such treatments without any credible evidence base behind them. It is about time that the real story was told and I am currently writing a new book to correct the fallacies which I had accepted to be true, at the time I wrote ‘Life After Darkness; a doctor’s journey through severe depression’. I was duped by so called experts, just like millions of others the world over. Unless we do something now, there will be many more casualties. Our time has come, the bastion of traditional psychiatry must fall beneath our scrutiny.