Why Has Medication Not Moved the Needle for Mental Illness

Why Has Medication Not Moved the Needle for Mental Illness

Researchers believe that prescribed medications play a key role in the treatment of mental illness. They can reduce symptoms and prevent relapses of a psychiatric disorder.

I don’t remember when Prozac hit the market because I was a child in 1987. But from what I’ve read, it was a hallelujah moment; a turning point; a triumph of great magnitude. The prescriptions started flowing like honey. My dad started taking it. And when I turned 16, I did too.

Over the years I’ve been prescribed all the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), taking them individually and in various combinations. As a class of drugs, they haven’t done the trick for me, which landed me in the ‘treatment-resistant‘ bucket. But since we can’t measure things that don’t happen, I imagine I’ve benefited, maybe significantly.

Now I’m reading publications that suggest it’s the SSRIs and not me; studies show they just don’t work very well. In his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, Johann Hari dismantles the orthodoxy surrounding anti-depressant medication and even more mind blowingly, the idea that depression stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Let’s pause here and let that supposition settle in – I, like many millions of Americans, have been putting strong drugs in my body that don’t work! Drugs that we’ve been told by the medical profession correct an organic brain disease that doesn’t even exist!


Mental health problems can be caused by all sorts of things, often a combination of different factors.

I was shattered by this thought. I felt that the small hope I had left for finding a new, effective cocktail that would fix my faulty brain circuitry dissolve. This new worldview (for me it’s nothing less than a worldview), also meant that I couldn’t blame my condition on a problem with my brain. If my pain is entirely environmental and a result of experiences I had no control over in early life, I have less control over my recovery.

Or maybe not. Maybe I have more control. I’ve always known that my depression surfaced and then continued to thrive, like an unruly house plant, because of circumstances in my family. I was also especially vulnerable to clinical sadness because of a lifelong shyness that coloured all my interactions with the world, starting at the tender age of 3 or 4. Neither of these factors were controllable. I also feel that the world we live in, in the year 2018, is a very lonely one. I’m an American so I’ll speak for the state of affairs in this country as I see them.

When I venture outside of my apartment in New York, it’s highly unlikely I’ll enjoy eye contact from my fellow inhabitants, let alone a friendly conversation. So I pull out my smartphone just like everyone else. People in offices text and use messaging apps to communicate across rooms. Single people and families live in apartment buildings quite literally on top of each other but the most meaningful contact I usually have is with the doorman as I wait for the lift.

So how do we take the fight to loneliness, which I and the author of Lost Connections feel is the real root cause of depression. For one thing I’ve launched a website for people struggling with depression to share their experiences in writing. I feel strongly in the power of storytelling and the validation that comes from exchanges.

When I venture outside of my apartment in New York, it’s highly unlikely I’ll enjoy eye contact from my fellow inhabitants.

I believe that participating in the lives of our communities is vital. I’ve been volunteering for a senate campaign and for the first time have met neighbours I knew existed but didn’t dare talk to.

Go to support groups. Find your local NAMI chapter and link up with other people fighting similar battles that you are. Force yourself to get together with a friend in person, preferably not over alcohol at a loud bar, or maybe a walk.

The list goes on. Sometimes I’m too depressed to do any of these things. That’s just fine. But knowing the nature of our enemy is vital to healing. Let’s start to reframe the battle as one against isolation and not a sick brain.


Elsie was born in California and moved all around the country growing up, including Palo Alto, Boston, San Diego and Houston. Subsequently, she travelled internationally as a model for seven years before landing in New York.  Elsie has a BA in Political Science from Hunter College and has worked in politics and non-profit organisation which are focused on reducing unemployment, and behavioural healthcare technology. She has been battling depression since the age of six. She runs the blog Bigger than Depression


 

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