Do you remember when psychological distress and mental health problems were believed to be caused by demons and evil spirits, and treated by a witch or a religious zealot? It was quite a while back. Then, do you remember we all thought that emotional distress was caused by an imbalance of humors, which, quite logically led to all kinds of blood letting with big black leeches. And then along came medicine and doctors, where we currently seem to be rather stuck.
We’ve been in the grip of treating mental health disorders with pills and tablets for far too long now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad, I don’t believe that we should throw away the whole lot of psychotropic medication, but just that it’s about time to step back a bit and see where we are with it all. My guess is that we are way ahead of the leeches and blood letting, but not as far away as we would like to think from the witches and religious zealots. Nowadays though, they are wearing white coats.
The modern day treatment of mental health issues was rather crudely shoehorned from the modern day treatment of physical health problems, in the way that only a bunch of doctors are arrogant enough to do; so, quite simply, if penicillin can cure pneumonia then surely there must be some tablet that cures depression, or anxiety, or any other mental health malady. The big elephant in the hospital waiting room though, is that unlike a broken leg or pneumonia, depression or anxiety, or indeed and mental health problem is far, far, far more difficult to nail down and treat.
My old friend Professor Robin Russel, senior lecturer of Psychology at University of London, tells a good story to his first year undergraduate students. He illustrates the fallacy of modern day mental health diagnosis by telling a story of an ex-colleague of his in the Psychology Faculty, an eminent academic and lecturer who for years had been treated with a variety of medications for depression. One day, while in the staff room he received a call to tell him that he’d won nearly fifty million pounds on the lottery, he immediately jumped with joy, punched the air, told the university where to stick their job, brought a mansion in the south of France, married and ex porn star and lived out the rest of his life in emotional bliss traveling around the world drinking champagne and eating at Michelin starred restaurants.
Indeed, when Arsenal Football Club, who I have supported for 30 years or so, lose a match, I fulfill the medical criteria for a correct diagnosis for a major depressive episode, and by modern day medical logic should be treated with a hefty dose of Prozac, or at the very least some weird SSRI rubbish. Thankfully I know the age old adage that all feelings will change in time, so spare myself the trip to the doctors.
I recently heard the famous London based Couples Counsellor, Susan Orbach, on the radio talking about her work. She highlighted the limitations of most modern day doctors in their treatment of complex mental health issues. Wonderfully, she referred to them as unqualified and inexperienced, which made me laugh and then made me think.
I thought about where we are heading with the treatment of mental health, and how over the years that I have been working as a counsellor, how things have changed. I’m now often asked for invoices and receipts to satisfy health care insurance policies. That never used to happen. I thought about the popularity of Life Coaching in the heady 1990’s, and the subsequent flurry of excitement about “Executive Coaching.” The fact that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Motivational Interviewing are covered by health insurance is surely a good thing. If we keep heading in this direction the importance of experienced and properly qualified counsellors in the treatment of mental health problems seems assured. And, if that prevents the white coat brigade casually dishing out powerful and potentially life destroying psychotropic medication then I’m all for it. It says something when there is a growing number of people who would rather live with the profound and disturbing effects of major thought disorders, commonly known as schizophrenia, and Manic Depression, than take the powerful and disabling drug Chlorpromazine, more commonly known as Largactil, and lead a drug induced comatose half life.
So, let’s step back and look at all the medicine that we are using to alleviate mental distress. Over 20% of all Americans are taking Prozac on a daily basis, even teenagers and children, which equates to the entire population of the UK on Prozac. It can’t just be me who’s shocked. Surely when we reach such epidemic proportions we need to rethink how we are treating mental health, and as Susan Orbach says, let’s stop the unqualified and inexperienced white coat brigade selling us down a river of Prozac, Largactil, SSRI’s, Valium, Ritalin and all the other products of massively powerful drug companies. Let’s take responsibility and think about what we are doing and where we are heading, and remember that the realignment of humors was taken just as seriously as the diagnosis of depression and prescription of Prozac, just a little while ago.
Thanks for reading.
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