What Makes Us So Divided?

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there is a divide in perspectives about mental health in our little neuro-diverse community, and this can effect how we advocate and what we educate ourselves about.

Currently, there are two major extremes, and I think each has existed since the dawn of mental health “treatment”, since we started categorizing behavior and attempting to quantify it. This divide became more noticeable after the cure-all lobotomies were deemed medically unfit, opiates for anxiety and psychosis became too addicting, and the development of Thorazine (I.e the chemical lobotomy) hit the shelves. Patients were more controllable, malleable, and more people were able to leave Asylums and enter society.

The problem with Thorazine and E.C.T, the next best treatment for depression and psychosis, was the damage they caused. No one really knew how medication worked, other than later observing a few chemicals in some people, a few others in other people, and never being able to come to a solid conclusion. We still don’t have one. E.C.T fried some people, disintegrated their personality, shredded their memory, but some were content with this because they weren’t really able to have any other feelings about it.

Drugs made money. Did I forget to mention that? A lot of it.

And eventually groups of people who felt outpatient treatments like medication, and inpatient treatments like E.C.T and solitary confinement, were inhumane, united and developed into the Anti-Psychiatry group.

Now, as time has passed, we have made mental health treatment look very pretty. Hospitals are (mostly) clean, medication is monitored more closely, and drugs like Thorazine are not as widely used in the continental U.S. I can’t speak for Europe or Canada or South America. I know Africa doesn’t have much of a choice but to use the older drugs like Haldol and Thorazine because they don’t ever get monetary assistance with anything. People are still chained to poles in the middle of psychosis in some parts of Africa.

But just because something looks pretty here in the U.S doesn’t mean it’s better. E.C.T is still popular. People say it saves their lives and maybe it does. But to send pulses of electricity through someone’s brain without fully and scientifically understanding the consequences (I.e why does it cause memory loss? Why does it effect some people’s personality?), and without fully and scientifically understanding how the depression is relieved (is it because the brain is being damaged or because their personality is so fried they could care less to be depressed?) is probably one of the least ethical ways to go about treating other humans.

The APA specifies that benefits must outweigh the risks for treatments like this to continue. I’m not convinced they do.

The same goes for medication: it’s researched (barely), results end up skewed (publication bias) and no one actually knows the long term effects for the “updated” ones.

So I understand the mistrust, the disdain, and the need for something better, something that feels compassionate and reasonable and ethical. That’s the driving force of most anti-psychiatry believers. I know because when I read Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry by Peter Breggin M.D at 14, I started reading research (I had friends in college with access to databases) and was appalled. I declared myself anti-psychiatry.

The other extreme side is the medical model. Most people who believe in this model also believe that having the drugs is better than having their lives in shambles because of psychosis or mania or depression or whatever. The risks, for them, DO outweigh the benefits. Many believe that their doctors do the best they can.

They also tend to believe that our experiences are the result of chemical imbalances. They agree that these experiences are brain diseases.

Now, I have no issue with either view. Do I tend to lean toward hypothesizing our experiences are more so a variation of the human mind over hypothesizing chemicals (that have no stable baseline to be compared to) and brain deterioration causes “mental disorders”? Yes, I do. But since neither have been proven absolutely wrong, I can’t say I believe one over the other.

The issue with this division is that it impacts what and how we advocate.

When we should be advocating for whole person care and individualized approaches, we waste time convincing the world that we’re “sick” and therefore need compassion (but not too much because we don’t need pity). We don’t want people seeing our “illness” as us, but flaunt the diagnostic label and call ourselves “just the same as everyone else, but different.” When we should be empowering each other, when we should be guiding each other on how to adapt to our experiences, we waste time hating the medical model and spouting all the reasons it’s wrong.

We’re just going in circles. It’s asinine.

I don’t think we all need to ascribe to each other’s beliefs. That’s one reason why I encourage everyone to read research; when done correctly and ethically, science will tell you facts and you can dispute them, but that doesn’t change them. We can disagree on everything else. But not facts.

Now, it’s another thing when the science is wonky.

But in terms of advocacy, being on the same page is pertinent. Otherwise, we’re only impeding each other’s progress; I’ve been witness to consumers putting other consumers down because they don’t believe in diagnosis, or they do believe in diagnosis. Suddenly wanting off medication and believing that you can live a life off medication is a cardinal mental health sin. Suddenly gaining benefit from medication and feeling more comfortable on it is a cardinal mental health sin.

We need to remember that we’re all on the same side. But we also need to pay attention to facts. When we advocate, it’s not about diagnosis. It’s not about being different. It’s not about how corrupt the pharmaceutical industry is. It’s not about how psychiatrists are over-medicating and over-diagnosing. It’s not about the lack of available facilities, or sub-par care. It’s not even about our own experiences. Let me say why.

A lot of these are issues we want to address are serious issues. But they will be addressed naturally if what we present are coherent arguments and factual knowledge, all with compassionate nudging. If we prove that we are a strong, united forced, if we prove that we have insight to what we need for our mental health improvement, we can work alongside healthcare instead of against it or in spite of it. We can do things besides push medication on each other. We can do things besides convince each other medication is poison.

We can recreate the whole mental health system. And I’m sure we can all agree it needs a serious make-over.

And so I say, when you post on your site, on your social media, or when you’re giving talks, keep this in mind. Keep in mind that it’s not just about your diagnosis or labels in general. It’s about all of us. It’s about integrating into the system and becoming a part of it. If you want things to change, if you want to really be heard, if you want compassionate care for us all, that is the way to do it.

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek just isn’t going to cut it.

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