What does it mean to be a critic of the psychiatric industry? There are a couple ways we could go with this, considering there are many people who claim to be critics, who claim they recognize “there are some flaws in the system”, or that “things could be improved”.
That doesn’t tell me much about their understanding of the industry. What that tells me is that they have general knowledge that nothing in this world is perfect and that everything, theoretically, could use improvement. Why is this not a criticism? Well, because it’s well understood, it’s not unique, and it doesn’t require any real knowledge of the system to say.
I could walk into a Wells Fargo Bank, turn to the person in line behind me and say “wow, this building could really use some improvements, look at that crack in the ceiling.” You wouldn’t call that a true critique of their building, of their establishment, of their maintenance crew, would you? I made an observation a million other people have before me, and a million other people will after me, and I still know nothing about why the crack is there, what’s halting repairs, who the crew is who should be patching it, how much of a budget there is for repairs–all the things I’d need to know to really understand this situation.
There are enough cracks in the psychiatric system to ruin fifty thousand Wells Fargo Bank buildings.
To be a critic of something like psychiatry you need a little more gut than what it takes to have the same opinion as everyone else. You have to be willing to put in the effort it takes to read the research and understand that what isn’t being said to the public is much more powerful than what is being said to the public.
To be a critic of something like psychiatry you need the ability to put aside your personal beliefs sometimes and view the facts:
- Big Pharma is, well, a BIG corporation.
- There is no definite research that proves any mental “illness”, including schizophrenia and bipolar, are diseases. THAT is a theory.
- There is no definite research that proves any mental “illness”, including schizophrenia and bipolar, are a result of chemical imbalances. THAT is a theory.
- Know what a theory is. Know that it can never be proven, only disproven.
- Know that the APA (they write the DSM), Big Pharma, and insurance companies speak with each other.
- Understand that none of this means you should immediately stop all of your medication. I’ve done that. It. Sucks.
- Understand that the only scientifically verified chemical imbalance occurs when medications are taken.
- Understand homeostasis in the brain and what happens when it’s disrupted.
- Know the history of psychiatry; know it’s a business.
- Understand the politics involved in the business.
The two in bold are fairly important. They’re important because it is impossible to truly understand a system without knowing where it came from, how it started, and what philosophy drove it into existence.
Knowing about theories seems so incredibly basic, but a lot of people misunderstand it when they read about chemical imbalance. So let’s debunk this a little to further drive the point of an actual criticism.
Chemical Imbalance Theory: Things called mental disorders/diseases/illnesses, whatever, possibly caused by an imbalance of natural chemicals in the synapses during neurotransmission. The evidence consists of studies done on the brains of people who have taken medication at one point, or who are currently on it. Studies done of people during hallucinations or mania or depression. Studies done on small groups of people, once or twice, with results being generalized and any possibilities of traumas in the past being disregarded.
Let’s think scientifically here, and disregard any opinions we may or may not have about mental “illness”. Let’s also keep in mind that the neural connections within the brain are unique for each individual, like a finger print, and they change with our experiences in life.
If we are doing studies on people who are, or have been on medication, it can’t be ruled out that the experiences aren’t being worsened or created by said past/present medication.
If we are doing studies on people who have been having these experiences for years, and have never done a study on them in infancy (I’m talking 0-3 years of age), then we have no standard to hold it against: it can’t be an imbalance if there is no “balance” as a control. And for those saying they have scanned the brains of people who don’t have these experiences, how can that be considered a true control when every brain is uniquely different in their neural connections? Scientifically, that makes zero sense. To the general public, it makes a bunch of sense. We really need to start putting more funding into STEM programs if the general public is accepting sub-par experiments like this.
Because there has been such little research on how environment, trauma, and social factors play into the development and constantly changing plasticity of the brain, ignoring those key areas of life is essentially saying the brain only relies on its physical structure to know when to release chemicals. And that doesn’t make sense, considering there are external sources, like a blooming flower, that cause in some of us a rush of emotion like happiness, a rush of dopamine. Had we not seen the flower, that dopamine may not have been released.
In a very thought-out article on Scientific American you can read here sums this up perfectly and has one of my favorite quotes by neuroscientist Joseph Coyle at Harvard: “Chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking. It’s much more complicated than that.”
This articles points out, in regard to depression, that although pharma makes claims that there are certain decreased or increased levels of neurotransmitters which cause depression, there are several different antidepressants that act on several different neurostransmitters, increasing or decreasing, that work for different people in different ways. Essentially, that takes the power out of what the pharma companies claim.
DR. Mark Graff, Chair of Public Affairs of the APA said simply that the theory of chemical imbalance was “probably drug industry derived”.
Psychiatrist David Kaiser touches on the exact problem I stated above when he says “Patients [have] been diagnosed with ‘chemical imbalances’ despite the fact that no test exists to support such a claim, and . . . there is no real conception of what a correct chemical balance would look like”.
Just as there are theories in physics, there are theories in psychiatry. They can’t be proven, but they can be disproven, debunked, and through true criticism of this industry that is achievable on a widespread scale.
So the next time you go to rest in that comfortable middle ground of “the system could use some improvements, but everything could”, think about what you mean and how you formed that opinion. We don’t need anymore complacency in this world, particularly not in psychiatry. We need strength and understanding and facts.
To read up further on where I got the quotes above, see this pdf.
To read up on my thoughts on the system published on Mad In America, click here.