Category Archives: Schizophrenia

Mark Vonnegut, Schizophrenia and Mother Blaming

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Mark Vonnegut, the son of Kurt, had (has) a psychotic illness. In his autobiographical novel he explained delusions in this way: if you were being chased by a pack of wild dogs, wouldn’t you rather think that somewhere there was a hound master who could call them off if he chose to do so?

I have always thought he was right, at least with respect to delusions. They are explanations for experiences that, in the case of mania, cannot be explained within the accepted laws of physics; in the case of schizophrenia, cannot be explained by a diminished social perceptual and information processing system; and, in the case of dementia, cannot be explained by a diminished cognitive apparatus.

The invented explanations are usually quite simple and usually involve blame in either a positive sense (God has granted me…) or a negative sense (the CIA is…). The target for blame (or perceived source) in a delusion is always standard fare. The source of extraordinary power and well being is God; the causes of failure, constraint, weakness, control, are parents, the police, a disease, or Aliens. The methods are always contemporary:  in pre-industrial  cultures, by curses, spells, hexes, and evil eyes, through the 20th century by radar and radio waves, and now through a variety of electronic devices, bugs, and micro implants. And as per the topic of a recent blog, note that parents make that list.

But beyond an explanation of delusions, this wish for a hound master who could, if he chooses, call off the dogs of hell, is really quite universal. Historically we have used, or fallen into, just such an explanation for every sin, illness, climatic event, and tragedy that befell us. And, almost always, we have been wrong.

But this need, this psychological human brain imperative, continues. The value of this trait of the human brain (mapping, organizing, understanding) lies in the advancements of science. We want to understand why things happen as they happen. The downside to this need, this wish, is the continuing enthrall of astrology, a myriad other nonsense fads and conspiracy theories, and the wish to find someone to blame  for schizophrenia.

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More on Trauma in Youth and Schizophrenia

By David Laing Dawson

This blog is in response to a comment made on an earlier blog called As For Trauma Causing Schizophrenia: No! No! No! 

The comment was how do you account for this study? And how can you claim that trauma cannot be causative of schizophrenia? https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419102440.htm

This is the answer:

There is no doubt severe trauma in childhood can have long lasting effects. But can trauma be a specifically causative element in the development of the full illness schizophrenia? And is it either a necessary causative element or a contributing factor?

Data mining and surveys come up with many associations, some weak, some strong. Fair enough. But we have to examine the definitions of each and every term and understand that association is not necessarily causative. And in this situation we must be very careful what we publicize because any association between trauma and schizophrenia provides support for parent blaming.

I am back to eating butter after something like 20 years of favouring margarine. This because for many years data mining found associations with butter and other animal fats and cardiovascular disease, and only recently further data mining and studies have shown that, au contraire, we need fat, and margarine may be worse than butter. Now I slather butter on my corn and biscuits without guilt. As someone else has pointed out, there is a very strong association between major road accidents and the presence of ambulances.

The word paranoia is used in many of those studies. I don’t know how they define it or determine it. Adolescents suffering from anxiety often experience what they call ‘paranoia’ but we refer to as ‘ideas of reference’. They feel their peers are always talking about them, judging them. Some avoid school because of this. Sometimes this feeling becomes a conviction and then it may be prodromal of a psychotic illness.

Bullying is interesting. I have 30 years of experience dealing with families in which a child is reported as being bullied by his peers. There are some distinct subcategories in this: In one subset, when the details are elicited, it turns out the boy in question is as much a perpetrator as a recipient. They taunt one another. But this particular boy tells his mother that Jason called him a “…..” in order to get a reaction from his mother, or to avoid something, or simply to get in front of the call that is going to come from Jason’s mother or the school.

A second subset is the Asperger/ASD child. They are common targets for bullying, precisely because of the way they react to unfairness, teasing, slights, and taunts. It is not kind and it is not good but they have become targets for bullying precisely because of the social deficits they already exhibit. My own survey reported on this site indicates that at least a third to a half of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have had autistic symptoms since infancy. So I would definitely expect a higher proportion of bullied children to develop a psychotic illness. The bullying is not causative, but the prodromal symptoms of the illness “invite” bullying.

Auditory hallucinations are not, in and of themselves, schizophrenia. People, girls, who have suffered prolonged sexual abuse report a higher incidence of auditory hallucinations. This certainly could be understood as persistent trauma of a particularly disorienting kind causing impairment in the brain’s otherwise quite miraculous ability to (usually) locate the locus of a thought or feeling, as well as causing all the other symptoms of PTSD as well.

On the other hand preteen and teen girls with ASD or prodromal symptoms of schizophrenia are vulnerable to predators within a family and neighborhood.

In sum, there are weak associations, though all suffer from our poor definitions and lack of clarity of diagnosis. None are strong enough to be considered causative. And if this were an association between salt intake and hypertension, to publish early causes little harm. (although even here we now have the problem of some people having too little salt in their diet, and other studies showing high salt intake may have nothing to do with hypertension).

But because this overall weak association with all its definition and cause/effect problems could support the existing serious prejudice of parent blaming for schizophrenia, I have to stick with my simple, “No. Neither psychological trauma nor poor parenting cause the serious illness we call schizophrenia.”

Though, of course, either could make it worse.

The Brain, Cognition and Illness

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The aware, receiving, perceiving, organizing, planning brain.

Two recent writings got me thinking about this. The first was a comment from Mr. Summerville, in support of the absolute discharge of Mr. Vince Li, that Mr. Li showed “no signs of cognitive impairment”. The second was the raw honesty of Mr. Bowers when he writes that when he took a shotgun upstairs with the intention of killing his grandmother he was “bat shit crazy”.

I suffered one of those nasty strains of flu this winter. At the time it seemed to affect every organ in my body. Including my brain. That is my brain was aware this state of body sickness was impairing some of its functions as well.

I guess it’s tricky. We are aware when our stomachs aren’t working as we would wish them, when our prostates and kidneys are not quite right, when perhaps our livers are acting up, our eyes, our inner and middle ears, our calf muscles are balking. Well, really, it is our brain noticing these things. But when the brain is acting up, not quite functioning smoothly in one of its functions, there is no one left to tell us. That is, no other organ in the body is prepared to tell us that the brain is a little off. “Liver here. Brain, your thinking is off.” or “Brain, your medulla oblongata is a little sluggish this morning. Your perceptions are clouded.”

I have also suffered, by my own count, three depressions of clinical severity so far in my life. Perhaps the cause of these can be traced to my circumstances each time, perhaps my genetics, perhaps to my childhood, probably a combination of genetics and circumstances. But each time it happened I know my brain was impaired, not functioning well, not scanning, perceiving, reviewing, interpreting as it normally does.

You can find a list of the symptoms of “depression” in the DSM and on many a website not to mention TV advertisements for the latest antidepressant. But of course the organ experiencing these symptoms is the same one reading and hearing about them.

It is often family members and close friends who notice first. You are not yourself, they say. Or “the spark has gone from your eyes.” And always when I treat someone for depression and they improve, it is family members who notice the improvement first. The patient tells me they don’t notice any change, though I see his or her eyes are livelier, his face a little less strained, and the corners of his mouth more agile. And the mother or wife points out he came down for dinner, engaged in conversation, laughed at a joke. The brain of the patient hasn’t noticed these changes yet, because… well because its perceptual, interpreting, responding, scanning apparatus is still partially impaired.

Liver illness impairs the functioning of the liver. Mental illness impairs the functioning of the brain, and that can be some or many of its functions. Mental illness is a brain illness.

So let’s go back to Vince Li. His brain was absolutely definitely impaired at the time of his crime. And at this point if he is not terrified of relapsing, and thus wanting help for the rest of his life to keep himself from relapsing, if he does not himself (his brain) understand and want all safeguards in place to keep himself from relapsing, if he thinks he can just change his name and move on, then his brain is still impaired in some of its functions. If this is the case then his perceptual, cognitive, judgmental processes are still impaired.

Contrast that with the Blog written by Mr. Bowers. He has fully recovered from being “bat shit crazy” and he is fully aware he never wants to go there again, and he is fully aware (the perceptual, organizing, planning, monitoring, cognitive processes of his brain are functioning well) that he needs help and vigilance to never go back to that place again.

Canadian Families Coping With Schizophrenia Don’t Have a National Voice

This blog post was written by Susan Inman and appeared in the Huffington Post on March 21. It is a sad shame that there is no longer a viable voice to express the concerns of families with members who suffer from schizophrenia.

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Families who care for people with schizophrenia once had an organization that gave them a national voice. They no longer do. This lack of national representation impacts not just our own situations; it also hurts the people we support, because they are often unable to advocate on their own behalf.

Family caregivers, who had previously established provincial advocacy organizations, came together over 30 years ago to establish the Schizophrenia Society of Canada.

Certain core values originally united these organizations. These values included building close ties with the psychiatric and neuroscience communities which had come to see schizophrenia and bipolar illness as disorders of neural circuitry. These groups sought to provide the most up-to-date education about these illnesses to people with the disorders, to families, clinicians, police, and the public.

As well, these organizations have advocated for high quality supported education, housing, and psychosocial rehabilitation services.

These organizations have also worked to dispel the unjustified blaming of families for psychotic disorders that earlier theories about these illnesses had propagated. The legacy of these beliefs, which have faded from psychiatry, have persisted and negatively impacted other areas of clinical practice. Frequently clinicians are still training in the many credentialed programs that don’t require any science-based curriculum on psychotic disorders.

Until recent years, the goals of these family groups had been represented by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada (SSC). However, while sitting on many national committees as the presumed voice of families, the SSC has failed to support the perspectives of the families who created it. It does not address the lack of appropriate curriculum in training many clinicians. Similarly, it does not work to provide basic information about schizophrenia in the annual national mental illness literacy campaign in which it plays a lead role.

These failures are occurring because its current leadership has given itself a different mandate. It has supported trends in the social sciences that seek to de-medicalize mental illnesses and advance the idea that all problems arise from social and personal adversity.

Instead of fighting against the stigma that too often interferes with the ability of family caregivers to develop collaborative relationship with clinicians, the SSC Executive Director, Chris Summerville, has actively promoted stigmatizing attitudes. For instance, he promotes the notion that families undermine the recovery of their family member by holding stigmatizing attitudes towards them.

Summerville has written that families block their family member’s access to treatment because they don’t want to expose their ‘family secret.’ At the same time he has failed to help people with illnesses, their families, and the public understand anosognosia, the brain based inability of many psychotic people to understand that they are ill. This is the symptom that families struggle with as they try to get an ill family member into treatment.

The SSC has also failed to promote the most progressive, evidence-based psychosocial treatments. In recent years there has been extensive research about the common cognitive losses that are associated with the illness. While most people’s psychotic symptoms can be controlled with anti-psychotic medications, the cognitive losses often persist. These include difficulties with concentration, short term and working memory, problem solving, and judgment. While BC’s Early Psychosis Intervention toolkit makes this information readily available and even educates people about useful cognitive adaptation strategies, the SSC ignores this issue in its educational programs.

Cognitive losses are widely understood to be the biggest factor in the extensive ongoing disability of this population. While espousing its commitment to the Recovery Model, the SSC has not only failed to provide education about cognitive problems. It has also failed to promote the evidence based cognitive remediation programs that can improve recovery; these programs have been expanding in other countries for the past 20 years.

While the SSC has failed to promote programs that are desperately needed, it has played a leadership role in the mis-education of the growing peer support work force. Many of us hoped that the new national guidelines for training peer support workers that the SSC helped create, would begin to provide peer workers with essential information about the illnesses of the people with whom they often work. The guidelines don’t require — or even recommend — that training programs offer any information about mental illnesses. Instead of informing peers about why people suffering from psychosis sometimes need involuntary treatment, peers are encouraged to oppose it.

Now the SSC leadership has taken an even more alarming step in securing its vision for this organization. It’s created a survey that has been designed to guide responders to provide the desired responses. The survey wants a mandate to move away for what it calls the “western medicine biomedical disease model” of schizophrenia.

The survey is also looking for support for getting rid of the term “schizophrenia.” However, schizophrenia has long been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that is used in mental health, criminal justice, education and social services. The diagnosis enables people to access disability payments and many other essential supports.

The SSC survey argues that we should substitute the term “psychotic spectrum disorder” for schizophrenia and points out that this term is used in early intervention programs. It doesn’t say that, when cognitive and other symptoms persist once psychosis is managed, people often receive more specific diagnoses like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.

It’s convenient for national organizations to continue to use the SSC to ensure the presence of a family voice. However, the SSC doesn’t represent the perspectives of the vast majority of family caregivers I’ve met in the last seventeen years.

Maybe it’s time for the leadership of the SSC to create their own organization representing the conditions they consider significant and the alternative treatments they help popularize. They could return the SSC to the families of people with severe mental illnesses who created it.

The Absolute Discharge for Vince Li was wrong

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Vince Li has been treated now, for his schizophrenia, for 8 years. He has been living in the community and attending classes. The Review Board has given him an “absolute discharge”. He is, we are told, recovered, insightful, remorseful, and willing to take his medication regularly. Thus he is not a threat and qualified for absolute discharge.

He may well remain healthy and compliant with his medication for the rest of his life.

Perhaps the odds are slight that he will stop his medication and become ill again.

But, here are two realities about psychotic illnesses, schizophrenia in particular:It is hard to catch a relapse.

  1. When a patient stops his medication he will feel fine for a while. And when the relapse begins the first thing to become impaired is insight. One can monitor mood, but not one’s own cognitive processes. So very few people with schizophrenia who stop medication and feel good for a while, are then able to detect, on their own, the early signs of cognitive changes. As the illness worsens the prospect of insight lessens. It is the nature of schizophrenia. It affects thinking.
  2. When relapses of psychotic illnesses occur, the original delusion returns, if not exactly word for word, almost word for word. Thus if the original delusion was relatively harmless, in a relapse the patient’s returning delusion will be relatively harmless. “They are listening to my thoughts from the TV so I don’t ever turn it on.” “It is happening again.” But if the original delusion was dangerous: “I must kill to rid the world of the devil”, then when the relapse occurs the person in question will once again become dangerous.

Thus, even if the possibility of a relapse of illness for Mr. Li is small, such a relapse would be far more dangerous than for most people with this illness.

And if this occurs, if Mr. Li relapses and hurts or kills someone else, the cost will be much wider than Mr. Li and his victim. “Let’s talk about it” will certainly not be enough to reduce stigma then.

Such an occurrence will undermine the compassion and civility of the “not criminally responsible” finding.

The average citizen has trouble buying this defense now, for various reasons, especially when the crime is horrifying. If Mr. Li relapses and commits a crime, the community outcry will be very strong. A relapse and repeat by Mr. Li could thus do great harm to all mentally ill in Canada.

This could have been remedied simply: a discharge (though not absolute) that continued a lifetime of monitoring compliance with treatment. Not overly intrusive or restrictive. Simply making sure that Mr. Li continues his treatment, that he continue to take his pills every day or his injections every two weeks.

If Mr. Li stops taking his anti-psychotic medication, one year or ten years from now, the illness will relapse. And the delusions of this illness always return in the same form.

The “Logic” of Anti-Psychiatry

by Marvin Ross

Our last couple of blogs have generated considerable criticism from the anti-psychiatry folks on Facebook. Not unexpected, of course, and I do enjoy (to a point) debating with them. I know that nothing that I or others say will sway them but it is important to expose them. If left unchallenged, they may influence some who are not as well educated in the realities of serious mental illness. And, for far too long, those shrill and hostile voices have made politicians cautious to implement reforms.

My blog on belief systems and anti-psychiatry I modified slightly and redid on Huffington Post. They gave the headline as Anti-Psychiatry Folks Cannot Ignore That Medication Saves Lives A much better head than mine.

One comment this received on Facebook included this:

How many people have you treated, Marvin, that your blogging is somehow more accurate than Robert Whitaker’s journalism? He spoke with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals too, many of which (sic) prescribe medications and are involved in Mad in America.

My reply:

Neither Mr Whitaker nor I have treated anyone as neither of us are doctors. I’m a simple medical journalist like he is but I also have a family member with schizophrenia so I have first hand experience into what the disease is like when it is not treated and the difference that properly prescribed medication makes. I too have talked to many psychiatrists.

The reply

Having a family member who is diagnosed with schizophrenia is not first-hand experience. It is second-hand perception, at best, depending on how much one is trusted. The person with the diagnosis is the only person with first-hand experience…not doctors, not family members.

Now I do agree that those of us who have never experienced a disease do not know exactly what it is like. But that does not mean that medical specialists do not know how best to treat based on the currently available research and the guidelines established by experts in the field. That goes for psychiatric diseases, cancer and all other diseases humans contract. And Robert Whitaker is not in step with mainstream medicine given how many have criticized him.

I don’t know all the people involved in Mad in America but I do know one – Dr Bonnie Kaplan. She is a psychologist at the University of Calgary and the leading “researcher” on The Truehope product called EM Power +. She gives a continuing education course on Mad in America on Nutrition and Mental Health where the value of EM Power + (EMP) is talked about.

To one person who posted in the discussion to her program, Dr Kaplan had this to say:

I do not see why people should not take one of the mineral/vitamin supplements that emanate from the two Alberta companies, but I cannot figure out the context for your question. If you want to discuss offline, my email is kaplan@XXXX. The appropriateness and the dose of these formulas can vary with the individual.

The two companies are Truehope and the offshoot Hardy Nutritional which was formed when the two founding partners – Tony Stephan and David Hardy – dissolved their partnership.

In 2002, Dr Kaplan’s research trial on EMP at the University of Calgary was shut down by Health Canada because it failed to meet the proper standards for a clinical trial.

The blog Neurocritic entitled one of its articles as EMPowered to Kill as one man with schizophrenia went off his meds to take EMP and brutally killed his father in a psychotic state. I have written on this case as well in Huffington Post. Health Canada has declared the product a health hazard on two occasions. I have written critical article about this in various publications and an e-book with Dr Terry Polevoy and a former Health Canada investigator and now private detective in Calgary, Ron Reinold, called Pig Pills.

The vice-president of Truehope is David Stephan who made headlines around the globe when he and his wife were convicted in the death of their toddler from untreated meningitis by a jury in Lethbridge Alberta. Both had worked as well at the Truehope call centre advising customers on their treatment. You can listen to some calls that were made to the call centre here

Dr Kaplan gives lectures where she tells the audience not to google her name (slide 3). She even went so far as to bring professional misconduct charges against Dr Terry Polevoy with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario because he criticized her work.

She is one of the people involved with Mr Whitaker on Mad in America.

Dr Dawson’s last blog on anti- depressants and benzodiazapines also received a great deal of criticism. A favourite is:

Yeah, I like to get all of my information about psych drugs, withdrawal, discontinuation, and side effects from someone’s hypothetical idea of what it should look like without their having any clue at all what actually happens when people stop or start psych drugs.

And

who wrote this drivel? – It’s not even remotely accurate

I suggested to this last person that they look at the byline to see who wrote it and then look at his bio which is on the blog. I also suggested that they state what specific statement he made that they considered wrong and to provide me with evidence from research to back it up. Nothing. And Dr Dawson has worked in psychiatric hospitals in three Canadian provinces, in the UK, was chief of psychiatry in one and has been treating patients for close to 50 years.

When I suggested to someone that prescription drugs are monitored by regulatory bodies and removed from the market if their are problems, I was met with disbelief that anything is monitored. After I posted the link to the 35 drugs removed from the market by the FDA, there was no comment. Some are psychiatric drugs and two were drugs that I took for arthritis that I had no problem with and were very effective. No comment.

And no one commented when I posted this video of the author of My Schizophrenic Life.

Belief Systems, Mad in America and Anti-Psychiatry

By Marvin Ross

I keep reading comments from people wondering how anyone could possibly support Donald J Trump. Fact checking his statements demonstrates how wrong he is on much of what he says. And then there are the numerous comparisons of statements that he makes that contradict each other.

Not so surprising, sadly enough, when we look at the people who believe what Robert Whitaker and the anti-psychiatry movement believe.

Put simply, Whitaker and the Mad in America anti-psychiatry folks are adamant that anti-psychotic medication for schizophrenia makes people sick and shortens their lives. Research fails to support these contentions but they persist and the data is ignored. The two latest studies provide overwhelming evidence that anti-psychotics help – but more on that in a moment.

The late Dr William M. Glazer of Yale writing in Psychiatric Times four years ago had this to say of Whitaker:

Should we accept the analysis of a journalist who (1) to my knowledge, has not treated a patient or implemented a study and (2) reaches conclusions that run counter to well-established practice guidelines? Whitaker’s ideological viewpoint, which is implied throughout the book, is that our guidelines are inaccurate and driven by industry and our own need for income—that we are dishonest brokers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Criticisms of Whitaker have been done by many eminent psychiatrists but my favourite is by blogger Natasha Tracy in Healthyplace.com. Natasha explained why she refused to even read his book with these words:

Sure, he cites studies, he just contraindicates what the study actually proves. And nothing ticks me off more than this because people believe him just because there is a linked study – no one ever bothers to check that the study says whatever Whitaker says it does.

Except, of course, the people who do – the doctors. You know, the people who went to medical school for over a decade. You know, the people actually qualified to understand what all the fancy numbers mean. You know, those people.

And I, for one, rely a lot on what doctors make of medical data and they are the ones most able to refute Whitaker’s claims.

As for the contention by Whitaker and his minions that anti-psychotics make people sick, let’s look at two recent studies.

In 2013, the highly respected British Medical Journal, The Lancet, published a German meta-analysis on the efficacy and side effect profile of all anti-psychotics. The results are summarized simply in a blog by Dr Gerhard Gründer with a link to the original study.

The meta-analysis combined 212 studies with a total of 43,049 patients. All of the anti-psychotics produced improvements that were statistically better than placebo. The best agent was clozapine.

The most recent study was conducted in the Province of Quebec and published in July and was based on real world evaluations of all people prescribed with anti-psychotics for schizophrenia between January 1998 and December 2005. The cohort consisted of 18 869 patients. Outcome measures consisted of mental health event (suicide, hospitalization or emergency visit for mental disorders) and physical health event (death other than suicide, hospitalization or emergency visit for physical disorders).

The researchers pointed out that data from randomized control trials are often limited in terms of generalizability thus real world studies like this one are much more realistic. What they found was that taking anti-psychotics reduced the risk of having either a mental or a physical problem compared to those who discontinued taking them. The only anti-psychotic that performed poorly was quetiapine (seroquel) while clozapine had the best results.

The other criticism from the anti-psychiatry bunch is that taking anti-psychotics results in premature death for people with schizophrenia. Studies have shown that people with schizophrenia do die years earlier than others but the reasons are not well understood.  One hypothesis that I mention in my book Schizophrenia Medicine’s Mystery Society’s Shame is discrimination by health care practitioners. Studies show that people with schizophrenia often do not get adequate basic medical care and treatment.

Researchers in Sweden conducted a real world analysis of 21,492 patients with schizophrenia. Subjects were followed up from 2006 through 2010. Data on drug use and outcomes was obtained from national registers.

What was found was that Antipsychotics and antidepressants were associated with a significant reduction in mortality compared with no use. The opposite of what the anti-psychiatry crowd claim. However, there was a clear dose-response curve for benzodiazepine exposure and mortality. More benzos, greater mortality. Note that benzodiazepine drugs are not anti-psychotic medications. They provide short term relief from anxiety, but they are addictive when used over a long period. Which means with long term use people develop tolerance and then crave more. And if they stop them they experience serious withdrawal symptoms. They are never prescribed alone to treat psychosis.

Psychotropic medications prescribed properly to those who need it, are beneficial despite what you may hear from some journalists and a vocal minority.

 

Psychiatry, Eugenics and Mad in America Scare Tactics – Part II

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I am not shocked that we passed through a phase in our evolving civilization when we seriously considered Eugenics. Until we understood a little about genes and inherited traits, every serious abnormality must have been considered an accident or an act of God, perhaps a punishment for some immoral thought or deed. Certainly a stigma and something for a family to hide, if it could. And, at the time, the tribe or village would feel no collective responsibility to look after the impaired child, the disabled adult. This infant and child would be a burden on the family alone until she died, usually very young.

But coinciding with a time our tribes, our villages, our city-states, and then our countries developed a social conscience, a new social contract, and accepted the collective burden to care for these disabled members, we began to learn of their genetic origins. It would be entirely logical to then consider the possibility of prevention.

When medicine discovers a good thing, it always takes it too far, and then pulls back. When men and institutions have power we always, or some of us at least, abuse it, until we put in some safeguards. And there is always at least one psychopathic charismatic leader lurking nearby willing to bend both science and pseudo science to his own purposes.

But we have, here in the western world, passed through those phases (and hope to not repeat them). Now every year we find genetics is more complicated, that there are more factors involved. And every year we pinpoint at least one more detectable genetic arrangement (combinations, additions, deletions, modifiers, absences) that cause specific and serious abnormalities.

But here is where we are now medically and socially in the Western World: We can test the parents’ genetic makeup, we can test the amniotic fluid, if indicated we can test the fetal cells, we can offer parents a choice to abort or not; we can tell them of projected difficulties, available treatment or lack thereof, likely outcome, and possible future improvements in treatment and cure. We have also socially evolved sufficiently (and are rich enough) for the state to assume some, or, if necessary, all of the burden of care.

That is where we are, notwithstanding the difficulties of providing this care, and the antiabortion crowd: Some genetic certainties, some intrauterine tests, some blood tests for carriers, some absolute and some statistical predictions, and parental choice.

Now we come to genetics and mental illness. We have no certainties; we have some statistics; we have no intrauterine tests, no blood tests, and we have parental choice.

For science to not continue to pursue a genetic line of inquiry for serious mental illness would be a travesty.

Nature/Nurture. I think I entered psychiatry at the height of this academic debate. On one hand the psychoanalysts dominated US psychiatry, while biological psychiatry (Kraepelian psychiatry) dominated British psychiatry. (R.D. Laing was an outlier). Meanwhile psychology figured if you could train a dog to salivate at a bell you could train any kid to do anything. At the same time many poets, essayists, and not a few Marxist sociologists were telling us that the insane were not insane. It was the world around them that was insane. From Biological Determinism to parental cause to the Tabula Rasa and back to Social Determinism.

Other psychiatrists worked hard to find a way of including all possible factors: the bio/psycho/social model. (Which I would like to see redefined as the bio/socio/psychological model, for it is clear to me that our behaviors are driven first by our biology, secondly by our social nature, by social imperatives, and thirdly by our actual psychology, our cognitive processes. (Just watch Donald Trump)

How much of our nature is determined genetically, or epigenetically in the womb, and how much by our experiences as infants and children and teens and adults? When it comes to human behavior it is clearly all of the above, to different degrees and proportions.

The studies show that the risk of developing schizophrenia is 50% if your identical twin has schizophrenia, whether raised together or apart. This was often touted to show that 50% of the causative factors for schizophrenia must be environmental. But we now know that identical twins are not really genetically identical. And the interplay of genes, genome, brain development and environment is time sensitive. (Despite her fluent English my wife still stumbles on some English sounds. They were just not the sounds her brain was hearing at age 3.)

On the other hand identical twins reared apart are later found to have developed surprisingly similar traits, speech patterns, skills, and interests. And on every visit with my daughter in Australia she complains about the knees I bequeathed her.

As I mentioned before, genetics gets more complicated the more we are able to study it. Some DNA sequences seem to predict a mental illness in adolescence or adulthood but not the exact one.

Of course that finding may reflect not so much on environmental influences as on the vagaries of our definitions, our current diagnostic system.

An old colleague once remarked that our criteria for the diagnosis of schizophrenia are at the stage of the diagnosis of Dropsy in about 1880. I think he exaggerated. They are closer today to a diagnosis of Pneumonia in 1940. (Note that we can now distinguish a pneumonia that is bacterial caused, from viral, or autoimmune, or inhalational, and which bacteria, but our antibiotics help only one form of pneumonia, and each of these forms of pneumonia may have one of numerous underlying problems (biological and social) causing the vulnerability to developing pneumonia.)

For mental illness the development of drugs (1960’s on) that actually work much of the time threw a monkey wrench into this ongoing debate and inquiry. It tipped the balance to biological thinking for many of us. But it is a logical fallacy to assume a treatment that works reveals the original cause. The treatment is disrupting the chain of pathogenesis at some point but not necessarily at the origin of the chain.

We will continue to argue nature/nurture, and science will continue to investigate. And doctors will continue to treat with the best tools they have available.

If Dr. Berezin is correct (which he is not) and serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, manic depressive illness, autism, and debilitating depression, OCD, and anxiety are all caused by “trauma”, much hope is lost and we will not find good treatments and cures for centuries. For today, despite what Donald Trump and Fox News tell us, in our childhoods in Europe and North America we experience far less trauma, strife, deprivation and loss than every generation before us. Yet mental illness persists in surprisingly persistent numbers.

Dr. Berezin is taking a leaf from the Donald J Trump book. He is trying to frighten you with images of violence, abuse, regression, lawlessness for his own purposes. He is waving Eugenics and Hitler at you in much the same way Donald conjures images of rapists, criminals, illegals, and terrorists streaming across the American border.

But lets get real:

Serious mental illness (schizophrenia, manic depressive illness, debilitating anxiety and OCD, true medical, clinical depression) are little helped with non-pharmacological treatments alone. The reason we do not see today, mute and stuporous men and women lying in hospital beds refusing to eat and wasting away is because we have the pharmacological means (and ECT) to treat depression. The reason we do not have four Queen Victorias and six Christs residing in every hospital is because we now have drugs that control Psychotic Illness. The reason we don’t see thin elated starving naked men standing on hills screaming at the moon until they die of exhaustion is because we now  have drugs that control mania. The reason we don’t have as many eccentrics living in squalor collecting their own finger nail clippings and urine is because we now have very effective pharmacology to treat serious OCD.

All of these people also need social help and someone in their corner, but without the actual pharmacological treatment it will get us nowhere.

(Though, I must admit, today, you may be able to see untreated catatonia, untreated stuporous and agitated depression, untreated mania and untreated schizophrenia in some of our correctional facilities).

But lets look at the less serious mental problems as well for a minute. A patient tells me she is afraid of flying, and always avoided it. But her father is dying in another province and she needs to fly there to see him one last time. She is terrified of getting on that plane. She imagines having a panic attack and disrupting the flight.

A fear of flying. A phobia of flying. Those of us who have such a phobia can usually manage by avoiding travel by plane.

But my patient. She needs to make this trip. Now perhaps I should send her to a trauma therapist who might uncover the fact a school friend was lost over Lockerbie and have her grieve about this, and still be afraid of flying; or perhaps to a cognitive behavioural therapist who might try to convince her that her fears are unfounded, pointing out how air travel is safer than car travel; or perhaps a desensitization approach in which the counselor uses relaxation techniques and has her imagine being at the airport, boarding the plane, and perhaps accompanying her to the airport on the day of travel; or perhaps I should find out if the fear is based on sitting so close to 300 strangers for 5 hours, or riding in a 20 ton contraption at the speed of sound two miles in the air; or spending 5 hours locked in a cigar shaped coffin with 300 strangers…..

Or I might simply prescribe for her five dollars worth of Lorazepam and offer a few encouraging words to get her through the trip.

Then lets look at something in between, like ADHD, one of the diagnoses mentioned by Dr. Berezin.

It is not a difficult equation for me. The child can’t sit still in class, he is too easily distracted, lacks focus, can’t concentrate, always being reprimanded by the teacher, socially ostracized because he intrudes, he pokes, he speaks out of turn, he angers too easily.

To become a successful adult he needs to succeed in at least one thing, if not more than one thing, in his childhood. If, with accommodation at school, and some parental strategies, some adaptational strategies, such as being allowed to wear earphones and take an exercise break every 20 minutes, have one-on-one instruction, good diet, better sleep – if these work, then he may not need medication.

If they don’t work it means he will fail socially and academically and maybe at home as well. He will be in trouble all the time. He will become surly, or give up, or become more aggressive, or depressed. In his teens he will self-medicate.

If the difference between a child failing or succeeding socially and academically is a single pill taken with breakfast it would be, to use that word again, a travesty to not prescribe that pill. And that is true whether the ultimate or necessary causative factor is inherited or acquired, or some complex combination of biological vulnerability, epigenetics, infantile and toddler experience, parenting styles, pedagogic methods, diet, and video game addiction.

 

 

Psychiatry, Eugenics and Mad In America Scare Tactics – Part I

By Marvin Ross

Much of what I read on the Robert Whitaker website, Mad in America, stretches logic but this newest blog has to be one of the biggest stretches I’ve seen. Dr Robert Berezin, a US psychiatrist, warns that psychiatry is moving closer and closer to eugenics.

As defined by dictionary.com “eugenics is a word that made everyone at the event uncomfortable. … The very subject evokes dark visions of forced sterilization and the eugenics horrors of the early 20th century. … The study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding.”

The most famous proponent of eugenics was Adolph Hitler who wanted a pure Aryan race but the subject has been advocated by many in recent history in an attempt to eradicate debilitating diseases. In fact, one could say that the reason for amniocentesis is to do just that. Sampling of the amniotic fluid of pregnant women can predict such things as Down’s Syndrome. And some parents will opt for abortion if Down’s is found but many do not.

Amniocentesis can also predict such genetic conditions as Tay Sachs Disease where the infant usually only lasts to about age 4. But, nowhere in the article by Dr Berezin does he actually show that modern psychiatry is planning to eliminate anyone who suffers from schizophrenia or any other psychiatric disorder.

What he talks about is the fact that genetics is being employed to try to understand these conditions better. He states that:

The accepted (and dangerous) belief is that psychiatry deals with brain diseases – inherited brain diseases. We are back to absolute genetic determinism. Today’s extremely bad science is employed to validate not only the idea that schizophrenia and manic-depression are genetic brain diseases, but that depression, anxiety, phobias, psychopathy, and alcoholism are caused by bad genes

I have no idea why he considers the genetic research to be bad science other than he does not agree with it. So what if he doesn’t. He does state that “The temperamental digestion of trauma into our personalities is the source of psychiatric conditions.” But, as Dr David Laing Dawson has written on this blog:

Childhood deprivation and childhood trauma, severe and real trauma, can lead to a lifetime of struggle, failure, depression, dysthymia, emotional pain, addictions, alcoholism, fear, emotional dysregulation, failed relationships, an increase in suicide risk, and sometimes a purpose, a mission in life to help others. But not a persistent psychotic illness. On the other hand teenagers developing schizophrenia apart from a protective family are vulnerable, vulnerable to predators and bullies. So we often find a small association between schizophrenia and trauma, but not a causative relationship.

Dr Berezin’s concern does not come from anything that anyone has said about aborting fetuses that genetic testing proves will be born with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or any serious psychiatric condition. And the reason for that is that genetics and the understanding of the causes of these diseases is nowhere near a point that this can be demonstrated with 100% accuracy. Science is a long way from getting to that point if it ever is able to.

Suggesting that these research avenues will lead to abortion, eugenics or something similar is absurd and nothing but scare tactics perpetrated by someone who does not agree with the causation theories being investigated. If these avenues lead nowhere and it is discovered that science has been on the wrong path, then science will self correct. Attempting to generate unfounded fear is counterproductive.

Next Part II by Dr David Laing Dawson

The Sisters of Perpetual Determination

By Katherine Flannery Dering From her Blog Word From the Trenches

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Sunday after Sunday, year after year, our Mother drove the one hour ride from our home in White Plains to the Wingdale Psychiatric facility to visit my brother Paul and to prod the staff to take good care of him. Paul, the eighth child of our family of ten children, suffered his first psychotic break at 16 and for the next thirty two years, despite all treatment attempts, he never had more than a few moments of sanity. As our father sunk into a deeper and deeper depression, unwilling to face what had happened to his young pride and joy, Mother just gritted her teeth and did what had to be done. Dad died. Paul got sicker. But sun or snow, rainy or blustery day, Mother drove the two hour round trip and gave Paul his one day per week of almost normalcy. Picnics for sunny summer days, diner or pizza shop on bad days, an occasional excursion to a pool or bowling alley. Mother could recite every gas station, burger joint, antique shop, hardware store, exit, entrance, diner, motel, bank, putting range or ski equipment shop along the 50 mile route.

When Paul was 34, Mother died, very suddenly, of a burst aortic aneurism, and the ten of us “kids” were in shock. We stumbled through funeral preparations, copying what Mother had done for Dad. She had sung in the church choir for years, and her pals did a great job singing at her funeral mass. During the priest’s homily, he spoke repeatedly about what a determined mother she was in not only raising her ten children but also for ensuring that her mentally ill son was properly cared for. After Mother’s burial, the choir and at least 80 other friends and family members gathered at Mother’s house for a funeral luncheon.

At some point that afternoon, four or five of my sisters and I went for a walk around her neighborhood to escape the crowd of mourners who, fueled in part by a large quantity of bourbon and wine, had progressed from munching on catered chicken parmesan and crudités to singing show tunes around her baby grand piano. It was a beautiful, sunny fall day.  A short way down the block, realtors were holding an open house. Since we would have to sell Mother’s house, we decided to check it out. Recalling how the priest at Mother’s Mass had gone on and on about what a determined woman she was, we signed in as a group of nuns looking for a new home and called ourselves the Sisters of Perpetual Determination. It became our family joke. The next year, after I’d settled Mother’s will and distributed everyone’s share, my siblings gave me a plaque inscribed “To the executrix extraordinaire, with thanks, from The Sisters of Perpetual Determination.”

As the months and years went by after Mother’s death, we siblings took up the mantle of trying to look after our brother.  However, this was the age of the deinstitutionalization movement, and despite the lack of a suitable half-way facility to care for him, we were unable to prevent his release from the psychiatric facility. Without constant supervision and tweaking of his medications, he went steadily downhill. His schizophrenia was severe and persistent. He was unable to make it through the maze of “freedoms” he was given, and he cycled in and out of hospitals and group homes. We had always hoped we could keep him safe until some new treatment was discovered that would bring him back to us. But poor diet, constant smoking and general aimlessness caught up with him. Despite our efforts, he died six years ago at the age of 48.  We miss him still.

Current laws, meant to protect people from unjust confinement, now condemn many people with serious mental illness to a shadow life of delusions, confusion, and homelessness, horrible group homes and/or early death. Despite promising advancement in early intervention and new cognitive treatments, many with schizophrenia never really recover.  The care of a family member in this age of almost no long term mental health care puts a tremendous burden on people trying to keep their loved ones off the streets and out of jail.  In consideration of all these caregivers do, my sisters and brothers and I have decided to share our sisterhood name with all the other families of people suffering with serious mental illness.

To the Mothers, Fathers, Sisters and Brothers of Perpetual Determination, we salute you.  We have pledged our support for legislation like HR2646 and vow to fight for improved care for our loved ones.

picture:  to r back row: Pat, Charlotte, Sheila, Paul, Ilene; front row: John, Katherine, Julia, Grace, Monica.

For more information on HR2646 and a letter you can copy and paste and send to your representatives go to www.shotinthehead.com and click on the advocacy page.

To learn more about schizophrenia and what is needed to improve our mental health system go to http://www.paulslegacyproject.org

To order my book, please go to Amazon.com