Category Archives: Schizophrenia

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

Family Day, Serious Mental Illness and Murder

By Marvin Ross

I’m posting this on Family Day in Ontario. This is a new statutory holiday promised by former Premier Dalton McGuinty during the election campaign of 2007. It was, of course, part of his platform so that he could win re-election by giving people an extra day off between New Year and Easter and sold as an opportunity for people to celebrate family.

Unfortunately, families with serious mental illness in them lost out when the recommendations of an all party Select Committee on Mental Illness and Addictions Report of 2010 was largely ignored by that government. There is little for many of these families in Ontario to celebrate as you will see from my Huffinton Post blog that follows. It was published on February 9 and I will update it at the end.

Was Ontario Complicit in a Father’s Murder?

Last Spring, I mentioned the problems that a Richmond Hill, Ontario family was having with acquiring adequate service for their son with schizophrenia in one of my Huffington Post blogs. That was one of the many blogs I write on the pathetic state of care that we have for the treatment of those with serious mental illness.

Sadly, the father in this case, Bob Veltheer, was murdered on Sunday evening February 7 and, the next day, his son Jacob was arrested. Bob and his wife talked to me before I wrote the blog wanting to reveal just how badly people with serious mental illness are treated by the health system but decided to remain silent other than what I reported then.

Before I outline what I know of the care their son received, I should mention that Bob was the founding member and president of Home on the Hill, an agency set up to try to get housing for the mentally ill when their families could no longer keep them at home. I had been invited to speak at their monthly meetings a few times as had my blogging partner in another blog we share, Dr David Laing Dawson.

Last year, Jacob, who suffers from schizophrenia, was found sitting on a bus at the end of the line in Newmarket, Ontario presumably having failed to get off when it passed through Richmond Hill. He was suicidal, so the police were called and he was taken to South Lake Hospital. After a week and still suicidal, according to the family, he was discharged against the wishes of his family and that is what I reported.

Upon discharge, he ran off, as do many people with schizophrenia, and the York Regional Police went looking for him. He was found after three days and returned home only to disappear again. This time, when he was found, he was admitted to MacKenzie Health in Richmond Hill. After a brief stay, he was discharged with a community treatment order to a residence. A community treatment order is a legally binding order that the individual must accept regular medical help and medication. If they fail to abide by this, they can be returned to hospital by police.

Jacob, it seems, was too sick for the residence to cope with (but not sick enough to be in hospital) and was evicted from the residence. What should the parents do but what all parents do and that was to take him home. Just recently, the team that supervised his orders (the South Lake Assertive Community Treatment team), wanted him discharged to the care of the family doctor. His mother had just made contact with a local Richmond Hill psychiatrist and was waiting to hear back to see whether that doctor would see him.

Friday night, Bob had a meeting with a member of Home on the Hill executive at his house and I was told that Jacob was so distraught that he was pacing about the house talking to himself (or his voices or demons) in a loud voice. That Sunday night, the police allege that Jacob murdered his father.

This horrific tragedy could probably have been prevented had Jacob been kept in hospital long enough to stabilize him properly and, if that was not possible, to give him a secure place where he could live. The number of psychiatric beds in Ontario has been declining considerably over the past few decades but the total extent is not available since statistics on that can’t be found. And I’ve tried. The most recent Ontario report released in December of 2015 called Taking Stock found that access to services varies across the province and is inconsistent.

Late last year, the brand new psychiatric hospital in Hamilton closed a ward because of budgetary problems although that hospital has 6 vice presidents, 31 directors, a medical director earning $500K a year and a CEO making $750K a year. And, as I wrote a year ago, Ontario has had 17 reports on the sad state of mental health care between 1983 and 2011 but little has been done.

This is not the first preventable death, nor will it be the last unless we finally start to care. In my book on schizophrenia, I describe a case where a family in Mississauga, Ontario desperately tried to get help for their son. They could not and he ended up killing both his parents. I met the son a couple of years ago and found him to be a very pleasant and sane individual. But that was after years in a forensic psychiatric hospital where he has been getting treatment. Imagine if his family were able to get that when they first tried.

I am not Emil Zola nor was Bob Veltheer, but I accuse the complacency of the Ontario government for his death. Government bureaucrats have been informed repeatedly both verbally and in writing about the need for accountability, program evaluation, transparency regarding mis-spending, mis-use of privacy legislation and the historical resistance to partner and collaborate with families. The Central Local Health Integration Network where Bob resided, I’m told, had recently been notified about the profound need for hospital beds by Home on the Hill.

Home on the HIll has been attempting to meet with the new Health Minister, Jane Philpott, whose constituency is near Richmond Hill but have not heard back yet.

I would like to see either a Coroner’s Inquest or a Royal Commission into the circumstances that led up to this horrific event. And I would like to see Ontario finally do something other than commission studies which they then ignore.

Update

This blog received a great deal of attention as it was distributed widely and to a number of politicians where the Veltheer family live. I attended the funeral on February 13 along with politicians from the all three levels of government. The local town councillor who is a supporter of the work of Home on the Hill plans to bring this to the attention of the Ontario Minister of Health as is the local representative in the Ontario legislature. The representative who sits in the Canadian House of Commons is planning to raise this event in the House of Commons and a meeting has been arranged with the Federal Minister of Health.

We all hope that Bob’s death and the pain that his family is going through will result in some positive changes. Ontario which has direct responsibility for providing health care needs to get off its duff, stop generating reports which they ignore, and start providing the services that have been recommended so many times by so many reports.

The Federal government needs to take the money they are wasting on a Mental Health Commission that has no direct authority and does nothing but generate its own reports and put it to providing funding programs in the provinces. And just maybe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whose mother, Margaret suffers with bipolar disorder, will understand and do something.

Doing something would be a welcome change and would honour the memory of Bob and all the others who have been sacrificed by our lack of resources.

Reply to I am Too Smart to Have Schizophrenia

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I was in my early 30’s when I first met Robert. He was just twenty but had already been hospitalized three times. He had schizophrenia. He became my patient for the next 10 years, and indirectly my patient for 25 years after that. He did well with reasonable doses of anti-psychotic medication, monitored and adjusted over the years, though his paranoia, his ‘ideas of reference’ and his anxiety would resurface in socially stressful moments.

I saw him through group programs into employment, steady employment with good sick benefits and a pension at the end. He kept this job throughout his working life though several times he came close to losing it when his symptoms surfaced at work.

And I saw him through his first dating experience, then engagement and marriage. Their honeymoon ended abruptly when he became paranoid at the luggage carousel upon landing at their destination. They flew back, we talked, I adjusted his medication, the marriage lasted. His new wife came to me for genetic counseling and I told them what we knew. They agreed to have no children, she worked as a primary school teacher, and with two incomes and later an inheritance they did well financially. He always had more savings in the bank than I had.

At the end of those ten years I worked out of town for five years and I did not see him but I knew he regularly attended a nurse at the clinic I left. Over the next 10 years I was psychiatrist-in-chief at the mental hospital where he had once been a patient. His medications were now being looked after by his family doctor but he came to see me occasionally to talk something over.

After those 10 years as medical director of the hospital I left to work clinically part-time and devote the other half of my time to artistic pursuits. This included being co-owner of an art gallery with my wife. Robert started coming to every art opening. He would find me, often tending bar, and fill me in on his struggles and successes, his medication, his work. He wrote poetry he shared with me, and he began to write a book about his life, his illness, his hospitalizations. He was conflicted about this; his wife wanted him to keep it as a private journal but he wanted to share his story to help others. By this time both his father and mother had died but his life with this wife was solid. He gave me copies of each chapter and asked for my advice.

Neither of us were young anymore. I was now in my sixties, Robert in his fifties.

Then one Sunday afternoon at the gallery I received a phone call from Robert. My wife answered and told me it was Robert but “he doesn’t sound right”.

On the phone Robert said he needed to see me. He needed to talk something over. He didn’t have schizophrenia after all. The police really are watching and following him. And for the same thing as years before. The same crime. It was all real. Not a delusion at all. A major mistake had been made. He did not have schizophrenia. Out of character he also suggested we sit down over a beer to discuss this. We talked some more and I learned that his family doctor, after seeing Robert symptom free and well for the past many years had taken him off his Olanzapine. It was not an entirely unreasonable clinical decision for he had put on more weight than is healthy. But the same delusion returned. The same guilt, fear, and belief that the police were after him for once owning, hiding, and then throwing away, a small pile of pornographic magazines that had so troubled him in his late teens.

I asked him how I could help. He asked if I knew the police chief. I assured him I did. He asked if maybe I could influence the Chief, to get his men to stop harassing him. I told him I would certainly do that. I would get the Chief to call off his men. But in return I wanted him to go back on his Olanzapine and come in to see me the next Saturday morning. He promised he would.

When Saturday came he had been back on his medication for 5 days. He looked a little sheepish. He asked if I had spoken with the Chief. I told him I hadn’t gotten around to it. He said, “Thank goodness.”

—————

It cannot be that often that a psychiatrist has the privilege of observing the course of a psychotic illness over 35 years, especially that of a patient who remains symptom free for many of those years. But I write this story as counterpoint to the courageous blog by Erin Hawkes.

A delusion is a delusion. It is not a moment of misunderstanding; it is not a passing thought; it is not an odd experience that we check out with others (“Did you hear that?” “I’d like to see what you think of an idea I have.”); it is not an ‘issue’; it is not an idea or even a conviction up for debate; it is not assailable by either reason or evidence, and it is certainly not a spiritual experience preceding moral growth. And Erin, despite her training in and knowledge of science, and neuroscience at that, when ill is ill, when delusional is delusional, and when in that state she, like all the people who suffer from that illness that I know, seeks evidence to prove the belief, the delusional idea, the hallucinatory experience, and disprove the diagnosis, no matter the illogic of the quest.

And, away from treatment, off treatment, five or thirty-five years later, the delusion that returns is the same.

This latter phenomenon I have always found fascinating. Why the same delusion? Ultimately, I think, this is further prove of the illness being a brain problem. For surely if it were the mind, the open-source software, changing, growing, adapting with every input over those many years of life-experience, a delusion would refresh itself, would become more topical, more age specific. But it doesn’t. Which makes it, to me, more of a hardware problem, an illness for which the only effective treatment is medication. Offered of course within a family inclusive humane care system.