We’re Not a Nation of Mentally Ill

The killing spree that Cho went on has triggered a media frenzy, both in the mainstream and in the blogosphere. The attempt to diagnose Cho has reached ridiculous proportions. Assumptions about the mentally ill and the implications of mental illness on society is running rampant. I have no doubt that the stigma associated with those diagnosed with mental illness is exponentially rising as a result of claiming that Cho was mentally ill. I fear backlash with an ugly vengeance as Marissa suggests at depression introspection.

Yesterday I read an article put out by Associated Press. This article simply enraged me. I wanted to immediately write a response on my blog but found myself in knots of anger. I couldn’t articulate my rage. Today I’ve cooled off and see that I must find some measure to address this issue. The article states:

“The number of people coming to colleges who’ve had psychiatric treatment has increased tremendously,” said Dr. Gerald Kay, a psychiatry professor at Wright State University and chair of the American Psychiatric Association committee on college mental health.“Now they’re able to come to college — that would not have been the case earlier,” Kay said. “You’ve got a very large number of people who may have some vulnerabilities. It has stressed the availability of resources.”

Reasons for the surge include the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives mentally ill students the right to be at college, and increasingly sophisticated medications which enable them to function better than in the past.

These assertions are very disturbing to me. I don’t believe that mental illness has increased, nor has the number of people with mental illness attending college increased. And especially medications are not helping people function better as a whole. What has increased are those students diagnosed with mental illness and thus treated for mental illness. We have more people on antidepressants than ever before. The over diagnosing of depression has been a subject of discussion lately. This New York Times article covers the over diagnosis of people experiencing grief and normal loss. I would go on to say that normal teenage angst is also being diagnosed inappropriately as depression, hence the increased number of college students being treated for said mental illness.

Treatment of depression can be dangerous. Please see SSRI Stories. They say it much better than I can. People act out violently and aggressively very often–more frequently the antidepressants simply cause instability. These stories are ignored by the media and by psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry. Antidepressants can be downright dangerous.

I can say from my experience with antidepressants that they all, for me, caused agitation, irritability and in some cases severe panic. Did I forgo treatment with them? No. Not for a good 13 years. I was told these symptoms were part of my disease and I believed it. Millions of people are being told the same thing. Most of us are not so unlucky as to go out and commit crimes and/or suicide as a result of an adverse reaction to an SSRI, but some of us are.

I don’t deny that some people experience antidepressants as a positive addition to their lives. That is their experience. I’m also not arguing that people don’t experience depressive symptoms and I’m not saying nothing should be done about them. However, we are not a nation of mentally ill. We are a nation of abused/and or malnourished people. We are a nation of people unwilling to deal with the miseries that life brings us. Yes, life can be miserable–it’s called the human condition. Life can also be joyful. Antidepressants mute both bad and good feelings.

My experience with over diagnosis and over medication is that I became unable to feel the full range of human emotion–to such a degree that I’ve been left emotionally immature–I’m actively learning to feel and be responsible for my behavior and emotions–with less and less drugs in my system and no antidepressants. I’ve read stories by people who claim that once they got off drugs they saw that they were tolerating situations that they should have left or changed.

We have to look deep inside ourselves and see what is making us unhappy and do something about it. This can and often should involve other people. Counselors, therapists, nutritionists–but not a direct trip to the psychiatrist or other professional who will quickly dole out a pill. Let’s really take responsibility for ourselves and others and take care of the whole person. Let’s not recklessly label people mentally ill for a life of stigma and the frequent downhill spiral that medication can be. Let’s look at options and alternatives.

Once people are given the real options and told the real dangers of drugs they can then make real choices. The use of drugs should only be agreed to once people are given the scope of real options and the capacity for truly informed consent. At this point the doctors doling out the drugs do not even know how to provide this information to people. We are dealing with a national tragedy.

3 thoughts on “We’re Not a Nation of Mentally Ill

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  1. This article also pisses me off. There was NO mention of this guy being of recently being in a war zone for years. That probably he has no one to talk to, cause adults usually don’t have the skills nor the inclination to talk about stuff that is so so horrible, and they just do the things that keep the family going. This kid obviously needed help, but the kind he was getting wasn’t helping in the least if all it could offer was meds. He needed help in his whole community, his spiritual tradition, which seems to have been struggling on in this country. Hopefully his community is talking now about the hell they have been through, though sadly they have to deal with this grief and shame too now.
    He needed his story heard. He also had an amazing passion to have done what he did, and too bad, he didn’t have the mentor ship he needed to become a great person instead of a great awful story with great grief. And all people can talk about is him, and his ‘mental illness’ and not reflect on his environment and American Racist system we all live in, as well as a country of unconscious violence that totally lack any mythos.

  2. Great post and it’s so true that the problem at schools now is not that there are more troubled people attending but that there are more “treated” and “medicated” people attending. Until we realize how distorted our diagnostic and treatment paradigms really are and how counterproductive to real healing they are we are going to be confronted with more and more difficult challenges in our society and in our efforts to provide health care.

  3. AP has got some serious dickheads on their payroll. Mentally ill students have always been always able to get into universities (whilst hiding their conditions), and the number of people at universities with “vulnerabilities” is just a reflection of the number of people in the community at large with “vulnerabilities” (i.e. the number of those who have been inclined to seek, or have been forced into, psychiatric treatment). Your points about the use of anti-depressants and the tendency towards overmedication are spot on.

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