Neurotoxic vs. brain-boosting: psychiatric drugs

The other day someone on twitter  said that my use of the term “toxic” when I referred to psych meds was hyperbolic. They also referred to Ritalin as “brain-boosting” as opposed to “toxic.” Oy vey.

This person at one point was speaking specifically about Ritalin, the stimulant used to treat hyperactivity in children. I have no problem acknowledging that performance may be enhanced in the short-term on Ritalin in many people…and indeed all psych meds in some particular instances and in different ways can improve performance (or behavior), but that does not mean the brain is being boosted. (and in fact, quite often, with drugs other than Ritalin cognitive performance is often crippled to some degree and sometimes excessively). The word boosted suggests, at least to my mind, that the brain is being healed and improved, but sadly these drugs do not heal. They may change behavior and the way people feel and sometimes people do, no doubt, find that helpful, but no one should imagine that the drugs are healing their brain. It’s actually a sadly common belief based on the bogus idea that these drugs fix a chemical imbalance. Alas, that is simply untrue. See:  Chemical imbalance myth takes a big public fall

I don’t disregard that people find psychotropics helpful and on occasion necessary. That is not what this is about. Life is complicated and mental health issues are caused by many different things. We are not all alike and most people are not offered a choice or alternative to psychotropics. This means that sometimes psychiatric drugs are the only thing people have experienced as helpful. This is not to be taken lightly nor dismissed. People feel strongly about anything that helps them. But in the same vein these “successes” should also not be over-emphasized when most people have not tried other less damaging and/or actually healing methods of care. This overemphasis is what happens in psychiatry. So-called success stories by route of  brain and body damaging drugs are held up for all to see but there has generally never been an attempt to actually get at the cause and really HEAL such people or help them learn to cope in ways that don’t often also sicken the body. And the counterpart to this is that all the damage and tragedy that are also often caused by the drugs are swept under the rug and widely denied.

The fact that many people want to dismiss the harm the drugs cause seems to me to be much more dangerous as those of us who have suffered grave iatrogenic injury know only too well. None of us were told of these risks. And now ill most of us face denial from the medical community and very little or no help in healing. 

Below along with much more commentary are brief posts that feature Robert Whitakers’s work highlighting the problems with four different classes of psychiatric medications. You tell me, are they brain-boosting or neurotoxic? 

Since this post was inspired when someone said Ritalin, specifically, was brain-boosting, here is a comment, also by Whitaker about the effects of Ritalin in children:

When you research the rise of juvenile bipolar illness in this country, you see that it appears in lockstep with the prescribing of stimulants for ADHD and antidepressants for depression. Prior to the use of those medications, you find that researchers reported that manic-depressive illness, which is what bipolar illness was called at the time, virtually never occurred in prepubertal children. But once psychiatrists started putting “hyperactive” children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.

When you add up all this information, you end up documenting a story of how the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the United States have been destroyed in this way. In fact, I think that the number of children and teenagers that have ended up “bipolar” after being treated with a stimulant or an antidepressant is now well over one million. This is a story of harm done on an unimaginable scale. — Robert Whitaker Counterpunch Interview

And lets not forget that the ingesting of these drugs over the long-term is closely associated with higher incidences of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cognitive problems, sexual dysfunction and the list goes on with multitudes of less common but sometimes completely devastating health consequences. Upon withdrawal some significant minority is faced with disabling withdrawal syndromes too.

We’re talking a serious sociological disruption here too. Psych meds mess with emotional bonding, not just sexual functioning, meaning it can affect everyone we love including our children. Furthermore I’ve asked the question in this post “what happens to kids who grow up on these drugs?”

The fact is most of the time we can deal with and support the pains of being human in other much healthier ways and we really must for the health of our bodies, minds and spirits. We must for the bodies, minds, and spirits of the entire human species. These drugs are simply mostly unnecessary. Certainly unnecessary a whole lot more often than they are used. Let’s give hope and options to more people all the time.

The man who triggered this post when he told me I was being hyperbolic when I used the word “toxic” in reference to psychiatric drugs also ended his brief missive with a comment about how drugs save lives and then, “Shame on you.”

I am not ashamed to offer people information and HOPE I never got when I got drugged so that they might be able to make a meaningful choice. I am not ashamed to share what I know about natural ways of healing and thriving so that people might find joy and wellbeing in life in ways that support their body/mind and spirit. It took my getting off psychiatric drugs to really feel joy again and that is in spite of still being gravely ill. I discovered I must be willing to experience the whole spectrum of human emotion (pain and sorrow too) in order to also feel the joy. Psychiatric drugs are indiscriminate at blunting all feelings, good and bad. They were not good for me, nor did they save my life. In fact, I only now, drug-free, feel like I am living my life.

As a professional working with people on these meds in social services for many years I also saw how drugs are handed out indiscriminately and the most vulnerable among us are never given a chance to consider healthier options at all. I watched as family dysfunction was routinely ignored as well as any and all childhood or other trauma in general not even considered. I watched as people were heavily medicated while not being told about diet, exercise and meditation and other lifestyle changes that might help mitigate the “need” for drugs. I watched as little or no appropriate psychotherapies were offered.  I watched as these drugs damaged people’s bodies and appropriate possibly life-saving medical tests and bloodwork were not routinely prescribed even while people became obese and sick as a result of being on the drugs. I watched as some of my clients succumbed to early death by diabetes, stroke and kidney failure. Yes. I did. And now I won’t sit around and watch any longer because what I saw was repulsive and sickening and tragic and there are far too many people standing around watching and denying that a nightmare is happening. It’s rather mind-boggling really. We need to wake-up!

I did not respond to this man directly because I’ve learned that my valuable and limited energy is much better placed among those who are willing to hear about and acknowledge those of us who’ve been gravely harmed. My energy is much better placed among those who might, once they hear, pass on the news that will eventually prompt the massive changes we need in the care of vulnerable people of all ages. So that we might offer a greater variety of healing options and that potentially horribly damaging drugs will be used much less frequently and perhaps only in crisis or until a better alternative is found.

And finally I thank the universe for that man who tried to shame me because while it’s clear he was dismissive of  my experience, his comments led to this post, that I might share with the many readers of this blog who want to learn about the dark and yes, neurotoxic, side of psychoactive drugs.

Books that present clinical research that document the toxicity of psychotropic drugs:

●  Drug-Induced Dementia: a perfect crime  — by Grace Jackson MD (see a book review on Beyond Meds here and here)

●  Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs: A Guide for Informed Consent  by Grace Jackson MD(book review on Beyond Meds here)

●  The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment by Joanne Moncrieff (interview with Moncrieff here)

●  Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America — by Robert Whitaker

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