By Terry Lynch, mental health activist, author, physician, psychotherapist
I am a mental health activist, author, physician and psychotherapist. I am also a husband, father, piano player, animal lover, among other things.
I almost died 4 years ago. Three days after beginning a health kick, I was in hospital with a perforated bowel, secondary to diverticulitis I did not know I had. Apparently, little seeds can cause havoc with diverticulitis, and I went a bit overboard with the healthy seeds.
I needed a colostomy bag for six months. The day I woke up with that bag post-surgery, my wonderful surgeon told me that I would become very depressed. He was not a man given to exaggeration, so I took his words seriously. I thought for a moment, looked him in the eyes and replied, “Whatever happens, I will not become depressed”.
Emotional and mental health has been a great passion of mine for most of my life. My life story has probably contributed to this. In 1962, when I was 4 years old, my 4 siblings and I were sent from our home in New York to live with our (marvellous) granny in Co. Clare, Ireland. I still remember being on that plane, sitting with my sister, mother and granny. Just before they closed the doors for take-off, my mother got up without saying a word and ran off the plane. Airport security was different in those days.
Our parents remained living together in New York. They visited us once a year, for about two weeks at a time. Usually, one parent would come for two weeks in summer and the other at Christmas, perhaps in an attempt to cover the bases. Throughout my childhood and teens, Shannon airport was regularly a place of either unbridled joy or profound sorrow, depending on whether we were visiting the arrivals or departures area.
It was in my teenage years that I suffered most. Adolescence, puberty, the transition into adulthood is challenging at the best of times. My life situation resulted in loneliness, fearfulness and lack of support. I experienced a great deal of sadness, unhappiness and anxiety in those years.
We never found out why our family was fractured so profoundly. At least this all helped me, when I had become a doctor, to empathize with people in distress who walked in my door. Feeling so unprotected in my childhood and teens, I developed a determination to act on behalf of the vulnerable and unprotected, and a determination to challenge the status quo when this served the dominant, the powerful, more than its recipients.
For about ten years after I qualified as a doctor in 1982, I was an enthusiastic believer in the medical approach to emotional and mental distress. By 2000, I had lost virtually all faith in the medical approach, which I now know is very seriously misguided. To increase my understanding of emotional and mental health, I completed a Masters in Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy in 2002. But my greatest teachers have been the people who have attended me over the years. For the past 13 years or so, I have provided a recovery-oriented mental health service in Limerick, Ireland. For the past 3 years I have been joined in his work by my wife, psychotherapist Marianne Murphy.
Regrettably, neither our mental health systems nor our Western societies support recovery. I know people can recover fully having received diagnoses of depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder. I know because I have seen this, both in my work, and through contact with people over many years. Full recovery is possible. Hard work, but possible. The common medical response to recovery – that it must have been a misdiagnosis and the person never actually had that condition – does not suffice. The people I am talking about met all the medical criteria for these psychiatric labels. Psychiatry is the only medical specialty where the mindset does not routinely include aiming for the best possible outcomes.
Depression Delusion Volume One: The Myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance is my third book. Publication date 02nd September 2015. Beyond Prozac: Healing Mental Distress, my first book, reached no. 3 in the Irish non-fiction best-sellers list in 2001 and was shortlisted for the 2002 MIND (UK) Book of the Year Award. My second book, Selfhood: A key to the Recovery of Emotional Wellbeing, Mental Health and the Prevention of Mental Health Problems, has been described by many Amazon reviewers (mainly UK) as one of the best mental health books they have ever read. The most common feedback I have received about that book is people feeling like they are reading themselves on virtually every page.
Global mental health, with psychiatry as its lead, is way off track. Steeped in its own biases and priorities, psychiatry and the drug industry has successfully convinced the public that psychiatric diagnoses are primarily biological. Although the biology of psychiatric diagnoses has been researched intensely for well over 50 years, nothing definite has shown up. The idea that psychiatric diagnoses are fundamentally biological has become accepted as truth, as established fact. Yet there is not a shred of reliable scientific evidence to verify this belief, upon which the entire global system of mental health understanding and treatment—in “developed” countries, at least—is based. There are of course some physical elements to all experiences.
The psychiatry-led approach to mental health is fundamentally faith-based rather than evidence-based, since there is no actual evidence to support the fundamental conviction of this system—that biology is the core and most important consideration in mental health. Just as there is no evidence on a global scale to support the biologically dominated psychiatric model of mental health, doctors have no way of confirming any biological abnormalities in their consultations with individual people.
As a group, psychiatrists and GPs have a grossly inadequate training in and therefore understanding of human emotionality and psychology. Consequently, their evaluation of people’s experiences is seriously compromised. Their perceived and self-promoted level of understanding and expertise greatly exceeds their actual level of understanding and expertise.
Psychiatry’s position as the top source of expertise in global mental health is based on their perceived and self-promoted level of understanding and expertise. If based on their actual level of expertise, psychiatry would not at all merit this dominant position.
Their evaluations are further distorted because of their biases, to which most are blind. In particular, their bias toward biology—primarily biological “problems” requiring primarily biological solutions. It is out of this biological bias that the “brain chemical imbalance” arose. It fitted with the medical preference for biology, and benefitted the medical profession enormously. It sounded impressive and persuasive. But it was—and is—false.
The medical profession has played a very major part in creating and maintaining widespread false beliefs about depression and brain chemical imbalances within the public mind.
One of the ironies in mental health globally is the dominance of a psychiatric system that has no scientific underpinnings to its core beliefs, yet other features that are virtually always present are routinely missed or undervalued with this system. This regrettable paradox occurs because (a) doctors are not adequately trained to identify these features, (b) proper recognition of these features would inevitably result in public questioning of the psychiatric model, so doctors don’t want to go there.
There features are (1) trauma/woundedness; (2) distress in its many forms, caused by trauma/woundedness; (3) defense mechanisms and coping strategies that we humans may put in place to minimize further wounding and distress, and to reduce our contact with woundedness and distress already experiences from which we have disconnected; (4) our patterns of choice-making, which are often greatly influenced by the previous 3 features. None of these issues are fundamentally biological.
Trauma/woundedness, distress and defense mechanisms are at the heart of mental health problems. I don’t believe biologically biased psychiatry can or will ever acknowledge this reality. Therefore, the current system is incapable of being what it should be, what the public assume it to be—an independent unbiased system whose only priority is to provide the best service possible for the people they serve. This is a very serious matter. Society’s focus on mental health is just plain wrong.
My new book Depression Delusion Volume One: The Myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance is an exposé of the brain chemical imbalance notion about depression, and much more besides. I set out how this falsehood emerged and was widely promoted as a fact by drug companies and many influential doctors. I describe how mainstream psychiatry ignored the cautions of many expert scientists, psychiatrists and psychologists.
American psychiatrist and author Peter Breggin described Depression Delusion Volume One: The Myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance as “an inestimable service to humanity”. Psychiatrists Joanna Moncrieff (UK) and Pat Bracken (Ireland) have also strongly endorsed the book. So have psychologists Lucy Johnstone (UK, author of Users and Abusers of Psychiatry), Brent Slife (psychology professor, USA), Mary Boyle (UK, author of Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?), Brian Lennon (Ireland), founder of William Glasser International), mental health activists Ted Chabasinski (USA), Julie Leonovs (UK), Mary Maddock (Ireland), Nick Redman (UK), Leonie Fennell (Ireland), Ramo Kabbani (UK) and R. B. (“Trthman 30”, Ireland).
In this book I describe a better way to understand and respond to depression, including many case histories that illustrate what is possible when a broader understanding is applied. I describe how the brain chemical imbalance falsehood meets all of psychiatry’s criteria for a delusion, hence the flat earth image on the front cover. The experiences and behaviours and very real. I am not for one second questioning the existence or importance of these experiences and behaviours. However, our fundamental approach to depression needs major revision. Depression is not a known brain disorder. As I discuss in the chapter The Medical Profession and the Brain, if depression was a known brain disorder, neurologists would be treating it, not psychiatrists.
In my new book, I include a chapter in which I explain why the commonly-made comparison between depression and diabetes is scientifically and logically untenable. I discuss a telling recent development; the withdrawal of many drug companies from psychiatric research.
Antidepressants do not work by correcting brain chemical imbalances. Such claims should never have been made by the medical profession, since the so-called “imbalances” have never even been demonstrated to exist. Any doctor who tells a depressed patient that they have a chemical imbalance, and that antidepressants will correct this imbalance, is misleading their patient, whether intentionally or not. Misinforming people in such a fundamental way about the nature of depression and the mode of action of medication raises major issues about informed consent to treatment.
In the book, I discuss the enormous consequences of the 50-year domination of this falsehood. The delusion has spread from the medical profession and drug companies to aspects of psychology, psychotherapy, major mental health organisations, important aspects of the nutrition industry, the media and many public figures. I describe the new delusionary ideas already being promoted – not least, by the US National Institite of Mental Health (NIMH) – to take the place of the brain chemical imbalance falsehood.
I never did become depressed during those years. I cried, I screamed, I laughed, I felt angry, sad, scared, but I did not become depressed. I put what I had learned about depression – including how to not become depressed – to good use during those often very challenging times.
On a milestone day for me in late 2012, my surgeon discharged me from his care. That was 21 months after my first bowel operation. I had 4 operations in total, within 16 months. That being our last meeting, I asked him about the comment he made the day after my first surgery; that I would (not “might”) become very depressed. He became quite animated, and replied that I was the only person upon whom he had performed that surgery in over twenty years who did not become severely depressed.
Over the next ten years, I intend to write 12-15 more books. These will be about depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders and suicide. The first draft of next book, provisional title Depression: Its True Nature, is already written. If you would like updates on my work and writings, subscribe to updates at my website, http://www.doctorterrylynch.com, and receive a free chapter from each of my books Depression Delusion and Selfhood.