As a person who has experienced the ins and outs of the mental illness systems, I can confidently say that the issue of mental illness and how medication applies is one that is rooted in deep systemic dysfunction.
This is not so farfetched when you consider the main motivation of those running the mental health industry. It is important to analyze the intent of anything (be it person, industry, etc.) when trying to determine The Why of the way things are. I am a huge advocate for understanding the why in order to begin implementing desired changes.
In the case of the mental illness industry (yes, it is an industry), we first need to examine the intent of what they’re trying to accomplish.
In the case of most industries, the goal is to maximize profit. Why is this problematic for those of us trying to improve our mental health? Let’s look at the different cogs of the mental illness industry machine and how they fit together.
Who Runs The Game
When we consider who “The Boss” is in any given scenario of this wonderful biased-market-competition-impersonating-as-capitalist country we have, it is usually the person/institution with the most resources and subsequently, power.
In the case of mental health, we’ve got our market powerhouses – the Pharmaceutical Companies and the Healthcare Industry – here we will be focusing on the mental health end of healthcare, so this means inpatient/outpatient facilities and the people who run them.
Next we have your average ride on the mental health systems tour of horrors carousel à la my whimsical backdrop-painted storytelling.
It consists of spending 72 hours in a hospital psych ward. During these 72 hours, patients are isolated from family/loved ones so they’re alone and easier to harvest. Once the rounding psychiatrist has had a two to seven minute interview with the patient, it is then determined whether they will be released with the plan of follow-up at an outpatient program or psychiatrist or transferred to an inpatient facility for further harvesting.
Those who do not have health insurance are more likely to be released home after the 72 hour period than those who do. (You connect the dots with that one, it’s not rocket science).
Stays at your average inpatient clinic range from four days to two weeks, depending on how much your insurance is willing to cover. During your stay at this lovely negative-four star blood-sucking facility, you will meet a plethora of doctors and social workers, all the while, being heavily medicated to distract you from the organs they’re funneling into their pockets.
As soon as they’ve got every last drop of money – I mean, blood, milked from you, you’re passed on to an outpatient facility for a longer, extended program (read: further harvesting) or what ever psychiatrist has got connections with the facility. The purpose here is to get as much as you can from every patient (read: victim) as quickly as possible.
Oh, and you’ll be billed for this later.
Of course my retelling of my experiences is a bit dramatized. However there is merit to analyzing the situation in this manner when we are trying to understand the behavior behind these institutions.
Why Big Pharma & Pseudo-psychiatrists Control The Medication Market
The primary goal of the Pharma companies and inpatient/outpatient mental health facilities is, again, to turn a profit. As a business how do you ensure that occurs?
The number one way to guarantee the continuous influx of money is demand – there have to be consumers that want the product – in this case, medication and healthcare services.
The mental illness market is a bit dicey to navigate because individuals who live with these mental health challenges are often vulnerable and struggling. Most of us don’t have in-depth, applicable knowledge of mental health simply because it is not something we are taught.
The help we need is then outsourced to people in power who we believe can and want to help us “get better” – this would be our Psychiatrists. (Therapy is a part of the system as well but it does not directly influence the medication aspects, we will get to that at another time.) We give our trust to doctors in power to hold our well-being and healing as a priority.
Now I am not saying by any means that all doctors are corrupt, profit-driven, money-mongers, but we do have to acknowledge that this field is their career-path and their livelihood.
The problem occurs when the motivation of these pseudo-psychiatrists is rooted in money rather than the well-being and recovery of patients.
Let’s examine this issue logically. If a company wants to make money, it is imperative to have a large consumer base and to make sure those consumers keep coming back for your services/products. Understanding this rationale shows us why the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries never address the underlying problems of mental illness.
Medications are NOT a cure to any mental health issue – don’t get me wrong, it can help to treat the symptoms, but medication is not the quick-fix cure that it is strategically advertised and marketed to be. It is simply a bandaid. A tool to manage the symptoms that never address the root cause of the issue.
The key to profit is to keep the patients coming back for more.
The Medication Roulette Debacle
Before we go any further, let me first state that I am not a mental health professional and that my views are based on my experiences and personal research – what worked for me may not necessary work for another person. That being said, take from this any aspects that may be relative to you and leave the rest.
At one point in my journey with mental health, I was on a cocktail of eight different medications. This was after trying countless different brands, various types of medications – SSRIs, SNRIs, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, SARIs, mood stabilizers. After three hospitalizations, completing numerous outpatient programs, and 15 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy (affectionately known as shock therapy).
Following several years of playing medication roulette, I was struck with the realization that none of these things were actually helping the state of my mental wellbeing.
Every time I would attempt to discuss this with my psychiatrist, the answer was to switch up the meds. The medication was no longer helping, nor was it an effective bandage for wounds that had been festering for years. I decided I wanted to get off my medication cocktail, and I was determined not to be cajoled into another round of trying new medications.
As with any new subject matter, my approach was to research the crap out of it. I did my research on how to safely taper off the various medications I was taking, and went to my biweekly scheduled appointment to present my plan and findings.
At this point I had already made up my mind that the medications’ adverse effects far outweighed its limited (and that’s being generous) benefits. What I wanted from my psychiatrist was her healthcare provider stamp of approval, expertise, and supervision of my decision. I had done my research, had a sound plan in place – all I needed now was the support to help me achieve my goal.
My psychiatrist made it very clear that she did not agree with my decision, as is her right as a medical health professional. She even went so far as refusing to help me, stating that if I no longer wanted to be on medication, I would have to see another doctor.
That was the last appointment I had with a psychiatrist. Two years later, I have now been medication free for nearly a year. And surprisingly (not really), I am far more well now than when I was on medication.
This interaction with my psychiatrist (and numerous others) is an exemplary portrait of how the mental illness industry seeks to keep consumers within their grasp. The thought process behind her refusal to advise me was likely – if this patient wants to stop taking medication, I will lose this patient (read: profit) anyway, may as well nip the problem in the bud, because then there is also plausible deniability if the patient gets off the medication and ends up hospitalized again or worse yet, dead.
While I understand the covering-your-own-ass logic behind that action, refusing help to patients who want to get off their medications safely and responsibly is its own special kind of malpractice in my book.
Psychiatry’s Love Affair With Happy Pills Gone Wrong
In this country, we rely heavily on pharmaceuticals to treat various health conditions. There are many benefits to life-saving medications – I am not disputing that.
BUT, where it applies to mental health, medications more often than not, only mask the symptoms of the deeper issues in play.
Medications can be useful short-term, IF used in conjunction with a combination of other therapies. The problem occurs when medication is used as a one-size-fits-all blanket solution to be “happy”.
Until we get to the point of medication therapy that is tailored to each individual’s constantly in flux biochemistry, it is incredibly inane to think that the medications we have now are suitable treatment for mental health conditions. Especially when we consider the highly variable nature of these conditions.
The Problem With Diagnoses-Centered Treatment
Take an individual diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder for example, we’ll call her Jane. Jane has a history of childhood trauma and abuse, suffers panic attacks on a daily basis, and has a career she finds detestable and monotonous. Jane sees several healthcare professionals and is advised to try an antidepressant.
Another individual, we’ll call him Dave, receives the same diagnoses and is put on the same antidepressant. Dave has a history of rheumatoid arthritis that negatively impacts his quality of life, a toxic marriage, and Dave’s mother has recently passed away.
Different events, especially those that cause stress and are closely tied to emotional response, will alter a person’s brain chemistry. No two people have the same brain chemistry, including identical twins. All the experiences we have continuously shape and change our brain development and all the complex biochemistry going on in there.
When we understand the unique nature of each person’s experience and biology, it is ludicrous to expect medications to work the same across the board. We can go further and say that it is incredibly dangerous and detrimental to prescribe medications like candy when we don’t know how they will affect each person.
In the case of Dave and Jane, it is sound logic to assume their issues are vastly different even though they have received the same diagnoses and medication. The medication may help Jane on the road to recovery, but affect Dave in a negative manner.
Jane may benefit greatly from medication used short-term in conjunction with ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy. Dave however may find that therapy alone can help him to cope with the grieving process and adopting a healthier lifestyle may be a more effective treatment for his autoimmune disorder.
The take-away from our imaginary case-study is that treatment that is tailored to the individual must be prioritized, rather than expecting a universal happy pill (or class of medications) to sufficiently heal a person’s mental state.
The Medication Trap
What does medication do? It alters the brain chemistry and the way our brains process these chemicals we have floating around.
The idea of taking medication can trick us into thinking “this will fix me/my problems/how I am feeling”. We then don’t take any further action to address the root cause of the problem because we are relying on medication to do the heavy lifting – when the medication is simply a tool to manage the symptoms, NOT a solution addressing the cause. That last bit, my friend, would be your responsibility to yourself.
We as a society too often outsource the responsibility for our well-being, physical and emotional, to other people and things. Of course there will be the need to consult professionals who specialize in certain fields, but it is important not to trust blindly and to be informed. If it is an area that you have limited knowledge in, then GET INFORMED. With the ease of obtaining information just one click, one finger-tap away, there are no more excuses people!
Mental health professionals can be crucial allies to have along the journey, but your discernment in what is right for you is imperative.
Culture of Wellness Over Illness Industry
The mental illness industry is a system that was originally designed to help people and yet, it has become so heavily corrupted with dysfunction and greed. Close friends who I hold near and dear to my heart who have gone through similar experiences are also baffled and outraged at the incongruence of the broadcasted intent, to heal, and the actual motivation, to capitalize and maximize profit.
There is nothing wrong with individuals in the field trying to be successful and make a living. However, we must acknowledge that there is something direly wrong with the system in place when an industry places their monetary success over the wellbeing of millions, and proceeds to masquerade as supporters of mental health, while capitalizing on our “illness” behind the scenes.
If we are to address this national epidemic, we must emphasize the importance of creating a culture of health that places the primary responsibility of care in the hands of the individual.
We can no longer afford, monetarily or otherwise, to outsource our wellness to Big Pharma and medical institutions. We have tried this outsourcing and the system is becoming increasingly convoluted, and our society is becoming sicker – physically, mentally, and spiritually.
It is beneficial to enlist the help of trusted sources as allies in our healing journey, but ultimately, we must trust our own discernment in what is best for ourselves and take ownership of our own health.
Have you gone through a similar mental health journey? Share your experiences in the comments section below or send me a DM on Instagram if you’d like to talk! Check out my post 7 Therapy Alternatives For The Creative Mind.