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Is psychiatry doing more harm than good?

Traditional psychiatric therapies have a troubled history.

From frontal lobotomy to electric shock treatment, from straitjackets and cold water therapy to diagnosis by feeling bumps on the head! Many would still say we have not emerged from the thinking of the dark ages yet psychiatry seems to be a growth industry even though, as a profession, it has the poorest success rate.

Currently worldwide estimates say 450 million people are diagnosed with a mental health problem. The argument posed by, and conclusion drawn by, James Davies’ latest book, 'Cracked' is that there is still no evidence of chemical imbalance as an explanation for mental health problems.

Years of research looking for a bio marker for mental illness in human DNA has found….. nothing.

However the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM V, now contains even more labels for psychiatrists to stick on people who present with all the emotional well-being issues related to being human.

Every emotional state now has a drug which can suppress it. Rather than learn to manage emotion, rather than deal with the underlying causes, it is far easier to label people….. and write a prescription. In this way, drinking too much coffee has become a ‘caffeine related disorder’, stuttering or swearing are ‘language disorders’ and being shy or reserved is a ‘social phobia.’

I am still surprised when children present for therapy saying they have ‘anger management issues’. A seven-year-old is unlikely to have constructed this label herself.

I remember one recovering alcoholic client who said that his hallucinations and voices had been diagnosed as schizophrenia. Once he had the label, he said he ‘played up to it.’ When he stopped drinking, the hallucinations and voices disappeared.

When previously unpublished trials are added to the mix, is that the antidepressants simply don't work any better than placebo. When you also add the unsettling evidence linking Prozac and Seroxat to suicide, the picture is even more worrying.

As Davies says: ‘Numbing things isn’t curing things or even, in the long run, helping things…..’’ The drugs are essentially sedatives, and people are plunged into such a fog ‘they can no longer feel depressed……. or anything else’. 

The underlying reality is that uncomfortable human emotions should be viewed as a prompt to take a closer look at the life you are living and the needs not being met by your current lifestyle.

Davies tackled Professor Sue Bailey, head of the Royal College of Psychiatrists with these uncomfortable questions and her response was enlightening…‘When you go into a profession where you want to help people, and you don’t have the tools to help them, the temptation is to medicalise them.’

I must admit, I do find that rather worrying....

Frances Masters MBACP GHGI FRTC

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