I have a long-time friend living in the US who has recently begun an alarming course of regular electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) and psychotropic prescription drugs.

As a result, I have been researching the effect that psychotropic drugs have on the brain.  I have also been looking into less damaging alternatives for her.

She hasn’t asked me to do anything on her behalf.  Her husband was instrumental in getting her to start this treatment, more out of discouragement than anything else.  He isn’t being consciously destructive — I know him well, too — he just wants his bride back, the way she was 30-odd years ago.  They have both been retired for some years — at an age many of us can only dream of.  They are financially well-off.

For my part, I am still trying to figure out how an attractive, shapely, intelligent, physically healthy, well-informed woman could require this type of treatment.  Naturally, her psychiatrist is only too happy to oblige.  He has been prescribing drugs for her for the past year.  Suddenly, I received a letter from her this summer saying that she had started going for ECT and continuous drugs.

I wrote back saying that I was happy that she was feeling better.  She was so ecstatic in her letter that I was at a loss to say anything to the contrary, even though I am concerned to read that she may have permanent partial memory loss.  The drugs she will need for the rest of her life.  The ECT seems to be long-term as well.

‘Well, Churchmouse,’ I hear you say, ‘you could always advise getting more involved with the Bible and with church.’  But that’s part of the problem.  She has been — along with her husband — a card-carrying member of the healthist-pietist brigade for years.  Minimal alcohol, no tobacco but excessive worries about health!  She was one of the first women I knew in the 1980s who regularly went to the gym after work.  Couldn’t live without that gym.  All I have heard from her since the 1980s is ‘health, health, health!’  I once asked her why she was so obsessed with it.  She wrote back and replied, ‘Isn’t everyone?  You have to be these days.’

I think of all the energy that she wastes on worrying about her physical wellbeing.  She could have spent all that time studying the Bible and deepening her faith.  But, that’s the other part of the problem.  She’s a healthist, so she adopts the default position of unbelief.  Yet, she’s so worried about losing her health that … she lost it.

And she was railing against God increasingly in the run-up to last year.  She detests God.  She certainly dislikes Christians intensely (yes, I’m a bit low-key with her on that subject).  The usual secularist thing.  I wonder what God thinks about that.  Perhaps He has temporarily left her to her own devices.  I don’t know.  I pray He helps her soon.  Perhaps she has to realise her brokenness first.

So, I am at a loss as to how to respond to her letter from last week saying that her health insurance doesn’t cover mental health treatments and that Obamacare (something she desperately wanted) is already affecting the rest of her health insurance — i.e. other medical treatments have been capped across the board. Now she’s upset.  (Ahem.  I tried to tell her this would happen. She asked me last year why I was so ‘angry’ when Obamacare, once passed, would be just wonderful.  I wasn’t angry, but I could see what was coming.  And now the day of reckoning has arrived.)

Whilst I think of something encouraging and uplifting to tell her, as mentioning prayer (she was raised a Presbyterian) or getting more active around the house (doing her own gardening and cooking would be a start) are out, here is what my independent research has turned up.  You are a more receptive audience for this sort of thing, so perhaps you are as interested as I am in finding out the long-term effects of prescription drugs and how we can wean ourselves off them.

Disclaimer — there are real health — physical and mental — dangers in weaning yourself off drugs, even the ‘perfectly safe’ (!) ones.  Always take professional advice — don’t try this on your own. And, I agree that there are people who really do need to be on drugs for physical or mental ailments — just maybe not forever.

Having said that, here’s the scoop on what happens in Big Pharma followed by a possible way out.

Here’s Gwen Olsen, a former successful Big Pharma sales rep who has since been working with natural supplements and speaks publicly about her career — the highs and the lows.  She also has a website which is worthwhile visiting.

In this video from 2007, she describes her work as a sales rep.  She tells you how she was trained to manipulate doctors by personality type — just like many sales reps do in other fields!  She describes today’s psychiatry, which is no longer treatment and a prescription;  often, it’s just a prescription.  A psychologist handles the therapy.  She warns us about the strength and potency of these drugs, of which she was unaware until she heard doctors discussing them privately:

Olsen says that the physical symptoms we see in mental patients — unusual motor co-ordination or facial habits (licking of the lips) — result from the drugs they are taking, not from the illness itself!  Also, she says that when the side-effects of the drugs make the patients physically uncomfortable, they stop taking the medication.  This is why we have so many outpatients with mental disorders who don’t want to take their pills.  It’s not the fact that they have to take a tablet;  they want to avoid what that tablet does to them physically.

In this next video, also from 2007,  she describes her own personal hell with Xanax and explains how this type of drug — an anxiolytic — can be highly dangerous.  She took it for mild anxiety and became more and more anxious.

Before we get to the link, I recall at the time Xanax hit the US market in the 1980s, it was hailed as a wonder drug for depression.  I worked with a young woman in her early 20s who suffered from ‘mild anxiety’ over a temporary situation.  Her doctor prescribed Xanax and we were quite intrigued to see what we expected would be magic, instantaneous results.  Instead, my colleague, although handling herself well with us, soon started having crying spells in private (most unlike her!).  She put it down to the Xanax.  Naturally, she had some time convincing her doctor to wean her off them.  I also know of a young man in the UK who took Xanax in the early 1990s.  His anxiety turned into aggression.  His girlfriend, another colleague of mine, ended up dumping him because his personality changed for the worse.  In his case, he was sure the Xanax was working just fine — it was everyone else who was the problem!

In this 2008 video, Olsen explains why Big Pharma has no interest in making you or your family well!  I said something similar at the end of May:

As the years go by, one pill leads to another and another until such point as they have a veritable daily cocktail of colourful tablets to take.  What they don’t realise is that Pill B corrects Pill A’s side effects.  Pill C corrects a side effect that occurs when taking Pills A and B together.  And so on.

In many cases, we’ll never really get better. We are cash cows, just part of ‘market share’ — and don’t forget all the scans and tests that go with!

Olsen says that we need to look at our health holistically (sorry if that’s a pagan word) — diet, exercise, wellbeing.  Someone who has a good deal of experience in this area is Dr Vincent Bellonzi of Austin, Texas (I have no connection with him or his clinic, by the way — I merely wish to pass along what he has to say).  He says that you cannot discount the physical aspects of a mental illness.  Often, a physical imbalance of nutrients or amino acids can cause mental problems. Once you go on prescription drugs to ‘cure’ these, you can permanently alter the way your brain works — not always for the better. He explains his seven-point approach:

He also warns about stopping a prescription drug cold turkey.  Practitioners like Bellonzi, however, can help shorten the time you are on them whilst they help you to transition to a tailored set of natural supplements and a better diet:

It worries me to think that we are putting so much faith into doctors and prescription drugs, especially when I read nightmare scenarios like this one which took place in Texas.  Welcome to ‘The Worst Hospital Ever’.  The author describes what happened when she took Chantix (Champix) in an effort to stop smoking. (I’ve seen people on this, too — the woman I knew could go from ecstatic to manic within seconds.) This lady went through a real-life hell for days in a place which should have helped her. Here’s what happened (emphases mine):

I had a bad reaction to Chantix.  I knew that was the problem.  So I asked to be taken to the E.R.  I had heard all the news stories of people killing themselves and hurting themselves after taking it. I was entirely too committed to living and remaining a productive member of society to want to take that chance

Then the intake counselor for UBH Denton, “Ingrid,” came in and talked with me. She said I’d had some kind of episode… and with the help of a very competent physician who came along later, we figured out that it was sleep deprivation, plain and simple. IF someone had just knocked me out to sleep for about 24 hours, I’d have been fine …

The scary thing is that when I told the other patients I was leaving, they all told me, “No, you’re not.” I said “Yes I am. I came in here on my own.” They told me if I had good health insurance, the doctor would file an order of commitment against me. And sure enough, when I filled out the paperwork to leave, the nurse looked at me and said, “He’s going to commit you.” I said “Huh? But I didn’t DO anything! I didn’t try to hurt myself or anyone else. I just had some kind of episode. Why?” They just told me he would.

Then:

I walked in there on my own two feet, and signed myself in voluntarily.  Lisa was wheeled in on a stretcher at about the same time, with bandages on both of her wrists where she had cut herself in an effort to end her life.

I didn’t see her for two days.  When I finally did, she said they had medicated her and put her in bed and she’d been knocked out ever since.  But, we both agreed we weren’t getting any help, and by Tuesday we decided we wanted to leave.  Lisa called her husband, and she was gone in a few hours.  I called my ex-husband who had our son, and my boyfriend, and told them I’d be leaving, too.  I filled out my request to leave.  It was quickly denied

I did not understand how someone who had tried to kill herself was allowed to leave and I was not.  But, thankfully, I wrote down her contact information and we stayed in touch.  I found out later that she didn’t have insurance.  So, think about it from their point of view–she had a choice whether to pay them or not, and if they held her, she might refuse to pay.  But, I was there on great health insurance, known for paying great benefits.  So, they held me.

They kept telling me I’d “probably be well Friday.”  When I raised enough hell about wanting to leave, they let me go on Thursday.  I walked into my house feeling like someone who had just been seriously violated and I wasn’t sure why.  Until I opened my mail and found the letter from the insurance company noting that my benefits for inpatient care were “approved through Friday.”

This episode had serious knock-on effects later from a prescription issued to her by a hospital psychiatrist:

I went to get life insurance about a year ago.  I told the agent what I had been through. He said the biggest problem is that I’d had a prescription for lithium filled at a pharmacyI am now uninsurable for life and health insurance.  I am lucky I have an employer who will give me insurance regardless of that, but as far as life insurance goes, I now pay triple the price I should pay for it because I am “high risk.”

Apologies for the length of the post, but I still haven’t figured out what to say to my unbeliever, healthist friend upthread. (If you have any suggestions, please feel free to chime in.) Meanwhile, let’s be alert as to what can happen in the medical arena.

Something lighter tomorrow.

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