Terrible Illness, Terrible Treatment

19th century illustration of mental illnesses

19th century illustration of mental illnesses

Treating mental illness is difficult and we don’t always know what to do. On a personal note, I have ties to four people who committed suicide while under doctors’ care. That’s hard to accept in the world of modern medicine. Even people with good access and good insurance may continue to suffer, which I suspect increases public skepticism. Why pay for treatment programs if they don’t work?

I’ve read Anatomy of an Epidemic, by Robert Whitaker, which says the powerful psychoactive drugs used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression may work in the short-term but, paradoxically, make long-term mental health worse. Now there is a study, discussed here, suggesting that drugs widely prescribed for insomnia and anxiety increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The article addresses some of the questions we should ask when reading about a medical study: cause versus correlation, relative versus absolute risk, and the effects of dose levels. The risk seems significant in a colloquial as well as a statistical way.

Interestingly, another article I read the same day says that talk-therapies are equally effective as drugs for social anxiety and should be tried first.

Whitaker found evidence that the outcome for patients with mental illnesses has been getting worse over time in the United States and most other wealthy countries despite the medicines available. But he also found a success: Finland had high rates of schizophrenia in the 1970s but today has good long-term outcomes. They use a combination of therapies, non-drug treatments and judicious drug prescriptions.

My post has wandered over a range of conditions and worries. There’s a lot for anyone to consider and science has no foolproof answers. The links above are all popular sources, not scientific journals, and consulting medical experts is a must. Treatments offer risks and benefits, but there are no magic drugs.


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