Why people in recovery might know more mental health outcomes research than professionals

Self-education about mental health outcomes might be better than school training

My memorial collage for Al Henning who died of depression. If he had known of true mental health outcomes, he may not have given up.

My memorial collage for Al Henning who died of depression. If he had known of true mental health outcomes, he may not have given up.

As I’ve learned more about the problems with the mental health outcomes literature, I’ve explored ideas about the disease model of “Mental illness” compared to other approaches. I’ve been struck how much of my education is coming from peers in recovery and not professionals.  Why is it that so few of them know that medications help some people, but not everyone, and may be increasing the disability rates in our country? Why haven’t  doctors, social workers, and therapists learned about medication optimization and minimization? Why don’t people know mental health outcomes like these showing that 58% of people recover completely from schizophrenia?

I recently just published a long blog post about needing to not demonize or look at stereotypes about other people in the mental health system. Sometimes this is very hard for me because my I lost so many things to labels and bad mental health outcomes information. I still am somewhat angry and overreactive about this. But as I  think back, all of my psychiatrists were smart, educated people doing the best they can. But why haven’t they learned what I now know about mental health outcomes?

Here are 8 reasons why people in recovery might know more about mental health outcomes literature than professionals:

1) It’s life and death for us.

2) Time:  Most Medical literature and medical education has been heavily influenced by the pharmacuetical industry. Most doctors have no formal exposure to mental health outcomes literature challenging the disease model of emotional suffering.  My favorite blogger, 1boringoldman.com does an excellent job of explaining this. Doctors can only find truth through their own off the clock efforts, and 80 hours a week of med school and residency training doesn’t leave much off the clock time. Many mental health professionals also work a lot more than 40 hours a week, so even after their training they don’t have time.

3) Risk: Many people in recovery lose their jobs to their mental health labels, and are often at the bottom of many pits before we start looking for new ideas. We have nothing to lose.  Yet for professionals, it’s practically career suicide for them to question whether people can completely recover by exiting the mental health system and coming off medications if meds aren’t helping. Here’s a quote from my friend who knew all of the mental health outcomes literature and was just asked to leave her internship program for challenging this model:

I was told I was not a good fit at my job today..lol..but my clients were in an uproar at the thought of not having my support..so be it as I know that I was let go for my heart, willingness and unfailing faith in recovery sans meds..but if I made the client roster recovered then no more free SSDI $$ for the agency owner and doctors.   I can’t advocate alone in this town nor do I want to burn out before I start. I’m as oppressed as if I was a client. Yuck to that!

I had an aha moment a couple of days ago when a good friend, a school counselor, got annoyed with me as she isn’t in the position to take risks by publicly denouncing the problems in our field the way I have. It puts her job at risk, she says. That is when I realized that these mental health professionals need their own forum that protects their freedom of speech to talk about real mental outcomes. Then they can feel safe discussing possible movement forward to be part of the change, similar to the psychiatric survivors alliances..we feel passionate and protected by our compatriots..the other therapists are survivors in their own right as they are forced to not acknowledge what they see in favor of going along to get along..but how do we provide that protection so they can explore alternative treatment paradigms..it starts in academia..friendly grad programs that dont have to be recognized by the APA / DSM…

4) Public relations. Many people have never even heard that there might be another way to look at things, that we can improve mental health outcomes for practically free, practically overnight. We need to tell a story that we know how to help people recover, that we have a better way to do things than using labels and medications first, for everyone and forever.

Street Art face painted on a concrete pipe cover in a diagonal alley in downtown Kansas City

Street Art face painted on a concrete pipe cover in a diagonal alley in downtown Kansas City

5) Emotional toll: It’s tough to read that you’ve been harming people you wanted to help. Many more people in recovery know the true story on mental health outcomes because it’s a good news story to us, so it’s much easier to read and keep reading on our free time. It tells us we can be free again. It takes a lot of digging to come a place of intellectual honesty about deciding what is true. I read about 150 research articles, 15 books, and went to two conferences before I was sure that Whitaker was right. This is especially hard to follow through on when it means you have been hurting people your whole career. The story is a good news story, because it means people can completely recovery, but it’s still hard to hard from people who have been giving the opposite message.

6) An honorable way out: People need a way out without admitting they have been wrong. Maybe NIMH and the disease model advocates can have a huge scientific discovery about “recovery without medications.” or about “neurobiology of truama” than can give people a crutch or a new tool to be happy about. It’s a bit tough for them to look to people in recovery for all their solutions.

7) Future career plans: Many professionals don’t realize that even if a small minority of people with mental health issues need medications, their jobs are still secure. Right now many people are not getting treatment and this would free up services for truly needy people. Also, learning how to come off medications for those who aren’t helped by medications is a long, slow, challenging process that is much smoother when a doctor can help with lowered doses of medications to ease out the withdrawal symptoms. Doctors and professionals who know about medication withdrawal will have a booming business assured till the end of their career.

8) The wrath of peers: Many people like me are still angry about things like my 7 shock treatments and being put on 29 different psychiatric medications but never given official peer support. Truamatized people hurt other people, and often we speak this publicly in ways that scare off professionals.  It’s hard to keep the story about complete recovery and better mental health outcomes instead of the pain that we’ve experienced.

What has been your journey to find true mental health outcomes information?

10 comments to Why people in recovery might know more mental health outcomes research than professionals

  • […] in the January issue of Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.     Here is a link for more info:A study shows that obesity is ‘dangerously linked’ to mental illness, according to researchers f…factors. It is to note that both conditions are very stigmatizing, and having both conditions place […]

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  • I couldn’t agree more.

    I have a peer support Web site, http://survivingantidepressants.org , for tapering off psychiatric drugs and recovering from withdrawal syndrome which, sadly, can take a long time.

    The stories people on the site tell of their treatment and difficulties in getting off drugs would be a valuable education for any clinician, offering perspective on how others are practicing and where they may be going wrong.

    • Thanks so much. I’m glad we are in touch online as well as on Twitter. I appreciate the work that you are doing. I was just on your site yesterday and I’m impressed by the amount of activity your forum has.

  • […] most psychiatrists are doing the best they can. If the disease model is all you’ve heard, and you haven’t had time to research the data yourself, it makes sense to call things a disease. Most NAMI members and staff haven’t done this […]

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  • […] This is an update of a post that appeared a month ago on Wellness Wordworks’ blog.  […]

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  • Cheryl

    Psychiatrists may be smart, they may demonstrate intelligence, but they are not educated. They know something about the body, but have very little understanding of the mind and no curiosity to pursue further knowledge. Educated people know how to learn, and keep learning. They question common sense, easy answers and textbook solutions. Please notice that cure and curiosity have the same root. Psychiatrists label people with illnesses and say there is no cure. They do not consider the wisdom of others, they are not troubled by the suffering caused by medication and the trauma caused by current procedures. In general, they show little capacity for self-reflection. They are also not self-aware regarding the history of their profession — it’s origin, it’s past inhumane treatments, it’s ethical violations and prescriptions of violence such as sterilization and euthanasia. Regardless, psychiatrists benefit economically and nobody challenges their sanity. To all those professionals who work in proximity to psychiatry, or are psychiatrists: you must remember that you are also a human being responsible for your own actions. The healing arts, which psychiatry conveniently obviates by claiming that their is no healing to be done for mental illness, demand that you DO NO HARM. If you feel you must have a “crutch” to survive then by all means use one, but get on with things.