Psychiatry’s drug habit fails patients

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Psychiatry—now a booming industry as well as a trusted, supposedly empirical science—first developed as a medical specialty in the early 1800s. Its purpose was the treatment of those severely disoriented individuals who were confined to sanitariums and mental asylums. We would now recognize that these patients suffered from conditions that are largely medical, such as dementia, brain tumors or seizures.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century when Sigmund Freud pioneered his theory of the unconscious that psychiatry began to examine the less severe afflictions that plagued modern men and women’s minds; He deemed these “psycho-neuroses.”

What ensued was a new science that mythologized itself as holding objective power over human phenomena that, in reality, often defy categorization. In its efforts, psychiatry has been plagued by the same flaw of so many other failed modernist ideologies—it attempts to reduce humanity to the sum of its parts and therefore breeds dehumanization and isolation.

A psychiatrist diagnoses a patient via a verbal consultation, which often takes less than an hour. After having done this, it is not unusual for medication to be prescribed immediately. Psychiatrists plead for mental illness to be treated similarly to physical disease, yet the symptoms of these supposed diseases are both reported and recorded in entirely subjective terms undoubtedly colored by cultural expectation and personal bias. I would never claim the suffering of psychiatric patients should not be taken seriously, but we must continue to ask whether it is a patient’s abnormal psychological traits that create turmoil or merely the way they are taught to feel.

The fields of psychology and psychiatry must continue to evolve, as they have in the past. Until 1973, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder. Lobotomy and severe electroconvulsive therapy were once deemed suitable methods of treatment. We cannot be certain our current surge in new pharmaceutical products will not be looked at with the same skeptical eye in decades to come.

Overmedication frequently occurs as a result of its profitability and ease of use. Congress passed the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act, which prevents the government from directly intervening in the pricing of drugs covered by Medicare. Subsequently, the prices of many psychiatric drugs have skyrocketed, a trend pharmaceutical companies justify as necessary to fund the kind of research that allows for groundbreaking drugs to be developed.  However, many new drugs reaching the market are merely rebrandings of previous pills and half-billion-dollar marketing campaigns for new medications have become commonplace.

Troubling statistics coincide with these recent industry trends. From 2001–2010, the number of girls younger than 19 taking medication for ADHD increased by 39 percent, and the number of boys younger than 19 taking medication for ADHD increased by 11 percent, according to a 2011 study by Medco Health Solutions, Inc. Additionally, children 5 years old and younger are currently the fastest-growing segment of the non-adult population being prescribed anti-depressant drugs. From 1995–1999, anti-depressant use increased 580 percent in the 5 and under age group, and 151 percent in the 7–12 age group, according to the study.

I have continually questioned whether the prevalence of mental illness has increased or whether it is only the prevalence of diagnosis and drug-oriented treatment that has increased. We should exhaust every possible option in examining a child’s environment and the underlying conditions that lead them to act out or perform poorly in school before attempting a chemical solution. Suffering is very real, and in an age of fragmentation, materialism and cultural confusion, it is at an all-time high. However, to chemically alter a child who has not yet had the opportunity to overcome their dysfunction, and to tell that child there is something wrong with them is atrocious.

Rather than attempting to forcibly remove suffering, we should teach those who seek psychiatric assistance—young and old—to place their pain into a broader, more meaningful context. More serious consideration should be given to the validity of alternative forms of treatment, such as arts therapy, depth psychology and even holistic methods like meditation and yoga. Additionally, the underlying cultural conditions that allow for mental illness to proliferate in the first place require reform. Psychiatric medication should be a last resort, not a quick fix.

Many of us acknowledge that depression and anxiety are created by labeling, shame, cultural stigma and isolation, yet our society’s so-called rational minds continually treat the issue by further labeling and quantifying our ailments. Isn’t that a little … Well, crazy?