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Misinformation about Mental Illness From The Experts

Peter B. Raabe Ph.D. © 2012

(This lecture was presented at the University of the Fraser Valley on Feb 8, 2012
during Bell Canada’s national “Let’s Talk Mental Illness” campaign.)

    What’s happening with the diagnosing of mental illnesses? According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. This amounts to 57.7 million mentally ill people in the US every year. This is more than ten times higher than in the other nations of the world. What does this mean? CBC television announced that a study has shown that more than 50% of Canadians in the workforce are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness. Is this true? Are more than half of working Canadians mentally ill?

    The truth is, there’s something wrong with the way experts diagnose and define mental illness. The definition of mental illness depends on how the words “brain” and “mind” are defined.

    With today’s amazing brain imaging machinery it’s a relatively easy task for the professional to determine if the patient’s problem is some sort of brain malfunction. When the patient is instructed by the technician to calculate the total value of three coins, or to recall a happy event, or to remember the face of a loved one, different parts of the brain light up on the screen. The image on the computer screen shows the brain in the act of thinking. But if we agree that the brain is doing all the thinking, then what is the patient doing while his brain is so occupied? If the brain does the thinking then the person is no more than a puppet being manipulated by this thinking lump of flesh. While it’s true that brain imaging technology shows the brain in action, it’s also fairly obvious that a brain by itself can’t, and doesn’t, do anything at all. In order for a brain to think it must be connected to a thinker. It is this thinker, not the brain, who makes the effort to add three coins together, who recalls some happy memories of a past event, and who imagines the face of a loved one. And this thinker is usually considered to have a mind.

    The mind is contained in the lump of flesh called the brain. The mind is the beliefs, values, and assumptions which a person lives by. You can’t change your brain, but it’s easy to change your mind. When a person becomes distressed it is generally because their beliefs, values, and assumptions have become troublesome. Experts then diagnose and label this distress as some sort of illness of the mind. Clearly then mental illness is not a biological problem. It is a problem with the person’s mind, which is their beliefs, values, and assumptions. So why do the experts drug the brain when treating a troubled mind?

    What is rarely mentioned by drug manufacturers is that for every symptom supposedly corrected by their medications many more symptoms are created by the chemical side effects. A patient often has to take a second or third medication to combat the side effects experienced from the first medication. Such a stew of psycho-pharmaceuticals can cause all sorts of physical maladies, including major organ failure and addiction. Most startling of all is the fact that many of the lesser side-effects of medication can in turn be diagnosed as symptoms of mental illness. Interestingly, recent research has shown that most of the popular anti-depressant medications on the market are no more effective in combating depression than placebos or sugar pills.

    A television commercial says “Depression hurts.” But this is just false. Depression can’t cause pain. In fact depression can’t do anything at all because depression isn’t a disease or illness. Depression is simply a label attached to a number of symptoms such as unhappiness, insomnia, lack of appetite, and so on. The same goes for all the other so-called mental illnesses. Advances in the research on the functioning of the brain have not led to any discoveries of organic causes for any of the mental illnesses. When medical experts say, “We don’t know what causes depression” they’re misleading the public. It’s true that they don’t know of any biological causes of this so-called illness they call depression, but it’s easy for anyone to name all sorts of life situations which can cause a person to become depressed, such as a failed marriage, a death in the family, the loss of a job, low self-esteem, and so on. This calls into question the appropriateness of prescribing psychotropic medications to alter the brain’s chemistry when someone is unhappy. But wait—psychiatrists and many psychotherapists argue that medication is essential in treating clinical depression.

    What about the word ‘clinical’ when it’s applied to a person’s suffering? For example experts say ordinary depression may be simple unhappiness, but ‘clinical’ depression is an illness. This is nonsense because experts disagree about what should be called a ‘clinical’ condition. They claim that onset, duration, severity, and so on are factors which contribute to the diagnosing of clinical depression. But they ignore the fact that one expert’s ‘clinical’ may be the next expert’s ‘ordinary’.

    Experts argue that they use ‘scientific instruments’ to discover mental illness. But the so-called scientific instruments used to determine if someone is ‘clinically’ depressed are just questionnaires. And the answers people give on those questionnaires can be interpreted in many different ways by the experts. Experts have no clear way to differentiate clinical depression from ordinary depression. It’s just a way they try to make themselves seem medical, scientific, and more expert. And these experts are now going so far as to diagnose little children with supposedly suffering from severe mental illnesses, such as so-called ‘juvenile psychosis’ and ‘infantile bipolar disorder.’

    Infants are being diagnosed with serious mental illnesses and being given massive doses of medication because they misbehave, or talk back to their parents, or can’t sit still in school. The majority of kids diagnosed with ADHD are little boys. Brain-altering psychiatric drugs have made zombies out of these formerly energetic kids.

    In discussing ADHD, one Canadian mental health web site first recommends medication for those children, and only after that suggests that maybe their parents should learn better child-rearing techniques.

    After all the talk of medication, it’s interesting to note that research has shown the ‘talk therapies’ to be the most effective psychotherapies for so-called mental illnesses. What are the many kinds of talk therapy made of? When you study them closely you find that they’re made of philosophy. All talk therapies are just philosophy under different, psychological-sounding names.

    Unfortunately most therapists have no education or training in philosophy. This means that when they practice their talk therapy they’re just doing bad philosophy. But if most talk therapies are just bad philosophy, where can you get good philosophy? There are a few counsellors who are extensively trained in philosophy. They practice what’s called philosophical counselling. Philosophical counselling involves helping the suffering person examine the reasons they have for the values they hold as good and the beliefs they hold as true so that they can discover where their mental suffering is coming from. Albert Einstein said, “You can’t solve your problems by using the same thinking that got you into those problems in the first place.” A philosophical counsellor helps the distressed individual develop a different way of thinking in order to resolve their problems.

    Experts try to convince us that mental suffering and distress is just like physical illness that needs to be treated with medication. For example, the Consensus statement of the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association was co-authored by twenty prominent psychiatrists, government officials, and mental healthcare advocates. It was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, and stated that

“Untreated cases of depression, no less than untreated cancer, pneumonia, or diabetes cases, are serious public health problems that must be treated with high doses of medication.”

    Notice the so-called mental illness of depression is said to be like the biological diseases of cancer, pneumonia, and diabetes. Why are they telling us such nonsense?

    What about the claim that so-called mental illness is caused by a genetic predisposition or genetic weakness? This is also total nonsense. Claiming that someone’s distress is due to their genetic predisposition or genetic weakness amounts to nothing more than blaming the victim. If a child becomes severely distress because of the abuse suffered at the hands of her brutal parents, why is her suffering attributed to some sort of weakness within her? And just because it seems like mental illness can run in a family, this doesn’t prove that mental illness is passed on from parents to their children. Child abuse can also run in families, but there is no child abuse gene. To claim that mental suffering can be genetically inherited is the same as saying a belief, like a belief in Santa Claus, can be genetically inherited. Genetic experts have not been able to prove that genes cause mental illness in over 40 years of research. And they never will. Canadian biologist Dr. David Suzuki says they have recently given up trying.

    There is a lot of misinformation about mental illness provided to us by the so-called experts in the field who diagnose and label people, creating stigma and shame.

Are Mental Illnesses Caused by a Chemical Imbalance in the Brain?

Excerpts from the book Anatomy of an Epidemic
by Robert Whitaker (New York: Broadway Books, 2010)

    In 1971 investigators at McGill University said they had failed to find a statistically significant difference in the 5-HIAA (serotonin) levels of depressed patients and normal controls, and that they also failed to find any correlation between 5-HIAA levels and the severity of depressive symptoms. In 1974 Malcolm Bowers at Yale University reported that depressed patients who had not been exposed to antidepressants had perfectly normal 5-HIAA levels. Also in 1974 a study of scientific literature led University of Pennsylvania researchers Joseph Mendels and Alan Fraser to conclude that the depletion of brain norepinephrine, dopamine or serotonin were not sufficient explanation to account for the development of the clinical syndrome of depression (p.71-2). In 1984 scientists with the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) concluded that elevations or decrements in the functioning of serotoneric systems are not likely to be associated with depression. In 2003 Stanford psychiatrist David Burns said the same thing. Colin Ross, associate professor of psychiatry at Southwest Medical Center in Dallas wrote in his book Pseudoscience in Biological Psychiatry, “There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that clinical depression is due to any kind of biological deficiency.” The serotonin theory of depression did not seem to be panning out. But the belief continued because it was fueled by pharmaceutical advertising (p. 74).

    In 1975 Robert Post at the NIMH found that HVA (dopamine) levels of twenty unmedicated schizophrenics were not significantly different from controls. Autopsy studies also showed that the brain tissue of drug-free schizophrenics did not have abnormal levels of dopamine. A 1978 study of autopsied schizophrenic brains by Philip Seeman at the University of Toronto found that abnormalities existed only in those patients who had been on long-term regimes of neuroleptic medications. This was later corroborated by numerous other studies (p.75). “The dopamine theory of schizophrenia retains little credibility for psychiatrists,” wrote psychiatrist Pierre Deniker in 1990. Former NIMH director Steve Hyman wrote in his 2002 book Molecular Neuropharmacology, “There is no compelling evidence that a lesion in the dopamine system is a primary cause of schizophrenia” (p.77).

    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    The claim that ADHD was caused by low dopamine levels in childhood brains was based on faulty backward reasoning: because Ritalin supposedly stirs neurons to release extra dopamine ADHD must therefore be caused by a low level of dopamine (p.77). But there has been no concrete evidence that this is actually the case.

In his book The Creation of Psychopharmacology David Healy argued that the chemical-imbalance theory of mental disorders was taken up by psychiatrists because it “set the stage” for them “to become real doctors.” Doctors in internal medicine had their antibiotics, and now psychiatrists could have their anti-mental-illness pills too. In 1999 instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School wrote in his book Prozac Backlash that in every instance where a chemical imbalance in the brain was thought to be the cause of a mental illness it was later proven to be false (p.78). This conclusion continues to be true today.



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