FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Sane Approach to Psychiatric Drugs

by BRUCE E. LEVINE

Millions of people believe that psychiatric medications have saved their lives, while millions of others report that their psychiatric medications were unhelpful or made things worse. All this can result in mutual disrespect for different choices.  I can think of no better antidote for this polarization than the recently revised, second edition Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs. This 52-page guide, published by the Icarus Project and Freedom Center, is  now available FREE ONLINE in English as well as in Spanish, German, and Greek.

Harm reduction is pragmatic and recognizes that there is no single solution for every person. Instead, as the guide states, “Harm reduction accepts where people are at and educates them to make informed choices and calculated trade-offs that reduce risk and increase wellness.” Harm reduction is about providing information, options, resources and support so that people can make choices that fit their situation and who they are.

I wish the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs had been in existence for my entire career as a clinical psychologist. It would have been especially helpful for one particular couple whom I saw several years ago for marital counseling. Cathy and Jim (not their real names) met during their psychiatric hospitalization, both having been diagnosed with serious psychiatric illnesses. After their hospitalization, they dated, moved in together, and married.

Cathy told me, “Jim is an intellectual, smarter than anyone I have ever met in my life”; to which Jim blushed and responded, “Bruce, sometimes it’s good to have a wife who is a little delusional.” Jim then told me that “Cathy is the most beautiful woman in the world”; to which Cathy laughed and said, “Sometimes I worry that Jim is hallucinating about another woman.”

After a year of marriage, their marital bliss began to erode over the issue of psychiatric medications. One day, Jim quit taking his antipsychotic Zyprexa. Cathy, who continued to take her antipsychotic Risperdal, was worried that Jim, without Zyprexa, would become agitated, do something “crazy,” and would be forced to return to the hospital. Jim said, “Even if Cathy is right that I am increasing my chances of going nuts again—and I don’t know that she is right here—the reality is that with Zyprexa I can’t take a decent crap and I can’t concentrate when I read, and books—besides Cathy—are the most important thing in the world to me.” And then Jim added that he was worried about the short-term and long-term adverse effects of Risperdal on Cathy, and that he wished she would stop taking it.

Ultimately, and quite beautifully, both Cathy and Jim came to see that risk in life was unavoidable, and they learned to respect each other’s choices and risks with respect to psychiatric medications. Both would have appreciated the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs, which is all about informed choice that allows one to take the risks that make most sense given one’s situation. 

Will Hall, the primary author of the guide, is a former psychiatric patient and is passionate about informed choice when it comes to psychiatric medications. Hall, no anti-drug ideologue, begins by pointing out that in U.S. society there are confusing messages about drugs, and this results in a great deal of fear:

Drugs become demons or angels. We need to stay on them at all costs, or get off them at all costs. We look only at the risks, or we’re too frightened to look at the risks at all. There is no compromise: it’s black and white, all or nothing. It’s easy to fall into absolutist thinking when it comes to psychiatric drugs. Pro-drug advocates focus on the risks of extreme emotional states, while anti-drug advocates focus on the risks of taking drugs. But it is the belief of this guide, and the philosophy of our pro-choice work at the Freedom Center and the Icarus Project, that either-or thinking around drugs is a big part of the problem.

Hall’s serious emotional suffering included “multiple suicide attempts, hearing persecutory voices, extreme mistrust, bizarre experiences, hiding alone in my apartment, unable to take care of myself.” The psychotherapy that he received hadn’t worked, and no one provided him with any other options besides medication. Hall writes, “I was under pressure to see my problems as ‘biologi­cally based’ and ‘needing’ medication, instead of looking at medication as one option among many.”

After spending a great deal of time in hospitals, residential facilities, and homeless shelters (where he lived for nearly a year), Hall began to believe that so-called “expert authorities” had failed him and started his own investigating, “I started judging my options more carefully.” That process led Hall to co-found, along with Oryx Cohen, the Freedom Center, a support community in Western Massachusetts that brings together people asking similar questions. From all of this came the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs.

For Hall, “This is a guide I wish I had when I was taking psychiatric drugs. Prozac helped me for a while, then made me manic and suicidal. I was sick for days after coming off Zoloft, with counselors telling me I was faking it. Nurses who drew blood samples for my lithium levels never explained it was to check for drug toxicity, and I was told the Navane and other antipsychotics I took to calm my wild mental states were necessary because of faulty brain chemistry.” Hall used many different psychiatric drugs over several years but, he tells us, “the medical professionals who prescribed them never made me feel empowered or informed. They didn’t explain how the drugs work, honestly discuss the risks involved, offer alternatives, or help me withdraw when I wanted to stop taking them.” Hall wrote this guide because, “Information I needed was missing, incomplete, or inaccurate.”

“Making harm reduction decisions,” says Hall, “means looking honestly at all sides of the equation: how drugs might help a life that feels out of control, how risky those same drugs might be, and the role of options and alternatives. Any decisions involve a process of experimentation and learning, including learning from your own mistakes and changing your goals along the way.”

Below are titles of several of the short chapters offered in the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs:

Why Do People Find Psychiatric Drugs Helpful?

How Do Psychiatric Drugs Work?

Do Psychiatric Drugs Correct Your Chemistry?

Who’s To Blame? Yourself? Your Biology? Neither?

How Do Psychiatric Drugs Affect the Brain?

Facts You May Not Know About Psychiatric Drugs

Health Risks of Psychiatric Drugs

How Withdrawal Affects Your Brain and Body

Why Do People Want To Stop Using Psychiatric Drugs?

How Difficult Is Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs?

Staying On Medications and Harm Reduction

Intermittent Use: Taking Psychiatric Drugs From Time To Time

What are the Alternatives to Using Psychiatric Drugs?

Coming Off: Step by Step

In the sometimes silly, routinely hypocritical, and often disrespectful psychiatric drug debate, the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs is an oasis of wisdom and compassion. And the fact that Will Hall, the Icarus Project, and Freedom Center are providing the guide free is an antidote to cynicism—yes, there are some people who are actually more passionate about helping emotional sufferers than making a buck off of them.

Bruce E. Levine is the author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net

Bruce E. Levine,  a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect.  He is the author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011). His website is www.brucelevine.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 30, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Can the Impossible Happen in Britain?
W. T. Whitney
Why Does the United States Beat Up On Capitalist Russia?
Patrick Cockburn
We Can’t Let Britain to Become a Vast ISIS Recruiting Station
Michael J. Sainato
Leaks and Militarized Policing: Water Protectors are Proven Right
Ted Rall
What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows
David J. Lobina
The Israel-Palestine Conflict and Political Activism
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again, Mainstream Media Does Pharma’s Bidding
David L. Glotzer
Social Security: Clearing Up the Financial Nonsense
Edward Hunt
If They are Wrong the Planet Dies
Lawrence Wittner
How Business “Partnerships” Flopped at America’s Largest University
Guillermo R. Gil
Poems Must Never be White
Martin Billheimer
Strategies of Rose and Thorn in Portland
Tony Christini
What isn’t Said: Bernie Sanders in 2020
Chandra Muzaffar
Fasting for Palestinian Justice and Dignity
Clancy Sigal
Even Grammar Bleeds
May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail