Existential roundup

ECT machine 03 - Existential roundup

A musuem display of ECT

Welcome to the Existential Roundup, where we bring you links to some articles currently trending that may be of interest to those in the existential-humanistic psychology community.

This week we get to see how psychology is exemplifying the saying: “Everything old is new again.” Psychology and society seem to follow cycles. Thus, we will examine some old ideas that are making a comeback, with surprising twists.

The age-old belief that behavior and intelligence may linked to mental illness may have some basis in fact. High intelligence has been genetically linked to Autism Spectrum disorders. Richard Nauert at PsychCentral examines a recent study done by the University of Edinburgh which links autism with high intelligence. The study found genes that are associated with autism are also associated with high intelligence. Given the recent increase in autism numbers, this may come as a pleasant surprise to many families (mine included) who struggle with autism daily. If the genes are linked, perhaps our view of autism is what needs to be revamped.

Biochemistry may also explain some of the more extreme cases of mental illness, such as Van Gogh, Dickinson, Hemingway, and Pollock, perpetuating the old myth of the creative genius who has problems in living. Matthew Mientka, writing for Medical Daily, explores research that correlates creativity, IQ, and mental diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder, substance abuse, depression, and suicide. While the idea is not new, the neurochemical findings are, along with the varied ways of considering the consequence of eliminating these differences. Mathematical abilities are linked to bipolar disorder, as are getting straight A’s in school. Perhaps it is a predisposition, or perhaps the experience of receiving an A is linked with the dopamine reward system, which results in a negative response at receiving less than an A. Whatever it is, the old stereotype may actually have some basis in fact.

This is not to suggest that all behavior has its origins in a biological cause. An article by Richard Friedman of The New York Times suggests that even if this is the case at times, talk therapy should be considered first. The cycle back towards talk therapy comes with new evidence which shows it may work better than anti-depressants for some patients, especially when childhood trauma is involved. The article, “To Treat Depression, Drugs or Therapy?,” compares and contrasts the ways we may be able to one day perform an fMRI, evaluating brain structures in order to determine this. Although the medical model in mental health still holds a very dominant position, Friedman advocates for more research in various forms of talk therapy (not only CBT) to better serve all clients struggling with depression, rather than prescribing pills in a knee jerk response to depression.

Clearly, if medication was the silver bullet to all mental health problems, we would have been out of jobs long ago. The pharmaceutical industry is determined to make that the case, and amphetamines are making a comeback, this time as a way of addressing the psychological diagnosis of binge eating. Health Care Renewal brutally pieces apart a Wall Street Journal article promoting Vyvanse for Binge Eating disorder, wryly disseminating the holes in the study for using this new amphetamine for binge eating by noticing the way the placebo effect had an equally successful outcome (with none of the side effects.)

Somehow, in the zeal to promote a new drug to sell, the FDA seems to have forgotten all the negative effects amphetamines (known on the street as speed) have on the human body, including death, stroke, heart attack and insomnia, just to name a few. I used to buy Dexatrim as a teen before it was yanked from store shelves as a dangerous drug as it contained the amphetamine ephedra, which was known to cause serious side effects. Yet, Vyvanse or Lisdexamfetamine (see the clever use of the words without saying ‘amphetamine’?) has become the panacea for binge eating disorder, which Dr. Allen Frances refers to as just “a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food.”

Even more alarming, it is being used for ADHD treatment, as well as being tested for schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. It is officially approved for children ages six and older! While I appreciate the desire to control the behavior of a child with ADHD, I remember too well the effect Dexatrim had on my brain! I was a bear!

The author dares to connect the dots, identifying there may be some comfy association between the DSM-V diagnosis, the pharmaceutical industry, and the FDA. The article is worthy of respect from that aspect alone! I suppose we should anticipate all the same conditions that existed with amphetamines to re-emerge soon, such as anxiety, mood swings, increased irritability, and the one happy one, amphetamine psychosis, which comes from using the drug for a long period (which my mother experienced.)

Haven’t we been down this road before? My mother was prescribed amphetamines to help her exhaustion. (The woman had five children and one on the way by age 26! Does it surprise anyone that she was tired?) She took them for a few weeks, only to return to the doctor, complaining of insomnia. (See the trend?) This led to a prescription of Valium and three years of a nightmarish childhood for my siblings and me as my mother vacillated between all night housecleaning frenzies and sleeping all day. When she was up, we stayed away from her to avoid being hit with a belt (a popular notion of discipline in the 60’s) and while Mom was knocked out from the Valium, we learned to cook our own meals. (She finally had a “nervous breakdown,” which I now recognize as amphetamine psychosis. She threw away the amphetamines and the Valium, never to return to them.)

Speaking of blaming my mother for my childhood misery, I would like to take this opportunity to joyfully explain the next article of interest. Mother-blaming may now be back in vogue, at least, where psychopathology is concerned except, instead of asking our clients to tell us about their mothers, we may ask them to tell us what happened to their mothers while they carried us in their bodies for nine (long) months. Mother-blame seemed to go out of vogue with the Feminist Movement, but it is back with a vengeance. This time, there may be some credible research to justify it.

In a recent article by The Atlantic’s Moises Velasquez-Manoff, Should you bring your unborn baby to work?, Velasquez-Manoff considers the effect stress, poor nutrition, and psychological trauma have on a developing fetus. Several studies now show we may be able to blame our mothers if we are obese, have schizophrenia, or have anxiety. The factors surrounding these findings are carefully navigated, while balancing the possible consequences of returning to blaming mothers for the ills in society. Do we return to limiting women in their childbearing years to fewer work hours, or should society offer greater financial and social supports to guarantee the health of the next generation? My take-away, though, was that I may finally have a credible reason for attributing my weight issues to the one person who nagged me most about it. Love you Mom!

Lately, the use of electroshock therapy (ECT) has been given more credibility than it may deserve. But in an article in Mad in America, Ted Chabasinski, a patients’ rights lawyer who survived the horrors of ECT while living in a mental institution during his childhood, fights back. He describes the upcoming “International Day of Protest Against Shock Treatment,” happening around the world simultaneously on May 16, 2015. The project, which Chabasinki co-organized with other survivors of shock therapy treatment and has been endorsed by MindFreedom International, is designed to bring awareness to what he calls the brutality of the practice with the hope that psychiatry come forward and defend its continued use of the treatment, despite the lack of evidence to show it is more effective than therapy or medication.

This article resonated with me as ECT has lately been experimented for use with children who have autism. Carly Fleishmann, a non-verbal teen blogger with autism, was given ECT to “treat” her OCD behaviors. Prior to her “treatment,” she blogged eloquently but complained that her OCD behaviors frustrated her. An example can be found on her Facebook page, Carly’s Café. She writes:

Please SHARE THIS to allow his voice to be heard through social medial. He worked so hard can you work as hard to share it?
In a society that depends on words for people to be apart of it, it is hard to be a person who doesn’t have words that come from out of there mouth.
but people with autism aren’t the only people who have trouble communicating. in the movie the kings speech we see how important words are. I would like to share a story with you that will make you cry and jump for joy. I want you to do me a small favour for today. take 10min out of your day when your around people and don’t say a word. Now multiply the frustration you have by 10 and this is why you see behaviours in people who are non-verbal.
And for the people who stutter or stamper we all share the same frustration but in different ways.
This is a speech that I would love to be able to do out of my mouth one day!

After her ECT “treatment” all she can produce is this (translations provided by her dad beneath her actual typing):

Hsfsi evsdfersy oscne
Hi everyone
Iop ahsm stisfell igsn sdide msdy hesfwad bsukt iop agam haboving afs hefsard
I am still in side my head but I am having a hard
tiopme usndsger stloandsfbing pewaopllse wnhlen thllepy tsnalk tppo mske
time under – standing people when they talk to me
msjy mosgm wolpnt stwtop taorlkisng asgnd iswts relalyy
My mom wont stop talking and its really
bsecausgse iop dnsont geswt wahlat shnne ilps svavyinmg
because I dont get what she is saying
Mssy dpdad chlnangses hilps voiscse vauluame alwll thwae tiwqme
My dad changes his voice valume all the time
anafnd iitps nosft hlewping
and it’s not helping
Iop fweepl salwd becpauwse iopm lwgockesd inns agffain
I feel sad because i’m locked in again
busvt Iop wfnill flplnd awbnay ousnt
but I will find away out

Knowing how hard her journey must be, (my son has autism and was mostly non-verbal until he was 8) this made me heartsick. There is no research to support the idea that ECT can correct OCD behaviors in children with autism, and the clinician who suggested it for Carly should be sanctioned. (My own son’s neurologist was careful not to even allow us to use some methods of biofeedback, fearing it might cause a seizure.) To exploit a parent’s desperate search for a cure for autism by using their child as a test subject in an experiment is unconscionable.

Chabasinski understands this anger and has written a well formed argument to encourage the worldwide protest against the resurgence of ECT without adequate proof it helps. While it may not help those already damaged by ECT, it may prevent other well-meaning parents from seeking the treatment for their disabled children.

Saving the best for last, a couple oldies may become new again, at least, for medicinal use. LSD and magic mushrooms have now been cleared of all charges of contributing to long-term mental health issues. An article in The Atlantic examines a recently published study coming out of Norway that refutes the current U.S. legal basis for including LSD and psilocybin as banned, controlled substances. LSD and psilocybin were banned from even being used medicinally in 1970 by Richard Nixon in the Controlled Substances Act, preventing research involving the substances. Nixon’s argument was that the two caused long-term damage, which also justified banning any research on the drugs, similar to marijuana. This study dispels the justification to the status of myth. While there are no current bills to amend the act in order to allow research on the two drugs, it is hopeful that changes in attitude, combined with the new research, will help those in government to reconsider and change the legislation.

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