There is a massive problem with the practice of psychiatry in today’s modern healthcare industry. There are several reasons for this, which I will address in a moment, but first, let’s get a few things out of the way.
Many people have a very reactionary, negative opinion of the field of psychiatry. They feel that it does more harm than good. In today’s healthcare environment, they may have a point, but I am speaking in general terms. Psychiatry, to many, is a dangerous science that can damage your brain. Of course; many medical procedures can damage you if administered improperly. That’s why I went to school. Many people feel that psychiatrists have very little clue as to what they are doing. While it is true that the study of the brain, which has remained a difficult and emerging science for a very long time, and will continue to be so, there are millions of Americans who have benefited from what psychiatry does know, and what treatments it can provide. And still others feel as though psychiatry, and indeed, any treatment of the mind or emotions, should be out of the realm of medicine, and kept in either the family or church. While it is very true, and studies have confirmed this, that those of faith, or at least some level of healthy optimism about life, tend to heal much quicker from whatever affliction they may have, that does not mean that medical intervention is sometimes required. Nor does it mean that atheists do not heal.
Plenty of people have a negative opinion of healthcare in general. That is unfortunate. Many millions of people have benefited from the proper treatment of an affliction, and go on to live healthy and productive lives, despite an illness that would have been a death sentence one hundred years ago. The human body is a machine, an amazing construction, the triumph of life on Earth (although the debate about that is for another time). Whether by evolution or design, you and I, and everyone else on Earth, are amazing creatures, composed of practically countless processes, organs, chemical and electrical reactions, and things still yet to be discovered. However, just like any other form of life, like any artificial machine, like any magnificent creation of geology, things can, quite simply put, break down. Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. Have you ever thrown your back out? Well, so have 65 million other Americans. We are wondrous creations, but not entirely perfect. Healthcare plays a role in our repair, and improving our quality of life.
But back to psychiatry. The negative connotations I mentioned above are not entirely unfounded. The history of psychiatry is replete with practices that today seem barbaric, and would never be considered as an option for treatment. What is worse, in modern history, authoritarian regimes have tortured and killed untold numbers under the guise of psychiatry: Nazi Germany, The Soviet Union; even the CIA is guilty of using psychiatry for nefarious purposes.
However, like all healthcare, psychiatry is an evolving field. Healthcare, in essence, is an applied science. That is, it is a scientific endeavor, used for practical means. Many constructive gains have been made. However, the application of these discoveries, when applied to the practice of modern American healthcare, has been severely misappropriated.
I can’t get into the tired debate of whether or not mental illness exists. Believe what you will. Many people, intelligent people, will claim that there is no definitive diagnostic test to prove whether or not a mental illness exists. It is true that nearly all mental illnesses, particularly the behavioral ones, are diagnosed by interview and observation, or that form you occasionally fill out at your annual exam where you check the corresponding box as to whether you are happy or sad. However, you can get out the fancy medical equipment and see it for yourself. In people with anxiety, a part of the brain called the amygdala is overactive. In cases of depression, insufficient monoamines are developed in the neurons of the brain. One could utilize these ludicrously expensive machines if you want to see the proof, but good luck getting insurance to pay for this.
Mental illness exists. I was once speaking to a friend of mine, who had a negative opinion of psychiatry, and said to just get that person with depression some dancing lessons, a cat, and an exercise program. Okay, Tom Cruise. You tell the guy with the gashes in his wrists who’s hanging from a noose to get some dancing lessons, B-vitamins, and some duct tape, and I’m sure he’ll be fine. Sheesh. But I needn’t be snide. Annually, roughly 49,000 Americans take their lives each year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; however, it is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 to 34. There are, on average, 132 suicides per day. Perhaps worst of all, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans die from suicide every day.
To be fair, engaging in activities that one enjoys that are healthy, socializing with others, becoming involved in a community art or political program; these are great ways to alleviate the symptoms of depression. So too with the natural remedies; regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle, artistic expression, prayer and faith, whatever you might like. But many people are too depressed to even get out of bed.
Besides depression, anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorder in the United States. They affect 40 million people. Untreated, this illness will damage those around the afflicted, cost industry labor, and overburden the healthcare industry. People having panic attacks often end up in the emergency room. The number of those with anxiety disorders is no doubt growing, considering the trauma of the last year and a half.
And we’re not even talking about schizophrenia, ADHD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and a host of others. Intelligent people with fancy degrees will argue that the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, is cluttered with debatable mental disorders. It contains nearly 300 diagnostic entries. It should be noted that the ICD, the International Classification of Diseases, contains about 80,000 entries.
But I am severely digressing. The main point I am getting at with this article is the unfortunate practice of psychiatry that one will often encounter when they visit their regular clinic or provider.
Somewhere along the way, a great disservice was done to the field of mental health. Psychiatry and psychology were divorced. This is profoundly wrong, and does not do nearly enough to heal the mentally and emotionally afflicted.
These two sciences, psychiatry and behavioral psychology, go hand in hand. They are deeply intertwined. You cannot simply address psychiatric needs while at the same time giving little consideration, or even downright ignoring, the psychology that goes along with psychiatric suffering. It is analogous to a physician simply giving a person with diabetes insulin, and telling them to monitor their blood sugar at home, while not counseling them on their dietary habits. So with psychiatry. You cannot simply throw pills at them, without addressing the psychology, usually damaged, that accompanies it. This makes no sense.
Unfortunately, that is the solution of much of modern healthcare: throw a pill at it. Also, due to the profit motive, patients are generally allotted 15 to 20 minutes for a visit with a healthcare provider. That is not enough time. The psychiatrist, or MD with a specialty in psychiatry, may ask them how they’re feeling, how’s the job, etc, but that is insufficient time to dig deep enough to treat the illness.
Psychotherapists exist, of course. However, they are harder to find, as insurance will still balk at their treatment, or they are booked far in advance due to the dire need, owing to the stressful times we live in.
Some clinics will not even have a dedicated psychiatrist. Your primary care physician will treat you. I’m sure that person cares about their patients, and has studied, at whatever length, both psychiatry and psychology, but they are much more likely to just throw pills at you, tell you to keep a journal or do some art or something, and come back and see them in a month.
I was diagnosed with a mental illness in my early 20’s. It should be noted that there is no ‘cure’ per se, but there are treatments to alleviate the symptoms, mental exercises to retrain your thinking, so to go on and live a healthy and happy life. I was able to do so. Despite a crippling depression, in a way, I was very fortunate. I was first treated by a seasoned psychiatrist, whom I called Dr. Dispensapill, who knew that psychiatry and psychology cannot be separated. He would see me for an hour. We would talk briefly about medications. Then we spend the bulk of the visit speaking about psychological challenges I might be facing. Then we would wrap it up with any medication or lifestyle changes to consider.
His is a disappearing style. You can still find psychiatrists like him, but they are rarely covered by insurance, and they are frequently booked far out.
Dr. Dispensapill, north of 80 years old, recently ceased being able to practice. It was difficult to find help for my mental health afterwards, but I have found a combination that works. I see, for 15 minutes at a time every few weeks, Dr. Deer In The Headlights, who knows little of psychotherapy, it seems, but knows all about the different medications and how they work. She got a 4.0 in advanced chemistry, I guess. I have also been able to find a very skilled psychotherapist, Dr. How Many PhD’s Does One Actually Need. She has been fantastic.
More than one of the providers that I work with have complained to their superiors that there is a woefully insufficient staff of human resources to refer psychiatric and deeply troubled psychological patients to. They will help the best they can, but they are there to treat skin rashes and broken bones.
This is a great problem in American healthcare. We have made a damaging mistake. The mentally ill are not getting the proper treatment that they so often need. The separation of psychiatry and psychology is, in my low-level practitioner opinion, the biggest systemic mistake modern American healthcare has made. You can’t treat one without treating the other, and vice versa.
Until we fix this problem, and there are other, massive problems with American healthcare, the treatment of the mentally ill will remain insufficient. Many more will take their lives. Millions will continue to be crippled with anxiety, living tortuous lives. And the dangerously mentally ill, with no options for treatment, will continue to commit violence.
I’m not sure why this happened. It shouldn’t have. Just my opinion.
Be good to each other.
National suicide hot-line: 800-273-8255