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Oliver James guest blog: drugs are not the answer to mental distress

(113 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 14-May-13 11:09:13

Last week, the British Psychological Society was profoundly critical of the 'medicalisation' of mental distress - the idea that psychiatric disorders are by and large treatable by doctors using drugs.

They said it was unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes when "there is now overwhelming evidence that people break down as a result of a complex mix of social and psychological circumstances - bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse."

Here psychologist and author Oliver James argues that, while the reassessment of the 'medical model' might alarm some parents, it's actually good news for them, and their children.

Tell us what you think - and if you blog on this subject, don't forget to leave your URL here on the thread.

"If your child is unmanageable or hyperactive, it can be all too reassuring to hear from a doctor that she suffers from a genetically caused brain disorder which is best treated by a pill. That model makes it not your fault and if the pill works, hey, thank god for that.

If you are a parent in that position, its also all too understandable that you might not want to hear from me that: (1) The pills usually don't work and have unknown long-term toxic effects when used for years; (2) The Human Genome Project is proving that genes play very little part in causing any mental illnesses; (3) There is no reliable scientific evidence that the brains of the mentally ill are measurably different. But don't stop reading.

The fact that these latter assertions are all now pretty much confirmed by the British Psychological Society is actually incredibly good news for parents.

It means that your child is not fixed in its abilities and potential. Massive change can occur, if what she's like is not in your child's genes. Indeed, there is strong evidence that simply by convincing children that their maths ability is malleable, for example, increases their likelihood of doing well.

It also means that the way you parent can make a huge difference, even if there is a biological cause for a problem. Whilst genes are getting ruled out, prenatal, foetal factors look as if they may be crucial for problems like autism. But even autism is turning out to be very responsive to the right kind of early intervention.

It is true that the kind of care a child receives in the first six years sets its emotional thermostat. But it is a thermostat: the setting can be changed.

For example, children's brain electro-chemistry is very sensitive to parental disharmony. Levels of Cortisol, the fight-flight hormone, are raised or become blunted if parents row a lot. But that can be good news, not bad news, if you can find a way to row less or at the least, to not do so in front of the children.

It is further known that children who had unresponsive early care are that much more easily upset by parental disharmony. This is true at two and a half - care at 3 and 9 months predicts whether cortisol will be triggered. Early care also predicts vulnerabily at later ages. But even this is much, much better news than the genes and brain disorder story - because early deficits can be corrected.

Thousands of parents have used the Love Bombing technique to reset their childs emotional thermostat. If things went badly early on - nearly always through no fault of the parents, things like depression or debt-induced anxiety - it's quite possible to give the child a very brief experience of the feeling of love and control it may have missed out on. Astonishingly brief bursts can be all it takes.

Psychological distress should never have been medicalized in the first place. Now that science is proving that what we are like is not due to genetic brain disorders, a world of hope is opening up for parents. Go into that world and feel liberated from the pseudoscience which has dominated us for too long."

Oliver James is the author of Love Bombing - Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat, which he discusses in this previous guest blog.

ExcuseTypos Tue 14-May-13 18:45:20

I'm very worried as my dd is going to see the dr tomorrow and I'm almost certain they will say she is depressed and prescribe medication.

Her best friend (17) was killed nearly 2 years ago. It has been a complete rollercoaster. She is devastated and despite "keeping busy"- finishing her A levels, getting into uni, working part time, planning holidays etc she is saying she never feels any joy and that she will never be happy again.

She has seen two different counsellors but my dd feels they aren't helpful, we bend over backwards to support her in every way possible, and it's not working. She is very very down. She's now saying she feels she won't cope with uni which she has always wanted to go to. She's having panic attacks on the bus, she crys an awful lot, doesn't sleep etc, she is constantly ill.
Watching her of through this is so awfulsad

We are going to the drs because we need help, but after reading this about medication, what else can be done to help her?

scarecrow22 Tue 14-May-13 21:10:06

Sorry about your DD excusetypos. This scenario is one of my great fears for DC, especially as I struggled with depression, at least since my 20s, possibly from early teens or earlier. I finally, at the age of 39, accepted prescription medicine - after two less successful attempts they found a fantastic medication. It makes me feel what I know is 'normal' - I can feel sad or happy, even 'depressed' in the everyday sense, or elated, but all in a manageable range of emotions and returning to something of an equilibrium - so I am not deadened emotionally, but I do not have the elated highs and (sadly far more often ) deep long lows I had for so long. In retrospect I am sorry I was so terrified by family, friends and media of medication: the vilification of all medication is also wrong: some people need it and hugely benefit from it. It might take patience, but it can be done. If you are concerned about a medication route, do ask as many questions as you need, and perhaps consider asking for a second opinion. Whatever happens, your DD can feel happy again, and with what sounds like a wonderful supportive family I'm truly confident she will. Depression often happens to people who are in many ways strong: there is a great book by (I think from memory) Cantopher, called Depression: Curse of the Strong, which you (and possibly she) might benefit from looking at.
Very good wishes.

ExcuseTypos Tue 14-May-13 22:30:05

Thank you for your post scarecrow22 and for telling me about your situation. I'm glad you have found the right medication for yourself. It's reassuring to hear that medication can make a difference.

My dd wants me to tell the dr about what is happening to her, but we have written out a list together, so it is coming from dd. I am now going to add a list of questions that I might need to ask, depending on different scenarios!

I am also going to take a look at the book you have suggested. Thank you again.

apatchylass Wed 15-May-13 10:23:11

Exactly what scarecrow said. Medication of mental distress is no more inappropriate than medication of any other pain. It's palliative and there's nothing wrong with that at all. Don't feel pressured by trends in the media to reject or feel embarrassed about medication for depression. Talking cures certainly don't work for everyone.

But it doesn't treat the underlying causes, so they too need to be looked at too. In your daughter's case, there's a clear trauma about her friend dying, and it could be hard to know whether the depression is a direct result of that, or whether she may have suffered anyway, without such a specific cause.

As for Oliver James - his attitude to mental health and parental influence tells me far more about him than about others. He is deeply partisan and inexact in his arguments. He's so furious generally and with women in particular. Love bombing - what a load of tosh. If you read it - absolutely obvious stuff - spend time with your child - have fun together - listen to them, give them undivided attention from time to time. Not exactly groundbreaking.

DisAstrophe Wed 15-May-13 10:58:02

What gets on my nerves about Oliver James is how he is deliberately provocative and extreme. Of course parenting and society in general plays a big impact on how children develop. Of course what you and others believe about your abilities is important.


I have 2 children. One has autism and learning difficulties. He can be anxious and highly strung. The other is NT (neuro-typcial) and by all accounts very intelligent and secure. How does Oliver James account for that?

Through my, job, kids, hobbies, volunteering I know lots and lots of parents of children of both NT and kids with autism and/or behavioural issues. I won't claim I know all of them very well but I've spent time with them in their homes and in parks etc.

If I was to group them into NT and non NT families I don't see significant differences in terms of how the parents interact with their kids between the those groups. There are many difference within those groups about how people parent. But what I mean is that those differences don't seem relate to whether their kids are NT or not.

I'm far from parent of the year but Oliver James saying that if I just parented a little bit better it would make my son's problems disappear is wrong and offensive.

In fact Mr James if you are welcome to come and spend some time with my family. Take a case history, talk to the professionals involved with us and then please tell me what I'm doing wrong.

Just give me a little notice so I can take the kids out of the refrigerator and thaw them out a little (because that's what it sounds like you're saying).

tonyzre Wed 15-May-13 11:32:26

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Punkatheart Wed 15-May-13 12:03:56

You need to delete poster Tonyzre altogether - they are spamming left, right and centre.

RibenaFiend Wed 15-May-13 12:17:51

I'm me and my brother was finally diagnosed as ADHD when he was 13 after YEARS of ticks, family "chats" (now i realise they were therapists) literal climbing the walls and generally a horrendous experience for all concerned. My parents treated us both the same. There were the same rules, consequences, same home life and same rewards.

Ritalin helped my brother to control his behaviours, to focus and achieve. He had no idea that it was medication, we were taking "vitamins"

How does this research explain this situation?

ouryve Wed 15-May-13 12:23:57

Oliver - feel free to spend a day in the company of my eldest, unmedicated. I'd rather you didn't, though, because it wouldn't be fair on him because, without his daily 40mg of atomoxetine, he cannot even organise himself to eat a meal without help.

How dare you tell me that medication absolves me of any fault for my child with ASD and severe ADHD. How dare you insinuate that something has happened in his life to make him like this.angry

The good new is that talking out of your backside really is not genetic and the only cure can come from within you.

OddBoots Wed 15-May-13 12:56:43

Goodness, what astounding arrogance and reductive argument.

I've never known a parent be told that ASD/ADHD and related conditions are explicitly genetic but our biology is not entirely genetic, we are still learning and have a long way to go but off the top of my head there are epigentic, microbiota and chemical factors which need further exploration as well as looking at how all these factors and others combine.

For many people medications work (albeit to varying degrees because of our complexity), we may not entirely understand how they work but to dismiss them like this is at best hurtful and at worst very harmful.

PolterGoose Wed 15-May-13 13:12:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SnoopyLovesYou Wed 15-May-13 13:23:49

I agree 100% with Oliver James! I have read a few of his books and don't find him anti-women in the slightest. He is right about child development and he is right about medication.

DialsMavis Wed 15-May-13 14:00:32

Oliver James, for example....

pofacedlemonsucker Wed 15-May-13 14:43:28

Rofl, Mavis, I was just popping on to say exactly that.

Oliver James is an opiniated over-the-hill gentlemen with pretty much no experience of looking after children in the early years, and some extremely old fashioned notions of what constitutes good childcare, attempting to back up his rhetoric with pseudo-science.

All in an attempt to mother-blame, naturally.

This is of course just my opinion.

Well, me and about a gazillion others anyway.

I thought he was one of the loons that mn didn't bother with any more, as he was only good for a bun fight?

ouryve Wed 15-May-13 14:47:31

OK, snoopy. What have I done to give my eldest ASD and ADHD? Come to that, what have I done to give my youngest ASD, too and how on earth did I manage not to teach him to speak? Since you're such an expert, having read a few books, I expect you have some extraordinary insight.

Lottapianos Wed 15-May-13 14:59:08

I have to say I also have some time for Oliver James. I particularly enjoyed his 'They F* You Up' book as someone who was brought up by emotionally abusive parents and now works with parents in a professional capacity. It was the last book he wrote before becoming a parent himself and said that it was probably the last time he would be clear-thinking and unbiased about the effect of parenting on children's emotional health.

I am not blaming parents for 'causing' their child's special needs. That would be absurd. However, I do find that some parents on here are too quick to dismiss his techniques. There has been much scoffing about his 'Love Bombing' technique along the lines of - well of course parents need to spend time with their children, need to praise and affirm and validate them, any fool knows that!

Well good for you if it's something you do naturally but I have worked with many parents who most certainly do not do it ever. They treat their children as part of the furniture at best. Not all parents are as skilled as the rest - they do need to be taught how to parent, how to nurture, how to bring a child up in a loving way. I do think the name 'Love Bombing' is cringey but the technique does have merit.

Lottapianos Wed 15-May-13 15:00:36

'Oliver James is an opiniated over-the-hill gentlemen with pretty much no experience of looking after children in the early years'

Well he's certainly opinionated - as are well all or else we wouldn't be on MN!

He has two young children of his own so I think he does have relevant experience, not to mention decades of professional experience in this area.

nenevomito Wed 15-May-13 16:49:37

Well I'm delighted to hear that while I am probably to blame for my DS's autism, that I can love bomb him back to being NT.

Thank fuck for Oliver James nobber.

zzzzz Wed 15-May-13 17:32:48

Not for the first time I thank God that my ds with sn has 4 nt siblings. What a daft blog. I suggest this individual spends a little time with a child with ASD. In fact a week would be good, a nice long ASD bomb. That should reset your opinionated nonsense.

Come on MNHQ would you honestly let someone posting 1970's views on race/sexism post like this. Poor parenting as a cause of ADHD/ASD/delay FFS, EVOLVE please some of us are actually impacted by this clap trap being farted all over the place.

childof79 Wed 15-May-13 18:19:01

I don't know much about Oliver James but I was interested to read this blog. To me it makes sense that parental disharmony will affect a child's behaviour, making it worse. I have seen the effects. I don't feel this statement is anti-anything except maybe common sense.

Unless I am completely misreading or misunderstanding I don't see what could be offensive about it. I did not interpret what he says as "if you love your child he won't have autism / behavioural problems", more that the child will respond better if he is treated with care.

I don't have a child with special needs but I do have a child who is young for his year and probably a little hyperactive and I always notice that he is much happier when DH and I are united.

moosemama Wed 15-May-13 18:30:28

"Whilst genes are getting ruled out, prenatal, foetal factors look as if they may be crucial for problems like autism. But even autism is turning out to be very responsive to the right kind of early intervention."

Er ... what? You contradict yourself rather obviously in this blog. You start off talking about mental illness and mental distress, but then start spouting the above quoted, throw away comment about ASD, which is neither:

"Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder" (source: National Autistic Society UK

As for the frankly nauseating term 'love bombing', I think you'll find that the majority of parents of children who have ASD/ADHD are incredibly dedicated and go above and beyond this in terms of the amount of love, support and attention they give to their children.

Children who have ASD/ADHD often do have psychological comorbids, which are caused, not by their parents or early care, but by their disorder/condition (which as I have already pointed out is neurodevelopmental, not psychiatric) that makes just living in our society extremely hard and in some cases nigh-on impossible. You cannot just love them more to 'cure' them and for some, medication is necessary to enable them to access appropriate therapy/support.

What strikes me most about your blog is your sheer arrogance in spouting about things you appear to have little or no experience of and your rather obvious judgement of mothers, as the root of all evil in society. Mysogynistic doesn't even begin to cover it.

I can't actually believe MN has given you webspace to spout this sort of offensive bile.

ouryve Wed 15-May-13 18:35:33

childof79 DH and I rub along pretty harmoniously. Our kids still have SN and behavioural issues, so we can scratch that one off the list.

Some families with SN are under incredible stress, but the stress is as a result of the SN and the daily reality, and not the cause of it.

PolterGoose Wed 15-May-13 19:16:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

whosiwhatsit Wed 15-May-13 19:30:57

The causes of mental disorders are complex and cannot be reduced to either just nature or just nurture. They also can't be lumped all together as a condition like schizophrenia is very different from something like dysthymia, for example.

I agree with Oliver James only to the extent that, in a child with an underlying predisposition to certain mental illnesses, early or teeneage experiences such as abuse, drug use, etc can make it more likely for those mental illnesses (such as depression, anxiety, and yes schizophrenia as well) to be expressed. In addition, help from a parent in a child's social development could do a lot to reduce the child's behaviours along the more mild regions of the autism spectrum.

However, all of at is a far cry from saying that basically mental illness is not caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals but is instead caused by lack of enough love and attention from parents, and generally mothers are blamed for this.

What James is saying represents a giant step backwards in society's perception of metal illness. It is a perhaps understandable backlash against the big pharmaceutical companies who want us to over educate our children in the name of profit. I also believe that our society is set up in a way that is conducive to mental illness because we're made to feel anxious and worthless by companies that want to sell us consumer goods that will supposedly then fulfil us. James takes these ideas to an unfortunate extreme. By his reckoning, schizophrenics just need to be loved and the voices in their heads will go away and they will settle down to lead normal lives with no further need for treatment! Autistic children would be cured if their lazy and withholding parents would simply love them enough? Depressed people should just get over it? Surely we as a society can summon more compassion than that.

Reduction ad absurdism to prove his point is shameful as James must surely u dear stand that mental illness has multiple causes. Is highly irresponsible of him to use children in metal difficulty as a tool to prove his own by now rather repetitive points rather than showing em the complex and nuanced understanding they deserve.

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