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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.

strawberry17 Wed 22-May-13 09:01:23

Scottishmummy you're right, I try to be impartial but I feel quite angry about my own experience, I should just nail my colours to the mast and be done with it. I've never yet found a doctor or psychiatrist who knew how to get me off sertraline or Prozac when it's my personal choice not to be on either of these drugs for the rest of my life.

scottishmummy Tue 21-May-13 18:48:09

well given you moderate on site about surviving AD I don't think you're impartial
you're quick to assert drs have no clue,but minimal comment about your agenda?
AD can aid and maintain recovery they need close monitoring like all prescription meds.

strawberry17 Mon 20-May-13 08:21:48

I always think it's really sad that discussion around AD's gets so polarised, I speak to SO many people from all walks of life through my blog/FB page and I know that many people feel AD's help them to function, hell they did for me 14 years ago, got me out of a massive black hole, I get that. I wish though, that there was more honesty and transparency about the use of these drugs, the potential side effects (libido), and how bloody difficult they are for some people to get off when they want to. Doctors have their heads well and truly stuck in the sand on this one and don't want to know. It's scary as well that they're being prescribed to younger and younger people/children especially in the US. I help admin on a site called Surviving Antidepressants where we help people to taper off properly.
And yes, where is this Oliver James person?

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:54:37

Thanks Whosiwhatsit.

Well OJ would probably just refer us all to his books wouldn't he?

Now where do I buy his latest one ;-)

I hope he's going to pay me for this precious time I've spent sticking up for him on Mumsnet and sowing the seed of his teachings far and wide... ;-) Oliver? Are you there?

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:48:56

Thanks Frazzled. I think I know the type of ongoing 'real life crisis' that you and your buddy HazeyJane are in because I am in one too. This isn't a competition you know. I won't take offense at your insulting comments either!

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:43:19

As I also said earlier, everyone's circumstances are different and we all have to do what we feel is best, sometimes in difficult circumstances.
P.S Support groups are often good as well as or instead of counselling. There are support groups for everything now.

whosiwhatsit Sun 19-May-13 20:41:30

I'm sorry Snoopy, I will leave you alone. We will agree to disagree and I wish you the best of luck with your recovery. I do respect that you took the time to debate this subject and again I'm sorry if I was harsh with you. We clearly both feel strongly about these issues.

If that idiot Oliver James had the balls to come in here and argue his point of view himself instead of leaving Snoopy to try to do it for him then I'd at least have a tiny bit of respect for him. He started this whole thing, after all!

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:39:01

Haha! Just because I say MAYBE this is better in the long run, doesn't mean I am dismissing other routes. As I have just said, I would never judge someone for choosing to go on antidepressants. Everyone has their own life to lead. Different strokes for different folks and all that!

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:34:52

When I wrote earlier that the 'drugs don't work' earlier, I then explained what I meant by that. I fully appreciate that for some, they help with getting on with the business of life. In fact earlier I pointed out that I would never judge someone's personal choices f.y.i.

So yeah, wanna leave me alone now?

Sunnywithshowers Sun 19-May-13 20:32:43


These are your own words from up thread:
Yeah the drugs help people 'function day to day' but maybe a bit of 'falling apart and slow painful piecing back together' is preferable in the long run. And if it sometimes means making huge sacrifices in order to do this, maybe it's worth it?

Yes, you are dismissing other ways of getting help.

justaboutalittlefrazzled Sun 19-May-13 20:30:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:28:53

Please show me where I have 'dismissed' other ways of getting help!!!

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 20:27:57

I haven't been able to 'recover' using therapy. I am in the middle of it all at the moment. It has been ongoing for 2 years (thats right. Free counselling now for 2 years) and the issues will continue for the rest of my life. The learning process is slow and difficult but I have made lots of progress and on the whole am making and finding more and more things that are positive in my life like my children, my friendships, my work. I am learning tools to cope with all the issues and I need to work at these tools in my very small amount of free time. Do I jump out of bed in the morning with a big grin on my face? No.

I am listening to what everyone on this thread is saying thanks.

whosiwhatsit Sun 19-May-13 20:26:41

And I don't mean to imply that therapy is "the best way", only that Oliver James and others state that it is. In fact the success rates of traditional therapies (with the possible exception of cbt) are actually statistically pretty woeful.

whosiwhatsit Sun 19-May-13 20:24:18

And when I had depression brought on by work stress my NHS doctor told me the waiting list for therapy was three years! So I went on antidepressants instead which helped me to the point where I was able to go for and get a promotion into another department at work which was much less stressful not to mention better paid. I then got off the antidepressants by tapering off them gradually with no ill effects.

On the other hand, therapy seems to have been available to you Snoopy and seems to have done you good. I'm glad for you BUT your experience does not in the least negate my experience either personally or with the schizophrenic clients I talked about in my earlier post for whom getting on and staying on antipsychotic drugs was their only realistic hope.

What is infuriating here and with Oliver James is the statement that "the drugs don't work" is so absolute it blames people for whom drugs are a reasonable option for not doing things the best way ie therapy. I would never say someone was unreasonable to go into therapy and I expect the same respect from others about other treatment choices.

Sunnywithshowers Sun 19-May-13 20:12:29

Snoopy are you listening to what others say?

People who use medication are not just 'papering over the cracks'. Some of us have rather a lot of 'cracks' to deal with, and need the meds to get to the point where recovery is possible.

It's great that you have been able to recover using therapy, but it's rather irritating to hear you dismiss other ways of getting help.

Our local NHS offers telephone-based CBT. Thereafter, it's all about finding a private counsellor or pyschotherapist.

hazeyjane Sun 19-May-13 19:56:16

When I discussed counselling with my gp, there were 6 free sessions available. The private counsellor, she recommended was £60 an hour.

hazeyjane Sun 19-May-13 19:52:50

It was me who said about the falling apart and long slow process of piecing back together. By that I didn't mean not having the time, I meant the emotional fallout.

I have 3 small children, one of whom has, as yet only ever been left with me or my dh. At the time of going on ads, ds was being tested for a degenerative condition that would have meant him not surviving into adulthood. He was suffering horrendous acid reflux, causing him to scream constantly. He was unable to sit or hold his own body weight, so I was carrying him around most of the time. Dh and I were averaging about 4 hours sleep a night.

I still had to keep life going, get ds to therapies and appointments, get my 4 and 5 year old girls to school, make tea, have their friends round, keep the house clean etc etc - all the little stuff of day to day life. In the middle of this I was having a crisis, huge anxiety, fear for ds, worry about what was happening to me, having grown up in a family living in the shadow of severe mental health issues. I know that if I had embarked on counselling at that time, a light would have been turned on in the murkier corners of my mind, and I just couldn't face that, not at that time. Frankly I also needed to get on with stuff, and at the time it was like being stuck in a patch of tar, I felt like I couldn't move. Drugs helped me get on with stuff that needed to be done, and (and this surprised me) helped me start enjoying being with my children and dh.

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 19:33:58

I was referring to disadvantaged people helping themselves to support, therapy... All the free services on the NHS. When I said no one else is going to get us proper help (I am an economically disadvantaged person myself.)

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 19:29:39

I get free therapy.

There is no contradiction 'Whosiwhatsit'

Where I live anyway there is excellent free counselling available. It's quite possible to 'fall apart' in ones free time when one isn't working/minding kids etc. Is it ideal- no but at least that way, you're working through things and not just 'papering over the cracks' as the earlier person who shared her blog described taking drugs.

StarlightMcKenzie Sun 19-May-13 12:32:41

The Wooly Wafflers ruined my life and CAUSED any MH issues I now have. Give me the hard evidence-based stuff any day and keep bloody Nurse Ratched the hell away from me.

scottishmummy Sun 19-May-13 11:53:57

psychiatrists don't just prescribe medication,they talk,do consultations,work with other staff
medication can maintain an individual and get them to a level were talking therapies initiated
the majority of mh is managed in community by gp,ot,mh nurse,sw.using a range of treatments

StarlightMcKenzie Sun 19-May-13 11:42:07

Who will pay for a nanny and housekeeper whilst I attend 'therapy' for years and whilst I fall apart and rebuild my life that was destroyed by supposed 'caring' professionals who are paid to be the experts on young families with disabilities but in fact shafted us in the most barbaric and cruel way imaginable?

Drugs have never done that to me.

whosiwhatsit Sun 19-May-13 10:36:47

It's not the fact that you can spell (where did that come from?), it's the fact that you can afford to fall apart completely and then go to therapy to slowly put yourself together again that makes me think you're more privileged than many with mental health issues.

Please tell me how that whole falling apart thing you advocate would work out for the homeless prostitute schizophrenics who are picked up turning tricks outside a cheap motel to get enough money to self-medicate using crack cocaine? Yes there were many clients in this and very similar situations at the mental hospital where I worked.

Your posts have been filled with the notion of people getting loads of support and therapy but then you turn around and say the poor need to just help themselves as no one else will do it. You are contradicting yourself all over the place and seem quite confused.

SnoopyLovesYou Sun 19-May-13 10:24:50

I do not claim to have the solution to everyone's problems. In fact I said that it was not for everyone in my post so the fact that you are accusing me of claiming all-knowingness is laughable

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