Crazy Maybe, but Not Insane

I finished Dr. Allen Frances’ book, Saving Normal, a few weeks ago, and I can’t stress enough how important it is. It’s a must read for anyone who: (1) struggles with mental health, (2) has been prescribed psychotropic medication, or (3) is raising children.

We as a society are in too much of a hurry to find immediate solutions to our problems. We look to medications and “gurus” of all kinds to provide us with instant relief. We hand over our trust to unvetted and undereducated doctors every single day.

I have worked in and around the field of western medicine long enough to understand its benefits, but also see its appalling deficiencies and misappropriations, especially when it comes to mental health.

Because, in the not-too-distant past, we as human beings faced down a range of life’s problems with nothing more than grit and time. But these same problems are now being diagnosed and treated as mental disorders. And “because of diagnostic inflation, an excessive proportion of people have come to rely on antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety agents, sleeping pills, and pain meds,” Dr. Frances wrote. “We are becoming a society of pill poppers.”

Along with fortifying our innate will to live, we also need to cut ourselves some slack. Being human is hard and a burdensome responsibility. We are the keepers of the most complex organism in the known universe, and it sits right between our ears. The existential joke is, though, we do not have a clue how it works.

After reading Frances’ book carefully, I got the strong impression that the best advice you can get from your doctor is: don’t do anything.

The imperativeness for us as individuals to become active participants in the betterment of our own lives cannot be understated. It is hard enough to understand how we feel and why, without the meddling forces of government and for-profit organizations. As with so many other problems in the world, diagnostic inflation is exacerbated by greed. Money is not the only cost to us as the unwitting consumers of misinformation and receivers of mistreatment. 

As imperfect humans, our emotional resolve is tested daily and hourly. We can be as sensitive to the slights of others, as we can be insensitive to the needs of others. Harsh words sting us, but no words defeat us.

Shout it out, cry it out, talk it out, or as a very last resort, drink it out—it really makes no difference. Just don’t blot it out or wash over it with medication. Wear your grief like a badge of honor. To have loved someone so much that when they are gone you go a bit off the rails, is not weakness or sickness, it is a special kind of beauty. We should all be so lucky. 

I’m probably repeating myself at this point, but when it comes to grief, depression, anxiety, et cetera, Dr. Frances tells us, “People should have more faith in the remarkable healing power of time, natural resilience, exercise, family and social support, and psychotherapy—and much less automatic faith in chemical imbalance and pills.”

With all that being said, certainly do not go off and join the Christian Scientists, or some other group who believes “that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone.”

Ultimately, from his book, Dr. Frances wants us to take away two very important lessons about the dichotomy of mental illness, treatment, and diagnosis.

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