Well, it’s here upon us once again… May is Mental Health Month. Awareness of mental health issues is vital to reducing the stigma attached to mental disorders nowadays. Mental disorders are not purely biological illnesses, despite what some doctors will say, nor are they purely psychological illnesses. Based upon all of our best research and knowledge to date, it appears all mental disorders have three common, equally-important factors:
Biology – This includes theories of “drug imbalances” in the brain, genetics, etc.
Psychology – Includes personality factors, developmental factors, etc.
Social – Includes environmental factors, social and work relationships, etc.
For most people, treating a mental disorder will include a combination of these factors, usually in two different people: someone to prescribe a medication to help the biology (general practitioner, psychiatrist, etc.) and a psychotherapist to help the other two factors (psychologist, clinical social worker, marriage and family counselor, etc.). While a small minority of people can probably be helped with only one of these treatments, most will respond best to both kinds.
What should you take away from all of this? That no matter what treatment you receive, mental illness is not your fault. Many people view mental disorders, still, as a personal weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. These disorders will affect one out of every 4 adults in his or her lifetime, so this is something that needs to be better understood and dealt with realistically in today’s society. Tomorrow, it could be you or someone close to you that suffers from one of these disorders… Keep an open mind.
One of the most enlightening and sad displays of capitalism at its best and worst was observed in the past week. I attended my first American Psychiatric Association annual convention, this year held in New York City. As a psychologist, I don’t often get to other profession’s conventions, since there are pretty clear professional divisions. But this year, because of a product my company is going to be releasing this summer mainly targeted toward psychiatrists, I had the opportunity to see the psychiatrists’ convention. Wow.
First, the American Psychiatric Association has little to no clue. Almost every other major convention in the United States issues electronic credit card-like cards which have identifying information (name, address, phone) of each attending member. This makes it easy for vendors to quickly swipe the card through a card-reader and get that information. Coming from a vendor perspective this year, I see the flexibility and convenience of such a system. The American Psychological Association uses such a system also to allow attending members to check an electronic computerized messaging system they sponsor. It’s easy, fast, and convenient. Without it, psychiatrists had to sit there and write out the same information, time and time again, whenever they wanted additional information from someone. What a pain in the ass!
Second, the drug companies are RIDICULOUS. If you saw how they market to professional doctors, you’d be as sickened as I was walking around the exhibitor’s hall. Risperidol, a drug marketed for manic-depression among other things, had one of the most tackiest displays, with a mini roller coaster setup over the top of their booth, which actually ran all day with a little man in it. I guess it was supposed to symbolize the ups and downs of what patients feel if not on their medication. Give me a break!
Effexor, a poorly-tolerated (at least in the hundreds of people I’ve known who’ve tried it) medication for depression, has the second tackiest display. Their booth was set up as a house, with display tables taking the form of barbeques, outdoor patio furniture, etc. In the house’s “dining room,” they had set up a robot family which went through a scripted melodrama. Reminded me of Disney’s “A Small World” display… Except this was 100 times worse. Luckily, I noticed very few doctors who watched the display very closely.
One pharmaceutical company was there to promote a drug which hadn’t even received FDA approval yet and which they couldn’t even discuss! They were so sure they would receive the approval, though, they were at an APA show a year ahead of time to market their name and hand out pads of papers (with their name on it, naturally). This is both a sad commentary on the joke which passes for FDA approval nowadays and the strength of pharamceutical companies’ influence on psychiatrists. Or at least attempted strength.