When Your Loved One Needs Treatment –
The Stigma of Old Wives’ Tales Can Cause Crisis… or Tragedy…
A mother’s heart is broken when she finds her 19 year old son dead in his car…apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning. She knew he’d struggled for years, saying things like he wished he was dead…or about how he wanted to jump off a bridge.
She’d wanted to help him, wanted to relieve his sadness, but didn’t want to take him to a psychiatrist because of the stigma… she didn’t want him labeled.
Believing he’d grow out of it… she didn’t want him hampered in life by a psychiatric diagnosis. She had the best intentions…
Meanwhile, she signed him up for riding lessons at a nearby stable, tried to get him interested in basketball. Helped him participate in Boy Scouts.
All because she thought a new interest would captivate him and help him overcome his sadness, poor self-image, and low energy. He seemed to have no initiative, motivation, or courage to fight it off.
So she kept trying… unwittingly missing the fact that these very symptoms were the reason why he needed help… and lacked interest in much of anything…
Stigma About Psychiatric Illness Can Blind You to a Loved One’s Need
A middle-aged man watches his wife of 23 years from the corner of his eye. What’s happened to her? he thinks to himself.
She’d always been a highly-motivated, creative person who took pride in herself and her contributions to their family and the community. But now she seemed to have lost interest in her appearance and her family.
She was taking a lot of naps and had gotten behind on the laundry. In fact, he’d been running the washer and dryer in the evenings to just catch up, make things easier. Last week he started cooking meals because they’d gotten sick of carry-out.
What happened…? Had she gotten lazy…? Or was it something else…?
He tried to talk to her…to learn if something had happened to her friendships or if she needed more supplies for her hobbies… but she showed no interest in that subject.
The truth is, he was growing more and more concerned.
After mentioning this to a trusted friend at work, his friend suggested an appointment with a good psychiatrist might shed some light. He was shocked.
“My wife may be bored…or maybe she has the flu. But she doesn’t need a psychiatrist…! That’s for nut cases!!”
His friend shrugged. “I went to one a couple years ago, and to tell you the truth, it really helped.”
Pshhhhhh. Psychiatrist. Ridiculous.
Or is it?
Neuroscience Research is Shining a Light in Darkness
Most of us realize that psychiatric disorders carry with them a stigma that’s sometimes associated with terms like, “nut jobs,” “looney tunes,” and “crazies.”
However. Not only do neuroscience and psychiatry know there’s a mountain of information about the brain and how it works that we don’t know yet, but society in general knows even less.
We’ve talked in past articles about the exciting things that are being discovered in neuroscience research, like G proteins on lipid rafts that must be slid off to play their role in signaling between parts of the brain.
And neuronal bursts in the lateral habenula that seem to accompany depression, and how ketamine can dampen those bursts, and by doing so, relieve depression.
We’ve talked about how siblings of someone with bipolar disorder are 10 times more likely to also develop the same disorder. But…we don’t know exactly why. Just pieces of it.
Biological Psychiatry Stamps Out Stigma by Helping Us Learn to See the Cause of Suffering
So, in terms of actively exploring and learning and developing treatment, you might say the brain is the last real frontier in the human body. Since psychiatric disorders still carry lots of stigma in society, it’s important to learn all we can about what actually causes them, and what can be done to relieve them.
It’s only been a few decades since “bad parenting” was considered the root of so many disorders, not to mention blame on the sufferer who was considered “weak.” It’s pretty commonly known now that these were fallacies.
An interview published last week in Psychiatric Times by two psychiatry residents with Carol Tamminga, MD, shed more light on the quest to get to the basis of the biology of these conditions.
Dr. Tamminga specializes in biological psychiatry and its effort to find neurobiologic reasons for disease through brain imaging, genetics, and circuits. With her team, she searches for biologic confirmation of DSM diagnoses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder.
But her research from that perspective didn’t really make the connections she thought it would. They had expected to find biomarkers for each diagnosis, but they weren’t there. So the team started over.
They had about 1000 participants with psychosis symptoms across 5 states, and 500 people who had none of these symptoms.
They tossed out the diagnoses and looked only at brain imaging, EEG brainwave analysis, eye tracking analysis, and cognition. And without information about diagnoses or signs and symptoms to influence their findings, they found these patients each fell into one of 3 clusters, based on these findings.
Here’s a rundown of the 3 groups:
- First – Biotype One: People who have low cognition, very low hyporeactive EEG, and the highest amount of gray matter of all the groups.
- Next – Biotype Two: Modestly low cognition, very high hyper-reactive EEG
- Finally – Biotype Three: The most interesting of all — “barely abnormal at all,” but just as severe psychosis as the other groups.
So they scratched their heads to try to understand why this group didn’t have the biologic features of the first two, although their psychosis was still very severe. And they discovered the common denominator was cannabis use during adolescence.
Stigma Is Born in Old Wives’ Tales
Obviously, there is lots to talk about and learn from their findings, but for this conversation let’s focus on the point that stigma is born in wives’ tales…it’s not based on fact. And many people — more than we realize — still believe the archaic views that were passed down to them from older family members about psychiatric illnesses.
So you can see where those wives’ tales came from, right…? They came from a time when neuroscience was as baffled by the brain’s behavior and disorders as anyone else … so there were theories …theories that are now being disproved because we have the technology to learn what’s really going on … piece by piece.
Since false theories have fueled so much of the stigma, and connected it to diagnoses, maybe it’s a good thing for research to pave the way to do without the diagnostic labels… eventually… and instead to replace them with biotypes. You think? And then, perhaps, treatment could be according to biotype … ?
Biological Psychiatry Stamps Out Stigma and Old Wives’ Tales
Let’s hope we can see a fresher perspective now…in ours. Because the whole purpose in knowing what’s causing the disorder — which is usually a combination of biologic conditions in the brain, environmental influences that can alter the expression of DNA (we call those “epigenetic factors”) and learned behavior that makes it worse — is to find out how to treat it. To bring relief.
And there lies the reason for both the fields of psychiatry and psychology.
At least, there are all sorts of new questions to answer.
At Innovative Psychiatry in South Windsor, CT, we seek answers every day for our patients who suffer from various psychiatric symptoms. We use the latest research to find solutions that will help you rediscover the best you can be.
And among those solutions, the most powerful and widespread that’s been discovered is ketamine treatment.
We provide ketamine treatment in the most therapeutic way that’s currently been found through neuroscientific research. And we stay closely connected to current research as it happens to be sure we’re providing every opportunity for you to make the best possible recovery.
Our goal is not to put a bandaid on your pain, but to help you achieve remission.
It’s true that not every patient we treat achieves remission. And we’re still learning from researchers as well as our own patients’ experiences to help more patients.
We see more remission with ketamine treatment than has ever been seen with any other psychiatric treatment. But for reasons we don’t yet understand, ketamine doesn’t seem to be for everyone.
But odds are it will help you feel better and function better than you have in a very long time.
If your psychiatrist doesn’t offer ketamine treatment, call us. We love working with your healthcare team to help you achieve the very best results for you.
Give yourself the opportunity to be the best you you’ve ever been.
To the rediscovery of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.