Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Human rights and mental health worldwide

The Movement for Global Mental Health emerged from a 2007 Lancet series, which concluded with a call for action. According to Vikram Patel (2011), the demand for effective implementation of human rights is as important a goal as the increase in availability of and access to a range of mental health services in the global south. People with mental illness can be abused worldwide. As Arthur Kleinman (2009) says:-
I have personally witnessed individuals with mental disorders in east and southeast Asian towns and villages chained to their beds; caged in small cells built behind houses; hospitalised in for-profit asylums where they are kept in isolation in concrete rooms with a hole in the floor for urine and faeces; abused by traditional healers such that they become malnourished and infected with tuberculosis; scarred by burns resulting from inadequate protection from cooking fires; forced to dress in prison-like clothes in asylums with shaven heads and made to perform child-like dances and songs for gawping visitors; knocked to the ground and forcefully held down for electroconvulsive therapy when psychotic in an emergency room; laughed at by the police; hidden by families; stoned by neighbourhood children; and treated without dignity, respect, or protection by medical personnel.
For example, the Human Rights Watch report, "Like a death sentence", describes abuses against people with mental disabilities in Ghana. The three public psychiatric institutions in Ghana and 8 prayer camps in the southern parts of the country were visited. All the camp leaders interviewed considered mental disability to be caused by evil spirits or demons. Most people brought to the camps for healing for mental disabilities were chained to logs, trees or other fixed spots. Hospitals were found to have poor sanitation. Individuals are routinely institutionalised by their family or police and denied the right to refuse or appeal their confinement, which may include forced treatment, physical abuse and seclusion. The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture expressed concern about the use of electroshock with the use of restraints, without adequate anaesthesia.

The call for "scaling up" of mental health services in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) has caused controversy. For example, books by Suman Fernando, Mental health worldwide: Culture, globalization and development, and China Mills, Decolonizing global mental health: The psychiatrization of the majority world have criticised the Movement for Global Mental Health. This is because LMICs may do better to develop their own solutions rather than emulate high-income countries (HICs). Do LMICs really want to develop the same pharmaceutical emphasis as so-called developed countries? Being disempowered and living in conditions of persistent poverty may not be improved by perceiving the emotional consequences of such social disadvantages as a brain problem. Wellbeing may be more than a medical problem.

As Suman says, "care is needed in how the concept of 'human rights' is interpreted" and may not mean having the right to the same psychiatric treatment practiced in the West. As he also says, "Perhaps asylums should never have been introduced in LMICs". Human rights are violated in these institutions, which requires urgent attention. Some religious healing activities may need to be controlled. Suman agrees that injustices must be remedied, but I'm not sure if I agree that legislative changes (which clearly must take account of local services rather than merely being copied wholesale from legislation in HICs) should have less priority than community service development. I do agree, though, with his view that a paradigm shift envisaged by Bracken et al (2012) (see previous post) is required to create a psychiatric practice "sufficiently flexible to play a constructive role in mental health systems worldwide". Such an approach must be driven by the human rights of people with mental health problems.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Don't be tricked into taking antidepressants

Bruce Levine, one of whose books I reviewed some time ago, has an article on the Greanville Post which asks "Why has the American public not heard psychiatrists in positions of influence on the mass media debunking the chemical imbalance theory?" As Levine says, and as I have previously discussed several times (eg. in an BJPsych eletter), the reason is that the theory is used to persuade patients to take their medication. It may make it easier for patients to accept their depression and take their medication if they believe they have a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Actually, I do find that patients are generally able to understand that the "chemical imbalance theory" is only a theory. In fact the evidence is against it. What they find more difficult to appreciate is why they are told that the theory has been proven, when this is clearly not the case.

Big Pharma is commonly blamed for encouraging the chemical imbalance theory. Actually, drug companies sometimes only say that it is a commonly believed theory, maybe implying but stopping short of indicating that they believe it. The theory wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for psychiatrists' complicity with it. Bruce is right to direct his criticism at psychiatrists themselves.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Still depressed even though treated for bipolar

I've commented before on the expansion in the diagnosis of bipolar II disorder (eg. see previous post). Reading Nassir Ghaemi's forward to Jim Phelps' book, Why am I still depressed?, indicates that at least part of the motivation for this development was to "move away from simple-minded diagnoses and prescriptions about depression". The necessity for this was because antidepressants are not "the panacea that many once thought". However, are the benefits and limits of so-called mood-stabilisers any different from antidepressants (eg. see another previous post)? And is the concept of bipolar II disorder valid or merely motivated by wishful fantasy?

And once the concept of bipolar disorder II has been accepted, then the notion is that antidepressants may actually make the disorder worse by increasing the risk of (hypo)mania. Better stick with just mood stabilisers in the treatment of bipolar II disorder. But is manic switch more theoretical than what actually happens in practice, particularly in bipolar patients compared to unipolar? The evidence, for what it's worth, is that the switch risk has been overinterpreted. Keep quiet about this so the myth of bipolar II disorder can be perpetuated.