apparently, ‘picking out’ psych meds is like trying out cereal


screen shot 2


screen shot 1

Sometimes while  I watch some mindlessly good television or when I listen to some Rich Eisen podcasts, I take online surveys via those sites that pay you for taking them.  Some of the surveys are rather interesting, and occasionally it’s a way to get to know what products may be in the pipeline for various brands.  The other day, I took a survey that wasn’t about shopping, alcohol or cars; it was about bipolar meds—which I’m happy to answer questions about since I’m familiar with many of them.  So, I began the survey only to realize several things, both about me as a psych patient and about the industry that supplies these medications.

One, it reminded me very early on in the survey that I’ve taken a lot of them (see screen shot 1-sorry about the poor quality of photo). The truth is, while I did not check every single drug they listed on this page, I probably may have taken some of those but just don’t remember them as well.  Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve taken other meds not listed on this page that don’t qualify as bipolar meds per se, but are still mood altering.  It was a horrifying moment to see the glowing list in front of me and having to confront my history. But the fun of this survey had only just started.

A few pages after having to confess my medication history, an interesting question was posed to me (as seen on screen shot 2: this one can be magnified): how likely am I to try the following bipolar meds?  They gave me a short list of the newer p-meds out on the market, and asked me to give my inclination toward them. There was no description of the chemistry of these medications, what class of psychiatric meds they’re in, or really anything else.  Just the names.  Like whether I’d try Quaker Oats brand cereal versus ones by Erewhorn.  While I admit that I had already taken most of them on this list, too, it made me almost cringe in having to wonder what kind of patients those of us with mental illnesses have become.

The survey eventually led to showing of several different commercials and print advertisements, and then asked me stuff like my reaction to the commercial, etc.  And then it asked how likely I am now to ask for that particular drug to my doctor.  It was rather insulting that these companies think I’d be persuaded to ask for a drug because their ads looked pretty.  But furthermore, what is the purpose of having a psychiatrist if we, the patients, just point and ask for these medications, like we’re picking out our favorite easter candy? Well, according to this survey, our doctors really have just been reduced, to put it bluntly, to that of a drug dealer.

From taking this lovely survey, two big conclusions were drawn.  As many people already know, the drug company’s job, while it is to help people through chemistry, is to be a profitable company.  And like any product, they will market them to the public as allowed by law.  But perhaps what’s more important to learn for people taking medications is that the responsibility is largely on us,the customer, to be alert about medications being pitched to us like a new cleaning detergent.  It’s hard to be discerning when we’re so desperate to get through another day or even a minute of agony that comes with mental illness. But we really have no choice but to pay attention to what we’re ‘asking for’ or being given samples of by our doctors.  And we should expect our doctor, the person we paid for in order to get their professional advice, to steer us to make informed decisions when taking new meds.

I wish I had taken a few more screen shots of this survey since it was quite fascinating.  But more than that, it made me worried about the direction that the treatment of mental illness is taking in regard to the approach that tries to make us try medications like we’re choosing our next favorite cereal.


6 Comments to “apparently, ‘picking out’ psych meds is like trying out cereal”

  1. Hi there! I’ve been reading your blog and have learned a lot! I googled “maintenance ECT” and found your lovely little place on the Internet. I am a sociologist and really appreciated this entry- I specialize in the sociology of mental health, and you are so right-on about the Kelloggs analogy. You might like a book by Allan Horwitz called “Creating Mental Illness.” It is about the social construction of mental illness, including the drug industry.

    Anyway! I have a question for you. My new psychiatrist is reccommending maintenance ECT for me. He is promising one session a month, and complete withdrawal of all, or most of meds. I take 9 meds (for BP I). I notice that you still take meds- do you take as many as you did pre-ECT? Also, I’ve never had ECT before, I’ve been stable for 14 months. If you had not had your initial “acute” treatments do you think you woujld still do maintenace? You might not be able to answer that!

    Anyway, just wanted to say hi and pick your brain. Hope you are doing well


  2. thanks for finding my blog! and it’s great to connect with a sociologist since (as you may have read somewhere on this thing) I was a soc major….took classes with walter gove (critique of labeling theory guy) and peggy thoits during undergrad years. thank you for suggesting the book. i think i’ve seen that book, and am kind of surprised that i don’t have it on my bookshelf. have you read ‘anatomy of an epidemic’ by robert whiteaker? ‘crazy like us’ by ethan watters was pretty good. neither of them are sociologists, but both books are packed with legitimate info.

    as for maintenance ECT, when I was recommended to do the maintenance part, they made me start by having 2-3 ECT a week and then tapering the treatments gradually to once every whatever months they wanted me to come back. i actually didn’t know that you can just do ‘maintenance ECT’ without actually having had a concentrated round (like 3 times a week) of ECT. i’m going to ponder on your final question for a bit and will certainly get back to you.

    i’m so flattered that a sociologist visited my little page! thanks :) and ‘talk’ to you soon….

  3. Yay, a soc major! That is SUPER cool that you had classes with Thoits and Gov. Thoits is something of a god to me. Horwitz is also amazing. He is my dissertation chair, so I spend a lot of time with him. In fact, I even lived in his house when he was on sabattical to the Netherlands. Isn’t soc amazing? It really shines a light on everything we thoiught we knew and says: “really? Look again.” My focus is the sociology of the body, and how people actually experience their bodies. My dissertation is on cochlear implants for the deaf, and how the parents of children with CIs chose that direction, and how they experience life now. It’s a fun project, but I am at the very beginning of it, so feeling quite daunted.

    I’ve never read anatomy of an epidemic, but it fits right in with my research. My secondary field of research is mental health (of course) and my first published paper was in a book about epidemics. The title was “what epidemic: the “epidemic of bipolar disorders” and focused on all the social forces that were leading to an increase in BP diagnoses. Very interesting stuff!

    Yeah, I was surprised he reccomended maintenance ECT without first having an acute episode and round of treatment. The main goal is to get me off meds, or sharply reduce them. I’m all for that- I take WAY too many meds. I haven’t had any luck in the medical literature of this particular treatment- there’s stuff on maintenance treatment after having an acute episode (like you), but none on taking a stable person off their meds to do ECT. I’ve been stable for 14 months and would like to remain that way, natch.

    Anyway! It’s great to meet you, and I hope to continue our conversation!


  4. hi, kate. sorry it’s taken me a while to respond (got married, etc last month)…. anyway, though i have no real regrets about ECT, i’m not really sure why anyone would want to recommend that if there’s no acute distress going on. My husband, who’s also a big sociology person, actually told me during our courtship that the ECT often dulled my mind.

    Upon my last psychiatrist’s retirement, I met a new psychiatrist who is actually pointing me toward vitamins—well, not just ones you can get at a grocery store, but pretty sophisticated blends that have been studied (and those studies were published) in countries besides the US. he thinks that they should be able to reduce my rx taking to zero, aside from the ones i keep for those emergency/urgent situations. also, he noted that bipolars should take epsom salt baths, since you are able to absorb through your skin all the benefits of lithium, without the possible toxicity.

  5. Hi! congratulations on your marriage! I hope it is long and fruitful. Yeah I’ve been wondering about quitting good meds for ECT, especially the mind numbing thing. I work in academia, and can’t afford to numb my mind! My husband is vehemently against it, but I sure like the fact of no meds. The idea of vitamins is interesting. I’ll have to look into that. Thanks for the reply!

  6. i’ll send you the links to those companies (hope it’s ok if i e-mail you). well, some of the ECT time was when I was a sociology graduate student, so i totally understand and lived through that concern. while ECT may reduce the # of meds, there’s just no guarantee. i hear neurofeedback may be something to try before taking a step that requires lots of money and anthesia.

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