Deep in my heart, I’m a punk. I’ve always questioned authorities and the status quo. As a child in the sixties in Indiana, I demonstrated with my parents against the Vietnam war. As a teenager in a small town in Northern Germany, I listened to Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and X and demonstrated against nuclear power stations. Later in the early eighties in Berlin, I colored my hair pink, purple, and blue for a couple of years. Oddly enough, when I consulted with psychiatrists for the first time in 1996 in New York City, it didn’t even occur to me to question the advice they gave me.
They told me I had inherited a mental illness from my father, who had suffered from depression, and I needed psychiatric drugs to stay healthy. My diagnosis felt fishy, but I listened to their advice and started taking Lithium just like my father had for many years. Why? I’m sure my weakened emotional state was part of it.
Once on the psychiatric drugs, and with this new identity, it took me a long time to fully grasp the harm the diagnosis and these drugs were doing to my body, my brain, and my mind.
Before you make the same mistake that I did, I recommend considering these 5 things before you see a psychiatrist:
- What alternatives are there
Most psychiatrists will tell you that your emotional problems are “biologically based” and you need medication, instead of looking at medication as one option among many. Look into alternatives first. You might need to make shifts in your nutrition, work, family life, or relationships and establish stronger support networks of trusted friends and ‘tenderhearted guardians’. Or you may need to focus more on self-care, and getting more sleep. What helps me most when I experience emotional turmoil, is writing my thoughts down, making music, dancing and also even painting has helped me. I’m terrible at all of these crafts, but that’s not what it is about. What’s important is to bring these troubling and obsessive thoughts into a different form. As an example, try channeling your emotions into tunes that you create with an instrument of your choice. Record them so you can listen to them at a later time. On my most troubling days, I can compose songs on my keyboard that I never would have been able to create on a regular day. I am not a musician and don’t practice or play daily. I usually only sit at my keyboard when something is troubling me and hearing the tunes I can create soothes and calms down these extreme emotions I sometimes get.
- Get a thorough physical examination before you see a psychiatrist.
Mental Health issues can be related to vitamin deficiencies or be the side effect or symptom of many physical illnesses. It may be completely impossible to overcome your mental health issues if there is a physical condition that needs to be addressed first. Have your blood checked for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I’ve often had low zinc, Vitamin B12, and vitamin D levels, which is common with people who experience strong mood swings and are under stress. I now add zinc, Vitamin B12, and vitamin D supplements daily to my diet.
- There are always risks and side effects involved with psychiatric medications.
It is important to realize that there are significant risks involved in taking psychiatric drugs; many psychiatrists do not disclose this. Psychiatric medications have become a multi-billion dollar industry, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that companies have the incentive and means to cover up facts about their products.
Between 1996-2008 I was prescribed different psychiatric medications by around 10 different psychiatrists in Germany and the US, and no one discussed the many side effects with me. In my case all medications only made me feel worse. I gained 150 pounds in the first 16 months on Lithium and then in the following years, I slowly developed a dangerous eating disorder. I spoke with many medical doctors in New York City because of this and do you think one of them suggested I stop taking the Lithium? Not a single medical doctor or psychiatrist in New York City saw a bigger concern with my weight gain, even though gaining weight is a typical side effect for many psychiatric drugs.
Later I switched to Lamictal and I started to get very unhealthy obsessive thoughts. After I stopped taking Lamictal the obsessive thoughts disappeared. It is important to know that the side effects of psychiatric drugs can be very serious. They can involve suicidal thoughts, chronic illness, mental impairment, dependency, worse psychiatric symptoms, and even the risk of early death.
ALWAYS ask your psychiatrist about the risks involved in every medication they suggest for you and additionally do research on your own. It’s important to make informed decisions if you do decide that therapy with medications is the path you wish to take.
- It can be very difficult to stop taking psychiatric drugs.
With most psychiatric drugs it is a difficult procedure to stop taking them. The longer you take them the harder it can get. Keep this in mind, before you agree to take them. Most psychiatrists will not disclose this procedure to you when they prescribe medications unless you ask them. So ALWAYS ask them! In my case also, not one of these 10 psychiatrists I saw between 1996-2008 mentioned how difficult it would be to stop taking the medications they prescribed to me. If not done with the proper care, it can get very dangerous. Weaning myself off all medications was one of the scariest things I‘ve ever done. I’ve been drug-free now for more than ten years, and I feel much better. If you wish to come off of your psychiatric drugs, I recommend reading the ‘Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs’ created by Will Hall with the FREEDOM CENTER and The Icarus Project. This guide can be downloaded here in different languages and also as an audio version.
- Last but not least…read the book: 50 Things To Do Before Seeing a Psychiatrist: And How to Actually Do Them by Joe Baldizzone
If you’re not in a mental health emergency right now, I highly recommend you read Joe Baldizzone’s book before seeing a psychiatrist. Joe knows first-hand what it’s like to live with suicidal depression and how to recover from debilitating panic, as well as addiction. This book offers many simple strategies to help you get started on your own path to recovery. Try these strategies first. Medications and psychiatrists might not be necessary for your survival.
THIS IS WHAT I SUGGEST:
- Be a punk and believe in your own personal expression of uniqueness,
- look at your emotional extremes as a ‘diverse-ability’, and not as a ‘dis-ability’,
- try a holistic healing approach first,
- at no time trust medical doctors blindly,
- never give up your ability to reason and ask questions,
- educate yourself the best you can.
THIS BLOG POST WAS INSPIRED BY a blog post I found on the Mad in America website by Peter Breggin, MD: “The Most Dangerous Thing You Will Ever Do is see a psychiatrist.”
FOR FURTHER LEARNING:
Joe Baldizzone (2016): 50 things to do before seeing a Psychiatrist: And How to Actually Do Them.
Peter Breggin, MD (2013): Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients and Their Families
Peter Breggin, MD (2008): Medication Madness. The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide, and Crime
Peter Breggin, MD & David Cohen, Ph.D. (1999): Your Drug May Be Your Problem. How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications
John Read, Ann Sacia (2020): Using Open Questions to Understanding 650 People’s Experiences with Antipsychotic drugs.