Public Comment

The Medication Debate of Schizophrenia

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday October 20, 2010 - 10:44:00 AM

Mainstream Americans may chiefly be unaware of this: among people affected by modern psychiatry, there is a fierce debate over whether or not medications are truly needed to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. A lot of Americans rely on the news as their main information source about mentally ill people. When there are news stories about a mentally ill person committing a crime, often part of the circumstances that existed were either a change in the prescribed medications, or a time period of that person refusing to take medication. Mental illness and medication, in modern times, are frequently uttered in the same breath; the perception that medication is needed is usually a given. 

Many of those who argue medication isn’t needed are the ones who are supposed to take these medicines. There are some, who are into holistic health, who believe that nutrition and exercise ought to address this illness. The holistic health model of fixing mental illnesses is very uninformed. As well, there are those who believe that forcing these medications on a person is an injustice; e.g.; medications are a chemical straight jacket as well as an abuse of the person’s soul. Yet, persons with this perspective haven’t furnished a good alternative to medication. 

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a schizophrenic person. You have been told that you have a brain disorder that requires chemical intervention. Not only does this imply that you are a “defective” person, it also means that you must put up with some very uncomfortable side effects, and experience this discomfort with no end in sight. Given that a person is prone to delusions, it is easy to have the thought that medication isn’t needed. The state of “denial” comes easily and is hard to give up. 

I believe there is no such thing as a “sanity pill.” I think that the medications work because they stunt a persons energy level, and this causes most people to use the brain differently. The “sympathetic nervous system,” is turned off, and the “parasympathetic nervous system” which is a mode of lower energy, goes on. And for some patients this low energy mode sharply reduces the tendency to have delusions. It is easier for anyone to process thoughts clearly when calm. Medication forces a psychotic person to be calmer. This could be why these medications were first known as “major tranquilizers.” 

According to many sources in modern medicine, it is not fully understood why the medications work. When medicated, most people with schizophrenia still have some delusions, but the intensity and quantity of them is usually less. Medications are used additionally because they make mentally ill people more manageable. 

Prior to the discovery of antipsychotic medications, people with schizophrenia often received lobotomies, and/or lifelong incarceration in the state mental hospitals. Prior to that, the schizophrenic person became the town idiot, the town drunk, or perhaps that man on the roof who plays the fiddle. 

According to some who argue against medications, in many third world countries, people with schizophrenia often recover with no treatment, after a long enough period of time, and are fine for the remainder of their lives. I am ignorant as to how accurate this picture is, although I do believe that some can recover without medications. However, I believe there are others who can’t and who, without medical intervention, will continue to suffer with the symptoms of this disease, and with the symptoms of long-term psychosis (which includes a burned out state), for possibly as long as they live. I am ignorant concerning the percentages that would make up the above two categories. 

A well known expert on holistic health argues that some medications such as acid reducer tend to make the person have worse symptoms when discontinuing such a medication; making a person permanently dependent on an ever-increasing amount of a drug. There are some who believe medications used to treat mental illness make the mental illness worse, a belief which is in the same vein as the assertion about acid reducer. It is known that people respond to anti anxiety agents such as valium this way; you must periodically increase the dosage to maintain the same level of effect. This is why most doctors are cautious about prescribing the benzodiazepine class of drugs.
It is clear that someone who has taken antipsychotic medications for many decades to treat their illness has a slim chance of being able to get by without them. 

It seems that there is some amount of merit to both sides of the medication debate. Additionally, on the anti medication side of the debate, is the fact that most psychiatric drugs carry risks to physical health. 

It should be determined on a case by case basis, at the onset of someone’s mental illness, whether or not counseling and close supervision for several years could be a substitute, for some patients, for a lifetime of taking medications that by coincidence cause a lot of suffering. I am sure there are some who are forced to take the medications who originally could have gotten by without them. Yet there are others for whom not prescribing these medications will sentence a person to an unending hellish existence. Being psychotic without treatment is no walk on the beach.