On Mental Illness: Smoking, Obesity and Type II Diabetes

By Jack Bragen
Sunday October 09, 2011 - 01:19:00 PM

Far too many persons with mental illness literally “drop dead” at too young an age. In many instances, our deaths are the result of preventable health issues that most un-afflicted people address by middle age. The mental health treatment system is failing to provide preventative maintenance to a population which is very vulnerable to premature illness and death through heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and emphysema. If the assumption is that persons with mental illness have less competence compared to the mainstream population, then it becomes the responsibility of mental health caregivers to help regulate the diet, smoking and exercise level of their clientele. 

The lives of persons with mental illness are not to be considered trivial because of our lack of position in society or because we don’t come across as being as attractive, brilliant, charismatic or fit as others. I’m saying that our lives should be considered just as valuable as those of non-afflicted persons. This means that a crime is being committed. We are being allowed to die because it is convenient for the mental health caregivers to overlook our physical health issues. 

Neglect for our physical health issues is one of many instances in which persons with mental illness aren’t taken seriously, even though we have serious issues which are genuine and which can create real suffering and death. In past columns I have mentioned that the psychiatric medications cause weight gain and diabetes. I have also said that these medications make it harder to get physical exercise because of the sedating effects. This means that a lot of attention had better be paid to the diet of the psychiatric consumer. Excessive eating must absolutely be avoided. Nutritional foods must be consumed, and “junk food” must be kept at a minimum. It is the responsibility of the mental health treatment system to facilitate these good eating habits by educating people. 

Quitting smoking may be out of reach for many persons with mental illness, due to the sheer strength of the smoking addiction and due to the fact that it is thought to be mentally somewhat therapeutic. (This is not a recommendation for smoking.) Gradually creating good eating habits plus moderate exercise may be the only remaining areas where persons with mental illness still have some “wiggle room,” in our battle against poor health. 

Good eating habits can be phased into gradually, and if so, will have a better chance of being sustained. A person can start by adding a handful of green beans or green peas to one’s pot of macaroni and cheese. A person can switch to ordering one hamburger at a drive thru, instead of two or three. A person can buy a couple of frozen entrees instead of a freezer full. These are changes that won’t “rock the boat” as much concerning one’s comfort level and thus will have a greater likelihood of being sustained. 

There was the story of a board of directors meeting of a large tobacco company. A newcomer started to smoke, and was ridiculed for it. A board member at the meeting said that smoking is for “White trash and n___.” This gives you an idea of how much the tobacco producers believe in their product. 

The same sort of hypocrisy might exist in parts of the mental health treatment system. A mental health treatment venue might provide hamburgers and pizza for their lunches, which sedate the consumers by filling their stomachs; making it easer for them to be managed in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the lunches the therapists eat might consist of some concoction that has kidney beans, brown rice and tofu. Who will die first? 

Meanwhile, the medications that persons with mental illness are essentially required to take cause diabetes and extreme weight gain. All of the well-known atypical antipsychotic medications are known for raising blood sugar and increasing weight. Most mental health treatment venues have switched to these newer medications. This is because they are less likely (compared to the older generation of medications) to cause uncomfortable side-effects, and less likely to cause “tardive dyskenisia,” (a crippling, irreversible and disfiguring movement in the upper body). 

Because psychiatric drugs create obesity and diabetes, drug companies stand to gain even more profits by sales of insulin, high blood pressure medications, and blood thinners. This makes a person question if there could be some conspiracy in which people’s bodies are being harmed for the sake of profit. Whether or not this is too farfetched, it seems that taking one medication leads to taking another, and so on. The scientific community needs to devote some attention to creating psychiatric and other medications that do not cause chronic and deadly health problems.