Monday, May 9, 2011

Gina Pera: Mental Health Hero

In a recent post, A Dying Breed, I observed that:

A lot of what passes for academic psychiatry these days is performed by researchers who don’t even see patients. This explains why the DSM symptom lists are so spectacularly out of touch with clinical reality. This explains why the people putting together the new edition of the DSM don’t even deign to listen to Akiskal and Goodwin.

It also explains the pathological arrogance of psychiatric thought leaders such as Andrew Nierenberg of Harvard who assume their MD somehow trumps the facts. (Recently, Nierenberg presumed to “refute” and “repudiate” Robert Whitaker, author of “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” but wound up delivering very sick personal insults instead.)

Don’t these guys ever get out in the real world? I could only wonder.

But sicko also works the other way. There’s a lot not to like about psychiatry, but the conversation is frequently derailed by a vocal antipsychiatry fringe who at once romanticize mental illness and deny it exists. In my observations, a lot of individuals with unresolved personal issues are drawn into the movement.

But, as my friend Gina Pera pointed out to me sometime back, antipsychiatry also attracts a group of detached intellectuals, some with solid credentials. Here is an extract of her one-star review of Christopher Lane’s 2008 “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness”:

I'm bone weary of non-psychiatric (perhaps even anti-science) experts opining on subjects they view from afar, as intellectual abstractions - and apparently with little compassion based on how their ideas play out in the real world. These books might better be confined to academia's stage of ideas and not presented to the public with any kind of meaningful authority.

I haven’t read Lane’s book, but I do have deep personal experience with “shyness,” which I can assure you cannot be written off as “normal.” Coincidentally, within a day or two that I became aware of Lane’s book, I heard author Vivian Eisenecher talk about her personal experience with social anxiety. Thanks to Paxil, she related, she was able to participate in AA meetings, which led to her winning her life back.

So much for the likes of Christopher Lane, who is a professor of literature and clearly has not been exposed to the realities of my world or yours. The clencher was when, on his Psychology Today blog, he cited former antipsychiatrist blogger Phillip Dawdy as authority for the proposition that “the bipolar child is purely an American phenomenon.”


I once made the mistake of actually assuming I could reason with the likes of Dawdy and challenged him to actually talk to the parents of kids with a bipolar diagnosis. Dawdy did not take up the challenge. It was far more convenient, instead, for him to continue to exclusively interview his keyboard and brand me as an enemy of the people.

My friend Gina Pera is no stranger to personal abuse from antipsychiatry nutjobs. Gina is the author of the very informative 2008 book, “Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?” Her blog, The ADHD Roller Coaster, is required reading. Her husband has the illness, and Gina gets out in the real world, actually listening to people and advocating for recognition and treatment of the illness. In the course of her work, Gina does not hesitate in calling out the ill-informed for the frauds that they are.

Gina’s latest close encounter came when she was listening to “The Cambridge Forum” on her local NPR station. The show featured “leading neuroscientist” Steven Rose, author of several books and 300 research papers who is affiliated with a number of universities. On his website, Rose describes himself as having “been actively concerned with the ethical, legal and social implications of developments in science, especially in the fields of genetics and neuroscience.”

So far, so good. But on the show that Gina heard (which I did not), Rose started pontificating about mental illness and apparently started saying stupid things. This was too much for Gina, who posted:

Rose is way out of his depth, coming from a country (UK) that is only now beginning to recognize and fully address ADHD, much to its citizens' detriment. He pulls out all the old myths - that Ritalin is for controlling misbehaving little boys, that ADHD is a big pharma conspiracy, blah blah blah. This is an "expert"?  If nothing else, any "expert" who talks about Ritalin as the medication of choice betrays their ignorance of ADHD.

She goes on to say:

By giving Rose this platform, you are helping to reverse the progress achieved by much smarter (and more compassionate) neuroscientists who have dragged this country kicking and screaming into the 21st Century when it comes to understanding complex issues such as ADHD. In so doing, they have set a model for the rest of the world. And indeed, our experts are the envy of the world. Perhaps Rose's marginalized ego has been tweaked, so he must turn it around - that is, the US has it all wrong.

Okay, Gina. Tell us what you really think:

You have showcased a luddite, marginal crank who obviously needs a career boost. The man's pomposity and sheer disregard for the facts makes me ill.

The common thread in all of this, of course, is people who fall in love with their own ideas, be they psychiatry thought leaders, antipsychiatrists, or “experts” mindlessly spouting someone else's party line. The only cure, of course, is getting out in the real world and actually listening to people. Is that asking too much? Yes, apparently.

Many thanks, Gina, for the reminder. It takes a lot of guts doing what you do. Hero status to you.


Tony Previte said...

Absolutely! Life itself makes us all a little crazy. There are a growing number of people out there who are doing that kind of work and calling BULLSHIT where it needs to be called.

It's been a badly kept secret that people in the industry are there because... well they have the same core issues. Just don't disclose...EVER!! That's the message I hear LOUD & CLEAR in many settings.

But things are changing!

Lizabeth said...

Go go Gina. Anyone who is helping patients and families actually live with whatever the problem is gets top marks in my book. I popped over and read some of her site, very, very, impressive.
As for the Brits---my mum was British, they probably still are handicapped in diagnosing psych problems by that whole stiff upper lip thing. Doctors are not seperate from their cultural context, especially when they deceive themselves into thinking they are The most hurtful thing my mum every said to me was "Why don't you just be like everyone else, why do you have to be different.?" This was before I had any dx., but looking back I see I was BP2 for most of my life and had GAD for all of it.

Tony the cretin said...

There are two types who get advanced degrees: those who wrongly think they know everything and those who correctly realize they know very little. The former just happen to be much more vocal.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Tony P. And life itself makes some of us really crazy. :)

John McManamy said...

Hey, Lizabeth. And here I am - still different. :) I think success lies in working with being different rather than denying or fighting it. I'm still learning my lessons.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Tony C. Well said!

Gina Pera said...

Aw John. Thank you so much, virtual comrade.

Cambridge Forum responded to my e-mail, asking for permission to post it on their forum. I agreed, but asked if I could polish it a bit first, because the first draft was a rant. ;-)

It took a while, but it's up now. Still a bit rantish, but there you go...

Good of them to encourage dialogue.