psychotropic medication


Schizophrenia is a fascinating set of phenomena, the study of which has launched a thousand ships including, arguably, my field, family therapy; many of the original family therapists left psychiatry to study schizophrenia (or, as the DSM would have me write it, Schizophrenia–capitalizing words gives them more authority, don’t you think?) as an interactive process. That is, if all behaviors make sense in their context, what context might make schizophrenic behavior necessary?

There was an almost violent backlash against this line of thinking, as it seemed to (and did, in many cases) blame mothers for their schizophrenic children–as in the unfortunate phrase “schizophrenogenic mother.” The conventional wisdom about schizophrenia these days reads like a pharmaceutical company press release, something like, “Schizophrenia is a biological disease of the brain which is at present incurable, but there are drugs which can help manage the symptoms, and if taken regularly can provide a decent quality of life.”

So schizophrenia is assumed to be a biological disease of the brain though it, like every other Mental Disorder, has no laboratory test that can detect its presence. The best we can do is a set of behavioral diagnostic criteria which, frankly, are a bit of a mess. You may notice as you read that different flavors of schizophrenia may have nothing or little in common with each other. Are they really the same “disease”? We don’t know.

We do have good evidence that you can inherit, in some fashion, a tendency for one of these constellations of behaviors. There is good evidence that environmental factors are also important, though they are not a big part of the mainstream discussion. We also have evidence that therapy helps in a lot of cases. There is some (hotly contested, I’m sure) evidence from the World Health Organization that unmedicated schizophrenics can eventually recover while those on medication do not. Here is a trailer for a moving documentary about two recovered women and the public perception of schizophrenia, called Take These Broken Wings. Also, consider checking out the documentary A Brilliant Madness, about John Nash, in which puts the lie to A Brilliant Mind, which showed Nash recovering with the help of psychopharmaceuticals.

The DSM says that schizophrenia may be overdiagnosed (or at least is diagnosed more often) in African- and Asian-American men, that it affects men differently than women (men tend towards the negative symptoms were women tend towards delusions and hallucinations), and that incidence rates are something like .5-1.5% of adults.

Here are a few terms that you’ll need to know to get through the criteria:

affective flattening: does not show emotion. Also, “affect” means “emotion” to scientists and people who like to talk like scientists.

alogia: lack of speech.

avolition: lack of motivation.

prodromal: symptoms coming early on in the course of a disease.

echolalia: repetition of others’ speech sounds.

echopraxia: repetition of others’ movements

And here are the diagnostic criteria, word-for-word, from the DSM-IV-TR, pp. 312-319:

Diagnostic criteria for Schizophrenia

A. Characteristic symptoms: Two (or more) of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a 1-month period (or less if successfully treated):

(1) delusions

(2) hallucinations

(3) disorganized speech (e.g. frequent derailment or incoherence)

(4) grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior

(5) negative symptoms, i.e., affective flattening, alogia, or avolition

Note: Only one Criterion A symptom is required if delusions are bizarre or hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person’s behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other.

B. Social/occupational dysfunction: For a significatn portion of the time since th onset of the distrubance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care are mardekly below the level achieved prior to the onset (or when the onset is in childhood or adolewscence, faliure to achieve expected level of interpersonal, academic, or occupational achievement).

C. Duration: Continuou signs of the disturbance persist for at least 6 months. This 6-month period must include at least 1 month of symptoms (or less if successfully treated) that meet Criterion A (i.e., active-phase symptoms) and may include periods of prodromal or residual symptoms. Doring these prodromal or residual periods, the signs of the ditrubance may be manifested by only negative symptoms or two or more symptoms listen in Criterion A pressent in an attenuated form (e.g., odd beliefs, unusual perceptual experiences).

D. Schizoaffective and Mood Disorder exclusion: Schizoaffective Disorder and Mood Disorder With Psychotic Features have been ruled out because either (1) no Major Depressive, Manic, or Mixed Episodes have occurred concurrently with the active-phase symptoms; or (2) if mood episodes have occurred during active-phase symptoms, their total duration has been brief relative to the duration of the active and residual periods.

E. Substance/general medical condition exclusion: The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g. a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition.

F. Relationship to a Pervasive Developmental Disorder: If there is a history of Autistic Disorder or another Pervasive Developmental Disorder, the additional diagnosis of Schizophrenia is made only if prominent delusions or hallucinations are also present for at least a month (or less if successfully treated).

Classification of longitudinal course (can be applied only after at least 1 year has elapsed since the initial onset of active-phase symptoms):

Episodic With Interepisode Residual Symptoms (episodes are difined by the reemergence of prominent psychotic symptoms); also specify if: With Prominent Negative Symptoms

Episodic With No Interepisode Residual Symptoms

Continuous (prominent psychotic symptoms are present throughout the period of observation); also specify if: With Prominent Negative Symptoms

Single Episode In Partial Remission; also specify if: With Prominent Negative Symptoms

Single Episode In Full Remission

Other or Unspecified Pattern

Diagnostic criteria for 295.30 Paranoid Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the following criteria are met:

A. Preoccupation with one or more delusions or frequent auditory hallucinations.

B. None of the following is prominent: disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, or flat or inappropriate affect.

Diagnostic criteria for 295.10 Disorganized Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the following criteria are met:

A. All of the following are prominent:

(1) disorganized speech

(2) disorganized behavior

(3) flat or inappropriate affect

B. The criteria are not met for Catatonic Type.

Diagnostic criteria for 295.20 Catatonic Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the clinical picture is dominated by at least two of the following:

(1) motoric immobility as evidenced by catalepsy (including waxy flexibility) or stupor

(2) excessive motor activity (that is apparently purposeless and not influenced by external stimuli

(3) extreme negativism (an apparently motiveless resistance to all instructions or maintenance of a rigid posture against attempts to be moved) or mutism

(4) peculiarities of voluntary movement as evidenced by posturing (voluntary assumptions of inappropriate or bizarre postures), stereotyped movements, prominent mannerisms, or prominent grimacing

(5) echolalia or echopraxia

Diagnostic criteria for 295.90 Undifferentiated Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which symptoms that meet Criterion A are present, but the criteria are not met for the Paranoid, Disorganized, or Catatonic Type.

Diagnostic criteria for 295.60 Residual Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the following criteria are met:

A. Absence of prominent delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior.

B. There is continuing evidence of the disturbance, as indicated by the presence of negative symptoms or two or more symptoms listed in Criterion A for Schizophrenia, present in an attenuated form (e.g., odd beliefs, unusual perceptual experiences).

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Albert Ellis was one of the guys who invented cognitive therapy, which began as a kind of wacky-fringe psychotherapy in the 1950s and has grown to be one of the dominant and most-researched forms of therapy today. It’s effective and simple–easy to teach. Ellis’s version of cognitive therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, is alive and well too.

Ellis’s basic tenets were that thoughts or beliefs, not events, cause emotions and that irrational thoughts or beliefs cause our emotional problems. Most people think it’s their situations that are causing their problems, but Ellis said that we feel bad when our situation is in conflict with an irrational belief, and that it is the belief that makes us feel bad. So his style of therapy basically consisted of deconstructing people’s irrational thoughts and beliefs.

I think that he was right in a lot, though not all, cases. There are many other effective forms of therapy that, instead of cognitions, target behavior, emotions, social systems, or some combination of the four. There are also, of course, non-therapy interventions that aim to improve people’s psychological experience by targeting biological systems, like drugs or the prefrontal lobotomy, and interventions that target political systems–various kinds of activism.

But irrational beliefs are as good a place to start as any. Here is Ellis’s list of our major irrational ideas, quoted from Jacobs, Masson, & Harvill’s Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills (pp. 285-6). Keep in mind that these don’t usually exist as overt beliefs–you might have to dig to find them in yourself, running you.

Which few are your main irrational ideas?

1) It is a dire necessity for an adult human being to be loved or approved by virtually every other person in one’s life.

2) One should be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving in all possible respects if one is to consider oneself worthwhile.

3) Certain people are bad, wicked, and villainous and they should be severely blamed or punished for their villainy.

4) It is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way one would very much like them to be.

5) Human unhappiness is externally caused and people have little or no ability to control their sorrows and disturbances.

6) If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, one should be terribly concerned about it and should keep dwelling on the possibility of its occurring.

7) It is easier to avoid than face certain life difficulties and self-responsibilities.

8) One should be dependent on others and needs someone stronger than oneself on whom to rely.

9) One’s past history is an all-important determiner of one’s present behavior and because something once strongly affected one’s life, it should indefinitely have an effect.

10) There is invariably a right, precise, and perfect solution to human problems and it is catastrophic if this perfect solution is not found.

11) One should become quite upset over other people’s problems and disturbances.

12) The world should be fair and just and if it is not, it is awful and I can’t stand it.

13) One should be comfortable and without pain at all times.

14) One may be going crazy because one is experiencing some anxious feelings.

15) One can achieve maximum human happiness by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly enjoying oneself.

According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), there is a mental disorder that is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It afflicts somewhere between 2-16% of people, more boys than girls before puberty, but equal numbers of boys and girls after puberty. Family therapists are not into giving medical-model diagnoses in general, but in many cases, a DSM diagnosis is the only way for a family to get their insurance companies to pay for them to get help. In one of my internship sites, for example, I will need to provide a DSM diagnosis after the first session with a family in order to get the clinic paid for our work. As I understand it, this is a common diagnosis for kids who are giving their parents and teachers a hard time.

Note that the word “often” is used to mean something like “more than usual,” so whichever kids who are most like this will qualify for this Disorder, as long as someone important believes that their behavior is significantly impairing their social or academic functioning. Note also that these symptoms could be occurring in just one setting (say, just at school) and the kid will still qualify for ODD, unlike the symptoms for ADHD, which have to occur in at least two settings to qualify for the diagnosis.

Outside of family therapy, ODD is very commonly treated with Ritalin for “comorbid” ADHD. Kids diagnosed with ODD are also fairly commonly given antidepressant and/or antipsychotic medication, on the guess that they have an underlying Mood Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, though there is little to no research on these medications for children, especially in combination.

The following is word-for-word from the DSM-IV-TR, page 102:

Diagnosis criteria for 313.81 Oppositional Defiant Disorder

A. A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:

(1) often loses temper

(2) often argues with adults

(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules

(4) often deliberately annoys people

(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior

(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others

(7) is often angry or resentful

(8) is often spiteful or vindictive

Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.

B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

C. The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood Disorder.

D. Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

I posted in February about how the committee that is redesigning the DSM is accepting feedback on their proposed changes. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the book used around the world by clinicians to determine what kinds of human suffering count as mental disorders, what symptoms one has to show to qualify as having one of those disorders, and what what can get covered by insurance. The content of this book will shape the lives of those who will interact with the mental health system for the next generation. Being labeled with a mental disorder is a big deal, and which one you get can mean the difference between decent and indecent treatment. Personality Disorder? You’re pretty much screwed. Very few people think they can help you and no insurance will cover you. Adjustment Disorder? PTSD? You’re in luck, most likely. We’re all very hopeful for, and will pay for, your recovery.

If you’re life has in any way been affected by anything labeled a mental disorder, I encourage you to look at the appropriate proposed changes to your future and the future of your loved ones, and write them an email about what you think. You have until April 20, 2010.

Structural, Cross-Cutting, and General Classification Issues for DSM-5
Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence
Delirium, Dementia, Amnestic, and Other Cognitive Disorders
Mental Disorders Due to a General Medical Condition Not Elsewhere Classified
Substance-Related Disorders
Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders
Mood Disorders
Anxiety Disorders
Somatoform Disorders
Factitious Disorders
Dissociative Disorders
Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders
Eating Disorders
Sleep Disorders
Impulse-Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified
Adjustment Disorders
Personality Disorders
Other Conditions that May Be the Focus of Clinical Attention

Psychology hit the actual headlines last week, with Sharon Begley’s “The Depressing News About Antidepressants” in Newsweek. The story is that, if you look at all the evidence, not just the “successful” trials, SSRIs like Prozac and Paxil do not work better than a placebo for mild and moderate depression. Begley also tells the story as if she’s sorry to break the news and spoil the placebo effect. Here’s my version of the headlines from this story:

Pharmaceutical Companies Have Known For At Least Ten Years That SSRIs Work No Better Than Placebos: At least, anyone there who understood statistics and paid any attention to their research.

The Idea That SSRIs Are Better Than Placebos Was Propagated By Publishing Only the “Successful” Trials: This, obviously, was quite unethical.

The FDA Almost Certainly Knew That SSRIs Were No Better Than Placebos, Too: They had all of the research. Perhaps they did not read it.

People Who Read Psych Journals Knew SSRIs Were No Better Than Placebos Two Years Ago: The news caused a stir in my undergrad psych lab in 2008.

We Do Not Know What Causes Depression: The idea that depression has to do with the neurotransmitter serotonin was based largely on the (incomplete) evidence that SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) cured depression. In fact, we have pretty limited knowledge of what goes on inside a living brain. In fact, we have no ethical way to measure how much serotonin or any other neurotransmitter is where inside anyone’s living brain, so when a doctor tells you something like, “You are depressed because you have overactive serotonin re-uptake mechanisms,” they are passing on speculation, not science.

If You Recovered From Mild to Moderate Depression While On An SSRI, It Was Probably Your Own Hope That Lifted You Out: The thing about placebos is that they work pretty well. If you benefited from the placebo effect, it was your own strength, your own hope, that made the difference. You overcame that challenge. I think that’s pretty cool.

While SSRIs Do Not Treat Depression Better Than Placebos, They Do Have Side Effects: Here’s a list from wikipedia: Decreased or absent libido, Impotence or reduced vaginal lubrication, Difficulty initiating or maintaining an erection or becoming aroused, Persistent genital arousal disorder despite absence of desire, Muted, delayed or absent orgasm (anorgasmia), Reduced or no experience of pleasure during orgasm (ejaculatory anhedonia), Premature ejaculation, Weakened penile, vaginal or clitoral sensitivity, Genital anesthesia, Loss or decreased response to sexual stimuli, Reduced semen volume, Priapism (persistent erectile state of the penis or clitoris)anhedonia, apathy, nausea/vomiting, drowsiness or somnolence, headache, bruxism (involuntarily clenching or grinding the teeth), extremely vivid and strange dreams, dizziness, fatigue, mydriasis (pupil dilation), urinary retention, changes in appetite, changes in sleep, weight loss/gain (measured by a change in bodyweight of 7 pounds), may result in a double risk of bone fractures and injuries, changes in sexual behaviour,increased feelings of depression and anxiety (which may sometimes provoke panic attacks), tremors (and other symptoms of Parkinsonism in vulnerable elderly patients), autonomic dysfunction including orthostatic hypotension, increased or reduced sweating, akathisia, liver or renal impairment, suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), photosensitivity (increased risk of sunburn), Paresthesia, Mania, hypomania, sexual dysfunction such as anorgasmia, erectile dysfunction, and diminished libido, a severe and even debilitating withdrawal syndrome, a slight increase in the risk of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicidality in children, neonatal complications such as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and persistent pulmonary hypertension, and platelet dysfunction.

Until Your Medicated Kids Are Old, We Will Not Know What All of the Side Effects of Treatment by SSRIs Are: This is true for any new drug, and it’s worth considering. If your child is on Prozac or other new drug, they are essentially part of a massive experimental trial.

Pharmaceutical Companies Pay for Psychiatric Educations: Why would it surprise anyone that treatment equals drugs in this case?

Most Antidepressant Prescriptions Written by Health Care Providers With No Significant Psychiatric Training: GPs, OBGYNs, pediatricians, etc account for 80% of SSRI prescriptions.

This is part 3 of a series of things I learned during my Bachelor’s degree in psychology that I thought should have been headlines in the mainstream news. If you missed them, here’s part 1 and part 2. Again, if you’re interested or skeptical, leave me a comment with a specific question and I’ll give you my references.

Egaz Moniz Was Given the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1949 for Developing the Prefrontal Lobotomy: This “psychosurgery” involved slicing or scrambling the front part of the brain, and tended to produce more manageable behavior in “patients.”

40,000 Human Beings Were Lobotomized in the United States Between 1936 and 1977: These were men, women, and children with “illnesses” like schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, anxiety, homosexuality, criminal behavior, and being hard to manage.

Antipsychotic Thorazine Hailed as “Chemical Lobotomy”: Yes, this was meant as a compliment.

200,000,000 Prescriptions for Antidepressants in the US in 2007: That’s quite a few prescriptions.

80% of Antidepressant Prescriptions in the US Not Written by Psychiatrists: Consider that it may be a good idea to at least see a specialist in mental illness before taking psychotropic drugs or giving them to your kids.

Some Psychopharmaceuticals as Effective as Exercise in Treating Depression: But who wants to exercise when you’re depressed?

Sleep Deprivation the Most Effective Treatment For Depression, By Far: Never heard of this one? Maybe it’ll hit the news when someone figures out how to make money from sleep deprivation.

The World Health Organization Found That Schizophrenics Recover, But Only in Countries Without Easy Access to Psychopharmaceuticals: Schizophrenics can recover? Well, yes, it looks like they can. And yes, the WHO data shows a correlation, not necessarily causation, but an interesting correlation!