Crazy in America: the “Chemical Inbalance” trope

For years I’ve talked about writing a book about my experiences in the mental health care system to be called “Crazy in America.” I won’t give away too much here at this point, but I have always thought that the opening chapter should talk about my opening chapter with mental health, whereby I was consistently told that the fact that I sometimes had crying jags and depression was due to a “chemical imbalance” and that I needed to see a psychiatrist.

In June of 1994, soon after my college graduation, I decided to do just that – a scenario that was the beginning of my stumble into the rabbit hole of modern psychiatry, and which I would like to re-tell over and over again to prevent other people from making the same mistake.

My naive assumption upon entering the doctor’s office was that diagnosing a “chemical imbalance” would involve at least a blood test. In my mind’s eye previous to that visit, I imagined that there was a machine in a shrink’s office where a patch of blood would be placed inside that would analyze the blood and tell you which imbalance you had and then prescribe the appropriate medicines. Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of how a diagnosis is acquired and then how medicines are thrown at said diagnosis.

It took 15 minutes of talking to get the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and then my doctor essentially threw a spike at a dart board on the walls of his office (both board and office no doubt furnished by the pharmaceutical companies) to come up with my first medication – I believe it was Zoloft, which is odd, actually, because depression wasn’t my complaint and Zoloft is an SSRI designed to treat depression. I took it for about for about a week before I chucked it into the trash – it made my head feel as if it were being shrink-wrapped by plastic sheeting and it was an unpleasant sensation.

Why has it taken me 17 years to find that there are actually doctors out there who use a “chemical imbalance” approach with an assumption towards vitamin deficiency, which may in fact correct the imbalances that may exist, rather than meds which arrest various portions of the brain? Again, I am neither a clinician nor a neurologist nor a psycho-pharmacologist, though I have touched on all of these things in an attempt to find answers to the Crazy in America puzzle, so you will excuse me if my language is a bit clunky. But it seems to me that the approach that we take in dealing with mental disorders is a little bit scattershot and perhaps more than a bit weighted in the direction of big pharma, rather than the patients who are seeking treatment.

A vitamin deficiency *is* a chemical imbalance – and treating one with vitamins rather than with the drugs of the psychiatric industry seems to make a lot more sense to me than what we are doing now. The most obvious reason is cost – the drugs I have taken on and off since the middle ’90s are really expensive, most of them, while vitamins are a lot cheaper. But there’s also the cost in terms of the ways in which pharms are generally harmful to the body, whereas vitamins, as I understand it, are generally water or fat soluble and do not cause harm to delicate body systems like the liver, which both lithium and depakote, (prime meds for bipolar disorder) certainly do.

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