“You look like you are going to be shot,” I said to my wife Mary as she walked across the forecourt of the petrol station having made some purchase in the adjoining shop. Her serious facial expression was compounded by a down-turning mouth and both her arms were as stiff as ramrods at her side.
The occasion was sometime in the early 90’s and this was an everyday condition for Mary along with several other characteristics which included signs of Parkinson’s Disease, a bloated weight increase, a noticeable thinning of her hair, an inability to use an ATM, safely drive a car or follow the plot of a movie. Also, she experienced stomach cramps, kidney problems and at night emitted a whiteish discharge from her mouth. She could never wake until nearly lunchtime every single day and yet, worst of all and on an entirely random basis, she would experience the most awful and frightening hallucinations at around 2 am which would leave her drained and shocked.
At this stage, Mary and I and our two daughters had been living with this situation for about ten years. In 1983 she had been given a diagnosis of ‘manic depression’ or ‘Bi-polar’ and had been put on a cocktail of drugs which included the so-called mood stabilizer Lithium, the neuroleptic, Thorazine, and the so-called anti-depressant Surmontil. All of the features described above had come about gradually, and somehow, we as a family had come to live with them, more in fact, come to accept them as part of this ‘Bipolar’ condition. Mary would pay regular visits to her psychiatrist, her prescription would be renewed, and any mention of her state was downplayed and more than counterbalanced by the ‘optimistic’ claim that she was not back in a psychiatric ‘hospital‘, that she was, in fact, working as a music teacher that indeed she was and that all in all, things were really not too bad at all. And for all those years that was the way life was and the random hallucinations continued.
Until that is 1993. Following a brief ‘hospital’ stay her psychiatrist took her off the Surmontil drug cold turkey. It was a turning point because since that year, though it didn’t become evident to us for some time, Mary never again experienced any of those awful night-time hallucinations. Was the penny finally beginning to drop – was there a connection with the Surmontil?
Up to that point, despite all the visible signs in front of us, we had never seriously questioned the whole drug regime she had been told she would be on indefinitely. I particularly feel responsible. Mary was in a drug induced fog all the time, but I undoubtedly should have been more clear-headed.
In the late 90’s and beginning to see the good effects of no longer taking Surmontil, Mary herself came across Dr. Peter Breggin’s eye-opening book ‘Toxic Psychiatry.’ I began to read it too and our real education commenced from that time. We cut our connection with ‘Aware’ the family support group that completely embraced psychiatry’s medical model in advocating total drug compliance.
And then in a Sunday newspaper in 2001, Mary read an article entitled ‘The Doctor, who won’t do Drugs.’ It was written to mark the publication of a new book ‘Beyond Prozac’ by Limerick-based Dr. Terry Lynch. Terry had been trained and for ten years had practiced as a GP. Increasingly he had become unhappy with his training and the conventional medical response of drug therapy he was expected to administer to his patients. He had retrained as a psychotherapist completing an MA in Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy at the University of Limerick in 2002.
The article by Annemarie Hourihan stated “Terry Lynch thinks that human misery has been oversold or perhaps sold from the wrong stall. He thinks that natural unhappiness has been rechristened depression, fed with pills no one understood and policed by a medical profession in general and a psychiatric profession in particular that lives on wishful thinking. Terry Lynch is a doctor.” Acknowledging a short-term role for drugs, Terry was quoted, saying, “I am seriously questioning whether the drugs used against depression work by re-balancing a supposed chemical imbalance.”
In our co-authored book, ‘Soul Survivor – A Personal Encounter with Psychiatry’, Mary describes her first meeting with Terry. “I was so inspired and encouraged by the article and the book that I wanted to thank him personally. I managed to locate his phone number and spoke to him for the first time. I subsequently met him a number of times and the enthusiasm and sincerity of the man were like a good tonic. From the word go, he believed in me as a survivor just as much as I believed in him as a professional and above all as a good thinker, someone who didn’t take things at face value and had the courage of his convictions. He listened to me, encouraged me and his great understanding of the psychiatric system greatly helped me. Equally important, he helped and emboldened Jim along the road he too had started to travel and together we will be forever grateful to him.” This was not a client/professional relationship but rather a growing bond of friendship.
Terry Lynch has been propounding his same views in the intervening years since 2001. ‘Beyond Prozac’ was shortlisted for the MIND Book of the Year in 2002 and became a best-seller in Ireland. In 2012, he published his second book ‘Selfhood’, a practical self-help guide designed to help people to recover their sense of self, be happier and more fulfilled.
Now in September 2015 comes his third – ‘Depression Delusion: The Myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance’ – in which he challenges psychiatry’s widely proclaimed theory. He states that there is no scientific evidence or medical test to support this theory that he prefers to refer to as a ‘myth’ akin to a religious belief backed up by vested interest in the pharmaceutical industry. For years, the psychiatric profession and many GPs have sold the theory to the extent of having it now widely accepted by the general public. This he states, is serious misinformation, a falsehood as untrue as the flat earth myth of past centuries. The comprehensively researched work complete with detailed references has in the words of Dr. Joanna Moncrieff of the University of London “given one of the most pervasive and harmful myths of modern times a thorough debunking”.
At a MindFreedom Ireland hosted event in Cork on September 8th – An Evening with Dr. Terry Lynch – he said we have to reappraise what depression is. The chemical imbalance theory has distorted our view. It is not about the brain; it is more about woundedness, trauma and the defense mechanisms we create in response. The fundamental question should be ‘What’s happened to you?’ not ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Psychiatry has sidelined human experience, reinterpreted it in its medical language and made it their terrain. The chemical imbalance theory has provided a legitimacy and validity for the prescription and that doctors know what they are doing. Psychiatrists, he said, have become lost in their profession.
In stating such views in Ireland, Terry Lynch has put himself out on a limb receiving little or no support from any of his medical colleagues. He is not deterred. “I don’t like injustice. I don’t like prejudice. I don’t like deception. I don’t like misinformation. I like honesty. I like truth. I like equality” he states.
In conclusion, I was flabbergasted to read on MIA the recent comments of Ronald Pies in the Psychiatric Times that “to my knowledge, no professional psychiatric organization has ever publicly promoted a chemical imbalance theory of mental illness in general”.
‘Depression Delusion’ would make an ideal present for him.