Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Ethics of Depression and Suicide

I wonder sometimes about the ‘science’ of Psychology – is it really just a pseudo-science? As a ‘mature age’ psychology student at a local university I have to do what they say and study what the lecturers tell me to, if I want to get my degree, but I am still highly sceptical. There is ethics imbedded in this as everything must be ‘scientific’ and ‘replicable’, with no plagiarism. Sometimes I think they live in a ‘silo’ – unable to see outside the box they are in!!

Psychology, I believe, is trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. What is ‘Life”? That which animates; the ‘life essence”, cannot be seen, touched, tasted or measured – yet it is there. If it is absent we are dead. Then we have the mind, (and consciousness) – everyone talks about them but no one has the vaguest idea what they are. They are confused with the brain and yet the ‘mind’ (or consciousness) is not the brain. The brain is made up from cells and the cells perform functions in the brain. The cells apparently co-operate to enable us to operate our body, to memorise, and generally pass messages around. This is basically a biological function. It is not possible for the ‘brain’ to tell itself what to do, for the individual cells (that make up the brain) to tell themselves which functions they are to perform. This is the ‘mind’ (or consciousness) in operation. We can ‘transform’ ourselves, become a better (or worse) person. This cannot be measured! The ‘mind’ is creative; the brain is a ‘processor’. This is where my scepticism clicks in, and I will tell you why.

Some 31 years ago my first wife committed suicide. A few years earlier, after the birth of our child, she was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression (PND) and she was prescribed a well known sedative (name withheld – see below). This is a highly addictive benzodiazepine drug, with significant side effects. This did not help. She was subsequently referred to and treated by a psychiatrist who diagnosed her as “manic depressive” (i.e. bipolar). The psychiatrist subjected her to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) as the “best treatment”. This she hated and feared with an abiding passion and became very anxious before each ECT treatment was due. For this anxiety she was treated with the then new “wonder drug”, another sedative, (name withheld – see below) also known as (name withheld – see below), which is also a highly addictive benzodiazepine derived drug, also with significant side effects.

She told me that she “lost her soul” with these various treatments. She died six months later. I now know that this was her way of retreating, to hide the inner pain and to try to withdraw from an experience that she found overwhelming (pregnancy, childbirth? I will never know for sure). She was young and had not much life experience to draw upon. There was also parental and peer pressure involved. At the time I too was young and too naive to know any different than to trust the “specialists”. All she wanted to do was to talk to someone. I kept a warts and all journal of the entire three year episode to keep my sanity!!

The point is that Bipolar has no known biological or organic basis for diagnosis. It is not a medical “disease” and it is not proven to have a genetic basis ( Myers D.G “Psychology”, 2007; Dr. Craig Hassed “New Frontiers in Medicine”, 2000; Dr Terry Lynch “Beyond Prozac” 2nd edition, 2004; Dr Dorothy Lowe “Depression” 3rd edition 2006; Wikipedia was also referred to). Diagnosis is based on self reported experiences and observed behaviour (American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV-TR lists the various criteria). On what scientific basis therefore were the drugs prescribed, or the ECT given?

“They”, the psychologists (scientists?) just do not know! They are trying to do the impossible, to integrate subjectivity (what is in the mind, or consciousness) which objectivity (what can be seen and measured), then prescribe drugs based on their diagnosis. Is this ethical?

Note: I have been, perhaps, overly cautious in not naming the drugs my wife was prescribed. Contact me for their names, if you need to know. While they did not cause my wife’s death they were certainly a contributing factor. The ethics of drug companies is another, long, story!!

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