Letters re Influence of Pharmaceutical Companies in New Zealand

Some of you may have already seen these letters published in the Sunday Star times. A statement on the influence of drug companies on the way we are buying and using prescription medicines. I have also inserted a link to the article to which  Dr John Read is writing about. Surely independent advisers are necessary? Here are the letters below, one from Dr John Read, and another from Janette Saxby an alcohol and drugs clinician.
The first one was in the July 25th edition – reproduced here (I couldn’t find it online)
  A responsible response from the Ministry of Health to your article, “Flu Experts linked to drug firms”(July 18), might have been to consider an audit to determine how many other advisers were in the pay of drug companies. Instead, one of its deputy director-generals is reported to justify the use of such advisers because New Zealand is too small to find experts independent of commercial influence. Even in the US, however, the majority of “experts” employed by their FDA have links to the pharmaceutical industry.
An audit might start with mental health, where the pharmaceutical industry has effectively lobbied governments to purchase ever larger numbers of very expensive, but minimally effective, psychiatric drugs. Prescriptions of antidepressants and antipsychotics continue to grow, despite research showing that both have little benefit compared to placebo pills and have serious adverse effects. The fastest growing drug group, however, is methamphetamine-type stimulants for children with severe difficulty concentrating and sitting still, the side effects of which include an average of one centimetre a year reduced growth.
The Ministry should not be naive and ensure the advice they receive is uncontaminated by commercial interests.
                                        Dr John Read
Psychology Department
University of Auckland.
In todays Sunday Star times was a letter backing Dr John Read’s submission.
Dr John Read of Auckland University’s Psychology department suggested ( letters to the editor July 25) that the government has been lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry to provide ever-increasing numbers of psychiatric drugs. He states that some of the drugs are expensive and only minimally effective. He is frighteningly accurate in his assessment and cites the increase in both anti-depressant and also stimulants for children are not effective and in some cases, quite detrimental. Working in mental health in this country and in particular in working with youths, I was astounded at how quickly drugs were prescribed to those under 18, despite there being very little evidence for their efficacy.
Not only are anti-depressants being over-prescribed, so the reliance on prescription painkillers is growing. Substance abuse is not just limited to alcohol and cannabis but prescription pain medication is a growing problem in this country.
I am grateful that he shares his insight not only with the public through this forum but also has influence over students studying psychology at Auckland University and in future we may see some more enlightened practice with less reliance on drugs.”
Janette Saxby
Alcohol and Drugs clinician
Waikuku Beach Canterbury

The Benefits of working- Simon Collins NZ Herald June 5 2010

I read this article and wanted to share it with you all. So often people who hear voices are medicated and told they may not ever be able to get a job etc etc.. Yet many people find working can be helpful.

Here is an excerpt of the article. You can read the full article at the NZ Herald site here

Katrina Bell still remembers the doctor at Waikato Hospital who effectively turned her away when her life collapsed.

She was 25. She had worked all her life and was about to leave for a new job picking cotton in Queensland.

“I thought everything was fine, everything was going well in my life,” she says.

“Then one evening I went to the toilet with diarrhoea. Later that night my head started going crazy. It quickly turned into 10 different radio stations at once, no, it was more like a thousand. I got the shakes and the sweats. I was just a complete mess.” She went to her family doctor. “He did tests. Because nothing showed up in any of the tests, he said to me, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’

“So I went to Waikato Hospital, but because mental illness doesn’t show up in a blood test, they were no good either. It was a female doctor, she said, ‘Stop being bloody stupid, get home and start eating properly.’ I still feel hurt all these years later.”

Finally her pharmacist referred her to another general practitioner who referred her to a mental health service.

She spent the next four years on sickness and invalid benefits searching for the right combination of medication and personal management techniques to restore her mental health. She went on anti-depressants.

Eventually her psychiatrist referred her to Workwise, a charitable company which helps people with mental health issues to find and keep jobs. She had an interview with them, and the next day they found her a part-time job as a gardener at a rest home.

Her confidence built up gradually to the point where she found her current job in the laundry of a Hamilton motel by herself and no longer needs Workwise.

“I can still go back to them if anything goes wrong,” she says. “I don’t think I’d be back in the workforce if it wasn’t for them.”

And further on, it seems that the government are wanting to cut down on sickness beneficiaries.

the main factor driving the increases, here as elsewhere, was mental illness. Psychological disorders, led by stress and depression, accounted for the entire increase in sickness benefits and a third of the increase in invalids benefits from 1996 to 2002.

Mental Health Commission chairman Dr Peter McGeorge believes stress and depression have increased as we have moved from close-knit villages to transient urban lifestyles isolated from family and friends. “There’s been a breakdown of the extended family, the divorce rate has gone up, there’s much more of a focus on the individual and immediate gratification,” he says.

“It’s destroying that sense of community and connectedness that is normally associated with being able to manage one’s mental health better. People who are married and in stable relationships have less tendency to be depressed and suicidal.”

In the past decade or two the developed world has begun to realise that simply maintaining an income for people caught in the vortex of social breakdown is not enough. Welfare benefits were invented for the aged, the physically sick and the unemployed, but something more is needed for the psychological victims of our fractured urban life.

Governments are discovering that the way to restore their own fiscal “sustainability” is also one of the best ways they can help people like Katrina Bell – helping them back to work.

In what Rebstock hails as “one of those watersheds”, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians issued a position statement last week affirming that “for most people, work is good for their health”.

Dr David Beaumont, who chairs the physicians’ occupational medicine division, says time off work is “like a dangerous drug”, weakening people’s connections with each other.

“People don’t realise the degree of risk,” he says. “If you have been off work for more than 50 days, your chance of ever getting back to work is reduced by 50 per cent.”

Across the developed world, the OECD says, countries are “transforming sickness and disability schemes from passive benefits to active support systems that promote work”.

The new agenda ties in with a new “social model” of disability. People with physical or mental impairments are now seen as disabled by society, and can be enabled to work and participate in the community if society supports them.

How Mad Are You? On Documentary Channel.

I saw the advert for this briefly the other night. I am sure I caught a glimpse of Richard Bentall there?

It looks very interesting. Here is an excerpt for the program from the Documentary Channels website

‘In 1973, Dr David Rosenhan conducted a seminal experiment (Being Sane in Insane Places) in the USA, during which sane patients faked symptoms to gain admission to psychiatric hospitals and were diagnosed as such; some of them were kept in hospital for up to 52 days. He proved that psychiatry, the science of the mind, couldn’t tell the difference between sanity and insanity. It was an experiment which transformed how mental illness was diagnosed.

Based on some of the ideas behind that experiment, How Mad Are You has brought together 10 volunteers for five days to work through a new series of tasks, conducted by psychologist Professor Peter Kinderman. Five of the volunteers are normal, and five have a history of psychiatric disorders.

The question is simple: which is which?

During the five days, the volunteers are not allowed to discuss their histories as they live and work through the challenges together, facing stressful situations and confronting their fears. The tests are designed to explore the character traits of mental illness and ask whether the symptoms might be within all of us. They include performing stand-up comedy to mucking out cows.

Who will cope best? Will the individuals who have been affected by mental illness reveal themselves? Or will the ‘normal’ but shy volunteer exhibit the oddest behaviour of all?

Mental Illness affects 450 million people worldwide. It preys on all ages, all sexes and all cultures. The path to health can be long and difficult, but for many simply being called ‘mentally ill’ is a heavier burden to carry than the illness itself. Being labelled with a psychiatric disorder brings profound social stigma, leaving some people outcast all their lives.’

It is showing Tuesday 27th April at 8.30pm at Wednesday 28th April 2010 at 4.30pm and 12.30pm.

A friend told me about the experiment that was conducted back then. I will have to see if I can find more details about it and post it here.

Emma Thompson says work saved her from ‘going under’ in her battle with depression

This article was in the New Zealand Herald today. I found it online at the Telegraph website here

I posted this article as I think it is important to see that people from all walks of life can have these experiences. She also talks of the Voices in  Her head. It does not say if this is in  the literal sense.

“By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent
Published: 8:30AM BST 28 Mar 2010

 Speaking on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs,[you can listen to her Desert Island Disc session here] the Oscar-winning actress described being crippled throughout her life by the condition, which she first suffered while playing the leading role in a West End revival of the musical Me and My Girl in the 1980s.

She said: “I think my first bout of that was when I was doing Me and My Girl, funnily enough.

“I really didn’t change my clothes or answer the phone, but went into the theatre every night and was cheerful and sang the Lambeth Walk.

“That’s what actors do. But I think that was my first bout with an actual clinical depression.”

During the programme, which is broadcast today, Kirsty Young, the presenter, asked Thompson about a five-year period during the 1990s, when she starred in seven films, was nominated for five Oscars and was also divorced from the actor and director, Kenneth Branagh.

Asked how she stayed sane, Thompson replied: “I don’t think I did stay sane, actually. It was tough. I think I probably should have sought professional help long before I actually did, for all sorts of reasons.

“Yes, divorce, ghastly, painful business but also fame, in some ways a ghastly, painful business as well. You become slightly more public property in a way that’s not necessarily always comfortable.”

Thompson, 50, who is married to the actor Greg Wise, described how writing the screenplay for the film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, in which she starred alongside Wise and Kate Winslet, helped her overcome another period of severe depression during the breakdown of her first marriage.

She said: “The only thing I could do was write. I used to crawl from the bedroom to the computer and just sit and write, and then I was alright, because I was not present.

“Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under, I think, in a very nasty way.”

The star of films including Nanny McPhee, Love Actually and An Education, also described acting as “an escape from myself, which I’m ashamed to say I enjoy very much.”

Asked what she was escaping, Thompson said: “Oh, you know, the voices in my head. The constant “must do better”, “must try harder” plus “you’re too fat and not really a very good mother”.

“That punitive conscience is part of my psychiatric problem.”

Thompson also recounted how Wise initially pursued Winslet during the filming of Sense and Sensibility, because a soothsayer had told him that he would meet his future wife on the set.

She said: “Of course I was still married, so he thought it was Winslet and courted her assiduously. ..

See the rest of the article on the link above.

Here is an excerpt.

Out Of our Heads- NZ Herald 13th May 2010

There is a great article today in the New Zealand Herald today written by Chris Barton, an interview with Rufus May who is here , and running a workshop for us next  week.

Here is an edited excerpt – – To read the whole article- see it here

Former psychiatric patient-turned-psychologist Rufus May has been shaking up the treatment of mental illness by talking to the voices people hear.

 Rufus May’s recovery from delusions – that he was an apprentice spy for the British secret service with a device in his chest that was being used to control him – took time.

He was 18 when he was admitted to Hackney psychiatric hospital in London, diagnosed as schizophrenic and not allowed to leave.

Initially, he believed he was in a place for burnt-out spies. “Eventually I thought people are being treated too badly for it to be a place for burnt-out spies.”

Surely burnt-out spies wouldn’t be humiliated, degraded and forcibly medicated – pinned to the floor while their trousers and underpants were pulled down to their ankles for an injection in the buttocks with mind-altering drugs?…

May had been getting messages about his mission from the Bible and the radio. Between the age of 15 and 16 he was a heavy cannabis user, but he wasn’t smoking at 18 when his troubles began – his first girlfriend left him after a nine-month relationship.

Instead of getting depressed, May drifted into a dreamlike reality, where he was spied upon and felt he had special spiritual powers. In hospital he still thought he could communicate with his girlfriend via the Bible. When he stopped getting messages back, he cried. The dream was over.

“I realised that actually I wasn’t that important and that I was in pyjamas in a psychiatric ward, dribbling. And then I started to think, ‘well, you’re in the pit of society now – the only way is up’.” Coincidentally Yazz’s 1988 pop hit The Only Way Is Up was playing on the radio.

Over 14 months May was admitted to hospital three times. His recovery began with going to church.

“I was religious with a capital R, then. I was trying to be a nicer person. I thought, ‘I need to find a way to be of value to society so they don’t lock me up again’.”

When he was discharged, he was put on two-weekly injections for about six months, as an outpatient. He decided to become a clinical psychologist. “I transformed, maybe not intentionally, but I found my mission – to try and change society’s approach to mental health. In a way he did become a spy. “For a while I infiltrated mental health services.”

It was cloak and dagger – when training in the East End, not far from where he had been sectioned, he was recognised on a couple of occasions by nurses. Fortunately they didn’t blow the whistle.

He didn’t tell his university about his illness until he was qualified. “I separated from my delusions and they became metaphors that I could use symbolically.”

May is in New Zealand doing some teaching with Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ – a group dedicated to providing a better understanding of what it is like to hear voices and have visions and to reduce stigma around the experience.

During his mental illness, May didn’t hear voices. He had delusions and unusual beliefs. But that didn’t stop him being diagnosed with schizophrenia. “I was given that label when I was 18 and I had a psychotic episode.”

May argues the diagnosis of schizophrenia is a meaningless construct – a catch-all that does little more than label people with incurable hopelessness.

Is the label “psychotic episode” any better? “A bit. I had a breakdown. I quite like the lay terms: ‘I went crazy’ or, ‘I was mad’ – I don’t see them as any less scientific as saying ‘psychotic episode’.”

Though May can unpick the nonsense of psychiatric diagnoses, what’s really radical about what he does is his therapy. He talks to the voices that schizophrenics hear.

The idea developed from Accepting Voices by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher. It also builds on the work of people like Dirk Corstens, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist from the Netherlands, who runs voice dialogue workshops.

“I believe people’s voices are beings from their unconscious,” says May. “We all hear voices in our dreams. We all meet other people in our dreams – sometimes people we know, sometimes they’re not known to us or they are other creatures.”

He says people who hear voices are able to access their dream world when they’re awake. “They’ve got these characters talking to them.” He talks to the voices through a kind of role-play adapted from couples’ counselling techniques where different “parts” or personalities speak verbatim from a selected chair.

May says initially the voices often find him very threatening and do tell the person to hit him or worse. But so far, having spoken to hundreds of voices, it’s never happened. “I guess because I’m there to help the person and I’m being respectful. The first thing I teach people is that they don’t have to do what the voice says.”

The other thing May does is the opposite of what happens in exorcisms. He tells the voices he is not trying to get rid of them. When that message gets through he finds the voices often calm down.

Though the voices are like nightmare figures, mostly May finds they’re trying to protect the person – albeit in a macabre way. “So I don’t see them as the enemy. I’m just saying we need to have peace talks with those experiences, not have a war trying to shut them down with medication.”

May regards most mental health problems as some kind of post-traumatic reaction – be it the trauma of being alone, not having meaning in one’s life, or be having been abused. If voices are part of a person and the therapy is designed to get people to accept and understand their voices, how does May go about integrating an evil voice?

“It’s a destructive voice. I would define evil as causing harm. A destructive energy is a very frightened energy coming from some place of fear. So I don’t want to demonise it, I want to understand it.”

He describes the case of a placating and gentle man who had a an angry, commanding voice telling him to harm himself.

“I asked him to ask his voice why he wanted him to harm himself. The voice said, ‘to show people how powerful you are’.” The man then asked the voice whether, if he was powerful in other ways, he would still have to self-harm.

Would the voice be happy if he was powerful in other ways? “The voice said: ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for years’.” On face of it, the voice was evil, but what it represented was the man needing to reclaim power in his life.

In another case, May spoke to a person’s voice which was claiming to be a demon – an incubus. It said to him, “When you go home, take a long good look in the mirror”. May was a little threatened, but a few weeks later the person had a memory of her adopted mother saying, “look in the mirror, look at the evil in your eyes”. Here the voice was an echo from the past of a time of oppression.

“I see them as messengers,” says May. “They may appear as evil, but they’re messengers about injustice. Evil is part of life. Destruction and violence are part of our lives and we need to understand it, not cast it out.”

May believes people have different coping mechanisms for stress in their lives – “different ways of retreating from the world, or looking after ourselves that can sometimes turn into problems”. Problems we don’t really understand and which we call schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or manic behaviour. It’s a view that flies in the face of the “chemical imbalance” theory of mental illness that sees patients medicated to redress chemicals supposedly missing from their normal functioning.

May is not against the use of drugs in treating mental illness, but he does think they are used with too heavy a hand. “We are over-convinced of their value.” He is a fan of combining body therapies – running, walking, swimming, Tai Chi, dance or boxing – with other treatments.

“A lot of psychiatric therapy is moving to the idea that we should work with the body as much as the mind – we’ve probably got to get out of our heads.”

In in his own case, an obsessive preoccupation with his problems didn’t help. “The more one obsesses about something, the more real it can get.”

Yes, he agrees providing scientific evidence for his approach is difficult. “But we didn’t need an evidence base to show that slavery was wrong. We know people’s sadness or confusion is related to their lives. We also know that pills aren’t the final answer.”

What helped in his recovery was people accepting him and not giving up on him. “I think we could have brilliant mental health services, but still people would struggle because the community gives up on them and says, ‘We can’t help you, go to your doctor’.”

May says his work is about building an emancipatory social movement that frees people to help each other more.

“I am idealistic,” he says. “What I try to teach people with their voices is how [they can] appreciatively separate from these experiences and use them, but not be used by them .”


What a great article. We  at the HVN are grateful to Rufus for all his support for our organisation.


CRAZY ART- an excerpt from an interview about a new doco on Mental illness and art

I wanted to include an excerpt from this interview, as it helps people to understand those that hear voices better. I dont know when this will ever play in New Zealand, but hope it will one day.

You see see the whole interview witn J.T Turner from “Phoenix”  Santa Barbara on the NOOZHAWK website here

“Frustrated by state budget cuts to mental health funding, J.T. Turner, executive director of Phoenix of Santa Barbara, decided to become “more entrepreneurial” in his efforts to further the understanding of people diagnosed with mental illness by producing a film. Leslie Dinaberg sits down with the executive producer of the new documentary Crazy Art, which explores the link between art and schizophrenia by looking at the lives and work of three local artists, as well as that of Vincent Van Gogh

J.T. Turner: This movie is really a portrait of these three artists here in town who I know with schizophrenia and how they use art to help them recover. I’ve known them for about seven or eight years. One of them was a client of ours at Phoenix of Santa Barbara, in one of our residential programs, and that’s Rodger Casier. The other two — Lesley Grogan and Trinaty Lopez Wakefield — have had their work in the annual Mental Health Arts Festival in De La Guerra Plaza, so I came to know them from them exhibiting their work there.

I was totally impressed by the quality of the art, and as I came to talk to them, I realized these are amazing personalities. These are three very articulate people with very charismatic qualities who do amazing art. … Things just came together about a year ago, and I thought now is the time to do this…

We started shooting, and the idea was to focus on the art with these individuals and also focus on their story. How did they become artists? The interesting thing is that the movie is intentionally about identity. … Do they see themselves as primarily mentally ill or something else? Do they see themselves as an artist? … Identity is a really big issue in terms of recovery. So we ask them about that, ask them about their childhood, ask them when they were first diagnosed, in terms of how the art helped them along the way. It’s a real blend of their lives and their art.

LD: So it premieres at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

JT: The first screening in the film festival will be in Victoria Hall on Monday at 10 a.m. We’re calling that the sneak peak. And the premiere is the show at the Lobero Theatre, which is 5 p.m. Wednesday. We’ll have a panel after both…

…JT: And it’s pretty hard-edged in terms of it doesn’t try in any way to be a Pollyannaish version of psychiatric recovery. We wanted to find out whether art is helpful, and maybe it’s not. And we pull in Van Gogh. … Near the beginning there’s a little segment that we shot down at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena where we filmed Van Gogh’s “Mulberry Tree,” and we have a section at the end at The Getty where we’re filming Van Gogh’s “Irises,” and it’s pretty clear from his life that when he was painting his best stuff he was having the greatest struggles psychiatrically.

He was diagnosed, and the various symptoms he had weren’t termed bipolar disorder or manic depression in those days, but it looks very much like he would be diagnosed now with bipolar disorder — he had seizures and things, so it was complex. Plus he was eating his pain and drinking a lot of alcohol. It’s not a clear picture of what was going on, but he was in a psychiatric unit for a year, and while he was there he painted some of his most amazing stuff.

One thing we were interested in was how much of the art that these three local artists do is done in a pretty symptomatic state, and how that feeds into the quality of the art. If you say that Van Gogh’s art goes up in price correlated with how symptomatic he was, can we look at the local artists and say what happens when you’re doing fine or when you’re doing really well? Are you painting as much? Are you expressing or hearing voices or having hallucinations? Are you painting more intense stuff when you’re really symptomatic? It’s not just looking at recovery; it’s looking at how symptoms affect the art and maybe — and in Van Gogh’s case this was the sad aspect of it — he became so symptomatic that he was painting obsessively and driving himself more crazy. He wasn’t in recovery using his art. If he’d had a case manager, it would have been great for him.

LD: Does it also make you understand a little more clearly some of the issues people may have with noncompliance — not taking their medication — because obviously there is something exciting and fun and rewarding about being in that highly creative state, even if you can’t function outside of that in your day-to-day life.

JT: Yeah. There are some people who are manic depressed, bipolar, who will tweak their meds so they move from being in a depressed state, or a kind of stable state, to a manic state. Deciding if you want some drama or excitement, ease off on your lithium and start to get more energy and sleeping less, or maybe not sleeping at all — and wow, life is really happening.

LD: It’s interesting.

JT: Trinaty, in the movie, one of the things she says is, “If I paint too much I go crazy. If I don’t paint at all I go crazy. I’ve got to find some kind of place in the middle there.”

None of them says art cures them. None of them says art is the ultimate remedy. It’s not a magic wand. They are all on medication. The medication gets rid of maybe 80 percent of the psychiatric symptoms, and then you’ve got the remaining 20 percent that are still pretty horrific. Each of them complains about hearing voices that are really critical, and they have paranoid thoughts and suicidal thoughts and are really depressed. The art is working to diminish those symptoms.

I think one of the primary findings of the movie is that art functions like meditation. They get into the zone, they do the art, and as they are doing it there is simply no space for the voices. … There are various things that you can do to kind of get into the zone, where you are no longer worrying about your everyday issues — for the normal person — but for the psychiatric issues, it’s interesting that as they paint and do sculpture, those symptoms are sort of driven out. It’s almost like deep space for the psychiatric symptoms, because what’s there is this intense focus on the art. They are channeling some muse, and there’s no room for depression, no room for paranoia in that place. It’s really impressive.

LD: I can’t wait to see it. It sounds really interesting…

To see the whole article click on the link to Noozhawk above- there is also a great picture with the artcle.

You Don’t have to be BiPolar to be a genius but it helps- NZ Herald Feb 2010

Scientists have for the first time found powerful evidence that genius may be linked with madness.Speculation that the two may be related dates back millennia, and can be found in the writings of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Aristotle once claimed that “there is no great genius without a mixture of madness”, but the scientific evidence for an association has been weak – until now.

A study of more than 700,000 adults showed that those who scored top grades at school were four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those with average grades.

The link was strongest among those who studied music or literature, the two disciplines in which genius and madness are most often linked in historical records.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, with colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, affects about one per cent of the population and is characterised by swings in mood from elation (mania) to depression. During the manic phase there can be feelings of inflated self-esteem, verging on grandiosity, racing thoughts, restlessness and insomnia.

The 19th-century author Edgar Allen Poe, who is thought to have suffered from manic depression, once wrote: “Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence…”

In recent years psychoanalysts, psychiatrists and psychologists have argued that genius and madness are linked to underlying degenerative neurological disorders. The problem has been that both genius and severe mental illness are rare, and high intelligence or achievement is subjectively defined.

Claims about the link have been based on historical studies of creative individuals which are highly selective, subject to bias and rely on retrospective assessments of their mental state.

The study, led by James MacCabe, a senior lecturer in psychiatric epidemiology at the Institute of Psychiatry, compared the final school exam grades of all Swedish pupils aged 15-16 from 1988 to 1997, with hospital records showing admissions for bipolar disorder up to age 31.

The fourfold increased risk of the condition for pupils with excellent exam results remained after researchers controlled for parental education or income. 

The findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. They suggest that mania may improve intellectual and academic performance, accounting for the link with “genius”.  People with mild mania are often witty and inventive, appearing to have “enhanced access to vocabulary, memory and other cognitive resources”.

 They tend to have exaggerated emotional responses which may “facilitate their talent in art, literature or music”. In a manic state individuals have “extraordinary levels of stamina and a tireless capacity for sustained concentration”.

 You can read the entire article by Jeremy Laurence at the NZ herald site here 


CBC documentary lights up pot/Schizophrenia links

This review is of a documentary on the links with Marijuana and Hearning voices.

See the whole review on the Winnepeg Free Press website

“There’s a new, more sinister concern about cannabis. According to some scientists, it may be directly linked to mental illness, including schizophrenia, in young pot smokers.

The Downside of High
The Nature of Things

CBC’s The Nature of Things takes an unsettling look at the new evidence tonight in The Downside of High (8 p.m., CBC), an hour-long documentary written and directed by Bruce Mohun and narrated by series host David Suzuki.

The Downside of High is a particularly effective examination of its subject because it straddles the line between cold, hard scientific information and up-close human experience. As an entry point to the discussion, the film’s makers introduce us to three young British Columbians whose lives were sent careening sideways after they started experimenting with pot.

Each first tried smoking marijuana in the usual peer-group environment; each quickly got hooked on getting high; each soon developed deeply delusional behaviour — hearing voices, extreme paranoia, fear and panic — that ultimately landed them in hospital psychiatric wards for extended stays.

And each, along with the doctors who have helped them in the slow effort to rebuild their lives, is convinced that their mental illnesses were triggered by marijuana use.

That’s where the scientists come in.

The Downside of High examines the work of several researchers who have studied the link between pot and schizophrenia, beginning with a groundbreaking 1987 Swedish study that followed 50,000 young army recruits for more than 15 years and concluded that those who used marijuana during their teen years were six times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia during the next decade and a half of their lives.

Dutch researcher Dr. Jim Van Os included this study as he prepared a comprehensive overview of all the available data on the topic; his admittedly more conservative conclusion is still cause for concern.

“We found that cannabis use nearly doubles the risk of developing future psychotic states,” he explains, “be it isolated psychotic symptoms or clinical psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia.”

Van Os’s research also concluded that teens who begin using marijuana before the age of 15 may be four times as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Part of the problem, according to The Downside of High, is the fact pot growers — including the “B.C. Bud” purveyors who call Canada’s West Coast home — continue to develop new breeds of weed that are exponentially more potent than the “harmless” pot that fuelled 1960s and ’70s counterculture.

In addition to containing much higher levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), marijuana’s active (and sometimes psychosis-producing) agent, new strains of pot also contain much less CBD (cannabidiol), which is thought to protect pot users against the drug’s psychosis-inducing properties.

Van Os and other scientists have also found evidence that there’s a genetic link that makes some people much more likely to suffer marijuana-induced mental illness; some of the most current research is aimed at developing an accurate test that might allow parents to learn whether their teenagers are part of the high-risk group when it comes to pot and mental-health problems.”

There has been a lot of evidence also collected in NZ and Australia of a smilar nature.  So if hearing voices, stopping marijuana use may help them to abate.

A First class recovery: from hopeless Graduate- Independent

This article was printed in the Northern Advocate this week. It is also viewable here at Independents website

Here is an excerpt

” Eleanor Longden was a diagnosed schizophrenic and heard menacing voices in her head for 10 years. Now, she has fought back and has graduated with a brilliant honours degree in psychology.

Eleanor Longden was revising for her final university exams in May when she was interrupted by a hostile middle-aged man, who barked: “Stop! You can’t do this; you’re going to fail. You’re not good enough to get a degree.” Nine other people joined his tirade in a chorus of noisy abuse as Ms Longden, 27, tried to concentrate on studying.

  “You know what?” she replied. “You’re right: I do need to stop for a break. Thanks for reminding me.”

 Ms Longden has been hearing the same critical, often menacing, internal voices for about 10 years. Every day, the dominant male speaks to her in an authoritative tone. The others back him up and the messages are always the same: you’re not good enough; why bother with anything when you’re such a failure? Except that she is not. She recently graduated from Leeds University with a first-class honours degree in psychology, the highest ever awarded by the department. She now works part-time with people who are hearing voices and is preparing for her PhD next year.

 But it has been a long, hard struggle to where she is now. The psychiatrists and mental health nurses Ms Longden first encountered agreed with her voices. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia, forced to take high doses of powerful medication and written off as a hopeless case.

 “My family mourned me as if I were dead,” said Ms Longden, from Bradford. “They were told that I had a degenerative brain disease and they should prepare themselves for the worst as I might end up in a care home. I was told there was no hope, that there was nothing I could do apart from take medication.” How did she go from a hopeless, mentally ill patient to a brilliant academic? A new wonder drug? A lobotomy? Years of therapy?

 It was much simpler than that. She was referred to a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Pat Bracken, who encouraged her to listen to her voices and try to understand what they meant. He helped her to reduce her medication so that she could think more clearly. Slowly she worked out the connection between previous traumatic experiences and the messages the voices communicate. She also discovered her voices were worse when she was stressed. “This was the first time anyone in the psychiatric system had talked about recovery. Before that I’d been labelled, medicated and left; my past didn’t matter and I had no future.”

 Yet between 4 and 10 per cent of the population hear voices and fewer than half of these people ever see a psychiatrist, according to research by the Hearing Voices Network. Between 70 to 90 per cent of voice-hearers do so after traumatic experiences.

 Voices can be heard in the head, through the ears or through the environment. Conventional psychiatry tries to eradicate them using medication. But a growing number of critical psychiatrists, psychologists and voice-hearers try to listen, understand and accept them.

 Dr Bracken, the director of mental health services in West Cork, Ireland, said: “As professionals we need to help people who are depressed or dominated by voices to find a path out of that state. That could be through medication, therapy, religion or creativity. It is completely wrong to try to use one template for everyone.”

 Ms Longden now has an agreement with her voices to listen and respond to them at 8pm for half an hour. If they come earlier she reminds them of the agreement. It works. She hears menacing voices every day, but fits them into her busy life. Talking to them hasn’t made them worse. Stopping her medication hasn’t made her dangerous. Yet some psychiatrists would section her and force her to take medication.

 She said: “My original psychiatrist told me I would have been better off with cancer because it was easier to cure. She still says that to people. What happened to me was catastrophic, and I survived only because of luck. If I had lived one street to the right, I wouldn’t have been referred to Pat Bracken. That can’t be how people’s lives are determined. I’m not anti-medication; I’m pro-choice. Hearing voices is like left-handedness; it’s a human variation, not open to cure, just coping.”


By Nina Lakhani Independent


This shocking story was in the New Zealand herald today. Highlighting the shocking lack of rights that people with mental illness are sometimes faced with when in care.

4:00AM Thursday Nov 05, 2009
By Patrick Gower

The Ombudsmen’s report claims several mentally ill patients have been treated inhumanely, including one who was restrained and kept in seclusion for almost six years.

A mentally ill patient held in restraints and kept in solitary confinement for almost six years is one of several disturbing cases of possibly inhumane treatment the country’s Ombudsmen have uncovered in New Zealand detention facilities.

The public watchdogs found the patient in virtually constant “seclusion” – solitary confinement in a bare room – at the mental health unit of a district health board.

Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem would not name the board last night, but said it claimed the detention and use of restraints was required because the patient was likely to attack other patients and staff.

But Ms Wakem said that after her office became involved, the patient was moved to a more suitable facility.

“Why nobody thought to look at that and make that assessment before we arrived on the scene is a cause for concern,” she told the Herald.

The patient was one example of “potential cruel and inhumane treatment” the Ombudsmen identified during the first nationwide investigation of detention facilities, done over the past year.

The investigation also found a young intellectually disabled patient being kept in unwarranted and lengthy “seclusion”, and another mental health patient who had been kept without any consent for years.

Ms Wakem said the health boards responsible took action immediately.

But the Health Ministry’s director of mental health, Dr David Chaplow, said last night that he knew nothing of the cases and would be ordering an urgent report.

Dr Chaplow said he knew of one patient with a mixture of autism, intellectual disability and mental illness that was particularly challenging, “but I have never known a case in seclusion for six years”.

The annual mental health services report says 1395 patients were secluded for between two minutes and 365 days in the past year.

Dr Chaplow said there was now a “sinking lid” policy on seclusion, but it had a place in mental health care.

The Ombudsmen’s investigation covered prisons, mental health units, immigration detention centres, court cells and youth facilities.

It was detailed in the Ombudsmen’s annual report, issued yesterday, and also raised concerns that prisoners were not given electric fans to control cell ventilation or temperature.

It said in excessive temperatures the lack of fans could amount to “cruel” or “inhumane” treatment.

It noted this was more likely with increasing lock-down times and double-bunking as the prison population reached crisis point.

Corrections prison services manager Karen Urwin said the department had looked into buying fans for every prison cell, but had decided it was not an effective use of taxpayers’ money as extreme heat waves were rare in New Zealand.

* Case studies

CASE 1: Mental health patient in “virtually constant restraint and seclusion for nearly six years”.

CASE 2: Young intellectually disabled patient kept in “seclusion” for lengthy period.

CASE 3: Mental health patient “treated for some years without any apparent consent of any kind