The Cuckoo Nest Fallacy: Drugs do Work
The iconic scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of Nurse Ratchet handing out pills to shuffling invalids has become part of pop culture. But since then we’ve had a needless hangover
If film is a reflection of modern anxieties then the message is clear: Medication is a means to keep people under control, suppress individuality, and create a statewide crackdown on incendiaries. The view is common even today, perhaps more so.
Some of the debate surrounding pharmaceuticals is suprising vitriolic. Everyone has an opinion, but the one trending is this, drugs are bad: They don’t work, rely on the placebo effect, cause longterm damage to the brain, interrupt the the body’s natural homeostasis, are con created by pharmaceutical companies, or are used by lazy GPs to avoid treatment. Despite the populist argument, there are scientific and ethical reasons, which suggest drugs do work, and can be a vital tool in mental-health recovery.
Psychiatric medication, is backed up by hard science and empirical results.
The life-cycle of any new medication is long. Drugs that are produced have been subjected to a litany of tests, from tissue sampling to clinical trials. Backed up by strict methodologies, empirical data, and verifiable conclusions. They are published in peer reviewed journals and any conflicts of interest must be declared in advance.
Even from here, they have to pass stringent checks by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and sometimes the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Not only does this government body have the power to grant a license to a pharmaceutical company to manufacture a specific drug, they also have the power to revoke it if standards are breached. This whole process can take up to 15 years.
A diabetic who needs a regular shot of insulin; the cancer sufferer who needs HRT; the arthritic who takes his anti-inflammatory. Blood pressure, cancer, headache, cough, cold, sleep, and sex, we are all quite happy to take the pills, but for mental health their is unwarranted suspicious.
Health has become one of the core anxieties of the western world.
As a society has modernised, we’ve become ultra health conscious. Gym memberships, holistic therapies, health spas, overworked GPs and poorly used A&E services. All testify to a very modern hysteria. If we are pursuing the elixir of immortality we look in vain, likewise if we search the boogeyman of pharmaceuticals we will also find nothing.
We are inherently suspicious of abstraction, and there is nothing more abstract than the brain. Nevertheless there are mental illnesses with a neurological basis. Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Psychosis, and Depression, all respond well to medication, and even have an organic cause. Of course their is a psychogenic component to any disease, but medication can be a helpful tool in crafting out a new life.
The split between biological illness and psychological disorder is a split between neuropsychiatry and psychoanalysis. Yet there is broad consensus; medication can help.
It is for the patient to weight up the risks and benefits. Some people with severe mental illness can be a threat to themselves or others. Even if they are not in danger, the extent of suffering is often so debilitating, that if medication takes a person from the realms of surviving to living their life, then it should be taken.
I know this from personal experience: Clomirpamine is an old fashioned tricyclic, used to treat OCD and panic-attacks. It has a litany of side effects, ranging from low blood pressure to dry-mouth. This medication, has transformed my life, and helped me achieve things I didn’t think were possible.
While medication might not be for everyone, for some conditions, it saves lives.
The fear of psychiatric medication is both a suspicion that mental health problems can be healed in the same way as a broken leg, and that pharmaceutical companies are profiting over peoples misery. Both views are wrong. In an era of great skepticism, its time we got over the one flew over the cuckoo’s nest hangup, and flew back to the land of the living.