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General News    H3'ed 1/12/11

Stop FDA from voting to make mental illness treatment more difficult

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On January 27th and 28th, the Food and Drug Administration is having a meeting to decide who controls your right to choose mental illness treatment. On one side are doctors, scientists, patients and their advocates. On the other side is a doctor who doesn't believe mental illness is real.

The FDA will have to side with one or the other, and the outcome is by no means certain.

The hearings concern the continued availability of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, or "Shock Treatment").

In spite of Hollywood portrayals like that in "One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest," almost all acknowledge the scientific efficacy of the treatment. These include the National Insitutes of Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Psychiatric Association, the Surgeon General, and the Center for Mental Health Services which concluded:

Broad agreement exists within the medical-psychiatric community about the effectiveness and safety of ECT for the treatment of people with certain mental illnesses.

ECT is often the treatment of choice for pregnant women and the elderly because it has fewer and less intense side-effects than some other treatments. To deny them the right to choose ECT, would be cruel. Patients with mental illness who have been helped by ECT include Kitty Dukakis who wrote Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy, based on her experience with it, and Dick Cavett who told People Magazine, his treatment was "miraculous."

On the other side of the argument are Dr. Peter Breggin and the Citizens Committee on Human Rights (CCHR).

Dr. Breggin's opposition is the outcome of his belief that mental illness is a myth. If I didn't believe schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder were real, I too would be against treatment. Dr. Breggin gave his version of the origins of bipolar disorder on The Huffington Post, stating the drug companies had to create a new patient population market and that market became "bipolar disorder." As to schizophrenia, in "The Psychology of Freedom" he argued that people with schizophrenia bring the symptoms on themselves because of "cowardice" or "failure of nerve."

The other organization expected to testify with Dr. Breggin is the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights, which was founded by a religion that believes psychiatry is an "industry of death". Again: If I thought Psychiatry was an industry of death, I would oppose letting them offer treatment too.

NAMI brought the religion's attempt to limit access to treatment to Washington's attention over 15 years ago. I wrote on the core of the issue before this most recent hearing was scheduled.

Like all treatments for any disorder, ECT has side-effects that should be disclosed to patients. And if those patients choose other treatments, they should be allowed. But after so many years of being used successfully to help people, trying to outlaw it now is not in anyone's interest.

To comment to the FDA or arrange to be heard, go here

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DJ Jaffe is a long-time advocate for people with very serious mental illness. He has written for NY Times, WSJ, Wash Post and others. He blogs on mental illness on Huffington Post
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