Monday, April 27, 2009

psychosurgery and other harmful psychiatric treatments

I am finding that I am able to concentrate more these days. It's a seemingly small change, but a very significant one. I can read books again! I have read two in the past couple weeks, the first one being My Lobotomy, an interesting tome about one young man's unfortunate experiences with mental health insanity back in the 1960's. The fact that I can read is a sign my medication (particularly the injection) is working. The story in that book, however, makes me think that someday that medication could be looked at as a barbaric mechanism for treating a psychiatric disorder.

Howard Dully was 12 years old when his stepmother set out to have him "fixed" (she didn't like his personality), by psychosurgery. This psychosurgery was a transoribital lobotomy, performed by a Dr. Freeman, who made his fame and fortune performing lobotomies for many years. The transorbital lobotomy was particularly barbaric, as it involved an ice pick being inserted into the skull above the patients' eye. The ice pick was then moved around inside the brain, squishing neurons and mixing up neurotransmitters and synapses like somebody trying to pry a locked door open with a paper clip. This was medical science in 1960.

Dr. Freeman stopped several times during the procedure to take a picture of the patient with the ice pic sticking out of his/her head. Howard includes such pictures of himself in his book, as he retrieved the pictures from the doctor's archives which are kept at a university in Washington D.C. With the help of a radio producer, Howard's story was first told on NPR, before he wrote his book.

You may be familiar with other barbaric treatments done under the name of psychiatry. Insulin treatments, thankfully don't happen anymore. Electroshock does though. It's still done at the local hospital where I live, and in other hospitals around the United States. Many practitioners say it is helpful, and it's not as barbaric as it used to be, when it was a violent zapping of the brain that caused torturous pain. I just know I don't want anybody to ever be able to do that to me.

But what of medications, then? I take twelve different pills in a Byzantine configuration of chemicals meant to help my body including my brain, and to control a variety of physical and mental symptoms. Some of these pills have never been tested in a long-term study. so no one really knows how they'll affect you if you stay on them for life. No one knows how some medications affect women at all, since men are typically used in studies and women aren't. And no study has been done on the exact compilation of pills I am currently taking, so there is no data on how this will affect my brain and the rest of my body, exactly. It's like playing Russian Roulette, but the problem is, I don't have any other solution. Therapy helps me with some things, but there is no help for psychosis other than pills. There is no help that will balance out my depression, much, other than medication. No help for the voices that taunt me and the double speak I hear that confuses me and takes up an enormous amount of energy. Just swallow the pills, I tell myself. There is no better answer right now.

Someday, there will probably be machines like on The Jetsons, where you push a number, and out comes the food concoction you need. There may be a little hand-held device like an Ipod, or a cell phone or a Blue Tooth, that you can click and send your brain the correctly managed amounts of neurotransmitters and correct the imbalance of brain chemicals you have. Maybe with one, quick zap a person will be cured for life. And then people will look back on the days when someone took 12 medications every day and got an injection of a medication every two weeks, for many years as the most barbaric, ridiculous thing they've ever heard of. Someday....


  1. I hope someday it can be only that easy !!!

    Howard (you guessed it) Dully

  2. I just finished Howard Dully's book a few days ago.

    It's really scary when you realise things like that can still happen even today - partcularly with electroshock teratments which I have always been wary of.

  3. I hope to have that day soon.(at least within my lifetime) Minimally the ability to give an accurate diagnosis and "individualized" treatment options.. It would save a lot of lost years.. Keep up the good work and good luck at CIT my wife and I both train IOOV (she works for NAMI TN as the Coordinator) and have done a presentation at the National Conference.. It was great!!!

    Michael Corbin
    erveryminute a suicide is attempted


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