Last week I went to a psychiatrist for help with a high level of anxiety . He prescribed a low dose Lexapro, an antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. My appointment ran for 1 1/2 hours and covered my background. He diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by the suicide of my husband a year and a half ago and by childhood physical abuse and neglect.
I believe this is the correct diagnosis. However the drug is the wrong drug. I started having suicidal thoughts within 5 days. I read the literature that says the drug can cause suicidal thoughts in people less than 24 years old. The pharmacist I spoke with said that while it is rare the drug can trigger suicidal thoughts in older people as well. I sent an email to the psychiatrist who responded with questions about what I had done to develop new interests. I reminded him that I have plenty of interests and am well-disciplined in keeping up a daily regimen of activities. I questioned whether he knew which patient he was emailing. He sent me another email which did not address the possibility that the drug was causing the problem. Yesterday I cancelled my next appointment and went off the drug. This morning I am already having fewer suicidal thoughts. I believe that this is an example of a serious problem within the mental health profession.
I went to this psychiatrist because he recommended by a psychiatric case worker who was sympathetic to my having been forcibly sent to the hospital by a doctor when I asked for an antidepressant drug a few weeks ago and although I admitted to suicidal thoughts I stated I had no intention of following through with the act. The case worker told me that competent psychiatrists no longer take insurance and I would have to self pay. Obviously this is not true of all psychiatrists who take insurance but the ones that I have had under medicare were clearly burned out and not interested. They were unreachable in a crisis. So I thought I would spend a precious $250 to see a private one. I would have to say he was just as burned out as the medicare psychiatrists.
Perhaps the problem is that the profession is trying to treat a medley of problems with drugs. I think that the primary cause of mental problems is probably spiritual. Drugs may offer a bridge of support to the patient while therapy and spiritual guidance have a chance to work. However, in the last 20 years insurance companies have decided to reimburse psychiatrists for drug treatment only. Any therapy is left to social workers who are much less trained. These workers are perhaps competent to moderate in couples therapy and problems that are amenable to practical solutions. This leaves people with serious disorders with no real alternative for help with resolving deep issues.
Since I am a Christian I have support unavailable to many patients. Prayer definitely helps me through crises. I just wish that I could find help in the mental health community that wasn’t outright hostile or simply concerned about avoiding law suits. This is realistic fear for mental health professionals since patients are often eager to sue and lawyers are certainly eager to oblige them. I think only a complete overhaul of the system can remedy the situation.
As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.” Luke 5:16.
The best and most effective way to handle depression and suicidal thought for me is to go hiking alone in the mountains. The very act of hiking is prayer without words. I am released from myself and the steps I take, the fatigue, the sweat all become part of my prayer.
Contemplation is meditation on God. What St. John of the Cross called the silent music. The joy of the presense of God, of silent companionship and unknown communion with the One.
To hike is to delight in the Creator and his creation; to be cleansed. Today I go hiking in the Sandia mountains and like Job I think I will have little to say to the magnicence of the Creator other than, I am unworthy.
I will bring my silent prayers for each of you with me. May you be blessed as well as me.
Currently the American Psychiatric Association is in the process of classifying grief as an illness. I wonder if grief isn’t essential to being human My own journey through the mental health system may shed some light on how it sees Christianity as a barrier to mental health and how that system seems to have lost sight of the welfare of those it is treating. I invite your comments on this posting. Please let me know your own experiences.
After my husband took his own life I resumed therapy with a trusted therapist. He was extremely helpful in the beginning. He was supportive of my grief and helped me with my fears that I had neglected to see the signs of my husbands decline. I worked with him for over a year. In addition to the grief over my husband’s suicide I was dealing with the loss of my Christian faith which became a frequent topic of therapy. I often expressed to my therapist that I was grieving for God more than I was for my husband. My therapist failed to pick up the signal that the loss of faith was a major reason for my depression. I don’t know if his failure was due to incompetence or simply if he saw this as a chance to enlighten me with his view which was secular and saw meaning as relative.
I believe that though I was questioning my faith even before I met with this therapist, it might have been a simple step back to faith had I been encouraged to look at my doubts without relativist preconceptions. I might have avoided a mental breakdown. Instead I became suicidal. I was definitely planning to commit suicide at that time.
At this point the story becomes Kafkaesque. My therapist called the police and reported that I was suicidal. A Swat Team arrived at the house. Though I made no attempt on my life the police forced me to go to the hospital for evaluation. When I arrived there, I called my therapist as he had asked me to do and which I assumed was out of concern for my welfare. Instead he arranged with the head psychiatrist to force me to admit myself. The nurse who had evaluated my mental state was ready to release me. Instead I was admitted to the hospital involuntarily. Later when I met with the psychiatrist he told me he was going to put me away in a state hospital for a month which was the maximum amount of time for an involuntarily admission. He then told me I wasn’t going to like it. He was definitely angry with me. I believe this stemmed from what my therapist had told him.
Eventually I was able to get released on condition of out-patient treatment. My therapist told the hospital that he would no longer treat me. When the hospital released me I was without any support. I had appointments with an unknown psychiatrist for medication and a social worker for therapy. Both proved incompetent. When I called my original therapist, he refused to talk to me until I had another therapist so that he would no longer be responsible for my care. Then he would only say that he didn’t want to see me further. When I asked for referrals to proficient therapists he gave me a list out of a directory most of whom didn’t take my health insurance or were not taking new patients. He made no effort to help me find genuine help.
This experience was worse for me than my husband’s suicide. The loss and humiliation left me feeling helpless. The disillusion at the hands of my therapist was devastating. At least my husbands desertion was because of illness.
This blog is a meditation on suicide and its effects on those whose lives are forever changed by it. I invite your comments to help me in the search for Christian meaning
In the past year and a half I have experienced both sides of the issue of suicide. In July of 2010, Richard, my husband of 22 years, committed suicide after an 18 year battle with bi-polar illness. Coping with his suicide has triggered profound questions that have forced me to seek answers that are beyond human knowledge
About a year ago I fell into a deep pit of depression and suddenly was dealing with my own suicidal desires which continue to this day. Ironically, I now live with the other side of suicide but the questions of meaning are the same.
What sources of help did I try?
When I learned of Richard’s death I called friends, one was from a church I had previously attended. About a year prior to my husband’s death, we had stopped attending this church where we had received much support. We both were overwhelmed by the degeneration in Richard’s condition and hadn’t the energy or desire to continue our church connection. An amazing thing happened when my friend told the church of Richard’s death. The members descended on me and helped me every step of the way. The kind support they gave to me as a church member who had dropped out without explanation was a revelation of the meaning of Christian community. They have continued their kindness to this day.
Meanwhile help of a different kind came from the therapeutic community. Professionals of all kinds explained the progression of illness, coping mechanisms and prescribed medications to mitigate the intolerable pain caused by the loss of the very meaning of life. How could I live with this terrible pain which sapped from me the very desire to live?
A few months previous to my husband death I had seen a psychologist for insomnia. It was a simple matter to reopen that relationship for help with Richard’s death. I had a willing counselor with superb therapeutic skills. My therapist gave me his unconditional support, especially in the beginning; he sat with me to read the suicide note, he offered to go with me to visit the site where Richard had killed himself and he sat with me for many hours while I wept for my loss and questioned my own complicity. But what he could never help me with was the why. Could life ever have meaning in light of this one deed? He could only see my need for “real meaning” as a failure of courage. For him meaning was contingent and almost momentary. For me this led to madness.