When responding to the horrific events at the University of Virginia and Chesapeake Walmart in November, Governor Glenn Youngkin stated that he will propose legislation during the next session of the General Assembly to strengthen mental health resources. “It’s very important,” he told reporters in November. “We know we’ve been through a mental health crisis and there are some immediate actions that we need to take,” according to the Virginian-Pilot story.
I was very encouraged by Youngkin’s response as he committed himself to addressing the issue of mental health and how it relates to these outbursts of violence. But reforming Virginia’s mental health system should focus on more than a “day” of treatment and getting police off the streets to monitor aggressive and suicidal patients waiting to be admitted to the hospital.
My personal experience with the mental health industry is from watching my son Richard become a victim of it. Richard was inappropriately diagnosed with ADHD in 2008, after successful academic, athletic, and social experiences in high school and college. His diagnosis came with a prescription for Adderall. His initial prescription of 15-20 milligrams per day by a nurse practitioner in North Carolina advanced to 90 milligrams per day under the care of psychiatrists in Virginia Beach.
Adderall is an amphetamine, and it’s basically identical to the illegal methamphetamine, better known as “meth” or “speed.” With so much amphetamine in his system, Richard’s sleep deteriorated, so his psychiatrist added medication to help him relax. During this time, Richard began to display behaviors that I had never experienced with him in the last 22 years of his life.
My wife and I fought with his doctor and with the system to get the right help for him, but this led to additional inappropriate mental health diagnoses (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) and more medication. When a psychiatrist added an antipsychotic drug (Seroquel XR) to the mix, Richard’s mental state worsened. This led to more aggressive behavior, an arrest for domestic violence, and a brief psychiatric hospitalization. A few months later in November 2011, while in the throes of acute psychological withdrawal from drugs, Richard committed suicide.
I know our mental health system needs an overhaul. Routine psychiatric “care” needs more than a 5-7 minute medical examination to warrant refilling of prescriptions. Before psychiatric diagnosis or medication is administered, time should be taken (but rarely) to identify the true root causes of each person’s problem. Root causes should drive treatment, not the simplistic concept that mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances and can be cured by chemical interventions.
The psychological establishment now admits that the idea of chemical imbalance explanations has never represented a valid theory, but very few people know this fact. There must be an appropriate balance in treatment, using medications when necessary, and for short periods.
Psychiatric prescribing should include exit plans, prescription cancellation protocols and the necessary treatment for patients and families to create healthy environments, relationships, and lifestyles.
A friend told me, “Change will not come from the medical profession or Big Pharma. Change must come from us. We, as a society, must push for change. We must be tough and our voice heard. We must ask ourselves, as a society, Are we doing the right thing by relying so heavily on psychiatric medications to fix all the things that bother us?
Our community has a rare opportunity to answer this question. On Thursday, “Medicating Normal” will be screened for free at the Sandler Center and a panel of experts will answer audience questions and concerns.
It is my hope that Yongkin’s reform plan will address the potential harm of overuse and inappropriate use of psychiatric medications. This is vital for beneficial mental health reform.
rick v The Virginia Beach native is president of the Richard V. Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the Sandler Center’s examination of “Medicating Normal.” The event is free but registration is recommended richardfeefoundation.org.