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Psychiatrists practice in the dark ages

The Time has come for Psychiatrists to Join the Modern World

     If you fall and fracture a bone in your leg or ankle, your doctor will order an x-ray to have a good look at the fracture. If you are having a digestive issue you may have a colonoscopy and or an endoscopy to have a good look at your whole digestive system. If you are having heart issues, you will probably have an echogram and if more serious, an angiogram to look at every blood vessel surrounding your heart. And yet if you have a mental illness, somehow the psychiatrist comes up with a diagnosis without even having a peak at your brain.

     Mental illness is a very complicated issue. If affects more than 20 per cent of our population. We are given diagnosis with very professional sounding names, Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia ( fear of going out in public places), post-traumatic stress syndrome , obsessive compulsive disorder and the list goes on and on and ends with the general diagnosis of depression.

     In spite of all these names and categories, all of these diagnosis are simply guesswork based on the practice of psychiatry started around 1880 by Sigmund Freud. And yet, with all the technology we have today, we are still stuck in the nineteenth century when it comes to treating mental illness.

     Going back as far as 1950, physicist Gordon Brownell and neurosurgeon William Sweet started using the PET scan (Positive Emission Tomography) to detect brain tumours in patients. When you see pictures of a brain lit up in all different colours showing different areas of activity, that is a brain scan.

     They are used to look at the brains of people who have suffered concussions, brain tumours and for research. But they are only used by neurologists. Sigmund Freud was a neurologist who had to guess what was happening in his patient’s brain because the PET scan was not yet invented. And yet today, psychiatrists still work as if that machine was never discovered.

     If psychiatrists automatically did brain scans of their patients, they could then compare thousands of pictures against one another. Soon they will have built up an extensive library so that it would easy to distinguish, obsessive compulsive disorder, from panic disorder, post traumatic syndrome from depression and so on. Mental illness is the only illness of our body that is diagnosed without a picture of the organ that is being treated. I find that ridiculous.

     We have had high level computer usage for the last twenty years and yet today the majority of physicians still have folders with huge paper files in their offices. Physicians are among the most stubborn to change and now that we have become aware of the devastating effects of mental illness and how it affects our whole society, it is time to bring psychiatrists into the modern age.

     It is my personal opinion that mental illness is actually a physical ailment. I believe that it is no different from a broken ankle or a failing heart. Something in the brain is broken and someday we will be able to take a picture, find the part that is broken and repair it. Mental illness is the disease that doesn’t show. I can see if your back is sore or if you are in pain but I cannot see what is in your head and troubling you.

     Instead of taking scans of the brain and trying to pinpoint the area that is damaged, our psychiatrists and family physicians prescribe drugs. They have no idea what is going on in there but they prescribe antidepressants for mood and anxiety. If they don’t work, they up it to drugs that should only be used for schizophrenia. It is scary. They have an arsenal of these drugs and you, the patient, are the guinea pig. Many of these drugs have horrible side-effects such as insomnia, weight gain and sexual dysfunction and some of the antidepressants have been known to remove so much anxiety, fear and inhibitions that patients willingly accept suicide.

     I remember a cartoon of a patient in a psychiatrist’s office and there was a chart with an arrow that offered three choices, mother, father and society and the psychiatrist says to the patient, “Who shall we blame today?” Yes, we all have had issues from our childhood and maybe some of these issues have caused our brain to develop in bad way that causes mental illness but it’s time to categorize these types of mental illness and give patients the correct diagnosis.

     As I said earlier, psychiatrist are the only specialists who do not take a picture of the organ they are treating. If we are going to make advancements in the field of mental illness, this has to change.