Epidemic Mental Diseases

MAY 9th, 2013

The current and ever increasing diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” reminds me that the same happened with anorexia back in the ‘90s, when some sources yielded figures of half a million anorexic patients in Spain:

http://elpais.com/diario/1999/07/06/sociedad/931212001_850215.html

Around the same time (1997) a serious study of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Navarra Clinic Hospital indicated a prevalence of anorexia of 0.3% for the whole Spanish population. This means around 100,000 anorexics for the whole Spanish population. In 2006 the study was repeated and the figures were exactly the same:

http://www.unav.es/noticias/opinion/op151206.html

Where did the other 400,000 anorexics (The ones that had been announced by El País in 1999) go? Many professionals (psychiatrists, endocrinologists, psychologists) nourished their private practices with that legion of young women, more or less hysterical and willing to draw attention to them and resemble Lady Di. But as a consequence, 500,000 families went through hell for years, an ordeal that could have been avoided if we just had acted more wisely.

The same is happening now with bipolarity: current authors agree in figures for the prevalence of bipolar disorder of around 6%, that is two millions and half Spanish people (nearly 19,000,000 in the case of USA people). And, of course, all these patients treated with antipsychotics and mood regulators, sometimes for a lifetime!

The concept “bipolarity” is known by the general population and is a word widely used by media. Thus, El País offers news as surprising as the following:

http://deportes.terra.cl/futbol/pique-dice-que-espana-es-bipolar-por-pasar-rapido-de-euforia-a-pesimismo,0a71b7601c0ad310VgnCLD2000000dc6eb0aRCRD.html

A famous soccer player calling all the country “bipolar” is significant enough of how much we have messed with the diagnosis. And this time the problems seems to be more lasting than in the ‘90s with anorexia, because the major pharmaceutical companies have invested heavily in this case, launching numerous psychotropic drugs “useful” for the bipolar disorder.

And what about the thousands and thousands of children that are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a disorder better known by teachers as ADHD? How many millions of kids are taking methylphenidate, an amphetamine-type substance, because of this over-diagnosis? Only in the USA, in the population in the 3 to 17 age group there are 5 millions of children diagnosed with ADHD.

http://www.help4adhd.org/en/about/statistics

Millions of children taking the so called “the poor man’s cocaine” or “children cocaine” sometimes only because there are “traces of ADHD”.

http://es.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/ritalin.html

And what do the patients, or their parents, think about this?

- “Now I know what I’ve got, I don’t want no tales and mumbo jumbo about if it’s true I’ve got it or not… just leave me alone!“

The feeling of calm and peace for having a diagnosis is a logical reaction. On one hand, there’s the magic hidden in the word: if I know the word I’m under the impression that I can control the thing. If I know this is called “anxiety”, for instance, it seems I can control it more than when it’s something unknown.

On the other hand, there is a more complex issue, something that goes further on in the case of mental illnesses: as long as I am diagnoses as bipolar, a part of my life and my behavior is not my responsibility anymore but the treatment and the psychiatrist that put me on it. I will never forget a patient that, after many years well-compensated and at my insistence for trying to stop taking the valproate, he finally agreed. That day he confessed to me with some anxiety:

- "Now that I am not going to be under treatment is like I weren’t sick and I will be responsible for everything I do!”