Psych Drugs: Same Old Story, Still a Problem

To summarize the above picture: the media needs to stop romanticising coming off psych drugs as “becoming your true self”. Psych drugs help people become who they are supposed to be (although they are not for everyone). Psych drugs are not “artificial happiness”, they give you a brain that can be happy.  

I have blogged about psych drugs before. I am probably repeating myself. Now that the conversation of psych drugs has come up in my life again I would like to talk about it again (also, by conversation I mean my psychiatrist brings it up and I smile and say, “Oh, we’ll see…I don’t want them.”).

I feel sad when I see conversations or pictures like the one above. I’m not mad that people are sharing the positives that psych drugs have had on their life. Those of us who struggle with our emotions, thoughts and behaviours need as many tools as we can get to support us in living the lives we want and deserve to have. I feel sad because my experience with psych drugs as being a prescription for suicide is often ignored and shamed.

When I have mentioned my experience I am told by some that I am lying, that my experience with psych drug induced suicidality is too rare or I am told that it’s people like me that keep others from helping themselves. When I then tell these people that I am not on psych drugs currently this is then seen as “proof” that I do not actually struggle.

I do also have the amazing opportunity of hearing from others who have similar experiences. I always appreciate hearing from these individuals and I hope they take comfort in knowing that others can begin to understand their experience.

My psychiatrist does acknowledge my experience which I appreciate. She is concerned that if I reached a point in my pregnancy of after birth that psych drugs were needed that I would have to be closely monitored. I did find out something interesting during my appointment with her last week about my most recent experience with Effexor. I told her that I did find 37.5 mg of Effexor to be fairly effective and that I increased it to the dose that threw me over the edge in response to trying to cope effectively with the emotional abuse in my previous relationship. I told her I would consider taking it again but that when I first started taking 37.5 mg  I spent the first 5 days extremely high and unable to sleep, eat and relax my muscles. I told her it was similar to an ecstasy high. She swore loudly, apologized, and explained that I had experienced a huge serotonin surge which is how individuals can get serotonin syndrome. This can be fatal and obviously something I would want to avoid!

My message is always the same. Listen to your body, advocate for what you need or have a trusted person support you and be open to the experience of others!

8 Tips for Dealing With Mental Health Stigma (Discrimination)

Stan Popovich, on The Huffington Post, shared his 8 tips for dealing with mental health stigma (I prefer the word discrimination).

  1. Talk to a counsellor– “Seeking professional help will help you to overcome your current issues. In addition, a counselor will be able to give you additional advice on how to deal with your friends and coworkers.”
  2. Don’t argue with others-“It is not your job to convince people that you are right and they are wrong. Your health is more important than what other people may think.”
  3. Watch who you hang out with– “It is important to surround yourself with positive people. Try to keep your distance from those people who are giving you a difficult time.”
  4. You are not alone– “There are millions of people around the world who struggle with their fears, anxieties, depression, and stresses. The key is to find those people who can relate to you through various support groups in your area.”
  5. Stand your ground– “It is important to stand your ground when dealing with family members and coworkers who are giving you a hard time. Explain your situation and your feelings to the people in your life, however don’t let them hassle you.”
  6. Join a support group– “These support groups will be supportive of your situation and give you additional advice regarding your problems. Joining a support group is very important in a person’s recovery and ability to find people who can relate to you.”
  7. Learn to take it one day at a time– “Instead of worrying about how you will get through the rest of the week or coming month, try to focus on today. Each day can provide us with different opportunities to learn new things and that includes learning how to deal with your problems.”
  8. Don’t give up– “You will not get better if you sit on the couch and don’t make an effort to get better. You need to know that you will eventually get better. Do not lose hope even during the worse of times. You problems will not last forever, and things do eventually change for the better.”

This is a good list. These are all strategies we should engage in but I find the strategies on this list to be very passive and more so putting pressure on the individual to handle other people’s stupidity. I would like to add a tip to this list.

9. Become a mental health advocate.

Critically and constructively challenge discriminatory views. Educate others about your experience and the experience of others. Help friends and family learn where they have learned what they know about mental health. Start a blog, tumblr, Twitter, Facebook page, group, etc that puts the truth out there and supports recovery.

Becoming a mental health advocate is what has helped me the most and I have seen the power I have to show people another way of thinking and being. I know this kind of work is not for everyone but every little bit counts.

Do you have any tips for dealing with mental health discrimination?

Two Awesome Ladies Speak Out Against Stigma

Yes, I am one of those awesome ladies! The other is my great friend Lillian!

This is a blog posting from the youth mental health organization we are both a part of, Young Ones, about how we came to speak with CAMH about their Defeat Denial Campaign. Blog post is also by another amazing young woman, J.

Please also check out Young Ones!

“I don’t want society to continue to receive the wrong message or one message about mental health,” Bellows said. “I was worried that if I was reading these ads in a negative way then others would as well, and the outcome could be further stereotyping.” -Kristen

“It felt really great to see such a big organization make a large scale change with advice from the [mental health] community,” Birchall said. “[CAMH] stepped up to take feedback from people who were affected by this campaign, and then delivered on their word.” -Lillian

The DSM Does Things Right….SOMETIMES!

DSM-V To Rename Gender Identity Disorder

Yes, you read that right and how exciting!!!!!!

Here is an article from The Advocate.

DSM-V To Rename Gender Identity Disorder ‘Gender Dysphoria’

The newest edition of the psychiatric diagnostic manual will do away with labeling transgender people as “disordered.”


JULY 23 2012

The newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, will replace the diagnostic term “Gender Identity Disorder” with the term “Gender Dysphoria,” according to the Associated Press.

For years advocates have lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to change or remove categories labeling transgender people in a psychiatric manual, arguing that terms like “Gender Identity Disorder” characterize all trans people as mentally ill. Based on the standards to be set by the DSM-V, individuals will be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria for displaying “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.”

“All psychiatric diagnoses occur within a cultural context,” said Jack Drescher, a member of the APA subcommittee working on the revision. “We know there is a whole community of people out there who are not seeking medical attention and live between the two binary categories. We wanted to send the message that the therapist’s job isn’t to pathologize.”

Homosexuality was diagnosed in the DSM as an illness until 1973, and conditions pertaining to homosexuality were not entirely removed until 1987. According to Dana Beyer, who helped the Washington Psychiatric Society make recommendations on matters of gender and sexuality, the new term implies a temporary mental state rather than an all-encompassing disorder, a change that helps remove the stigma transgender people face by being labeled “disordered.”

“A right-winger can’t go out and say all trans people are mentally ill because if you are not dysphoric, that can’t be diagnosed from afar,” Beyer told the AP. “It no longer matters what your body looks like, what you want to do to it, all of that is irrelevant as far as the APA goes.”

From a legal perspective, the classification of Gender Identity Disorder is extremely harmful to some trans people, but surprisingly beneficial to others.

In one legal case, says San Francisco psychiatrist Dan Karasic, a trans woman from Utah risks losing the children she fathered before her transition. Because she is trans, a lawyer has argued that her GID is a “severe, chronic mental illness that might be harmful to the child.”

But in other cases, a GID diagnosis justifies insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery and other medical procedures that sometimes accompany a transition. Having a diagnosis is the difference between a necessary medical procedure and something that can be perceived as cosmetic surgery that insurance won’t cover, Drescher says.

Others argue that GID should stay in the DSM in some form because it provides a solid legal defense for transgender people who have experienced discrimination based on their gender identity.

“Having a diagnosis is extremely useful in legal advocacy,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “We rely on it even in employment discrimination cases to explain to courts that a person is not just making some superficial choice … that this is a very deep-seated condition recognized by the medical community.”

Mental health professionals who work with trans clients are also pushing for a revised list of symptoms, so that a diagnosis will not apply to people whose distress comes from external prejudice, adults who have transitioned, or children who simply do not meet gender stereotypes.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the American Psychiatric Association.

Remember Those CAMH Ads?

Maybe You Need to be Committed?

Myself, a few friends and colleagues of mine are going to tackle CAMH’s ads for the Defeat Denial campaign.

I’m so nervous!

This is the Facebook post made by my friend and colleague Lillian to get more people to come out and help:

Has anyone seen the new CAMH ads? 

Kristen, Mhairi and I [Lillian] feel (and we are not alone in this) that the new CAMH ads are stigmatizing and demeaning, among other things towards people with mental health issues… They take a cheap shot and we want to take action to address this. We want to open a respectful dialogue with CAMH that lets them know how we feel and request that the ads be changed. 

We are meeting next Thursday at 9:15 outside 377 Dundas West to begin discussing how we will address this issue. If you would like to be involved in this- please feel free to meet us, or if you cannot make the meeting/ do not want to attend our first meeting but still want to be involved, please shoot us a message saying you want to participate and make your voice heard.


A Patient Contract

I found this on Psychology Today and thought it was great! This is something we need in mental health and all healthcare! You can print this contract out and have your doctor sign it!

Imagine if you and your doctor signed a contract like this: 

As patient and doctor, you and I are entering into a partnership. As such—and with all due respect—I’d like to clarify a few things about the terms of this partnership and how I hope we can work together with the mutual goal of my whole health and healing.

My Voice Matters

I agree to speak up and use the voice of my intuition and my own self-healing knowledge.  I understand that you are not giving orders, but rather you are giving advice based on your knowledge, training, and intuition. Both of our voices are equally important if we are to be partners.  I am not here to be “fixed” because I am not broken. I am here to be supported, guided, and given the tools to support my own healing process.

I Can Heal Myself

Just as my arm can knit and heal when it breaks, the rest of me is capable of self-healing as well.  As my doctor you will act as my proverbial plaster cast, but my own self-healing mechanisms will need to do the rest.  I fully believe that I already have within me the power to heal myself.  When we meet, I will gaze, with love, into the mirror you hold up for me so that I may see what I need in order to optimize my wellness and happiness, so that I may live the most joyous, vibrant, fulfilling, sexy, healthy life possible. Although you will support me, by educating me, giving me choices, answering my questions, and making recommendations, I know that I am here to be the force behind my own healing. You may offer me the tools you have become an expert in providing—drugs, surgeries, and any other treatments you deem helpful, but I understand that I must do the heavy lifting myself.

If I am not ready, willing, or able to be a proactive force in my own healing process, you will be here to nurture and support me, but I understand that the process will be less powerful, with less dramatic results.

You Won’t Blame Me & I Won’t Blame Myself

You will not blame me for being sick, depressed, or otherwise in need of healing. If I did bring this upon myself, you will treat me with compassion, not judgment. During this process I will not blame myself either, even if my body decided that the only way to get my attention was via this health condition. I vow to be kind, loving, and nonjudgmental with myself, as well. I will simply accept my body’s wisdom with compassion and love and try my best to listen when it whispers.

I also realize that you’re not suggesting that every illness or problem will be cured, either by my hands or yours. We both know that healing and curing are different, and that one can happen without the other. Although our goal will always be to achieve both, we will both understand that we must set goals, but release attachment to outcomes and surrender to Divine will.  In this very surrender, healing lies.

We Are Equals

Although you spent many years training to earn the right to be my doctor, you are not “better” than me, and as such, you will treat me as a cherished equal. I’m the one living with my health conditions, and no one knows my body better than I do. If I come to you after accessing Doctor Google, you will listen to my intuition regarding what I think may be in need of healing.  In order for our partnership to be successful, we must—absolutely must—respect each other. I will not put you on a pedestal, and you will not look down upon me. When possible, you will make every attempt to speak to me when we are both dressed, and you will only leave me naked and feeling vulnerable in the brief moments when you need to examine me.

You accept that your time is not more valuable than mine. You will make every attempt to avoid making me wait for my appointment, and I will not be late. When we spend time together, you will focus your full attention on me, and I on you.

Please, Don’t Forget That Love Heals

If you have to share something with me that might make me scared, please do it with compassion. If you have to tell me I have cancer, or my baby died, I’d love for you to give me a hug and tell me that you’re here with me. Patients like me need to feel we’re not alone. If that feels uncomfortable for you, at least offer me kind words to reassure me that we’re in this together.

Trust My Intuition

You will call upon your knowledge, experience, and resources to offer me recommendations for preventative care, diagnostic workups, and treatment plans, but you will also invite me to listen to the intuition of my healing inner wisdom, my body, and my soul. You’ll understand that the reason I visit Doctor Google is to garner knowledge about my illness and to tap into that knowledge to see what might fit with my intuition. I do this not because I don’t trust you, but because it’s the only way I feel empowered. 

You will offer me your best guidance based on your expertise, and you will explain why you make the recommendations you do, but you will always respect my autonomy, without judgment. You will not take it personally if I question you. If I choose not to follow your advice, we will negotiate another plan that resonates with my intuition. In exchange, I agree to follow through on any treatment plan we agree upon. If our treatment plan does not resonate with my body’s wisdom, or if I have financial constraints, I will tell you so that we can modify our plan. Follow through is key. We must walk this path together in order to manifest the results I know we can achieve together.

Ultimately, the choices for how we proceed will always be a compromise between my intuition and yours. If you are unable to provide the care I need or desire, you will release me to follow my heart or find another provider without taking it personally. I will understand if our current medical-legal climate makes you cover your ass sometimes, and I won’t take it personally.

You Believe In Me

You believe in my capacity to heal from any illness, trauma, or loss, even if other doctors have deemed me “incurable.” As such, you will never view me as hopeless or broken. You will tell it to me straight so I understand science and statistics, but you will never tell me hope is gone, because miracles happen, and I have the power to enable them.

We Must Be Honest With Each Other

We have to be open and tell the truth, even if it is painful or uncomfortable. You will promise me confidentiality, and I promise to tell you anything you need to know in order to provide the best medical care possible. We must trust that we are safe together, so we can explore things that may be tough to explore. We must open our hearts to the loving kindness and compassion that is a necessary part of any healing relationship.

You Are Only Human

As your patient, I will understand that you, like me, are a mere mortal, prone to mistakes, flaws, insecurities, ego, fatigue, tears, and distractions in your personal life. I will not put you on a pedestal, and I will cut you some slack if you’re less than perfect, just as you will do with me. If you let me down, I will tell you gently, rather than bottling it up and storing it as resentment against you. In return, you will share with me how you feel about our relationship. If at any point, one of us cannot meet the other’s needs, we are free to dissolve this relationship at any time with loving kindness and compassion. You’re Doing The Best You Can, And So Am I.

As patient and doctor, we agree to accept that we’re both doing the best we can at any given time, and we won’t always get it right. We commit to open communication, mutual respect, a belief in the infinite capacity for whole health and healing, and a dedication to cherishing the process and viewing health issues as an opportunity to seek higher ground.

We acknowledge that, between you and me, anything is possible.

Are you on board? If so, sign here.

X marks the spot,

Your Patient Continue reading

My Complaint Letter to the Ryersonian: Response to “Depression on Campus”

“There is more to me and more to my community than suicide, sadness and hopelessness.” 

(I did not pursue anything beyond this letter because I deemed it not worth my time. My next experience with the Ryersonian was much better!)


My name is Kristen Bellows and I’m a Mad social worker, Research Coordinator at Young Ones Breaking Barriers, a researcher with a mental health group called the Madvocates, have spoken at mental health conferences and have written about mental health stigma.

 I was an interviewee in the feature by Katherine in volume 66, number 7 of the Ryersonian. While I understand the intention of the feature article on my experience of depression while going through university as spreading awareness on the issue when I read the article I became extremely upset over how I was portrayed. This also stems to how individuals with mental health issues are portrayed in the media. It was mentioned in the article that stigma surrounding mental health issues can be isolating and doesn’t help in seeking treatment. I feel this article did not create the proper understanding and hope that I had discussed or wanted to discuss in the interview.

Instances such as the opening observation of “no glaringly visible scars” on my “bare wrists”, the placement of my positive message of strength in the middle and a negative, and I feel hopeless, closing paragraph describing my relationships, alcohol consumption and cutting, and finally the overall sombre tone help create the stigma you are supposed to be breaking.

The interview questions were all about symptoms, suicide and treatment. There was little to no thought on where I am now. I mention in my interview that I no longer have depression but this was not said in the article. Talking about recovery is extremely important in reducing stigma and creating hope for those experiencing the hopelessness of a mental health issue. I also mentioned that I joined groups that portray mental health positively and that was not included. There is more too me and more to my community than suicide, sadness and hopelessness. The article focused on the negative when it is the positive that is so important. When I have told my story at other events this has been the focus.

I would like a more positive rewrite where I am actually shown as the happy and successful woman that I am in the online article or have the article completely removed online. I am very upset by this article and feel that future articles on the topic should consider a more positive approach.

Thank you for your time and for beginning to pursue mental health awareness at Ryerson.