Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Genesis 9:13

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I was reading a book (You Saved Me Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me about Living, Dying, Fighting, Loving, and Swearing in Yiddish by Susan Kushner Resnick, 2013, pg. 85) this evening that had the following passage:

I firmly believe mental illness is a disease of the brain, just like asthma is a disease of the lungs.  No one brings it on himself.

That part is fair and good.  No problems here.

Low-level depression is like a bad cold-sometimes you need medicine, sometimes you just need time.  What I had, post-partum depression-is like pneumonia: acute, but curable with  the right course of drugs.

Here there is a problem.  What about all the people with moderate to severe depression that isn't post-partum? They too need treatment in many to most cases.  And post-partum depression can be mild and not require treatment.  Even if the analogy is simply that depression is like a cold and ranges from needing time to needing treatment that still can overly medicalize it since some people benefit the most from psychotherapy and few colds improve from talking about it.  However, that's not my real problem.

My real problem is this:
Bipolar disorder is more like asthma-chronic, but usually controllable if you take the medicine-and schizophrenia is like lung cancer.  Catch it early and it might not ruin your life.

And while this is a book about a woman's relationship with a Holocaust survivor, not a treatise on mental illness, this is presented so factually that it needs to be addressed.  There is not a mood disorder spectrum.  There is not a mental illness spectrum.  One person's depression can be much more debilitating that someone else's bipolar disorder.  Some people with schizophrenia respond well to treatment and after an initial diagnosis function well on meds for many years without issues (I'm sure they have drug issues, but they succeed despite their diagnosis).  I have faithfully taken every medication handed to me and ultimately my bipolar disorder made me really, really ill although I was able to fight with all my strength and do ok for a number of years.  I even did well a little of the time.  But the spectrum thing is too simplistic and too big on the "she's sicker than you because she has post-partum depression and you "just" have depression while I'm sicker than both of you with bipolar but not as sick as him because he has schizophrenia."  That thinking is not good. So if you read it please undo it in your head.

1 comment:

Jean Grey said...

I don't agree with those characterizations either. Nothing is that simple. But I think it is what I lot of people believe, that there is this hierarchy of mental illnesses, and that if people just kept taking their meds they would never relapse.