Every once in awhile, one of my readers will ask for my input on a product, service, or system that relates to mental health. It’s usually in the holistic or alternative medicine categories. It recently occurred to me that many of the people shilling bullshit and false hope to desperate people parade the angle presented in the title: “Do you REALLY think you inherited a chemical imbalance?”
Let’s take a dive into marketing psychology really quick. This kind of open-ended question is not designed to make you think yes or no, even though it is a yes or no question. Instead, it is designed to instill doubt in your mind. What did you think when you read the title? Did you think, “Oh that’s total bullshit!” Did you think, “Wait, that does sound kind of ridiculous.” What was the reason that you clicked the link and landed on my blog? It’s not because you thought yes or no, is it?
Businesses and advertisers bet their advertising budgets on that kind of thinking every day.
I was asked to look over a book and system that a medical doctor was selling through their website. The central theme of the author’s message was “Isn’t it a little ridiculous that the establishment says you can inherit a chemical imbalance? You can fix that with diet changes, regular sleep, and natural living!” I could tell that their website copy was written by marketers and probably proofread by a lawyer because there were no solid assertions, only leading questions like the above, designed to funnel your mind down a particular path: that it’s totally ridiculous that you can inherit a chemical imbalance and you should buy my book and two month long program for a metric shit-ton of cash to get it under control!
About 80% of the information on the site was valid, useful information. The problem is that they willfully omitted a chunk of very important, relevant information that helps to clarify the entire picture. In retrospect, I realized that quite a few people selling bullshit products and services do the same thing. They sell the angle of chemical imbalance pretty hard because it doesn’t sound severe, much like “mood disorder” doesn’t sound all that severe until you understand what it is.
Do I REALLY think I inherited a chemical imbalance? No. I think I inherited a genetic predisposition for the physical differences of the brain that CAUSES Bipolar Disorder and the chemical imbalances associated with it. It is known that Bipolar Disorder is genetic and heritable. It is known that the brain of a Bipolar person is physically different.
How many Bipolar people reading this right now can think of at least one other family member who is likely Bipolar? How many supporters reading this can clearly see other examples of mental illness in their loved one’s family? I know that it is pretty damned clear in my own family history.
Why would Bipolar Disorder frolic through the family lineages of many of us? The only truly unifying thread is the genetic information being passed down. There are plenty of people who do not manifest a mental illness that runs in the family. That’s what genetic predisposition is all about. That link points to a discussion about recessive and dominant genes as related to hair color and eye color, a very common way to explain genetic predisposition.
The same is true for several mental illnesses. Just because there is a genetic predisposition for it, a potential for it to be there, doesn’t mean it will emerge. Neither of my parents or any of my siblings manifested Bipolar Disorder; but once you start jumping out to extended family then you can see evidence of it all over the place.
Con artists and the ignorant parade and tout the chemical imbalance angle without ever addressing the real question: “Why is the chemical imbalance there in the first place?” They also tend to conveniently leave out the numerous other factors associated with Bipolar Disorder; such as overworking and inhibited sections of the brain it affects, volume loss of brain matter that intensifies unwell cycles, abnormalities in the way the brain communicates between sections, and more.
“But, Dennis! You’re not a doctor or mental health professional!”
Correct. I am not. There are plenty of qualified professionals out there who are ignorant, have no idea what they’re talking about, or are just plain terrible people. A lot of people look at “Doctor” and think “trustworthy.” I once had a doctor for all of 10 minutes, right up until he revealed that he “didn’t believe in Bipolar Disorder,” and wasn’t going to re-prescribe my lithium because “I didn’t need it.” Now, for people that are unaware, lithium is not a “fun” drug. No one wants to take the shit. It doesn’t get you high or anything of the sort. I don’t take it because I like it or because it’s fun. No one does. I take it because it keeps me sane and from tearing my life to pieces on a regular basis.
And that does not mean that all doctors or mental health professionals are bad. Not at all. I’ve had some great ones. Trust, but verify.
“But, Dennis! People with Bipolar Disorder are normal just like anyone else!”
No. We’re not. And the sooner that we come to terms with that, the easier it is to swallow all of the bullshit that we have to go through to be well, balanced, and maintain it long-term. Our minds are physically different. Our thought processes are different. Our emotional reactions are different. We are not “normal.” We have to learn how to live and exist in a way that is right for us, that will allow us to find whatever happiness and peace of mind that we can find, and mitigate the destruction that can surround us due to unwell cycles.
People that push ideas like, “it’s just a chemical imbalance” are not just selling a product, they are selling false hope that we can be normal. “Just buy my books/program/services/crystals/chakra realignment/psychic healing/nutrition plan/herbal supplement and then you can be just like everyone else, too! We have a simple solution to all of the pain, misery, suffering, loss, and destruction you’ve suffered! Big Pharma just wants to turn you into a customer! Not cure you! BUY MY SHIT!”
Those products have as much chance of curing mental illness as it does of curing a gunshot wound. They don’t address the CAUSE of the symptoms, and science isn’t far enough along in it’s understanding of the brain and several mental illnesses to provide an ACTUAL cure. I may not be a doctor, but I know enough to understand how monumental and complex the task is.
“But, Dennis! Psych medication doesn’t treat the cause of the symptoms either!”
Correct. It doesn’t. Nothing that we currently have does. Many people interpret this to mean that everything is equal, but it’s not. No one’s spent millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours, research, and study on the cause and effect relationship of how chakra realignment or “purging toxins” benefits a person. And frankly, if there were anything to it, “Big Pharma” would have already bought the rights to it and produced their own products if they were as Machiavellian as the alternative health crowd would have you believe. Martin Shkreli, anyone? It’s not like we’re living in a vacuum where Big Pharma would be totally oblivious to the information and claims.
“But, Dennis! Big Pharma does x, y, z evil/shady/awful thing!”
No. “Big Pharma” does not. Humans involved in Big Pharma may or may not be doing awful things. But the same is true for anything, anywhere that humans are involved. For example, Steven Nardizzi, the CEO of Wounded Warrior Project allegedly using donation funds like a party slush fund. The Non-Profit sector didn’t do that. The Wounded Warrior Project didn’t do that. These are the alleged actions and decisions made by one person that affected a whole lot of other people, including denying wounded veterans the resources that donors were putting into their mission. Can we just write off the entire Non-Profit sector because of his actions? No. That would be stupid.
Just like we can’t write off the pharmaceutical industry because there are bad players in their number.
Be wary of anyone providing easy answers or making grand claims. In my experience, they’re either ignorant of the complexity of the problem or are con artists preying on the confused, hopeless, and desperate. I hope the few bucks in profit are worth the tax that comes with contributing to the suffering, chaos, and suicides of at-risk people and their family members.
And yes, I purposefully chose not to include that doctor’s name in this blog post. Putting that person on blast is not the point. The point is to better enable you to spot any person like them that may derail and jeopardize your pursuit of wellness and happiness.
Bipolar Disorder is a manageable mental illness. But it’s hard. It’s all hard. And not everyone will succeed, for reasons too numerous to list.
Beware of anyone selling simple solutions. They do not exist.