I’m an Associate Professor at the Georgia State University in the School of Social Work. Early in my career in the late 1960s and 1970s, I worked as a ward aide and then as a social worker in the state hospital in Nebraska. The early training was very valuable. As years have gone by, diagnosing “the worried well” has taken off. Having witnessed who was in the state hospital population before the advent of antidepressants helped to differentiate which forms of life distress are truly disabling. Most of the people taking psychotropic medications today would not have been a focus of concern in the l960 and 1970s.
In graduate school, I took a lot of Social Psychology courses. From this area of study, I learned to appreciate that people can only accomplish what they believe themselves to be capable of. How one defines oneself matters. The process of labeling with DSM disorders can have very negative consequences. The “self-perception principle” matters for how people respond to trauma and stress as well.
After attaining my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, I worked as a psychologist in the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Department at CIGNA Health Plan. In the 1980 and early 1990s, very few alcoholics were diagnosed with a mental illness other than substance abuse. People quit drinking, went to AA meetings, and watched their lives becoming dramatically better. They achieved all of this without the assistance of drugs. Now, of course, few people attending treatment programs are left untouched by psych-meds.
During the time at CIGNA, I completed a two volume work on alcoholism. This endeavor further acquainted me with the neuroscience literature and the burgeoning literature on how stress influences the immune system and mood. Having been intrigued by the connections between mind and body, I pursued a Masters in Biology (Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry) while on faculty at Georgia State. Much of my class work and laboratory experience was focused on Immunology. I have published various papers on the links between behavior, disease, and immune system function as well as on the efficacy of antidepressants.
Because of my background in neuroscience and psychoneuroimmunology, I accept the premise that all human behavior, both normal and atypical, emanates from brain function, which, in turn, is influenced by immune system function, and hormones. However, because of my training, I appreciate that drugs are dangerous. Pharmaceuticals, at least all the ones that are currently available, result in a host of unintended consequences. Current psychotropic medications are unfocused attempts to mask symptoms. An alarming number of noxious and debilitating side effects accompany all of the current pharmacological interventions. Interventions to bolster natural resilience through talk therapy, proper diet, exercise, and support from your friends will probably offer the best strategies. In fact, the mechanisms through which these more benign interventions impact physiology have been illuminated. In examining impact on mood, particular foods and exercise prove just as effective as pharmaceuticals.
I intend to blog on updates on medications, diagnoses, ways to support resilience, and various trends in the mental health field. I can be reached at Littrell@gsu.edu.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.