Popular Blog: Are “Chemical Imbalances” Real Or Myth


(1-19-18) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY. Written in March 2011, this slightly edited blog about chemical imbalances remains one of my most read. That term was popular back then but now has fallen from favor. What hasn’t changed is that despite the spending of millions of dollars and hundreds and hundreds of hours of research we still don’t understand the causes of serious mental illnesses. Happy to read your comments on my Facebook page about neuroscience progress during the past seven years, about which, I might not be familiar.

Chemical Imbalances: Real or Imagined

One of the first terms that parents and others often hear when someone shows symptoms of having a mental disorder is “chemical imbalance.” It is the catch-all that often is used to explain why someone suddenly shows signs of major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. I remember being shocked when I used this term in a news article and was later confronted by a self-identified, anti-psychiatry reader who informed me there is absolutely no evidence that mental illnesses are real and/or caused by biological problems inside the brain.

So I was happy when I read: SHRINK RAP: Three Psychiatrist Explain Their Work written by Dinah Miller, M.D. Annette Hanson, M.D. and Steven Roy Daviss, M.D..

The doctors, who write a popular mental health blog offer their take on “chemical imbalances” and I found their comments helpful.

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Baltimore Incident Is Simply The Latest In Patient Dumping: Hospitals And Jails Find Creative Ways To Rid Themselves Of Patients

(1-15-17) The viral video footage of a woman, clad only in a hospital gown, being literally dumped on a Baltimore street by University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) employees last week in freezing temperatures outraged viewers.

In a mea culpa press conference, the hospital’s top official, Dr. Mohan Suntha, declared: “We take full responsibility for this failure,” and left the impression that patient dumping is rare and a freak occurrence.

Sadly, that’s just not true. It has been going on for decades and now hospitals are not the only ones finding creative ways to rid themselves of poor patients with serious mental illnesses rather than treating them.

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“We can’t let you see him, we can only let you know that he’s here.” Mother Searching For Homeless Ill Son.

(1-12-18) Another excellent story by Washington Post writer Terrance McCoy about mental illness, cold temperatures and homelessness, a much commented on discussion in a blog that I posted last Friday. 

Her ‘perfect child’ was now schizophrenic and homeless. Could she find him on one of the year’s coldest days?

Kerry McBride at her home in Arlington, Va., on January 5. During frigid weather, she worries even more about her son, who has paranoid schizophrenia and is homeless. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
  Published in the Washington Post
Another morning of questions began with the most basic of them all. Where was her son? Was he okay? Or was he frozen on some street corner?Kerry McBride, 46, looked outside. The windows of her Arlington townhouse were fogged over, but she could still see the ground was covered with snow. It was 25 degrees and the temperature was expected to sink into the teens by the next day, and here she was, fretting, while her boy was out there, somewhere.

The questions were always with her, but they haunted her on days like today, when McBride, a career State Department employee, was home from work with nothing to do while she recovered from a recent surgery but dwell on what had happened to Michael, a 23-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, undergoing his first winter of homelessness. She thought about how quickly the illness had seized him. And how, in just three years, he had gone from a sweet and loving college student to delusional, homeless and alone.

“I’ve got to see him,” she was saying again and again. “I’ve got to see him.”


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One In Four Fatal Police Shootings Involve Individuals With A Mental Illness

(1-9-18) In October, I posted a blog by a Crisis Intervention Team trained police officer who argued that law enforcement should not be sent to answer non-emergency mental health calls. The Washington Post today published an editorial that documents that one-in-four fatal police shootings involve someone with a mental illness. Why? The most obvious reason is because we are not helping individuals with mental disorders before they reach a crisis stage.

Almost 1,000 were killed by police last year. Here’s what to do about it.

A police academy graduation for the New York City Police Department. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

POLICE SHOT and killed 987 people in the United States last year. That is two dozen more than in the year before and nearly identical to the number of people killed by police the year before that. The lack of appreciable change in the numbers is a depressing sign that, though much attention has been focused on this issue in the past three years, authorities are falling short in devising and implementing solutions.

The sobering look at the use of deadly force by police is the result of an unprecedented effort by The Post to track fatal shootings in the aftermath of the national debate sparked by the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, outside St. Louis. The ongoing project, using local news coverage, public records and social-media reports, has logged details of 2,945 shooting deaths. The Post’s compilation has pointed up the inadequacies of the FBI’s record-keeping, which relies on voluntary submissions from police and shows far fewer shootings. More importantly, the project has revealed patterns in the shootings that could lead to more effective action. The decline in the number of unarmed people shot suggests, for example, that heightened awareness and scrutiny may result in police showing more restraint before using deadly force in some circumstances.

Particularly striking is how often mental-health issues play a role in police shootings. In 2017, 236 people — nearly 1 in 4 of those killed — were reported to have been experiencing some form of mental distress at the time of their encounter with police.

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Virginia Slowly Moving Forward With Diversion Programs For Individuals With Mental Illnesses.

(1-8-18) Kudos to Alexandria Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter for assigning a senior supervisory prosecutor to screen cases for persons whose arrest stemmed from some obvious mental illness and not criminogenicity.

Prosecutor Porter has put Molly Sullivan, a chief deputy prosecutor, in charge of reviewing arrestees for possible participation in a diversion program that will offer them treatment instead of languishing in jail. The goal is to address the underlying cause of crimes committed by people with severe mental illness, decrease the length of any incarceration, and to avoid it entirely in those cases where the safety of the community can be served by pre-trial services and mental health treatment and/or probation, according to reporter Denise Dunbar, writing in the Alexandria Times.

“As a society, we simply must do a better job in addressing mental illness. Far too often, police, the sheriff and prosecutors are asked to be the primary treatment providers for the mentally ill, and it should be obvious that we have neither the expertise nor the resources to adequately address the myriad of issues raised by mentally ill citizens,” Porter told the newspaper.


However, more than thirteen years ago when I was doing research for my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, the prosecutor’s office in Miami Dade Florida had one of its chief prosecutors doing exactly what Sullivan has been assigned.

Yes, that was more than a decade ago!

Virginia residents should be asking if their jurisdiction has a Molly Sullivan. (The state’s constitution requires that every county and every city be served by a commonwealth’s attorney.)

The diversion step that Commonwealth Attorney Porter is taking is part of a sequential intercept model concept designed to identify those who are being incarcerated primarily because of their illnesses – typically on charges such as trespassing and loitering – and divert them into treatment.

Such programs have proven to save tax dollars and help persons recover who are sick.

Porter’s actions are another step in several that are happening across the state, primarily because of the efforts of state Senator Creigh Deeds (D.) and Delegate Rob Bell (R.), Sadly, our state remains behind others.

One glaring example of footdragging is the state’s refusal to launch mental health courts as part of diversion efforts. In Virginia, you can’t even utter that term. You have to refer to them as mental health “dockets” or “behavioral dockets” because state legislators and many prosecutors are afraid they will be accused of giving special treatment to defendants.

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Stopped Meds, Booted From Shelter, Freezing Temperatures, People Walk By, She Dies. Why? Who is to Blame?

(1-5-18) According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council:

Seven hundred people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States – subnormal temperature in the body – remains a leading, critical and preventable cause of injury and death among those experiencing homelessness.

Whenever there is a deadly drop in temperatures, most cities try to persuade homeless individuals to enter shelters, but there are reasons why they refuse. In D.C., many shelters are not safe and most have a two bag limit, meaning you can’t take anything inside with you except two garbage bags of belongings. That means all of your worldly possessions are abandoned outside for others to pick through.

But there is another reason that many officials refuse to acknowledge: the homeless person sleeping on the street has an untreated serious mental illness and co-occurring abuse problem. They are not thinking rationally.

In the richest country in the world, there should be no homelessness. The answer is Housing First.

Stories about homeless persons with serious mental illnesses dying from hypothermia always upset and anger me, but none did as much as a story that I first posted in 2010. Has your community taken steps to stop these senseless deaths?


From My Files: The residents of Morrisville, Pa., got an intimate look this holiday season at our troubled mental health care system. Paulette Wilkie, a homeless woman with a long history of schizophrenia, was found dead from exposure. The 56 year-old woman’s  body was discovered last week behind Ben’s Deli, a sandwich shop that she frequented.

Temperatures the night before had dropped into the mid 20s. But that was not cold enough to trigger the county’s emergency homeless plan. Temperatures must sink to 20 degrees or below for two consecutive days before teams can be dispatched to try to persuade homeless persons to come indoors.

Reporter Ben Finley, writing in the Bucks County Courier Timesnoted that people who knew Wilkie said she likely would not have gone into a shelter anyway. The owner of Ben’s Deli said Wilkie refused help from people concerned about her safety and health.Click to continue…