The Horror, The Horror

Written by Amanda Barnabe and Jen M. Padron

old empty room by barnabe
Old Room, Photo Credit: Amanda Barnabe, 2015

The first line of treatment in US psychiatric care is the prescription of psychotropic medications to an effected individual exhibiting mental diversity symptomology entailing behavioral and/or physical medically descriptive treatment.

The symptoms and prescribed diagnosis, according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual’s (DSM-5, 2016) symptomology of “Serious Mental Illness” (SMI) includes anxiety or panic disorder(s), behavioral and mood disorder(s) with the more complex or complicated issues being major depression and the bipolar or schizophrenia spectrum disorders.  The result then, is a dire public health crisis. Suicide completion numbers worldwide today tragically occur every 40 seconds[1] and injury accounts for 30-40% of excess mortality, where 60% of premature deaths in persons with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are due to medical conditions such as cardiovascular, pulmonary and infectious diseases[2]. Compared with adults without diagnosed mental illness issues, people with SMIhave higher rates of chronic disease, heart disease, seizure conditions, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.

Physical health problems are a major issue among individuals living with a psychiatric label.  Nearly half (45%) of all individuals living with any mental disorder have two or more debilitating physical disorders further lowering their quality of life and leading to a significantly high rate of comorbid physical issues[3].

Physical co-morbidities is the leading reason why people with SMI are dying 25 years earlier than the general population[4]. There is a higher frequency of multiple general medical conditions that more than double the rate of premature deaths from these conditions[5].

Loss of life expectancies in the United States for depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia has lowered total life expectancy by 12 – 25 years as compared to individuals not in the community public mental health system[6].  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[7] and NASMHPD[8] individuals living with a diagnosed SMI, limited to receipt of current public mental health care are dying on average 25 years nationwide earlier than those receiving private care for mental illness. Forty-six (46) years ago, in 1967, 1:3 American adults filled a prescription for a “psychoactive” medication, with total sales of this family of drugs reaching $692 million[9].

In the US, psychotropics are broadly prescribed, the least regulated, and fall in the fastest, biggest-selling class of drugs nationally. In 2010, $16.1 billion was spent on antipsychotics in the US, to treat depression, bipolar and schizophrenia.  $11.6 billion was spent on antidepressants, while $7.2 billion for the treatment for ADHD, according to IMS Health, which tracks prescription drug sales (Wall Street Journal, 2011). MH treatment spending between 2009 and 2020 estimates showed a percent contribution of each provider type to the eagerly anticipated $91 billion increase in the treatment for the SMI nationwide. The International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) refers to SMI as “mental disorders” (i.e., codes in sections 290 through 319)[10].

A medically, clinically necessary diagnosis substantiating the use of psychotropic medication dosing is geared to control and manage exhibited DSM-5 symptomology popularized and normalized by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, National Association of Social Work and the American Psychological Association. The US SMHA expenditures for mental health treatment alone was $38,098.64 in the millions (2013) which included jails, prisons, MH/SUD facilities, but not did not include children’s services nationwide[11]. 35.5% percent of all US Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries live with such a diagnosis[12]. The SSA 2012 numbers of 10,088,739 SSDI beneficiaries nearly doubled from 5,044,388 since 1995.

Kaiser Health Foundation of State Effected SMHA:

Using IMS data for 2012 as a starting point, baseline expenditures representing $/spent for SMI prescribed and purchased psychotropics are predicted using the formula (described earlier):

Δ expenditures = Δ P * Δ Q

where Δ means growth represented by 1 plus the percent change (example: 5.1 percent growth = 1.051), P represents price of services, and Q represents quantity of services. Spending was projected at the molecular level for those products expected to lose patent protection or at the therapeutic class level for all classes where the generic share was higher than 70 percent.

“For quantity of prescriptions, growth in the number of prescriptions for each therapeutic class was projected using the “target growth” technique described in the baseline projections section above. This method uses average growth over 2009–2012 and, in one case, over the longer time period of 2002–2012 to establish the growth rate at the end of the period. An assumption that the growth in volume will change gradually from 2012 to 2020 to hit that target growth rate was used.  In addition, patent expiration dates were used to determine points in time when branded medicines lost market exclusivity and would lose volume. The assumption was also made that most consumers would switch from a branded to the generic version, with 70 percent of the switching occurring in the first year after patent expiration and 95 percent in the second year after patent expiration,” (HHS Publication No. SMA-14-4883, 2014).

Source:  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Projections of National Expenditures for Treatment of Mental and Substance Use Disorders, 2010–2020. HHS Publication No. SMA-14-4883. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014[13].

Social stigma for diagnosis and living with an SMI increases triggers and stressors to an already vulnerable, disenfranchised, marginalized and impoverished population of citizens living with perceived mental illness and physical comorbidity. LGBQT individuals are 2 or more times more likely than heterosexual individuals to have a mental health condition. 11% of trans individuals reported being denied care by mental health clinics due to bias or discrimination. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender queer, trans and questioning youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.

Critical Issues Faced by Multicultural Communities[14]:

  • Culturally insensitive health care system
  • Higher levels of stigma
  • Language barriers
  • Lower rates of health insurance
  • Less access to treatment
  • Less likely to receive treatment
  • Poorer quality of care
  • Racism, bias, homophobia or discrimination in treatment settings

Trending study on the association of ill health and SMI includes analysis of physical wellness measures and Quality of Life (QoL).  QoL has emerged to be an “influential outcome measure in people with psychosis”[15] related most significantly to schizophrenia and major depression.  There is a significant relationship between physical health, overall subjective health levels and QoL in pervadive research between illness-related factors with chronic mental health disorders, substance abuse/addiction disorders and comorbidities.  Psychiatric and comorbidities ill-health symptoms diminish QoL[16]. Preventable physical health conditions rise out of the lack of exercise due to the high rate of tobacco smoking, poor nutrition and prescribed psychotropic medication side effects, giving way to cardiovascular disease, raised sugar levels (Type 2 diabetes), hypertension, and liver disease[17].

The physical health of individuals living with a psychiatric and/or substance abuse disorder and comorbidity is currently inordinately neglected in treatment which requires an Integrated care solution. Co-locating behavioral and physical primary care providers to deliver a balanced, whole regimen in assessment, treatment plan and a consistent continuum of care[18] in a public/private health care environment.  Drake, et al., (1998) support an Integrated behavioral health and substance abuse treatment in an assertive community treatment (ACT) approach for patients living with a psychiatric and substance abuse/addiction dual disorder based upon clinical and epidemiological data indicating that the rate of the SMI population with comorbidity are significantly higher than in the general population[19]. Reducing the severity of needs for individuals living with an SMI and substance abuse/addiction disorder benefits ensures a higher experienced personal QoL for recipients of public community health services[20]. Predictors of higher QoL stem from lowered needs, having one’s personal and social supports in place, having a higher personal feeling of worth, less substance abuse/addiction disorders and having housing in place increases self-worth and predicts a favorable long-term outcome in schizophrenia with better daily and social functioning[21].

The absence and lowered levels of personal needs, having a sense of daily hope, lessened social exclusion, greater safety to self and a measureable, identified personal benefit to living are directly involved with greater personal QoL[22]showing value in ensuring a higher QoL in this disenfranchised population.  It has been argued that “… fostering hope and positive self-concept should be central components of recovery-oriented services and interventions…”[23] and is strongly linked to individuals experiencing increased QoL. An effective early intervention method to improving the physical health of adults with SMI to achieve higher overall QoL’s and meaningful Physical Health Quality of Life (PHQoL) is to develop and implement effective, culturally attune and sustainable lifestyle interventions[24].

In the scientific literature, there have been several reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on Peer providers (Certified Peer Specialist, Forensic Peer Recovery Specialist, Recovery Coach and Community Health Worker) for mental health services. Controlled studies substituting people with lived experience for providers of direct or adjunctive mental health services generally find the same impact on service user outcomes as other mental health providers, with improved treatment outcomes in some instances with no additional risk of harm to service users[25]. There is also theoretical literature which addresses the challenges and benefits of hiring consumer providers in mental health agencies[26] and a long history of activist writings on the importance of leadership, community-building, and mutual support among people with lived experience of the mental health system[27].

As of February 2016, 43 States, two Territories (Guam and Puerto Rico), the District of Columbia and the Veterans Administration system have established programs to train and certify Peer specialists is in process of developing and/or implementing a program. Appalachia Consulting[28] contracted proprietary CPS curricula is used in 23 states. Recovery Resources[29] free CPS curricula is used broadly by the Department of Veterans Affairs and a limited number of states. Recovery Innovations / Recovery Opportunities (Ashcraft, 2015) contracted and proprietary CPS curricula is also broadly purchased and contractually provided.

Given the groundswell of perspectives that endorse the growing prominence and importance of Peer support in mental health and human services, it is essential that we document evidence to examine the impact the peer support workforce has on access to care, cost of services, participant outcomes, and system and provider outcomes[30]. Included in this must be rigorous research on the particular approaches and philosophies of peer support workers that make them an addition rather than a substitute for clinical and social care disciplines[31].

The real horror is that Western “medicines” were “supposed to make one feel better” and is juxtaposed with the overwhelming intention that psychotropics are chemical restraints designed to alleviate psychiatric symptomology. It is in the authors’ opinion that mental illness and the disease model rarely takes into consideration cultural bias, white privilege, trauma, re-traumatization or hate ofthe other. For the mentally ill, psychotropic medications hold the illusion of controlling (mal)behavior in that the individual is molded to meet public acceptance levels of socially accepted cultural mores, inherently white, male, patriarchal, heterosexual Judeo-Christian based and is hierarchical.

The caveat then, is that psychotropics are often not prescribed to improve apatient’s QoL alone, but rather, to shape neat predictable cookie cutter shapes of people with shared life experience or to fit antiquated sociocultural stereotype and meet appropriate biased social expectation and roles of compliance.



[1] World Health Organization (2016). Retrieved April 11, 2016

[2] National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Directors Council Report, 2006

[3] Harvard Mental Health Letter, (2003); NASMHPD, (2006); Parks, Svendsen, Singer, Foti, (2006).

[4] Fricks, (2012); Mental Health America, (2010); National Alliance on Mental Illness, (2011).

[5] Kelly, Boggs, and Conley, 2007; Mauer, 2006; Parks et al., 2006; Sokal et al., 2004; Saha, Chant, and McGrath, 2007; Laursen et al., 2013).

[6] Robert WhitakerAnatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, 2010.

[7] National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Directors Council Report, 2006.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Robert WhitakerAnatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, 2010.

[10] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Projections of National Expenditures for Treatment of Mental and Substance Use Disorders, 2010–2020. HHS Publication No. SMA-14-4883. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.

[11] National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute, Inc. (NRI), (2013)

[12] Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program

[13] SAMHSA, 1996 (Coffey et al., 2000; Levit et al., 2013; Levit, Kassed, Coffey, Mark, McKusick, et al., 2008; Levit, Kassed, Coffey, Mark, Stranges, et al., 2008; Mark et al., 2000; Mark et al., 2007; Mark and Coffey, 2004; Mark, Coffey, McKusick, et al., 2005; Mark, Coffey, Vandivort-Warren, et al., 2005; Mark, Levit, Vandivort-Warren, Buck, and Coffey, 2011; Mark, McKusick, King, Harwood, and Genuardi, 1998; McKusick et al., 1998; SAMHSA, 2010; SAMHSA, 2013).

[14] National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (2016). Cited statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health., the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, New Evidence Regarding Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mental Health and Injustice at every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

[15] Theodore, K., et al., 2012, p. 545

[16] Parks et al., (2006).

[17] Must, Spadano, Coakley, Field, Colditz, & Dietz, (1999).

[18] Robson & Keen, (2012).

[19] Cuffel, (1996).

[20] Fleury, M., et al, (2013).

[21] Karow, A., et al., (2014).

[22] Fleury, M., et al, (2013).

[23] Hodgekins & Fowler, 2010; Theodore, et al., (2012), p. 549.

[24] Fricks, L., (2014).

[25] Pitt, V., Lowe, D., Hill, S., Prictor, M., Hetrick, S. E., Ryan, R., & Berends, L., 2013; Chinman, M., George, P., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., Swift, A., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E., (2014).

[26] Davidson et al., (2006); NASMHPD, (2014).

[27] Chamberlin, (1978); Morrison, (2013).

[28] Fricks & Powell, (2015).

[29] Harrington, S., (2015)

[30] Hardin & Padron, (2014).

[31] Chinman, M., George, P., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., Swift, A., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E., (2014).

Published by jen padron

Mover and a shaker. Comrade. Community Bridger. Creative. Filmica. Sentimentalist. Imminent. Emergent Social Action. Change Agent. Voted for Hillary (2008, 2016).

One thought on “The Horror, The Horror

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: