Healing with an open mind

by Julie Hersh on October 21, 2010 · 13 comments

in depression,suicide

Author and guest blogger Julie Hersh

When I entered the Wellness Expo, my feet dragged. My sixth sense hinted my talk wasn’t right for the people gathered. A couple practiced yoga on the green grass. Each member of a trio swung a large swath of white fabric with a ball at its end – oversized slingshots without targets. Signs offered psychic readings. Not the crowd for my version of wellness, which includes medication and a controversial procedure called ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).

For the most part, I was wrong. I rattled off my Struck by Living Top Six, my personal list for wellness. I never offer my list as a solution for someone else, but merely an inspiration for others to create their own formula for staying well. I opened for questions. One woman asked how she could personally help her depressed spouse. I’ve heard that question in almost every one of the 75 talks I’ve given, no matter what the audience. Others followed. Then the skeptic barked his question from the back of the room:

“Dr. X says that you can solve all problems with depression by food intake and taking natural supplements.”

The corny dog and funnel cake I’d just eaten at the Texas State Fair tightened in my stomach. I agreed with this man, to a point. Unfortunately, because of people like this man, medical intuitive Carolyn Myss and a long list of other spiritual healers who insisted that if I were spiritually whole I would not need medication, I went off medication in 2005. In 2007, I relapsed into suicidal ideation. I did ECT and recovered. Now I take my little dose of Wellbutrin every morning without hesitation.

Right before I went under the anesthesia for ECT in 2007, the anesthesiologist asked me why I was back in the psych ward after a six-year reprieve. “I went off medication in 2005,” I began. He shook his head. He began the cliché for which we all know the answer: “If I had a nickel for every time….”

Why is this? Why do people go off medication for mental illness even when the side effects of medication are minimal to nonexistent? Why do some people, like the man in the back row, feel compelled to advise someone to drop psychiatric medication for the wonder of natural supplements? What is natural anyway? I’ve never seen fish oil tablets grow on trees.

Don’t get me wrong, I take fish oil and a high dosage of Vitamin D. I exercise and firmly believe these things allow me to maintain my health and possibly reduce the amount of medication I need. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone pressuring a diabetic to drop insulin in favor of a “natural” supplement. The difference lies in the perception of mental illness as a deadly disease. If the man in the back row understood that more than 33,000 U.S. citizens take their lives on an annual basis, he might not be so generous with his lightly-researched advice.

The man was insistent. He presented his arguments with religious fervor. He’s not the first person to try to “save” me from medication. But here’s the rub: ECT saved my life, but if at all possible I want to avoid the procedure in the future. Due to first-hand experience, I happen to know my body better than he does. All the supplements in the world can’t change that.

I walked out of the conference to see a man seated with his bare feet in a yellow bucket filled with water. A woman with wild hair seated across from him held his hands, stared into his eyes and whispered with intensity. The tarot cards turned with my exit. The irony struck. In an environment so open to the supernatural, why is it so hard to accept a man-made pill might help a life?

Editor’s note: guest blogger Julie Hersh is president of the board of directors of the Dallas Children’s Theater and an active supporter of the Suicide and Crisis Center, CONTACT, Mental Health America, Empower African Children and other non-profits. Julie’s Struck By Living blog is featured on the Psychology Today website. She is also the author of Struck By Living: From Depression to Hope.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 2 trackbacks }

More on the FDA Hearings on ECT | TMS and Neurostimulation Nurses
February 4, 2011 at 12:38 am
February 05, 2012 | Health of the Nation with Dr. Brooks
February 10, 2012 at 10:59 am

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Hersh February 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

Thanks so much Nancy, Anne and Stephanie! don’t know if you all caught the recent Dr. Oz show on ECT, but the links are contained in this blog:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/struck-living/201201/dr-oz-ventures-bravely-ect

Kris Pearson December 29, 2010 at 8:33 am

Thank you, Mrs. Hersh! Your message, born from experience, will do more to help those suffering from depression than all the “natural” supplements on the market.

Madeline Petty December 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Thank you for speaking out on this topic. It is so important for people to know that psychiatric medication and ECT can help save lives.

Nona Mills December 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Julie, Your book is especially helpful to friends and family of a depressed person. It is also great for someone who suffers from depression and is on medication, but feels worried that if others knew it could threaten both career and friendships. Your blog will continue to provide benefits to those who have read the book. Thanks for starting your blog. In addition to recommending your book, I’ll tell my friends about it. Almost everyone knows someone who suffers from depression. We all need to become smarter and more open minded to prevent those we love who suffer from depression from taking extreme measures. Keep writing! TomK

Brandie December 10, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Thank you for speaking out on this topic. It is so important for people to know that psychiatric medication and ECT can help save lives.

Tom Kosnik October 23, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Julie,
Your book is especially helpful to friends and family of a depressed person. It is also great for someone who suffers from depression and is on medication, but feels worried that if others knew it could threaten both career and friendships. Your blog will continue to provide benefits to those who have read the book.

Thanks for starting your blog. In addition to recommending your book, I’ll tell my friends about it. Almost everyone knows someone who suffers from depression. We all need to become smarter and more open minded to prevent those we love who suffer from depression from taking extreme measures.

Keep writing!
TomK

Sara Tranchina, MD October 23, 2010 at 7:01 pm

God willing, medical science will one day come up with an objective way to diagnose all forms of mental illness, as is done now with blood tests to detect diabetes, a sphygomanometer to measure blood pressure, and xrays to detect breast cancer. Until then, it is up to courageous women like Julie Hersh and those who are intimately familiar with mental illness, to continue to encourage those who suffer from the equally deadly disease of depression to get needed treatment, even if their condition isn’t as “black and white” as physical illness. Treatment is essential, whether it be it chemicals synthesized in a lab and prescribed by a physician or packaged in supplements and recommended by the owner of the health food store, combined with dietary and activity lifestyle changes, counseling and yes, ECT, if necessary. A wholistic approach means using everything possible to achieve wellness…

Julie K Hersh - Struck by Living October 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Nancy, Anne and Stephanie – thanks for your support!

Nancy Harrison October 22, 2010 at 11:26 am

Julie… Thank you so much for being an advocate for taking away the stigma of mental illness! We certainly get a bad rap. Those of us with positive experience with ECT need to make sure that others know that it is a viable resource to be open to trying.

Anne Barnett Rhodes October 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

Thank you, Mrs. Hersh! Your message, born from experience, will do more to help those suffering from depression than all the “natural” supplements on the market.

Stephanie October 21, 2010 at 8:12 pm

I enjoyed your blog very much. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: