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Tony Zizza

We're Not All Mentally Ill
By Tony Zizza
Feb 20, 2010 - 12:20:02 AM

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Why am I doing this? I should already know what's going to happen. The day this column gets published, I'll have 101 emails in my in-box stating with a certain conviction that I want all the mentally ill people out on the street without their medication. The reason being? Oh, I must be against all drugs. Oh, I must doubt every symptom turns into definite mental illness. And God only knows this is coming - "You must be a Scientologist!"

After reading ("Mental health services suffer", The Tennessean, Feb.14th), and the Other Views, along with the Reader Views, what I am certain of is this. We're not all mentally ill in Tennessee. OK? If one were to take seriously everything written on this subject on Feb. 14th in The Tennessean, one would have to believe that with an endless money supply and a state driven mental health care system combined, we would have the solution to all of our woes.

Here's the rub. Who gets to define what mental illness is? The Tennessean newspaper editorial suggests, "For those who persist in believing the old misconception that mental disorders are not real, they should at least be able to understand the ripple effect that these cuts will have on public safety. Fair enough. But let's be intellectually honest and admit that there isn't a stigma attached to those with mental illness. The stigma is actually attached to anyone that dares question a state mental health budget, drug claims from Big Pharma, or the idea that ADHD may have something to do with parenting styles - and not the brain.

Perhaps the time is now to ask ourselves why we depend on so many drugs when we're not told all the facts. Adults and children would benefit more from talk therapy and a honest inquiry into the family and environmental factors that appear to produce symptoms of mental illness. Interestingly, I've read articles where parents state that they turn to drugs for themselves and their children's "mental illness" because they don't have - if you can believe it - time for talk therapy. No time on "the all mighty schedule" for it. Drug now/talk later shouldn't be the first move since mental health is subjective in nature.

It is possible to tell the difference between genuine mental illness from what is clearly not. It is also possible to wonder out loud why with all the drugs on the market, all all the drug advertisements, we're not more mentally stable. Think about it. And think about why all the disclaimers for the drugs usually run almost as long as the actual body of the advertisement itself. We've become a society that believes there's a pill for every ill. Yet somehow, we're not really getting healthier are we?

I believe it would be beneficial to all concerned to explore alternative therapies and modalities. It's very sad when a mental health label is stuck on an adult or child when in reality it doesn't fit. Clearly, it is quite easy to get started on a powerful drug like Zoloft. However, it is much harder to get off the drug and it must be done with a gradual weaning process. With this in mind, I'd be curious to learn how much money the state gives to Big Pharma for drug sales. And if the drugs are working, why are more needed every year?

So, I don't for a minute doubt that mental illness can be real. Our hearts should go out to anyone who is physically or mentally ill. I just find that we need a heck of a lot more diversity and inquiry into mental health budgets and mental health debate throughout Tennessee. No one seems to be talking about the side effects of drugs or if mental health labels are always appropriate. Fact is, we should be talking more because mental health and physical health are different.

Is it a safe bet to say that at this time my email in-box has surely crashed?

Tony Zizza is a freelance writer who lives in the Nashville area. He successfully weaned a child off the drug Paxil. He writes frequently about mental health issues. Email:

Tony Zizza's Magic City Column

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