As excellent as it is, your magazine seems to be mired in a rut lately, and I was planning to let my subscription lapse. But the July 2016 issue woke me up, specifically Zander Sherman’s interview with Gary Greenberg [“Who Are You Calling Crazy?”] and the Dog-Eared Page conversation between James Hillman and Michael Ventura [“We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse”]. Both explored what we mean by “mental health,” and how counterproductive the field of psychiatry has been. Now it has been taken over by accredited professionals looking to further their careers and expand the profits of Big Pharma at the expense of their patients. Such a system does not want people to get back on their feet, mentally or otherwise. It bombards us with drugs and creates a sense of helplessness and disconnection.
Gary Greenberg nailed it by recommending that psychiatrists examine the familial, political, cultural, and economic histories of anyone undergoing psychotherapy; by acknowledging that therapy is easier to attain for those with means than it is for the poor and the ever-shrinking middle class; and by reminding us that the poor experience more stress.
His assertion that “there will come a point when enough of us will find the conditions of our existence intolerable, and then we will do something” surprised me. This is a common refrain, but no one has found a way to do it — even in this age of information technology. I agree with Greenberg’s statement: “In a culture as dedicated as ours is to distractions and disavowal, I don’t think we stand a chance of making the changes we need.”
As someone recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I appreciated Gary Greenberg’s take on psychiatry. Medication released me from exhausting mood swings, but I miss the highs and, yes, even the voices and visions that enhanced my creativity.
I’ve been told that I’m calmer and that it’s good to be stable, but it’s hard to give up the euphoria, even when suicidal ideation is sure to follow. I went undiagnosed for decades and managed a successful career, but the cost of keeping it together was high. I’ve grieved the loss of my old self, and I’m trying to live in a world that seems dull and muted by comparison.
Gary Greenberg says, “The more we hear that ‘the brain does this and the brain does that,’ the more we think of ourselves as a product of brain chemistry.” But we are a product of our brain chemistry. Where else can the self come from? The iCloud? The soul?
The reverse is also true. To a certain extent, our brain chemistry is a product of our behavior. For instance, my craving for alcohol disappeared a couple of years after I quit drinking.
Greenberg also states that the medical industry wants to promote the idea that consciousness is a “function of brain chemistry,” but I don’t think the concept of consciousness is something drug companies bother to explore.
When Gary Greenberg suggests taking into consideration the patient’s physical and social environments along with his or her mental health, he’s basically describing what social workers do. Unfortunately, he never gives credit to the profession, which is the largest provider of mental-health services in the United States.
The only redeeming quality Gary Greenberg seems to have is that he listens to the Grateful Dead. Otherwise he is dishonest and dogmatic, the very qualities he ascribes to the psychiatric community. He makes no reference to the latest research, which uses brain-scan technology to settle the question of whether there is a biological origin for depression. There is. The question of whether SSRIs are an effective treatment for depression has also been settled. They are.
I am not a doctor, but I have been surrounded by mental illness my entire life — especially in prison, where I now live. Here is my advice to anyone suffering from mental illness: Go see a doctor. If you are prescribed medication, take it exactly as prescribed. That is your best shot at getting well and living a healthy life.
Gary Greenberg responds:
As a psychotherapist who has struggled with depression myself, I wish that Nick H. Beram’s rosy picture of mental-illness treatment were accurate. Although it’s true that some people benefit greatly from psychiatric medications, many (and, for some diagnoses, most) who go to their doctors and take their drugs faithfully do not improve — and some find their health worsens. I read this as evidence that psychological suffering is not the result of identifiable biological mechanisms gone wrong. Or, if it is, we are still a long way from knowing what those mechanisms are.
I am skeptical of the likelihood (and desirability) of obtaining this knowledge. I do not know the future, but I do know the past. The mental-health industry’s past is loaded with certainties that have eventually fallen to the immense complexity of our psychology — and, on the way to history’s dustbin, have inflicted great damage. To understand how hubris and hope combine to put us in thrall to bad ideas, we need only recall the winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for medicine: Egas Moniz, the inventor of the frontal lobotomy.
I was mesmerized by Peter Witte’s short story “They Were” [July 2016]. His rendition of two lives merging into one was brilliant. I felt both the continuity of a long life shared together and how quickly time passes.
I am less than a month away from my wedding, but I’ve gotten so wrapped up in the planning that I’ve forgotten I will be making the biggest commitment in my life. Peter Witte’s short story “They Were” pulled at my heart and made it clear that a marital vow is not easy to maintain. Struggle, suffering, and tragedy are to be expected. The good news is that I am marrying the person I want beside me through it all.
If I had any notion of who Mr. Gideon is, I’d write to him to suggest he start distributing copies of your July 2016 issue to hotel rooms instead of Bibles. From Zander Sherman’s interview with Gary Greenberg to the Sunbeams on the last page — and every work of art in between — I felt as though I were reading holy scripture in everyday language.
Diane Ackerman’s “The Round Walls of Home” [Dog-Eared Page, June 2016] was a wonderful reminder for the people of Earth. I’ve been trying to view daily life from a big-picture perspective, and Ackerman’s essay gave me a nudge in that direction. From that altitude the air is clear, revealing what’s important: caring for each other, forgiving foibles, and bringing the guardianship of our planetary home to the forefront.
I was touched by Krista Bremer’s letter to all of us Sun readers in your June 2016 issue [“Become a Friend of The Sun”]. Hers sounds like a nice neighborhood. As I’m currently incarcerated, finding a community is something for me to look forward to.
Near the end of a two-and-a-half-year stretch in solitary confinement, I requested a subscription to your magazine. When it started arriving free of charge, I was able to escape into an alternate reality that helped get me through. When I got back into the general prison population, I continued to read each issue. Your magazine allows me to exercise my imagination. You’ve made a priceless positive impact on my life.
I’m enclosing a small check in response to your request for donations. I would send more, but I’m very broke. When I’m released next year, I will support you even more.
I am an Episcopal monk and love reading The Sun. When I give out copies to our ministry, I often say, “This is the only magazine I read cover to cover every month.”
I recently discovered that this statement was not completely true: I wasn’t reading the blurbs about the contributors. I’m not sure what prompted me to start, but I was surprised to find even this part of the magazine entertaining. Poe Ballantine’s “kiss fu” system of self-defense [May 2016] made me laugh as I envisioned what it might look like in action. I enjoyed learning that S.J. Miller practices reading aloud to her pets [May 2016], which I think our monastery dog might enjoy. And I am rooting for Kelly Daniels to ride his bike across the country [April 2016] because I would love to do that myself.
In his essay “The Sudden City” [April 2016] Brian Doyle applauds those who care about other people despite the evil, greed, and violence reported in the media on a daily basis. It has always mystified me that the so-called leaders of nations do not strive to leave behind a better world for their descendants.
Our country’s aggression and terrorism do not bode well for our future. If we were genuinely motivated to defeat terrorism, we would talk to the terrorists instead of creating new ones through our drone attacks and military tactics.
I love your writers, though not all of their writing. I love your photographers and all of their pictures. I love the unabashedly opinionated perspectives that appear in your pages, and sometimes I even agree with them. I especially love the fierce debates that take place in your Correspondence section. I laugh at those who say they will cancel their subscription, because they probably won’t. My only complaint is that the magazine is too short.