By Grace Rubenstein
Eleanor Longden’s new TED Book, Learning from the Voices in My Head, charts her harrowing journey from terrified young woman trembling in a psychiatric ward to a Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head stable, successful doctoral candidate who has learned to live peacefully with her inner voices, medication-free. She recounts how her mind shattered into pieces and how she slowly and delicately put it back together.
In recent decades, psychiatry has come to view mental illness through a mainly biological lens, hunting for causes and cures in our brain chemistry. While that approach helps some patients, Longden says, it very nearly destroyed her. She testifies to the need to view patients as individuals, not diagnoses, and to empower each one to heal in his or her own way. As a Ph.D. student in psychology, she also serves up a hefty scientific literature on the problems with over-medicalizing mental illness.
Here’s a glimpse at what the numbers say about psychiatry’s medical obsession:
With the array of possible diagnoses exploding, Longden writes, “it’s apparently becoming harder and harder to be counted as sane.” Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions being written for certain psychiatric drugs is ballooning:
In the nightmarish throes of her initial diagnosis, doctors told Longden she’d have to take antipsychotic medication for life. That was the conventional wisdom on psychosis. But should it apply to every person with the diagnosis? For Longden, clearly not. This landmark study suggests there are many others like her:
In her TED Book, Longden writes, “This is the story of one, but in many ways it is also the story of a whole — of all those who hear voices in the head. The details will vary, acknowledging the enormous diversity in the voices people hear and the ways in which they understand them, but for many of us the essential messages remain the same. It is also a call for an alternative conception of voice hearing, one in which the occurrence is not catastrophized as bizarre and precarious, but acknowledged as a meaningful human experience that can be intensely disturbing yet may also be readily supported and understood.”