While browsing on NetGalley for books to read, I came across a book called The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fallacy: A Mental Health Industry Bonanza of Profit and Human Destruction. Alrighty then. The author was generalizing their own negative experiences and concluding, based on that, that PTSD was made up to turn a profit. Here’s part of the book description on Amazon:
“When discovering that she is the exception of the rule concerning genuine PTSD experiencers’ recovery when under the “care” of mental health professionals, it left her no choice but to publish her non-fiction meticulously researched trilogy The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fallacy: A Mental Health Industry Bonanza of Profit and Human Destruction documenting the mental health professions’ PTSD modus operandi and disclosing how she by osmosis healed herself.”
While this example may be a bit over the top, it’s not uncommon to hear people generalizing negative experiences as something that goes beyond just what happened to them. It’s also very easy to find others online who’ve had similar kinds of experiences. That may lead to the conclusion that many, or even most, people have similar negative experiences.
My concern is that this can have unintended negative consequences by discouraging some people from seeking treatment. It could also end up feeding into stigma.
I’ve seen this kind of overgeneralization a fair bit with people’s writing off certain treatments across the board because of their own negative experiences with medications, including withdrawal symptoms. I find this particularly concerning, because there’s already enough stigma around taking psychiatric medication; we don’t need more coming from within the mental illness community. Yet there is a strong anti-medication segment of our community, which makes it extra difficult for people who are contemplating starting treatment.
I remember reading someone’s opinion that Effexor (venlafaxine) was a “garbage drug” because they had difficult withdrawal effects from it. That’s awful that this person had that experience, but that doesn’t mean everyone will have the same kind of experience. I’ve had a positive experience with that same drug, and that also doesn’t imply that everyone will. There isn’t a single drug that’s all good for everyone or all bad for everyone; there’s a wide range of different reactions, and no single person’s reaction will ever define a drug.
Saying that bad thing X happened to me, and this is how you can catch it early if it starts happening to you, is useful information. Using an individual’s negative experience of PTSD treatment to extrapolate that PTSD is a fallacy created by the mental health industry isn’t likely to do anything useful for anyone other than the author who’s venting, or for others who share the same opinion.
Maybe I’m just overly attached to shades of grey, and tend to be skeptical when shown black and white. There are a lot of really valuable stories that need to be told, both positive and negative, but context matters in situating those stories within the broader world, and context is seldom black or white.
Lots of people have negative experiences with treatment, but by framing them as individual experiences could hopefully raise awareness about the potential downfalls without deterring people from trying to access treatment in the first place.
What are your thoughts on the usefulness of generalizing negative individual experiences more broadly?
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.
A Brief History of Stigma is the upcoming new release from Mental Health @ Home Books. It looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.
Visit the book page for tips on how to be an effective advocate.