Home > In Their Own Words > Diagnosing Psychiatrists: Making Doctors Work for You

Diagnosing Psychiatrists: Making Doctors Work for You

John Scott Holman struggled with undiagnosed autism for nearly 25 years. His diagnosis has enabled him to embrace his individuality and move forward. He writes and speaks publicly about his life with autism, hoping to inspire greater understanding and acceptance. Visit his Facebook page here.

Since my early adolescent years I have been a reluctant guinea pig for the psychiatric industry. I have been repeatedly misdiagnosed, overmedicated, poked and prodded. I’ve had Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, etc… I’ve been on every sedative, stimulant, anti-psychotic and anti-depressant on the market. I’ve endured unbearable side-effects and withdrawal symptoms. I’ve taken drugs to treat the side-effects of drugs that I was taking to treat the side-effects of other drugs! More than once, I’ve wanted to beat a shrink to a bloody pulp, but was too comatose to do so. After a few years of seeing these quacks, I went from an admittedly eccentric kid to the drooling, incoherent lovechild of Charlie Sheen and Anna Nicole Smith.

How exactly did this happen? How did one doctor after another diagnose me with such a wide variety of mental illnesses? Several decades ago a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, then called Manic-Depression, typically resulted in commitment to an institution. Now Bipolar Disorder is often nothing more than a trendy label, worn with pride by actors, artists and the like… ” I’m into sculpture and Kabbalah, I smoke American Spirits and I’m Bipolar.” Give me a break!

I was once seeing a psychiatrist who eyed me suspiciously for signs of mania during my every visit. I finally asked him, “How many times do you have to see me before you realize I’m always like this?”

“Well,” he said, “Maybe you’re the kind of bipolar patient who is always manic and never depressed.”

“Are you saying I’m unipolar? Is that actually a diagnosis? Maybe I’m just hyper…”

As many of you know, I’m autistic. This diagnosis is unquestionably valid and has radically altered the course of my life and the way I view myself. How did I go through a decade of constant psychiatric treatment without anyone catching on? Well, for starters, there are a limited few pharmaceuticals approved for the treatment of autism.. There are literally dozens of medications used to treat the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. You do the math…

This rampant tendency towards over diagnosis belittles the struggles of people who actually have these disorders, and instead of treating symptoms, often creates them in individuals given extremely powerful and dangerous drugs without due cause. I never had an anxiety disorder until I became dependent on anti-anxiety meds called benzodiazepines, which were originally prescribed to me to treat the agonizing side-effects of an anti-psychotic. I guarantee that anyone prescribed escalating doses of sedatives will develop some major issues. But the more issues you have, the more issues you will seek treatment for. The psychiatric industry doesn’t stand to make much money from a patient without psychological complaints.

An equal but opposite problem is caused when perfectly valid treatments are withheld from patients for irrational reasons.  Most doctors receive the majority of their pharmaceutical knowledge from representatives of the pharmaceutical companies. Also, many doctors receive kickbacks from big pharma for prescribing their meds. Because of this, tried and true treatment options are passed over in favor of “the next big thing.” However, these new pharmaceuticals have not yet been proven to be any more effective than their more affordable predecessors, if, indeed, they are any different at all.  The pharmaceutical industry is a lot like Hollywood; the latest blockbuster is usually just a sequel or remake. Drugs that have worked for decades are often tweaked, reformulated, renamed and presented to the public as something revolutionary (this is the case with a myriad of extended release medications, whose instant release counterparts are often just as effective for a fraction of the cost).

When seeing a shrink, it is important to check out the office swag; if the clock on the wall, the paperweight on the desk, and the pen in the doctor’s hand are all labeled with the name of a certain drug, chances are you will find that name on you prescription. Sadly enough, that doctor probably found the same name on their ticket for an Alaskan cruise.

If you find any of this alarming, you probably haven’t been lobotomized by the psychiatric industry or are currently too overmedicated and uniformed to know the difference. If you are seeing a psychiatrist or plan to do so, please, save yourself money and heartache; do your research! No one should go through the hellish and unnecessary experience that I did. Are you sure your diagnosis is correct? Are you taking the most effective, affordable, and time-tested medications?

Ask plenty of questions. Make suggestions. No patient should ever be afraid of their doctor. Remember, your doctor works for you!

I am by no means an opponent of pharmaceutical intervention, and have received enormous benefit from the right medications.  Unfortunately, the road to psychotropic success was unnecessarily long and painful.

It seems the psychiatric industry suffers from some nasty symptoms, including reckless disregard for the safety of others, lying, lack of remorse, and consistent irresponsibility.  According to the DSM-IV, these symptoms indicate a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Now, I’m not a doctor (I just play one in real life) so I can only suggest that the psychiatric industry be given a diagnosis of APD and prescribed…  a dose of their own medicine.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. Heather Beckham
    November 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    An under-discussed topic seeing the light of cyber day!!! I’m not a doctor (I’m just a mom in real life) but am appalled for you as well as my own children for having endured such practices during long years of agonizing misdiagnoses and unwittingly administered pain.

    Thanks for this well written advise.

  2. November 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I am appalled to think that things have not improved since December 1953 when my son was born. I thought great strides had been made. Seems I was wrong! We ‘suffered’ (or thought we had) because doctors – and everybody else – including the education authorities just did not want to know. I gave up seeking help because we were treated as nuisances and left to get on with it. Now it seems from what John Scott Holman describes is that there can be too much ‘help’ offered and given. I read from other parents of so many ‘cures’, special foods, expensive special schools/training etc. Now it could appear that those who left us to get on with it were right. With ordinary care and love and not being offered or allowed any sort of education until he was 10 meant that he developed well eventually and became a university graduate in later life. Ironic.

    • John Scott Holman
      November 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      Hey Barb,

      Did they contact you about posting your blog? I think they will soon. It is AWESOME and I’m sure everyone will find it as funny, moving, and uplifting as I did.


      • November 29, 2011 at 9:46 am

        Yes thanks Scotty. Alison emailed me the same day as you did and she will be editing it. I thought she might want to do that as it was a bit long.

        By the way your story reminded me of another true one. At a local psychiatric hospital there was an all-powerful senior psychiatrist by the name of Delfyn Lewis. The staff made several jokes about him behind his back. One was that he died and went to Heaven. When the gatekeepers heard he was a psychiatrist they said thank goodness! We want you to see God please – he thinks he’s Delfyn Lewis!!

  3. November 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I would LOVE to hear more from Barbara. You just don’t hear much from parents of adult kids.

    • December 2, 2011 at 9:33 am

      Dear UsetheBrain

      I am 85 so perhaps a bit too old to blog. My son, Howard, will be 58 on the 17th of this month, so ditto. Anyway he is not interested in writing blogs or comments. He likes YouTube for the music and videos mostly to do with transport; downloading trains on to Microsoft, Eisenbeg and Trainz virtual railways. Scotty is only 25 so he could be a grandson. I love what he writes. It is so fascinating. We seem to have had the same experiences of psychiatrist. When Howard was a child I was told by doctors that he was a ‘write-off’ – ‘put him in an institution and forget him!’ etc. etc. Eventually he graduated from Uniuversity in computer science – some write-off!!! Babs.

  4. November 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    And you don’t hear much about kids who’ve had little or no “life changing” therapy. I went to a talk by Michelle Dawson once in Atlanta. She spoke about the unscientific “proofs” of the effectiveness of behaviorism, but she also had an interesting notion. Fourteen years ago, the emphasis was early intervention, and that we are at a time that the effectiveness of early intervention versus lack of it could be determined

    Regarding Psychiatrists: this is very good. I had a friend, who had gained labels of bipolar and paranoid schizophrenic. She said “it changes”. The thorazine wasn’t the best medication for her, I’m sure.

  5. JudgeRoy
    November 28, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Wow Scotty, I’ve never seen you so riled up. It’s kind of attractive…um anyway…
    Some actors/ celebrities do really have Bipolar; read Stephen Fry’s bio and you’ll see someone with a brain disorder similar to autism and ADHD. That’s what I got from the book at least. A lot of creative and eccentric people get into the entertainment industry and sometimes they have a brain disorder and sometimes they take so many drugs they damage their brain.

    As for my psychiatrist he has statues and papers and ornaments all over the place. He is an expert in ADHD and I think he has it himself, as he keeps forgetting where he put my file. He’s the best doctor I ever had.

    Doctors usually only diagnose what they can try to fix and the quickest solution they know is medication. Sorry you had to go through all that. My side effects to one drug meant I had to go on another drug and finally I got on Ritalin and though it still gives me side effects it’s what I really need. What’s good about Ritalin is it doesn’t fix you like an anti-depressant/ anti-epileptic/ anti-psychotic – by ‘fix’ I mean ‘make the problem go away’ – obviously this doesn’t mean ‘cure’ (more like ‘cover’) – but you have to work hard to make sure it works.

  6. David Moore
    November 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Ditto…I hid my diagnosis of autism all my life and got the same treatment, “you’re bipolar, take this…” etc. I finally divulged that I was initially diagnosed as autistic at 6 years old, confirmed again and again until 14 years old. I’ve read everything possible to make sure the diagnosis of “autism” was accurate when I was a kid. And from what I’ve read, it’s a “no-brainer”. I have ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, primarily Asperger’s Syndrome with lots of “vanilla” autism traits mixed in. I can see why they finally changed the “label” to ASD. It makes a lot more sense. I hate putting unnecessary chemicals in my body, so I’m only taking Baclofen and Clonazepam. Supposedly Baclofen is the new “old” drug that helps “autistics” and the Clonazepam helps with the “anxiety” issues which apparently most autistics deal with. Otherwise, I’m pretty content with being “autistic”, that’s who I am…

  7. December 3, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Thanks for posting an important Health Article. I have seen your informational posting.
    I have enjoyed reading it.
    John Parkers
    “Laith Salma”

  8. Kimberly
    December 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing your information. Unfortunately this does occur when one is trying to treat symptoms and has not properly diagnosed the underlying cause due to ignorance of the individual doctor or of the entire science field. Unfortunately more is unknown than known. I think one has to realize medicine and doctors have their limitations, and if something is making one worse or is not helping one’s symptoms look for answers else where or at the very make doctors document your symptoms and what does not work and what side effects such treatment produces. Always seek more knowledge, and push doctor and medical science to seek answers. I love Autism Speaks, great work …..my son is benefiting from all of you.

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