Dying For a Cure: A memoir of antidepressants, misdiagnosis and madness. Rebekah Beddoe (2007)
A review by Claire Ward, Community Psychiatric Nurse, UK.
Dying For a Cure is not only the sobering, nightmarish story of three years the author spent in mental health services, it also provides a thoughtful critique of much of the evidence that underpins psychiatric practice.
Rebekah Beddoe describes how the prescription of an antidepressant, in the months after her daughter was born, set in motion a catastrophic deterioration in her mental health. A previously healthy woman, she found herself in and out of psychiatric units feeling suicidal and self-harming at times at others chaotic and manic. As her mood deteriorated so psychiatry responded by prescribing additional medications and by revising her diagnosis in an attempt to categorise her symptoms. Antidepressants, mood stabilisers, antipsychotics and ECT were prescribed to treat depression, bipolar mood disorder and the inevitable Borderline Personality Disorder. At no point in her treatment did anyone ever consider that the medication itself might have been responsible for her symptoms.
Throughout this autobiography, the author weaves details of research and literature relating to, amongst other things, the causation of mental illness, the efficacy and toxicity of medications and the role of the drug companies. She reminds or informs us that the causes of mental illness are still unknown and that medications are developed to treat theoretical and not absolute conditions. She also highlights a significant amount of research that has raised serious concerns about the effects and side effects of medications and speculates as to why this evidence is so poorly disseminated. Rebekah Beddoe does not argue that there are no such things as mental illnesses, rather that psychiatry needs to be more honest about the extent of their knowledge and subsequently more honest about the effects and side effects of the treatments available.
As a Community Psychiatric Nurse with many years experience I have been increasingly worried about many of the issues presented in this book. Whilst reading it (which I did in one sitting!) many people with whom I have worked came to mind because of similarities in their stories. I can only wonder how much they may have been harmed by our attempts to make them better. Furthermore, the descriptions of the care Rebekah Beddoe received from various professionals in various institutions, especially as her diagnosis changed, was at times upsetting and embarrassing from a professional point of view as again I am certain that her experiences were not uncommon.
I found this book totally compelling, have shared it with colleagues, including my manager, and we believe that it should be a compulsory read for anyone involved in the care of those experiencing mental illness. It would be particularly useful as a set book on training programmes for all mental health professionals as it not only gives an articulate description of mental distress and the experience of receiving mental health services, but it also demonstrates how to review evidence critically rather than accepting it blindly.
Dying for a Cure is an Australian publication and currently unavailable in this country. Although I was able to order copies online these were expensive. Apparently, publishers do not feel it has relevance here. I strongly disagree. Given that diagnoses and treatments are the same here as in Australia the issues raised in the book are entirely relevant. I hope that publishers will have a change of heart, as this is a book that is much needed in the UK.
I have identified a woman who I used to see whose story was pretty similar. I have recommended she read the book and draw her own conclusions in the first instance