Radio show host Delilah recently came out and publicly discussed her son, Zach’s suicide. This was the first time she discussed it since the event took place last year. In her words, “there are so many conversations that need to be had, and THIS is one of them” – teen suicide is definitely one of them. Without lessening the importance of discussing teen suicide, I’m reasonably sure that Delilah would agree with me when I say that mental health in general, for teens, for children, and for adults, needs to be discussed on a much broader scale.
The Problems That Exist With Radio Show Host Delilah’s Experience
Delilah’s story was particularly troubling to me because of several things that she said in describing her experience with her son. I’m going to paraphrase, so feel free to watch the video for direct quotations. Here are the things she stated that deeply troubled me:
- Delilah talked about the “black box warning” on the SSRI her son was taking and stated that it can increase suicidal behavior in up to 47% of youth who take it. Then she said “but nobody told me that…”
- She also said that because Zach was over 18, no one consulted her regarding the medication that he was prescribed.
- And finally, she stated that when she began to see troubling behaviors and things that concerned her with her son, she called his prescriber’s office and left messages, but nobody called her back. She then went out of the country for a scheduled trip, and when she returned, he was gone.
You may or may not know this, but there is something known as “informed consent” in the medical field. Informed consent basically means that doctors need to explain to patients the possible benefits as well as potential drawbacks to taking any medication, undergoing any procedure, or otherwise engaging in any act recommended by the doctor. When informed consent is properly conducted, the patient is given all of the information necessary to make an educated choice for or against the therapy or procedure in question.
As a doctor, I recognize that proper informed consent is gravely lacking. There are many different reasons we could present as to why informed consent is lacking. For now, though, I’ll just say that it’s at least partially due to the fact that most doctors are only able to spend a limited amount of time with each patient. I want to believe that Zach’s prescriber would have explained the risk involved with taking an SSRI with a black box warning like the one below, particularly to a patient under the age of 24. I want to believe that he or she would have shared that risk with the family so that they knew what signs to look for, if only the prescriber had more time.
Black Box Warning: Suicidality
incr. suicidality risk in children, adolescents, and young adults w/ major depressive or other psychiatric disorders; weigh risk vs. benefit; in short-term studies of antidepressants vs. placebo, suicidality risk not incr. in pts >24 yo, and risk decr. in pts 65 yo and older; depression and certain other psychiatric disorders themselves assoc. w/ incr. suicide risk; observe all pts for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual behavior changes; advise families and caregivers of need for close observation and communication w/ prescriber; not approved in peds pts except for obsessive compulsive disorder. https://online.epocrates.com/drugs/144310/Zoloft/Monograph
Knowing That Informed Consent Is Lacking, What Should We Do?
Knowing that informed consent is lacking, what you, as a consumer, can, should, and MUST do about it, is:
- ask questions;
- find a practitioner who will listen to you, who will answer your questions, who respects your values when it comes to treatment, and whose staff responds to your phone calls;
- and educate yourself and others, as Delilah said in her interview, about the potential benefits and drawbacks to taking pharmaceutical medication in order to address your concerns, and about additional options that exist for treatment.
Why I Started The Mental Health Advocate Spot
One of the reasons why I started the MHA Spot is to help educate the public so that fewer people have to experience what Delilah’s son and her entire family experienced, what my mother experienced, and what many of my patients and many others have experienced.
I recently had a patient say to me, “I just wish [my child’s] psychiatrist would have told us that once he got on this medication it would be so hard to get off! We would have never started it!”
I started the MHA Spot to help equip people with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their mental and overall health so that they are able to preserve or regain their mental and overall wellbeing in the manner that is in keeping with their health values.
When my husband (who had worked in the mental health field for a few years by then) and I started our clinic, we knew we wanted to do something different. We structured our appointments so that we would be able to spend quality time with our patients, engaging in informed consent, explaining physiology, and just getting to know our patients as individuals.
We started helping patients regain their mental and overall health almost immediately. In fact, one of our very first patients was battling debilitating anxiety and suicidal ideations and she dramatically improved after less than a month of implementing our preliminary treatment plan.
I loved seeing the shock on my patients’ faces when I took the time to explain to them the processes that were at play in their bodies. When I explained to them, for example, how their stressful childhood contributed to both their anxiety and their autoimmune conditions, the lightbulb came on in their heads and I was just thrilled! I enjoyed the fact that we weren’t limited by insurance companies in the amount of time we could spend with our patients.
Choosing to spend quality, one-on-one time with our patients, however, came at a cost. I quickly realized that, while working with patients one-on-one for extended periods is great, the amount of people I can help that way was significantly limited. While I still wanted to work with my patients on a one-on-one basis, I also wanted to be able to multiply myself—to package the knowledge and experience I had gained in medical school and in private practice and to use it to touch even more lives. I saw the additional need for community in preserving and regaining mental health, so we brainstormed ideas for helping people with similar concerns come together in order to help and support each other, and that’s how the idea for the MHA Spot community was born.
My Vision For People Who Have Been Diagnosed With Mental Health Concerns Within Our MHA Spot Community
So now, here are some of my goals for people within our community who have been diagnosed with mental health concerns:
- I want to educate you about where to find the information you need in order to intelligently make the decision of whether or not pharmaceutical medication is right for you (e.g. I want to teach you to do your own informed consent).
- Through live trainings and other resources, I want to educate you about the other options (outside of medication) that you can use to overcome your mental and overall health condition(s) and get your life back.
- I want to empower you to take charge of your health (or the health of your children) and educate you so that you can have intelligent conversations with doctors regarding diagnoses, proposed medication, and everything else.
- I aspire to help connect you with the resources that you need to regain optimal mental wellness.
- I desire to provide you with a supportive online community where you can build social connections, grow and share with, and learn from the other community members.