Caroline Leaf – Carrie Fisher killed by bipolar meds

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No longer content with just wilful ignorance, Dr Caroline Leaf has stooped even further by using the death of a beloved actress as a sick segue against psychiatric medications.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist.  She markets herself as an expert in neuroscience and mental health despite not knowing how genes work (https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/09/27/dr-caroline-leaf-and-the-genetic-fluctuations-falsehood/ and https://cedwardpitt.com/2017/01/07/dr-caroline-leaf-the-christian-churchs-anti-vaxxer/).

In her latest “Mental Health News – January 2017” e-mail newsletter, Dr Leaf makes some astounding and outlandish statements about mental health.

She starts by claiming that Carrie Fisher’s death was ultimately caused by the psychiatric medications she was taking.

“Few people, however, are talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication. As mental health activist Corinna West shows, ‘new antipsychotics cause weight gain, diabetes, and a bunch of other risk factors associated with heart disease.’ We have to take these risk factors seriously. We are not merely talking about statistics—we are talking about real people, people like Carrie Fisher.”

Dr Leaf, no one’s talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because we respect the Carrie Fisher too much and would rather celebrate her life and achievements, not perform a hypothetical post-mortem motivated by prejudiced speculation.

No one’s talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because no one really knows what caused Carrie Fisher’s heart attack.  No one knows if she had any other risk factors for heart attacks, or what medications she was on.  There could be a dozen other reasons why she had a heart attack.  No one else is asking because it’s none of our business.

No one’s talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because we know that psychiatric medications do much more good than harm.

No one is talking about the possible link between her heart attack and her psychiatric medication because it’s highly disrespectful to use someone’s death to promote your political or ideological position.  Using Carrie Fisher’s death as a segue to your soapbox about psychiatric medications is like someone using Princess Diana’s death as an opportunity to talk about the dangers of speeding in tunnels.  It’s ungracious, unbecoming, and in poor taste.

What’s even more dishonouring to Carrie Fisher is that Dr Leaf’s claims about psychiatric medications are not accurate.

“Sadly, individuals suffering from mental health issues ‘die, on average, 25 years earlier that the general population.’ These medications are incredibly dangerous, and we have to start asking ourselves, as the investigative journalist and mental health campaigner Robert Whitaker notes, if the benefits of these drugs truly outweigh the risks.”

Notice the giant hole in her argument?  She assumes that the increased risk of death in those with mental illness is the medications they’re on, just like she’s assumed that Carrie Fisher died because she was taking psychiatric medications.

That’s confirmation bias, not science.

Real mental health experts – the ones with training, clinical experience and research acumen – directly contradict Dr Leaf.  Experts like Correll, who say that, “Although antipsychotics have the greatest potential to adversely affect physical health, it is important to note that several large, nationwide studies providing generalizable data have suggested that all-cause mortality is higher in patients with schizophrenia not receiving antipsychotics.” [1]

In other words, the life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is shorter than the rest of the population, but it’s much shorter in schizophrenics not on meds.  Psychiatric medications help people with schizophrenia live longer.

In fact, the use of any anti-psychotic medication for a patient with schizophrenia decreased their risk of dying by nearly 20% [2] whereas the risk of dying for schizophrenics who didn’t take anti-psychotics was nearly ten times that of the healthy population [3].

This is the same for other psychiatric medications as well, “clozapine, antidepressants, and lithium, as well as anti-epileptics, are associated with reduced mortality from suicide.” [1]

Psychiatric drugs aren’t “incredibly dangerous”.  Like any tool, when used in the right way, they can bring radical transformation.  What IS incredibly dangerous is the disingenuous and ill-informed making libellous and inaccurate statements about medications they don’t understand.

Not content to just insult Carrie Fisher’s memory, Dr Leaf went on to claim that psychiatric labels are also as harmful as psychiatric drugs.  “These risks are not limited to taking medication. Psychiatric labels can also harm the individual involved. Child psychiatrist Sami Timimi recently discussed the adverse effect the autism label can have on children and adults alike. Labels can lock people in, taking away their hope for recovery, affecting their ability to perform everyday tasks and crippling their determination to live above their circumstances. Words can harm people as much as “sticks and stones” do, as psychologist Paula Caplan notes in her talk on psychiatric survivors and diagnoses.”

It’s witless to suggest that labels harm people or that they somehow lock people in and take away their hope.  The right label, which doctors call a diagnosis, doesn’t lock people in at all, it does the exact opposite:
* The right diagnosis gives hope – hope that comes from receiving the right treatment and not wasting time, money and energy pursuing the wrong treatment.
* The right diagnosis gives power – it empowers people by giving them the ability to make accurate decisions about what’s best for themselves and their loved ones.
* The right diagnosis gives certainty – in many situations, knowing what the diagnosis is reduces unnecessary anxiety and fear.

Imagine that you had a freckle on your arm, and it started growing suddenly.  You go to the doctor, and the doctor says that the freckle is actually a skin cancer.  Does that label lock you in and take away your hope?  Of course not.  It gives you the certainty of knowing that treatment is needed, and the power to decide if you want that treatment.  And it gives you hope that with the right treatment, you can continue to live a healthy life.

In the same way, a psychiatric diagnosis doesn’t lock people in and remove their hope.  A child who understands that they have autism can stop beating themselves up for being ‘odd’ and instead, they can understand that their different wiring gives them special powers that other kids don’t have.

Psychiatric labels do not harm an individual, it’s the backwards opinions of so-called mental health experts that harm individuals with psychiatric illness.  The stigma of a diagnosis is related to the way in which society treats individuals with that diagnosis, not the diagnosis itself.  Perpetuating the myth that that ‘depression and autism aren’t really diseases’ reduces the acceptance of society for those who suffer from those conditions.  That’s what causes harm.

Dr Leaf should apologise to her followers for showing such disrespect for Carrie Fisher, and to all those who take psychiatric medications.  Carrie Fisher spent her life supporting people with mental illness, trying to break down the stigma of psychiatric illness and treatment.  Her life’s work should be celebrated, not defaced by Dr Leaf and her unscientific opinion.

References

[1]        Correll CU, Detraux J, De Lepeleire J, De Hert M. Effects of antipsychotics, antidepressants and mood stabilizers on risk for physical diseases in people with schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association 2015 Jun;14(2):119-36.
[2]        Tiihonen J, Lonnqvist J, Wahlbeck K, et al. 11-year follow-up of mortality in patients with schizophrenia: a population-based cohort study (FIN11 study). Lancet 2009 Aug 22;374(9690):620-7.
[3]        Torniainen M, Mittendorfer-Rutz E, Tanskanen A, et al. Antipsychotic treatment and mortality in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia bulletin 2015 May;41(3):656-63.

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Dr Caroline Leaf – The Christian church’s anti-vaxxer

Well, this is my first post for the new year.  2016 was certainly historic!

In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was “post-truth”.  Post-truth describes the concept “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

While the popularity of the word rose in step with the popularity of the US President-Elect, post-truth as an idea has been building more and more over the last decade or so.  It’s the driving force behind other cultural phenomena of our modern world, like the alternative health and the anti-vaccination movements.

It’s also the secret to the success of Caroline Leaf.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist.  She’s been riding the wave of our post-truth culture for years.  Dr Leaf has a set of slickly spoken mistruths that form the basis of her ministry, and are repeated constantly (including, but not limited to):

The mind controls the brain
75-98% of all physical, mental and emotional illnesses come from our thought life
The heart is a mini-brain
Our mind changes matter through quantum entanglement
ADHD and depression aren’t diseases
Anti-depressant medications are dangerous placebos

There is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims, but that hasn’t stopped her claiming, because Christians and the leadership of the Christian church believe her without question.

In the last twenty-four hours, Dr Leaf put up two separate social media posts which follow the same pattern – repeated mistruths with no basis in fact.

“What an honor to be speaking at the annual Noiva humanitarian foundation conference in Winterthur, Switzerland, which works actively with the Syrian refugees seeking to broker peace in the Middle East.  I spoke about how showing compassion and helping others improves brain health and increases physical and mental healing by around 63%!”

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Showing compassion and helping others improves brain health and increases physical and mental healing by around 63% hey?  I’m assuming she’s referring to the study by Poulin et al [1], because she’s posted this to her social media feed before, and there aren’t any other studies out there that show compassion and helping others increases physical and mental health so much … not that the Poulin study showed it either (not even close – https://cedwardpitt.com/2016/10/27/dr-caroline-leaf-credit-where-credits-due/ and https://cedwardpitt.com/2016/01/16/does-helping-others-help-you/)

On the photo she put up on social media to gloat about her little jaunt to Switzerland, the Powerpoint in the background reads, “Can the mind change the brain?”  Again, the answer is a clear ‘No’!  She tried to argue the same nonsense in her TEDx talk in early 2015 (https://cedwardpitt.com/2015/03/26/the-tedx-users-guide-to-dr-caroline-leaf/).  It was wrong then, and it’s still wrong now.

Unless Dr Leaf’s found some better resources, NOIVA should ask for their money back.  They could have fed a lot of refugees for the wasted cost of hosting Dr Leaf at their conference.

Dr Leaf’s second social media post was even more egregious.

“Our genetic makeup fluctuates by the minute based on what we are thinking and choosing.”

WRONG!  Absolutely wrong.  There is NO scientific evidence that supports this statement at all (https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/09/27/dr-caroline-leaf-and-the-genetic-fluctuations-falsehood/).  DNA is stable.  It doesn’t “fluctuate by the minute”.  It’s not influenced by our thoughts or our choices.

We may be stuck in a post-truth world but science is not, and will never be, post-truth.  Your belief in the cancer-fighting properties of turmeric doesn’t make turmeric cure cancer.  Your opinion that the MMR vaccine causes autism doesn’t change the concrete scientific evidence that it doesn’t.

By the same token, Dr Leaf might believe that our thoughts and choices change our DNA, but it doesn’t matter how many times Dr Leaf repeats the same fiction, it still doesn’t make it fact.  She can repeat ad nauseum her belief that the mind controls the brain, or our mind changes matter through quantum entanglement, or depression isn’t a disease, or all of our illnesses come from thoughts.  None of them were true the first time she made each outrageous claim, and they still aren’t true now. Scientific truth doesn’t change depending on what suits your opinion.

In fact, all Dr Leaf is doing by continually perpetuating her stock of mistruths is to disempower her audience.  Rather than encourage people to follow the facts, they are sucked into a vortex of wasted money and time.  Precious resources are spent chasing wild geese instead of putting them towards something more meaningful.  NOIVA diverting funds to support Dr Leaf’s fees instead of feeding refugees is a perfect case in point.

Worse, Dr Leaf’s teaching discourages people from taking effective medications and seeking effective treatments which can only lead to greater suffering in those who are vulnerable.

In this sense, Dr Leaf is like the anti-vaxxer of the Christian church, discouraging her followers from seeking scientifically sound treatments in favour of belief in erroneous and invalid actions with no proof of efficacy and a real risk of harm.

When will the leadership of the Christian church stand up for their parishioners and stop Dr Leaf’s fictions from infecting their churches?  The answer should be ‘now’, and that’s a fact.

References
[1]        Poulin MJ, Brown SL, Dillard AJ, Smith DM. Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. Am J Public Health 2013 Sep;103(9):1649-55.