Final Installment: Reporting Live from the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting

John McManamy Health Guide
  • It’s 5:00 PM, and the APA annual meeting in Toronto is winding down, and so am I. I’ve been up since 5:30 AM. No dinner symposiums tonight for me. Maybe a breakfast symposium, then I’m out of here. A few closing thoughts:

    I picked up a lot of new information on topics I thought I was fairly familiar with. “Why didn’t I know that three years ago?” I kept thinking, as I scribbled down a new nugget of information. My one consolation was that most of the psychiatrists in the audience were probably hearing the same stuff for the first time, too. I look forward to sharing a lot of these nuggets in blogs to come.
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    Despite the fact that I got a lot out of these bipolar sessions, I still felt that their focus was far two narrow. Psychiatrists look at bipolar disorder as an illness, and so do we, but there the similarity ends. What they see as a DSM checklist we experience as a complex set of thoughts and behaviors wrapped around our biology and pushed every which way by our response to our environment. Moreover, what we want tends to be different than what our psychiatrists offer: We measure success in terms of getting our lives back while psychiatry talks in terms of reducing our symptoms.

    Yes, a lot of the speakers at the conference were pushing their audiences toward accepting our reality, but we have a long way to go. And we won’t get there if psychiatry fails to think outside the medicine cabinet. In my last blog, I cited three leading psychiatrists – all top meds experts who clearly were thinking outside the box, but again far more needs to be done.

    The pharmaceutical companies’ presence was everywhere. They sponsored many of the symposia, and their exhibits filled up a huge hall. Hospitality bars were in abundance. A casual visitor could be forgiven for thinking that Eli Lilly or GSK or Pfizer were staging the conference rather than the governing body of a learned profession. Unfortunately, the magnitude of their presence gives the anti-psychiatry movement a lot of ammo. “Stop drugging our kids” and “Psychiatry kills,” read a bunch of signs in a demonstration across the street the first day of the conference.

    The drug industry influence on psychiatry is clearly disturbing, but it’s a no-brainer that I’ve thrown in my lot with the people who have devoted their lives to improving mine. And when I ask the right questions I often come up with refreshing answers, right within the pillars of the psychiatric establishment.

    The bottom line is things are moving way too fast for the profession to cement itself into a corner for the next 100 years. What we are discovering in genes and the biological sciences will change everything. In 10 years, the people who treat us will routinely check our gene scans and brain scans, and deliver individualized treatments. So mixed with the cynicism you can feel the excitement.

    These are interesting times.

    John McManamy, “live” from the APA annual meeting in Toronto.

Published On: May 25, 2006