What we’re reading: Recommended resources from our library

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Feature review: What People Need to Know about Psychiatric Drugs

By E. Daisy Anderson, MSc and Janet Currie, MSW

Psychiatric Medication Awareness Group (PMAG) (Revised 2009)

Review by Ellen Reynolds

What People Need to Know about Psychiatric Drugs, recently updated for the second edition, is a must-read for anyone prescribed a psychiatric medication in Canada, or anyone considering a prescription for tranquillizers, anti-depressants, stimulants, anti-psychotics or mood stabilizers. Even those not taking psychiatric medications—or any medications—are likely to know someone who is taking a drug to treat depression, anxiety, problems sleeping or any number of symptoms associated with mental health issues.

This issue is of particular importance to women. Research shows that women and girls are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, seasonal affective disorder, eating disorders, panic disorders and phobias than men, and that women are twice as likely to be prescribed a psychiatric drug compared with men.

Co-authors Anderson and Currie provide a concise overview of research on the most commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs, lists of drugs and what they are prescribed for, and possible side effects or adverse reactions. Readers can quickly look up a drug for specific information and read further for more background. The goal is to empower people through information, and the booklet artfully achieves its goal as an accessible and informative resource.

What People Need to Know challenges some of the myths and misinformation about mental health that have no basis in scientific fact—myths such as depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” or that bipolar or depressive conditions are mainly genetic. The authors point to social determinants of mental health such as poverty, family violence and unemployment, and steer away from stigmatizing people with the label of mental illness. The section of the booklet with questions to ask your doctor not only empowers patients, but may even encourage some physicians to take a second look at what they are prescribing.  Tips for helping yourself and references to other resources also make this a user-friendly and practical guide.

The use of psychiatric medications is ubiquitous in our society, yet comprehensive information about these medications is not. What People Need to Know about Psychiatric Drugs helps address this gap, and the “people” who “need to know” are all of us.

Ellen Reynolds is the Director of Communications at the Canadian Women’s Health Network and a board member of the consumer health organization DES Action Canada.

For more information or to download a copy of the booklet, visit www.psychmedaware.org

Hard copies of the booklet are available for $5 each (plus shipping).

Newly updated - Women, Mental Health and Mental Illness and Addiction in Canada: An Overview by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Women, Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addictions (From the Canadian Women’s Health Network)

Originally published by CWHN in May 2006 in response to the tabling of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology’s final report Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Addiction Services in Canada, this report by the Ad Hoc Working Group discusses why sex and gender matter in mental health and addictions and includes information and recommendations for the new Mental Health Commission of Canada. To date, the Commission has not addressed sex and gender in their work, highlighting the importance and relevance of the document to this day.

Also, for the first time, this report is available in French, under the title, Les femmes, la santé mentale, les maladies mentales et la toxicomanie au Canada: tour d’horizon.

The report may be downloaded from www.cwhn.ca

Living as a Chameleon: A Guide to Understanding Girls’ Anger for Girl-Serving Professionals

Cheryl van Daalen-Smith (York University, 2006)

This groundbreaking collaborative study examines the role of anger and its relationship to depression in the lives of young girls. Conducted in partnership with girls, girl-serving professionals and organizations in communities across Canada, this study proposes that when anger is dismissed or silenced (due to narrow beliefs about femininity which continue to erode and deny young women of their right to feel and express anger), young women, out of fear of judgment, violence or rejection, take on chameleon-like lives, learning to change themselves in order to blend in and protect themselves from harm. Author Cheryl Van Daalen-Smith writes, “Like the chameleon, they live not for their own color, but for the color of their surroundings, striving to become undetectable, moving quietly and cautiously as they attempt to read their ever-changing surroundings.” Interviews with a diverse group of 65 girls were conducted to better understand what generates anger, how they are permitted to express it, its relationship to depression and to develop girl-driven recommendations that enable girls to live authentic lives.


The Antidepressant Skills Workbook

Dr. Dan Bilsker, RPsych and Dr. Randy Paterson, RPsych (Consortium for Organizational Mental Healthcare, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 2005)

The Antidepressant Skills Workbook is based on the experience of the authors and on scientific research about which strategies work best in managing depression. This self-care manual provides an overview of depression, explains how it can be effectively managed according to the best available research, and gives a step-by-step guide to changing patterns that trigger depression. Intended for individuals with depressed mood, concerned partners, family members or friends who want to help a depressed individual, and clinical providers that would like to use the manual as an adjunct to their treatment, this self-care guide shows how to use cognitive and behavioural methods to make important changes in thinking and actions that may help individuals to emerge from depression and make it less likely to recur.


Research Bulletin #2: Women and Homelessness Bulletin

Sistering and Street Health (The Street Health Report, 2007)

Released jointly by Sistering and Street Health, this bulletin documents the health impact of homelessness on women’s health. The bulletin presents the findings of a survey of 97 homeless women in Toronto about their health and access to health care. It paints a detailed picture of women’s street homelessness today and its devastating impact and makes a series of recommendations for change. Calling homelessness a “life-threatening” condition for women, the study examines the staggering rates of sexual assault among homeless women and details health impacts that significantly reduce life expectancy.


Death by Prescription: A Father Takes on His Daughter’s Killer

Terence Young (Key Porter Books Ltd., 2009)

On March 19, 2000, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Young died from complications resulting from a popular prescription drug, Prepulsid, that she had been prescribed to alleviate a stomach disorder. This book documents the heart-wrenching journey of her father, Terence Young, to find justice for his dead teenaged daughter, taking on a fight to battle the pharmaceutical and health care industries to make sure this kind of tragedy never happened again. Young would find out that every year hundreds of people die as a result of complications from prescription drugs and that most of these pharmaceutical companies and agencies supposedly created to safeguard your health, just don’t seem to care.

The Age of Anxiety: A History of America’s Turbulent Affair with Tranquilizers

Andrea Tone (Basic Books, 2008)

From Miltown to Xanax, Valium to Paxil, Andrea Tone’s extensively researched book on the history of anti-anxiety drugs delves into the rise, fall and rise again of tranquilizers inside the complex sociohistorical context of the second half of the 20th century. The book largely concentrates on the two most important tranquilizers of the 20th century: Miltown and Valium. Tone poses the question, to what extent has the pharmaceutical industry pathologized problems that are simply the normal boredom and unhappiness of suburban life?

Committed to the Sane Asylum: Narratives on Mental Wellness and Healing

Susan Schellenberg and Rosemary Barnes (Wilfred Laurier University Press, December 2008)

Susan Schellenberg, a former psychiatric patient, and psychologist Rosemary Barnes recount their own stories, conversations and reflections about the contributions and limitations of conventional mental health care and their collaborative search for alternatives such as art therapy in this exciting new book. Through interwoven patient/doctor narratives conventional care and critical steps in healing are explored, and a myriad of perspectives are illuminated through conversations with experts in psychiatry, feminist approaches, art, storytelling, and business.

The ABCs of Disease Mongering: An Epidemic in 26 Letters

Alan Cassels (illustrated by Jeremy Gordaneer) (Emdash Publishing, 2007)

Visualize Dr. Seuss taking on an overmedicated and overdiagnosed culture and you have Alan Cassel’s newest book. Looking at an array of disorders, from A to Z, created by the pharmaceutical industry, this illustrated verse-form alphabet is meticulously footnoted for therapeutic use by consumers and health policy-makers. The outrageous humour in the book is only outdone by the outrageous facts revealed.

Action Steps for Improving Women’s Mental Health

The Office of Women’s Health, SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Centre (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008)

This report consists of the most recent research, resources, products, and tools on mental health issues in women and investigates the role gender plays in diagnosing, treating, and coping with mental illness. Though written in the United States, this report does offer a perspective on the burden of mental illness on women’s lives and steps that might increase women’s capacity for recovery.


Women’s Mental Health: What It Means to You

The Office of Women’s Health SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Centre (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008)

A consumer booklet about the stigma associated with mental health. Offers information on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and provides suggestions for preventing and coping with mental illness.