Quacks – and I’m not talking about ducks


Search for a cure

One of the things that is a cause for angst for me is having gone in the opposite direction mental health-wise despite doing what felt like so many of the textbook things to improve my mental health. I was exercising regularly, trying to build up my community of friends, trying CBT-self-help to combat negative thought processes, improving my diet by cutting red meat, alcohol and caffeine, started yoga (until breakdown got in the way) and had taken a step away from a lifestyle of commuting that was clearly doing me no good.

So here I am thinking: Now what?

It got me thinking about my physical symptoms – the worst being permanently tight/spasmed intercostal muscles (that I’ve had for over a decade but on which no one has ever given me a decent answer as to how to relieve them) and pressure in my head and the back of my neck.

The two treatments that sounded interesting to me were Cranial Electrical Stimulation (CES (for my head)) and Ultrasound massage for my chest. CES seems to be different from ECT which within society seems to have a bad press. (I’ll let medics & mental health experts amongst you explain the differences). Basically both are things that don’t involve talking therapies, are non-invasive but seem to manipulate organs in some way.

OK! What are we waiting for?

The nagging historian in me. One of history’s figures I’ve read lots about is Nicholas II’s wife Alexandra – one of Queen Victoria’s many grandchildren. After giving birth to four daughters, she gave birth to a long-awaited son…who had haemophilia. At the time, there was little that anyone could do. They could bring in the best scientists money could buy – for they were stupendously wealthy, but to no avail. Alexandra, being a devoutly religious type turned to many charlatan before finally settling with Rasputin, who seemed to have some sort of an impact on her son but no one could really figure out why. And the rest is history.

That’s not to say science failed. If we had discovered everything then scientific research would stop completely. What I want to know is whether something works – and get opinions from reasonably credible sources. When you’re suffering from a long term condition, anything that seems to give you hope can feel like it’s worth reading or looking into – even if it is in the Daily Mail. That’s what is so cruel about some science journalism in mainstream outlets – bad reporting gives false hope to those who are most in need.

Now, I’m not going to go around accusing people and firms of being charlatans or quack-sellers. I leave that to Ben Goldacre & friends at Bad Science. What I am saying is I need more evidence and more credible opinions before going down either of those routes. For example this microcurrent treatment has a centre in Cambridge. Part of me wants to go racing down there, hook me up to a set of batteries and flick the switch in the hope that the pressure balloon in my head (or rather the tension across my scalp & back of my neck along my upper spin) will deflate. Or perhaps getting a couple of electrodes, sticking them into my ribcage and turning up to ‘fry’ those spasmed muscles back into life again.

Going beyond a pill again?

This comes back to points I made in my first mental health article. Medication ain’t gonna sort this. I’ve been on the stuff for over six years continuously and I feel no better in terms of tackling the causes, even though they do suppress the symptoms. It’s how I functioned in Whitehall for so long. Yet as I mentioned above, the stuff that I had been doing of late – and in particular since the start of this year didn’t seem to be working either. So now where do I go?

You could say that’s part of the ‘fun’ of it in a darkly comic manner. I’ve just got to keep trying new things until something comes up that I click with. But it’s terribly exhausting and isn’t cheap either. Well…Okay…the hot stones massage today was, but that’s because I was helping trainees by being a body for someone to work with. It was at Cambridge Regional College – where I did my teacher training last autumn. For those of you interested, have a look at The Park – and give some young people a hand. (I was my trainee’s first client for this particular treatment, so please be patient with them if you are going).

What about public administration issues?

“Yeah Pooffles! When are you gonna get stuck into the Toreeze with their cutz?!?!”

Not today. On the issue of wider treatments, I have no idea other than the claims of manufacturers whether this stuff works. There are a number of scholarly articles out there but they are not written with ordinary patients in mind. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) seems to come up blank too. Not that I know of many non-medic people who would go to NICE as a port of call. I’d guess that most people have never heard of NICE let alone know what they do. In one sense I am lucky in that I can call on some medics via my Twitter network – all of whom that got back had not heard of this. Hence being that little bit extra cautious.

What about h o m e o p a t h y ?

Yep – I don’t want that sort of spam either. I tried such a remedy back in 2001 and was like “Wow! That really stings!” after being told to drop two pippet droplets onto the glands underneath my tongue. Then I thought: “What’s in this stuff?” Cherry brandy with 1/400 essence of some flower. Yes…my thoughts exactly. This was one of the areas where my former flatmate (who is now a pharmacy Ph.D student) and I disagreed – she stood by the treatments and I didn’t.

All of this from a public administration perspective makes me wonder why we don’t put more resources into testing of these things – and the regulation of advertisers claims. It’s not just about stopping the wild and inaccurate claims but also about giving credibility to those treatments that actually do work. It’s one of the reasons why whenever any statistical claim is thrown at me, I always ask “Show me the sample size – are your results statistically significant?”

I’m sort of tempted to give the CES treatment a try – what harm can it do? (Famous last words). I’m sure I’ve wasted more money on worse and at least it will put my mind at rest either way. But again, open to advice.


3 thoughts on “Quacks – and I’m not talking about ducks

  1. Broadly speaking there is a lot of research into mental health/illness and treatments. But, as with any health problem your first port of call should be your GP who should be able to advise, treat, and/or refer for specialist input.

    As with any other health problem, going into the private market and seeking out treatments is not something likely to yield the best results. Mental health/illness is every bit as complex and risk-laden as any other health issue and GPs are highly trained doctors best placed to give you impartial advice and treatment.

  2. I do hope you find some relief from your curious aches and pains. I know that anxiety can cause all sorts of muscles to tighten up, and if you have been anxious for a long time, it may be that you are holding your body in such a way that it is aching because it never really relaxes? It’s definitely worth booking in to see your GP and discussing it, even if just to rule out any underlying medical causes. If you think muscle tension could be causing it, why not try some kind of yoga/Pilates/ Alexander Technique if you like to feel like you’ve had a good stretch, or try a good Swedish massage if you like to feel kneaded and nurtured? And do check back in to tell us how it goes. Thinking of you and hoping you find a treatment that suits you.

  3. I too wish you well!,
    In a very non-scientific way I believe, from my own experience and that of others that there is that ‘key’ out there for most everyone. Medicine is a shark infested pit full of politics and funding issues as you well know. Throw in medicine that no-one agrees on, and then watch changes of opinion every year and you really have to ask…

    What I will say is that you do have to keep searching. I think GP’s have a tough time trying to be a general practitioner, but that is what they often are, a generalist. Okay, there are GP’s with a specialist interest but in the main they are useful as a first port of call, to exclude other underlying possibilities to the symptoms you are enduring.

    We are such wonderful and amazing organisms, and with that our countless dynamics have to be taken into account meaning that clinical advice that may be the accepted and trusted norm, will simply not be the right advice for all.

    Of twenty years in emergency medicine, and of tutoring and mentoring ‘newbies’ and peers, the strongest guidance I would impart was “Never always”, or to resist talking in clinical terms about a ‘definitive’. There is best practise to consider, and that is what NICE is supposed to be part of. Medicine is getting more credible in many areas due to ‘evidence based’ practise so there is hope; but with mental health, lordy, I suspect we are eons away from truly understanding the individual mind, let alone agree what, if, how the mind is.

    Many clinicians are trusted because of their hard earned academic qualifications, and often that is appropriate. In my view there are also many amazing souls ‘out there’ who have a mixture of life experience, have walked ‘those fires’, have an incredible intuition and are credible and of value. If you completely discount these souls from your life you may be entrusting your wellbeing to a profession that regularly harms patients by providing incorrect advice, therapy or simply not doing enough – for whatever reason! Then you may be missing out on that potential ‘key’ to recovery or cure.
    There are quacks in medicine who are as dangerous being ‘qualified’ as some who claim to be! Just my opinion for what it’s worth!

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