Psychologist, filmmaker take on mental illness misconceptions

Originally published in The Globe on April 15, 2015

On Saturday, Point Park hosted a joint book launch and film screening for Dr. Sharna Olfman’s “The Science and Pseudoscience of Children’s Mental Health” and Kevin Miller’s follow up to “Generation Rx,” “Letter from Generation Rx.”

The focus of Olfman’s presentation and Miller’s film was the corruption with the field of psychology, especially with the pharmaceutical industry, and the myth of chemical imbalance being the main cause of mental illness. There was also an emphasis on how that intersects with the treatment, and in some cases, mistreatment of child patients.

Olfman is a psychology professor at the University and clinical psychologist, and Kevin Miller is a director, producer and writer.

“I want them to feel inspired that there’s some really good science on issues of mental health available to children and adults,” said Olfman after the event. “We need to support documentaries and research that informs the public and empowers them to make healthy choices.”

Miller hopes his film will act as a “point of reference” for people, not only to show the stories of those who’ve gone through it, but to provide them with a fully informed choice about their own medical needs.

“I was just trying to tell human stories,” Miller said after the event. “I want them to try and create change, to see ourselves through their eyes and realize this could happen to any of us. I didn’t have to search very hard to find these people; ultimately, people found me.”

For Heather Leasure, sophomore psychology student, the film hit close to home.

“I suffer from depression and anxiety myself,” Leasure said. “I’m taking Zoloft. To hear those stories concerns me because I’ve been taking that medication for a couple of years.”

Olfman illustrated the importance of college students having a good base of knowledge in mental illness and medications with a statistic.

“By the time students reach college, 20- 30 percent have been prescribed one or more [medications for mental illness],” Olfman said. “They have a right to information, to know the efficacy of the medication they’re taking.”

Leasure also believes that it is important that students have access to this information.

“I’m sure there are some [college students] who know enough, but not enough students know enough,” Leasure said. “I didn’t know anything about this, and I’ve been taking Zoloft for two years.”

Miller said it was important for college students to know about the corruption and fraud within the pharmaceutical industry and medical.

“It’s your generation. You are generation Rx,” Miller said. “People in college see the hypocrisy in the system. Students are realizing the medical model shown to us is ethically and financially bankrupting the United States. It’s important that your generation be the one that breaks through this.”

Leasure already began applying her newly acquired knowledge to her future career.

“I am studying to be a counselor, so this kind of opened my eyes,” Leasure said. “If my patients asked me if it was a good idea to use this medication, I would tell them to do a lot of research. If their doctor won’t tell them [the side effects of their medication], to do their own research on side effects.”

Although both Olfman and Miller criticized the pharmaceutical dependence encouraged by the medical profession, they warned students not to make hasty decisions if they were already on medication.

“Do more research on long term effects. Don’t just throw your pills away,” Olfman said. “Look at the statistics. One out of 25 [people taking anti-depressants] have a severe reaction. Trust your individual experience. The myth of chemical imbalance is not true, but [medication] does provide symptom relief.”

Sections of Olfman’s book and Miller’s film focus on the idea of micronutrients effecting brain health and the push back that idea has received from the mainstream medical community.

“The study of nutrition has become controversial, it’s a ‘radical idea’ that the food we put in our mouths affects the brain,” Miller said. “Under this capitalist system, we’ve allowed drug companies to profit so mightily with such a huge cost.”

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