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Anti-Vaxxers and Psychiatrists, Don't Ignore Science in Favour of Uninformed Views

02/05/2015 05:37 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT

The latest measles outbreak in the U.S. and Canada has again focused attention on the dangers of ignoring science for the uninformed views of the anti-vaxxers. Even the entertainment columnist for the Toronto Star has jumped in with a column entitled Measles and an Outbreak of Celebrity Stupidity.

Regrettably, the Mental Health Commission of Canada seems to take the view that allowing anyone to post alternative treatment views for mental illness on their webpage is perfectly acceptable. To my mind, that's like allowing a homeopath to write about homeopathic cures for Ebola on the webpage of the World Health Organization or having a proponent of laetrile as a treatment for cancer posting on the Canadian Cancer Society website.

I recently came across a post on the Collaborative Space of the Commission by someone called Fixmentalhealth. This individual was to write a series about alternatives to schizophrenia treatment dealing with the real cause of schizophrenia, what the worst anti-psychotics are and on "Healing foods and natural alternatives that can cure mild Schizopherania (sic)". I asked Mr Fixmentalhealth what his credentials are and he responded that he has studied psychology and that he has over 13 years of coaching and counselling natural strategies to people with mental illness.

According to Glenn Johnson, the senior media relations person for the Commission in an e-mail to me, the webpage is moderated to ensure that no unproved theories are posted and any that are deemed harmful are removed. But my question to Fixmentalhealth on what were natural strategies for the treatment of schizophrenia and exactly what his qualifications were, was not answered by him but by the moderator, Dave Walker.

Mr Walker said that he was personally looking forward to this series although "there may be some push-back on alternative treatments as many of the participants are science-oriented and evidence-driven." Of course, I am science-oriented and evidence-driven.

Fixmentalhealth has posted the first of his schizophrenia series and he states that "Medications are an option, but not necessary as a number of what I call "healing foods" may be the more logical route to take." He then quotes Dr. Ahmed who he describes as "a longtime psychiatrist here in Toronto for over 40-years" who "indicated the importance of mental and physical stimulation and how the balance of nutrition, exercise and social engagement is simply none-existent with people suffering from schizophrenia."

The use of medications is a matter between a patient and his/her doctor and, for schizophrenia, is considered to be the cornerstone of treatment. Peter Buckley, MD, a psychiatrist and expert in schizophrenia, and dean of the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University described it as the "bedrock of managing schizophrenia". Fixmentalhealth disagrees but provides no evidence or qualifications.

As for Dr Ahmed, we don't really know what he or she actually said and in what context. In fact, I can only find two psychiatrists in Toronto with that name based on the doctor search of the College of Physicians and Surgeons or Ontario website. One is Dr Iram Ahmed who graduated in psychiatry in 2014 from the University of Toronto. She was awarded the Paul Garfinkel Caversham book-sellers Prize for excellence in resident leadership in 2011-2012.

The other Dr Ahmed received his psychiatric credentials in 1971 but his license to practice was revoked by the discipline committee in 2002 for sexually abusing a patient. I'm not sure which Dr Ahmed Fixmentalhealth is quoting but I suspect the latter as he was practising for about 40 years before he lost his license.

This first of a series by Fixmentalhealth was praised by a poster who provided the link to a scientific paper supporting this nutrition position. That was a paper published in 1975 by Dr Abram Hoffer. Well, science has moved on a bit since 1975 and Dr Hoffer is the well known scientist who proposed vitamin therapy for schizophrenia. Hoffer's theories are quite controversial and have never been scientifically verified despite numerous attempts.

Now the Mental Health Commission does stipulate "The opinions and views expressed in the Collaborative Spaces are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mental Health Commission of Canada." That is in very small type at the bottom of the page and, in my opinion, does not absolve them of any blame. It does not stop people from saying I read X on the Commission website which, for many, would give it legitimacy.

The mandate of the Commission is to be "a catalyst for improving the mental health system and changing the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians around mental health issues." And, they are funded by us, the taxpayers. Their mandate is not or should not be to provide a forum for people to share their own personal ideas of science. To do that is a waste of scarce resources that could be put to better use providing hospital beds for those who need it or to increase community services.

But I am not surprised. After all, a previous member of the Commission was a University of Ottawa social work professor, Neree St-Amand, who believed that untreated schizophrenia can be a gift, and that in other cultures, hearing voices is revered as a bridge to the spirit world.

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