April 18, 2016

Are we the Albert Alexander of mental illness?

(In which I am jealous of the possible mental health treatments available in the future)

I saw this thing on TV once about Albert Alexander who got an infection from a cut from a rose thorn, started to get better from manufactured penicillin, but then died from the infection because they could not manufacture enough penicillin in time.

It's a tragic story of someone who is terminally ill, received a successful experimental treatment, but the treatment couldn't fully cure him.
Since I've been reading mental health blogs recently (and blogging myself) I've really been thinking about mental health and its treatments.  As my mind often does, this strange comparison came to me.  Will some of us with bipolar be sort of like a mental health version of Albert Alexander?  Bear with me as this is a rather strained comparison... but I enjoy these kind of stretches.

First off it's not a trivial thing to think of fatality because as much as one in five of those with bipolar die from suicide.  In a sense we are all at risk and the clock is ticking on effective treatments vs. us ending our own lives.  They only tried penicillin on Albert Alexander because he had little chance of surviving.  We are maybe worse off because it seems unpredictable when depression or a mixed state will push us over the edge.  Personally I feel like being complacent is dangerous.  I don't feel like I am "past" suicide, despite multiple attempts.  I fear it always looms ahead of me as a tragic and real possibility.

The difficulty in replicating a treatment is not as dramatic these days of course.  By the time a drug is in a clinical trial, the company has figured out how to mass produce it.  However, there are arguably too many treatments already.  The brain is not as simple as an infection and treatment is not as simple as penicillin.  I might be missing out right now by not trying an available drug (e.g., Latuda which would cost me $900 a month).  Or what if that drug that totally will "fit" my brain is still in a clinical trial and I don't get it?  What if a revolutionary non-medication treatment comes out twenty years from now (something like TMS or ECT but totally "nails" the problem of bipolar in the brain)?  I will have been suffering (yes I don't think that's too strong a word) for those twenty years.

So while we are not exactly like Albert Alexander... there are millions of at the whims of the forces of research funding (and thus the economy), scientific interest, corporate profitability, and regulatory agencies.  We must hope there's some treatment already here that we can afford to try that will make a dramatic difference in our lives.  We must hope that an even better treatment will arrive soon.  We must hope.

Image credit: rose thorn

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