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The Secret of the Brain Chip by Marc De Hert, Geerdt Magiels and Erik Thys

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Paperback Publisher: EPO (2003) ASIN: B0013A043Y

My registrar Paul Smith gave me this. He was given it during a psychiatry attachment, by a pharmaceuticals rep. It was produced in 2003 by three belgian psychiatrists, one of whom, Erik Thys, did the illustration. It was produced with financial support from Janssen-Cilag, the pharmaceutical firm, and is dedicated to the founder: Dr Paul Janssen. I mention all this at the outset because I see it as very relevant. It does seem to me to be a book made with the best of intentions, using an easilly accessible medium (comics, although there is prose, poetry and medical text in there as well) by professionals wanting to reach out to vulnerable , mentally ill patients who might not otherwise seek medical advice. I was very excited when I first got it: a comic book drawn by a doctor, dealing with serious problems. Unfortunately, it has medical paternalism written all over it. It is subtitled "a self- help guide for people experiencing psychosis". Then on page 1 it says: "if you think you can solve this kind of problem by yourself, you are making a mistake. Consult a doctor or seek help from the mental health services". It says on page 3: "this is not a textbook", but the symptoms that the main character, Paul, experiences (as well as the lists of diagnostic signs and treatments) are straight out of one.
I've never had a psychosis and I'm a doctor, but I actually found the book a little "scary" and I don't think I would find it comforting if I was considering consulting a healthcare professional about psychotic symtoms. The basic message of the book seems to be: get help straight away, if you put it off it will be worse. You will undergo tests including physical and mental examination, personality profiling, IQ calculation, scans and blood tests. You will probably need hospitalisation. You will need drugs. The road to recovery will be difficult but doctors will help you. You may not recover. If you don't get medical help...you are stuffed. The book is firmly based in the biomedical model of disease, it even mentions the ICD 10, although not by name. It does also advocate psychotherapy, and stresses the importance of a healthy lifestyle and family support, but drug treatment seems to be given central importance. To be fair, this does reflect the commonplace reality of the medical treatment of schizophrenia.
Now don't get me wrong. I have worked in psychiatry, and schizophrenia can often be a devastating illness. It is a scary condition and often requires drug treatment, at least in the acute stages. However, nothing is black and white, these things exist as a spectrum. and there are points of view other than the biomedical, ICD 10 model: try comparing it with, say, Chester Brown's "My Mom was a Schizophrenic" for instance (in "The Little Man", Drawn and Quarterly 1999). The Secret of the Brain Chip could have been so much more exciting (and maybe less frightening) if it had been written and drawn by someone who had been through a psychotic episode. Sure, there are poems and snippets included in it by people who have, but thats not the same as authoring the book, its like the professor of medicine allowing the patient to say a few words before the grand round.
I would think this book does have some use as a textbook for medical students and doctors and to inform the relatives of sufferers, I am not so sure about its worth as a "self help" guide though.

It may be hard to find if you want to purchase it, there are a couple of copies on amazon. it can be viewed online, but you have to register with the psychiatry 24x7 site. Which is "supported by Cileg-Janssen". See the link button below.

key themes: psychiatry psychosis schizophrenia metaphor

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