Statistics: The Thing Standing Between Bipolar Treatment and The Truth   7 comments

People were so gullible back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  “9 out of 10 doctors recommend Pall Mall Cigarettes because they are less harsh on your throat. ”  “In a side by side comparison, Lincoln is better than Cadillac.”  “More people trust Goodyear than any other tire.”  I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  And people believed this stuff.  Nobody was calling out for Google Analytics, or even for Pall Mall to simply show how they conducted their survey.  All you had to do is make the claim and everyone assumed it was fact.

Before you start musing at people’s low level of bullshit detection back then, we are still eating up the same statistical nonsense in 2012.  It’s just packaged differently.  Take the Bipolar Disorder drug Lamictal.  According to Wikipedia, between 5% to 10% of patients taking Lamictal will develop a rash, but only 1 in 1,000 patients will develop a serious rash. Plus only 1 in 50,000 patients die from the rash.  This is an un-cited claim according to Wikipedia.  The information powerhouse aggregator went on to say that 9 out of 10 doctors smoke Marlboro Cigarettes because the brand gives them steadier hands in the operating room.  Personally, I’d like my doctor to smoke Marlboros while he’s actually operating on me to insure the very best outcome.

Most people reading this aren’t looking for citations.  Wikipedia has credibility because it says so.  And if 1 in 50,000 actually die from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (the killer rash), those are pretty good odds.  They are willing to take the gamble if they are suffering from bipolar symptoms and Lamictal is their greatest hope.

Wikipedia downplays the killer-rash statistic, as does its manufacturer GlaxoSmithklein.  But just getting the rash must be scary.  The patient doesn’t know if it’s “the big one.”  And 5% to 10% of patients will get it.   That’s at best 1 in 20 people.  Maybe 1 in 10.  I see these very same statistics influencing people not to try Lamictal,  So you see, we really have not evolved from the 1950’s and 1960’s vulnerability to marketing mind melding.  Any statistics can be made to lean in any direction you favor.  It’s the interpretation you chose to believe that makes up your mind.  However,  I don’t think anyone can argue the Lincoln is a better car than the Cadillac.  Everyone says it has a better ride.  Everyone.

Personally, I chose to flirt with death and take Lamictal for my bipolar symptoms.  Fortunately, I did not get the rash.  I also didn’t know any of the rash statistics.  I just trusted my doctor when he said getting Stevens-Johnson Syndrome was very remote.  And the minute a rash developed he’d stop the medication.   Notice how I used the phrase “I trusted my doctor.”  I think when the drug manufacturers and web sites are whipping statistics at you for their own less than altruistic reasons, you need a doctor or knowledgable advisor you can trust.  Someone from the real world who can talk from experience, not an Excel Spreadsheet.

Years ago when I was just out of college and had started my first job, I had a crippling attack of depression hosted by my bipolar illness.  It was a Friday night and I was rolling around on the living room floor shaking, unable to keep still and telling my then girlfriend that I wanted to die.  I couldn’t get through to my usual psychiatrist and I needed something to help me sleep and keep me from killing myself over the weekend.  One of my Dad’s friends had a brother who was a psychiatrist who I called at home and he said he’d see me first thing Monday.  But to get through the weekend he wanted me to have a glass of wine and a couple of Benedryl whenever I needed it to calm down.  He hadn’t met me yet and did not want to start pumping drugs into me site unseen.  From 30 years of practicing, he knew this was unorthodox but safe and effective.

I didn’t do it.  I was so depressed I ended up overdosing on sleeping pills and was taken to the hospital.  But I admired the doctor’s practical grass roots approach to getting me through the weekend.   He had excellent credentials, 30 years experience and a solution, albiet a little off beat one.   I trusted him more than a statistic.  I’m sure there are many statistics telling you not to mix even Sweet Tarts with alcohol.  However, we all do it now and then usually to no ill effect.  The doctor knew this.  He was being practical and compassionate toward my deteriorating condition.  He also definitely agreed more people trust Goodyear than any other tire.

For these reasons, I am not a big fan of the statistic, especially when it is not cited or the fine print is a disclaimer for it probably being inaccurate.  I also detest when people just make a claim citing everyone as their source.  My grandfather, a Philadelphia native and its biggest cheerleader, used to tell me things like “Philadelphia has become the restaurant capital of the world.”  I’d say “Pop, where the hell did you hear that?”  And he’d say, “Hear it?  Everyone knows it!”  He also smoked Lucky Strikes because LSMFT.  (Lucky Strikes Means Fine Tobacco).   How could you argue with that kind of logic?

So when negotiating the bipolar landscape of doctors, medications and therapy, do your research.  But don’t believe everything you read, even the statistics.  Find people you trust and talk with them.  Statistics are not real.  They are man made.  Experience is real.  And someone you trust to help you evaluate it is invaluable.  Just please always remember, Michelob is the right beer when you’re having more than one.  At least that’s what they say.

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7 responses to “Statistics: The Thing Standing Between Bipolar Treatment and The Truth

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  1. I always look forward to your posts! I learn something each and every time I read one of your blog entries. I don’t believe in statistics…..if statistics were real then Hubs and myself shouldn’t even be together. We’ve beaten every statistic put against us….met in high school, child out of wedlock, financial difficulties, the loss of two children and the loss of our home, oh! and I have bipolar! And guess what? We’re plodding along just fine, going into our 19th year 🙂 By the way, I heart my Lamictal!

    • You are so sweet. And I am in awe of what you have had to overcome in your life. Then lucky you are bipolar on top of it! You handle it with utter grace and I’m flattered that you enjoy my blogs. I hope you’ve read Buzzkill. It’s even better than the blogs.

      • Thank you 🙂 I have not read Buzzkill…..where can I find it for purchase? I would love to read it! I just published a book myself, my blog was just the ground work for it all. I’m considering starting a second one, I just have to figure out which direction I want to go with it. Writing, is a passion of mine.

  2. You can buy Buzzkill at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com… just about any online retailer. Where can I find your book? I love to read new authors.

  3. I recommend also reading, ‘The Tyranny Of Words’ by Stuart Chase. It’s not in print, but amazon has cheap used copies usually. Experience trumps someone’s word every time! I tell my 12 year old son to question everything. It’s healthy. Literally.

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