Bipolar? Or Gifted? – The Modern Day Epidemic Of Medicated “Madness”

Bipolar or Gifted – The Modern Day Epidemic Of Medicated Madness

By Cortland Pfeffer (with Irwin Ozborne)

Contributing writers for Wake Up World

Have I gone mad?” asked the Mad-Hatter. “I’m afraid so, you’re entirely bonkers”, Alice replied, “but I’ll tell you a secret… all the best people are.”

The exchange above is from Lewis Carroll’s notorious fictional story, Alice in Wonderland, which in my professional opinion stands with more validity than today’s psychiatric and mental health paradigms. In fact, Alice shares the same view as some of the greatest thinkers of all-time, such as Socrates who once declared: “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift.” Plato too referred to insanity as “a divine gift and the source of the chief blessings granted to men.”

So, to best understand bipolar disorder the modern day epidemic of medicated “madness”, down the rabbit hole we go…

Down the Rabbit Hole

Going back to our friend Alice, on the first page of the classic story, we find Alice is disinterested in the dull, boring, everyday existence in which she resides. She peers into her sister’s book to see it has no illustrations or even conversations, which to Alice has no use or interest. She ponders the idea of making a daisy-chain, but lacks the energy or motivation to take the time to pick the daisies. She is disinterested in ‘normal’ life. Then, suddenly, a talking white-rabbit runs past her; he appears to be late. Of course, Alice is curious about this bizarre occurrence and follows him down the rabbit hole — and most of us will be familiar with the rest of the story.

By today’s standards and diagnostic references, Alice’s disinterest in ‘normal’ life would very likely be diagnosed as a mental disorder. With this diagnosis, she would then be medicated for life, after a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital to stabilize her on the medications that are claimed to be capable of normalizing her mental sickness.

But, is Alice really sick? Or is she a creative, intelligent, deep-thinking, imaginative, or even gifted child? I would wager everything I own on the latter!

Bipolar disorder is one of the oldest recognized ‘mental disorders’, yet it remains one of the most misunderstood. As a psychiatric Registered Nurse, it is my belief that people with bipolar disorder are not “sick” – the real sickness lies in the treatment and medications they receive.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Formerly known as manic-depressive disorder or manic-depression, bipolar disorder refers to the experience of opposing poles with regard to a person’s mood. Essentially, bipolar disorder is distinguished by the experience of polarity.

At one pole is mania, which includes intense energy, racing thoughts, feelings of euphoria, inflated grandiosity or sense of self, impulsiveness and risk-taking behavior. The other pole includes depression, which presents the opposite symptoms, such as fatigue (to the point of inability to get out of bed), moving or talking so slowly that others notice, a feeling of emptiness, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of self-harm.

It is important to understand the distinction between moods and emotions here. Moods are essentially emotional feelings that last for a period of time – typically for more than two or three days, which can be difficult to shift. While everyone has their ups-and-downs, bipolar disorder is far more disabling, with symptoms far more severe than a typical mood swing from happiness to sadness. The extremes of bipolar disorder can take you from feeling that you are omnipotent to the point of wanting to end your own life.

Inside The Bipolar Mind

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” ~ Krishnamurti

Just as Alice does in the opening chapter of her story, many people with bipolar disorder realize that “normal life” is far too phony, boring and constrained. They realize that there is much more to this mundane existence than what is commonly suggested. So, with this insight, one can see how easily it would be to slip into a depressed mood with thoughts such as:

– Why would I want to go through with this life?
Nobody understands me!
– I am all alone.
Why am I the only one who thinks this way?
Maybe they are right, maybe I am crazy.
What is the point of it all?
– What reason do I have to keep going?

This depression sucks the life out of you, to the point that you lack the energy to even get up and pour a glass of water. If I got up, then I would have to find a glass, wait for the water to filter, and then put the glass away… it is not worth the effort. Furthermore, the person experiencing these thoughts realizes that this thought process is illogical, and destructive, which only creates a tidal-wave effect, inducing further feelings of sadness and dejection.

How Does Bipolar Come On?

At birth, we are free — we are born with a clean slate and we see the world is magical. But as we grow, things change. We are trained to behave a certain way; we are domesticated to a set of standards that our society has agreed are “normal”. We learn to create a mask and put it on every day; To  conform. We learn to use different masks for different groups of people, different occasions, and different times. We are taught that this is “normal life”, and that wearing these masks is “normal” human behavior.


And yet this mask, this image that we create and send out to the world, is our false self. It is a learned function of the ego. It is only behind the mask that we find our true self — our soul.

Manic episodes — those times of euphoria, grandiosity and impulsiveness — are triggered by the collapsing of the ego or mask. It is as though the soul is allowed to be free for the first time. Just like a dog that is tied to a chain its entire life and then finally breaks free, it runs wild, explores, and does whatever it can, because it can finally be the animal it was meant to be.

A spiritual awakening is much the same process. Like those times of mania, it involves taking off the mask and living as our true self for the first time. If treated as a spiritual dis-ease, this is the unexpected gift that bipolar disorder can offer — a short-cut to enlightenment. The mania pole can reveal to us our strongest and deepest desires, and exactly how our personal energy truly wishes to be expressed, while the depression pole shows us – in no uncertain terms – the areas of our lives that are not being lived in total alignment with our most honest truth.

But, like the dog that just got off its leash and is running wild without care, there can be great danger if those manic episodes that are not controlled. Experiencing and freely expressing the impulses of your true self for the first time, you may begin to test reality in life-threatening ways, such as trying to fly out a window, walking into the middle of traffic, etc. In contrast, if the dog (the soul) has always been allowed to roam freely, it learns not to run in traffic or to chase people, and knows how to regulate its natural energy and exuberance for life.

The key is balance; learning always to roam free, not just in moments of mania.

Bipolar Disorder: Science, Medicine, and Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 5.7 million Americans (or 2.6 percent of the population) have bipolar disorder.[1] This is the highest rate of any country in the world. The official position of the NIMH is also that bipolar disorder cannot be cured. As stated on the NIMH website:

“Bipolar disorder cannot be cured… Because it is a lifelong illness, long-term, continuous treatment is needed to control symptoms.” [2]

With the United States having the highest prevalence of bipolar disorder, which is deemed incurable by the mental health establishment, it would make sense that the United States would have the finest diagnostic tools and science available, wouldn’t it? However, contrary to popular belief, there is no science involved in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, rather it is diagnosed from a subjective set of criteria. There are no scans or medical tests, nor is there anything scientific about the process. Patients are simply asked questions in a brief consultation, and someone with a license makes a subjective interpretation as to whether or not they have a “lifelong, incurable disease”.

The primary treatment for bipolar disorder is the prescription of psychotropic medication(s), mood-stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, or antidepressant medications. A government study published in 2005 reported that just 11% of mental health facilities provided psychotherapy to all patients diagnosed with bipolar. [3]

Regrettably, the medical establishment’s preference for treating bipolar disorder with medication over psychotherapy has less to do with results than one would like to think. When it comes to this disorder, it would seem psychiatric pay-checks and pharmaceutical profits rate far more highly than patients’ needs. In the past, psychiatrists would tend to the needs of 40 to 50 clients at most, conducting 45-minute sessions with each one. Today, they see up to 1,200 clients, holding only 15-minute appointments that focus on refilling medication prescriptions.

Why Are So Many Diagnosed with Bipolar?

In 1955, about one in every 13,000 people was diagnosed with bipolar disorder or manic-depression. [4] Today, that number has skyrocketed to nearly one in every forty!

Are there really that many more people displaying symptoms of such a disease, or could there be another factor accounting for this sharp rise in diagnoses? Let’s look at some statistics:

  • In 1970, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved the first mood-stabilizer medication Lithium (although many U.S. physicians were already prescribing it in the late 1960’s without seeking an investigational new drug permit (IND) from the FDA, meaning its initial introduction to the U.S. population was entirely unregulated.) Following the official release of this new medication, an increase in the rate of official diagnoses of bipolar disorder naturally followed.
  • In 1995 Zyprexa was the first of the atypical antipsychotic medications approved for treatment of mania, and again, a surge in diagnosis ensued.
  • America is home to only 5% of the world’s population, yet it is currently prescribed more than 50% of all pharmaceutical drugs worldwide.
  • In 1976, Americans owned just 18.4% of the world market-share in pharmaceutical interests, but by the year 2000, that figure had climbed to 52.9%. [5]
  • In 2001, worldwide revenue for pharmaceutical drugs was around $390.2 billion U.S. Ten years later (2011), this figure stood at almost one trillion U.S. dollars.

With BIG money to be made from the prescription of pharmaceutical drugs, it’s not difficult to see why the mental health establishment’s treatment of bipolar disorder with psychotherapy waned — It was a question of financial incentive not effective treatment.

While United States has the highest rate of lifetime diagnosis of bipolar disorder, population-based surveys show that New Zealand is in second place [6], where a startling rate of almost 5% of the nation’s Maori (indigenous) population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Outside the U.S. and New Zealand, no other country even comes close.

Importantly, high bipolar rates are not the only thing these two countries have in common. In 1997, the United States became the second country — New Zealand was the first — to allow Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertising of pharmaceuticals, enabling drug companies to advertise their products directly to consumers. [7] By doing so, the U.S. FDA loosened the regulatory chains that previously kept drug companies in check, allowing them to advertise their “products” on television, radio and other media. This kind of marketing (like all mass-marketing) creates a sense of need where one previously did not exist; it allows the consumer to become familiar with the drugs available and their supposed “benefits”, to specifically ask their doctor for that medication, and if the doctor refuses, to find another doctor that will fulfil their request.

Of course none of this has anything to do with science. What it does involve is a multi-million dollar marketing scheme. And if you wonder why you never hear anything about this on the TV news, that’s because doing so would constitute a massive conflict of commercial interests for the media corporations that are heavily funded by pharmaceutical advertising. And despite the clear conflict of moral interests here, media corporations and the shareholders who ultimately benefit from this kind of direct-to-consumer marketing, prefer not to bite the hand that feeds them.

Are Prescription Drugs Actually Helping?

Psychotropic pharmaceutical drugs, like all drugs, can initially relieve symptoms of bipolar disorder, in the same way that alcohol or any number of illicit substances can be used to mask symptoms. Such substances artificially relieve us of unwanted feelings or states of mind, by affecting the brain’s chemistry. But as with all consciousness-altering drugs, relief is only temporary. You only get to ‘rent the relief’. In other words, everything that the drug gives you will eventually have to be paid back at some time.

The brain is always working to create balance – known as homeostasis – and when conditions change, the brain’s neurology also changes. Therefore the perceived positive effects of pharmaceutical intervention are therefore short-lived.

According to the reductionist medical and mental-health paradigms, a medication is deemed successful when the patients’s symptoms diminish. Although the do nothing to address the root cause of psychosis, antipsychotic drugs can remove or mask the symptoms at first. This is the same principle that applies to alcohol, which can temporarily remove feelings of anxiety or depression — but it is by no means a long-term solution. In fact, what happens is that the brain quickly develops a tolerance to the substance and the individual taking it then needs more of the drug in order to feel the same effects. Eventually, a threshold is reached at which the individual no longer feels any effect and cannot be prescribed an increased dosage; the drug becomes the ‘new normal’. Then, when you try to stop taking the drug, your body suffers serious physical, mental, and emotional effects, because it has grown dependent on it. The body then needs to create homeostasis again, to cope without the drug. This is what is known as withdrawal.

In an August 2014 letter to The Psychiatric Times, psychiatrist Sandra Steingard M.D. (the Medical Director of Howard Center and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington) compared a number of different studies that demonstrate just how those suffering bipolar disorder and other psychoses are actually more effectively treated without antipsychotic drugs. She compared studies of individuals who stayed on antipsychotic drugs with studies of those who stopped using the medications after a period of two years.

According to Dr. Steingard’s research, after two years the results were initially fairly even, with 74% of those who stayed on antipsychotic medications showing psychotic symptoms, compared with the 60% of individuals showing psychotic symptoms in the group that stopped taking their medications after two years. However, as time went on, the gap grew exponentially larger. At 4½ years, 86% of those who continued to take the medications displayed psychotic symptoms, compared to 21% of those who continued to abstain after the two year mark. And after 20 years, the difference was 68% compared to 8% respectively.[8] Says Dr. Steingard:

This raises troubling questions for psychiatry… Psychiatrists are assigned a powerful role in our society; we can force patients into treatment, and this sometimes includes forcing them to take these drugs… In taking on this task, it seems that psychiatry should be assiduous in assessing risk and utterly transparent in our disclosures. This risk includes not only the failure to treat but also the consequences of our treatments. Yet, this has not been our history. Our profession has been slow to address the limitations of our drugs. We were slow to acknowledge tardive dyskinesia [a neurological disorder that occurs as the result of long-term or high-dose use of antipsychotic drugs] and slow to address the metabolic impacts of the newer antipsychotics. Will we be equally slow in addressing their impact on long-term recovery?

Clearly, pharmaceutical intervention is no solution to mental health disorders such as bipolar. All drugs, legal or illegal, have adverse effects on the body’s chemistry. Yet, with the support of regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, pharmaceutical companies label the desirable short-term effects as the “main” effects and the unwanted ones as “side effects.” But, as the science has clearly demonstrated, all antipsychotic drugs will bring about changes in the body that are unnatural and undesirable, which ultimately prolong the suffering of the patient.

Blaming The Patients, Not The Drugs

We’ve all seen those stories on mainstream news where someone has committed a heinous or violent crime, and we are subsequently informed that the cause of their violence was because the individual did not follow their medication plan. The diagnosis of ‘insanity’ and the individual’s failure to medicate is blamed as the cause for their psychotic behavior. But people in true psychosis are not typically violent; that perception is simply not true. It is generally once they stop taking their prescribed antipsychotic medications (perhaps due to the undesirable side-effects being experienced) that the withdrawal/side-effects create these suicidal or homicidal behaviors.

In other words, far from helping the patient, the taking of drugs as a “solution” to their condition actually leads to further problems, sometimes involving the tragic loss of life.

Drugging Adolescents and Children

Like all good product marketers, companies search for untapped markets and seek to create customers for life. This is known as ‘cradle to grave’ marketing; a corporate term that bears an eerie interpretation when viewed in the context of the medical and pharmaceutical industry.

In 1995, around 25 out of 100,000 adolescents aged 19 and under were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. By 2002, less than a decade later, that number had risen to 1,679 diagnoses out of 100,000 visits. [9] This increase is staggering! While the medical establishment shrugs its shoulders, unable to determine a scientific cause for such a sharp increase, realistically, the one factor that has actually changed in that time period is the ready availability and social acceptability of antipsychotic medications.

But this startling trend doesn’t stop with adolescents; there has also been a steady increase in the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder. Yes, you read that right – infants! In my experience, diagnosis goes a little like this:

Does your child act silly and crazy at some times? Then other times are they sad or angry? They might have bipolar disorder. Our drug can help you stabilize your child.

Kiddie Cocaine - FDA Approves New ADHD Amphetamine Drug Disguised as Candy

In reality, these young children do not have a diagnosable mood disorder — they are four-year-olds! Four-year-olds are simply not meant to always sit still, pay attention to one thing for extended periods, or regulate their own natural moods and emotions the way “socialized” adults do. Adding to this problem, up to 40 percent of U.S. schools are now cutting back on recess — the time when children get to go outside and be children!

And yet, prescribing antipsychotics has become the overwhelming norm, being regularly prescribed for so-called “behavioral disorders” like ADHD and ADD. According to Dr. Michelle Kmiec, an holistic health practitioner and regular contributing writer for Wake Up World:

Since 1990, according to some estimates, there has been a 300% increase with pharmaceuticals used to treat children diagnosed with ADHD. Now doesn’t that statement alone scream that there is something wrong with our medical establishment? It seems the trend is not to question why so many children (and adults) are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but instead to simply keep developing more drugs to counteract the “symptoms”.

Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist from Ithaca, N.Y., elaborates:

These drugs damage developing brains. We have a national catastrophe… This is a situation where we have ruined the brains of millions of children. In controlling behavior, antipsychotics act on the frontal lobes of the brain — the same area of the brain targeted by a lobotomy… These are lobotomizing drugs. Of course, they will reduce all behavior, including irritability.

It should also be noted that long-term use of the antipsychotic risperidone, commonly prescribed to young children, is associated with serious side effects including headache, uneven heartbeats, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain and increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

To complete this discussion today, I would like to share a personal account of my time with one of those 1,679 adolescents out of every 100,000 who are diagnosed as “mentally ill for life”.

Jacob’s Hope

“How can you say he is intelligent and gifted!?” shouts the mother of a 19-year-old adolescent, “He just tried to kill himself, talks crazy, and is emotionally unstable. Do not tell me he is intelligent!”

Jacob stormed out of the room, slammed the phone against the wall, and began pounding his fists into the corner of the room as if he were a caged animal begging to be set free. Quickly the entire hospital staff sprinted – following the culture and protocols of state hospitals – and Jacob was quickly restrained as though he were a criminal. Tears rolled down his cheek and onto the floor.

I was taken aback by what I just witnessed.

“They say I have bipolar disorder,” Jacob told me later that afternoon. “They tell me that I am sick, that I need to be locked up here, and take these medications. I do not think I am sick, but I am not allowed to say that.”

Believing he was a danger to himself and others, Jacob’s family committed him to a state psychiatric hospital following what they believed to be “bizarre” comments and behavior they had witnessed.

“I don’t think like them,” Jacob told me, “All they care about is money. Money is worthless. I do not want to go to college. College is just a façade. They charge thousands of dollars to have you memorize information. They teach you what to think, not how to think. Those who get good grades are just robots, all they do is repeat what the teacher has told them. But I think the government is corrupt. I do not trust them. I do not want to work for my Dad’s business. I want to travel the world, be a vagabond, read, write, and draw. I do not have any desire to work just to own material possessions. It is all phony.”

As this continued, I realized that nothing this child told me was bizarre. In fact, I admired his ability to think freely – outside the box – and respected his deep understanding of his own reality. Jacob is not sick; he is misunderstood, creative, and actually quite gifted.

Other gifted individuals such as Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemmingway and Kurt Cobain shared the same diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and gave us some of the greatest art of their respective times. Sadly, each of the aforementioned also ended their own lives due to the depressive pole of the bipolar complex, which brought about overwhelming suicidal tendencies upon which (sadly) they acted.

Jacob had once attempted suicide too.

“There are no people like me. No one understands me. Nobody gets it”, he told me when sharing the story of his suicide attempt, “So what is the point in being here? Everyone is living a fake life, chasing money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like. That is not what life is about. I just need an escape from it all and sometimes it feels overwhelming.”

Jacob asked to be taken off his medications because they made him feel like a zombie, feeling nothing at all, just going through the motions of life. But in the psychiatric world, any patient who shares an opinion such as this is simply labeled “resistant to treatment”, and their medication dosage is increased. The only way to be successfully discharged from psychiatric institutionalization is to follow to the letter what the staff believes is best for you, entirely without your input.

For my own sanity, this is a game that I like to call “Saving Normal.” Society and psychiatry have decided what normal is, with no scientific basis or understanding of the human condition, and then we tell ourselves that we are saving people by returning them to a state of mental normalcy.

Understanding his own nature better than any of the so-called experts on staff, Jacob stated that his goals were to stop taking medications, to discuss his feelings with people he trusted which he believed would help to minimize his feelings paranoia. But the staff would not allow it! Jacob was instructed that he can no longer talk about such things as the corruption of government, so he followed his orders and played the game, simply to get discharged.

But is such a protocol really helping people like Jacob? No. We are merely attempting to condition people like Jacob to ‘be’ what they need to be, to meet the expectations of society and to please the people who are empowered by government to run his life for him. This is why no one actually heals in the mental health system. This is why they come back, as life-long customers of the system. And when they do, we repeatedly try to force-feed them our beliefs about ‘normal’, medicate them out of their minds, and punish and restrain them for expressing their most intimate truth.

“I would like to be taken off my medications,” Jacob presented to the staff, “I am not sick. You can keep me here longer to monitor me if you wish. The meds make me sick and all I am asking is for an opportunity. I was depressed because I felt alone and nobody understands me. But I am seeing that there are people out there like me, just not as many. I want to be myself, which is why I use drugs and alcohol – it sets me free. Then I get more depressed and feel that life is not worth living. It has nothing to do with a disorder, I have just felt rejected and keep being told that I am not normal. But that’s ok, too. I’m not even sure I would want to be normal.”

The psychiatric team told him they would consider what he had said, but as soon as he left of the room, they burst into collective laughter. I know this because I was there. I was horrified but not surprised.

During his stay, I befriended Jacob and felt a real connection with him. I found him to be a highly sensitive and intelligent young man. He realized he must do as they told him so he would be granted his discharge and move on with his life. He was doped up with medications that made him sleep all day and, rendered inactive by the drugs that were forced upon him, he gained 20 pounds in just a few weeks. Worst of all, he no longer talked about the things that brought him joy and energy.

As far as the psychiatric staff were concerned, Jacob no longer displayed “psychotic symptoms” which, in their eyes, meant that he was clinically making progress. As his symptom diminished, the staff patted themselves on the back for “curing” this poor child, and the family was happy to have ‘saved normal’.

As for me? I was furious! This was simply not right. This child was intelligent, bright, and naturally gifted, and the “mental health” establishment took that away from him, and outwardly congratulated themselves for doing so.

But, when we scratch the surface of psychiatric institutions, the sad reality is that most psychiatric physicians are inadequately trained even to prescribe the psychotropic medications they so commonly substitute for genuine care — and deep down, they know it.

Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health from Harvard, the Director of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) and a co-Founder of the SENG Misdiagnosis Initiative. In an article for Psychology Today she described this problem as follows:

Pediatric primary care physicians do much of the psychiatric diagnosis and prescribe most of the psychotropic medicine – but a recent survey showed that only 10% felt adequately prepared by their training to do so. They see these kids for very brief visits, and many are too influenced by drug marketing propaganda – as are parents and teachers. Over-diagnosis and over-treatment are commonplace.

Dr. Kuzujanakis went on to state that pediatric misdiagnoses of ADHD, autism, depressive disorders and bipolar disorder are often attributed to highly gifted individuals; and at the same time, other symptoms go unrecognized, such as learning disabilities in those who do genuinely have them.

Dr. Kuzujanakis also asserts that giftedness does not always equate to what our society deems “positive” experiences. In fact, up to 20% of gifted adolescents drop out of the school system, displaying such “symptoms” as talking a lot, high energy levels, and impulsive, inattentive, or distractable behaviours. [10] Notably, these symptoms of the gifted are remarkably close to the symptoms of a person experiencing the manic pole of the bipolar disorder. And they are the same behaviors I observed in young Jacob, whose only desire was “to travel the world, be a vagabond, read, write, and draw.”

Where Is Jacob Now?

Today, Jacob has a family of his own, lives in the country, spends time in nature and makes enough money to pay the bills. He spends most of his time with his beautiful children, teaching them about life and what he feels is most important. He did end up traveling the world, roughing it with almost no money in his pocket — and he got to experience how other cultures lived, as was his dream.

Jacob rarely sees his immediate family these days, other than at occasional family reunions at which he regularly hears condescendingly mutters about ‘how bad they feel for him and his family’. But Jacob is happy. He knows who he is, and although his family does not understand this, it is Jacob who feels badly for them. While he now enjoys all aspects of the life he has created for himself, they – like most of us – continue to live behind their masks of ‘normalcy’.

So I ask you… Who is the crazy one?

Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution


Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Cortland Pfeffer spent years as a patient in psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers, and jails before becoming a registered nurse and working in the same facilities. Based on his experience, this story is told from both sides of the desk. It offers a unique and valuable perspective into mental health and addiction, revealing the problems with the psychiatric industry while also providing the solution – one that brings together science, spirituality, philosophy, and personal experience.

“Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution” is available on Amazon, and Balboa Press.

About the authors:

Cortland Pfeffer founded his website Taking The Mask Off in 2014 to help shine a light on the mental health industry. Sharing insider perspectives and real life stories that have been gathered over 20 years in the field, Cortland (a pen-name) is a psychiatric Registered Nurse who was himself once a patient in psychiatric hospitals, jails, and treatment centers. He now wishes to share his experiences with others, and has recently made several public speaking appearances. Cortland can be contacted for speaking engagements through his website Taking The Mask Off. You can also follow Cortland via his YouTube channel and

This article was co-written by Cortland’s partner Irwin Ozborne (also a pen-name), who is also a contributing writer for Taking The Mask Off. A survivor of childhood abuse and torture over a period of 13 years, and a recovered alcoholic, Irwin is now a Mental Health Practitioner and Public Speaker. He practices holistic care and incorporates eastern philosophy into his work with clients. He is available for speaking engagements as well and can be contacted via email: [email protected]

You can follow Cortland and Irwin at:

Recommended articles by Cortland and Irwin:


  1. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.
  2. Bipolar Disorder in Adults. (2012). National Institute of Mental Health – NIH Publication No. 12-3679.
  3. Harris, G. (2011, March 5). Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy. New York Times.
  4. George, W. (1969). Manic Depressive Illness. Maryland Heights, Missouri: C.V. Mosby.
  5. World Drug Situation 1988 and IMS Health, IMS MIDAS Customized Insights (October 2001) The information contained in this study is a guide to sales and not a guide to consumption.
  6. Merikangas KR, Jin R, He J, et al. Prevalence and Correlates of Bipolar Spectrum Disorder in the World Mental Health Survey Initiative. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(3):241-251. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.12.
  7. Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry: Consumer-Directed Broadcast Advertisements. Available at:
  8. Sandy, S. (2014, August 15). Better Off Without Antipsychotic Drugs? Psychiatric Times.
  9. Moreno C, Laje G, Blanco C, Jiang H, Schmidt AB, Olfson M . National trends in the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in youth. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Sep;64(9).
  10. Frances, D. (2013, March 14). Giftedness Should Not Be Confused With Mental Disorder.

Related reading:


Header image by Jeffery Foti.


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  • Sean Redfield

    I was Jacob two weeks ago. The hospital laughed everytime I said that I was working on creating a video game virtual reality so that people could expeirnce enlightenment through being the hero. I used my manic state to astral project and allot of other “dellusional” grandiso ideas such as using the math behind metratron cude/ tree of life as the basis for matrix transformation of math into this virtual reality. so they gave me thorzine lithium, zprexia, and seriquil. im dyslexic and bipolar with an iq 171, they dont care that through excerise meditation yoga, and creative expression and natural foods with a little bit of numerology and astrology is all one needs to over come God gift sorry mental illness. Thank you for writting this article. If you notice most bipolar people are tied to the moon phases, just like girls learn their cycles, understanding how the cycles of the universe alter and change ones mood, can help you become a Jedi. Meaning your emotions only control your behaivor if you let them. 24,000 years ago this was what higher education focused on, now they are mystery schools with complex entrance examines. Its time to teach everyone how to become aware and channel into creative power. Its time, but letting go of money is what scares people. Money will always exist so don’t worry. But i’m just an idealist 20 year old, with no sense.

    • Anabel Herrera

      Thank you for sharing, and for being an idealist. Stay awake, brother.

  • Linda

    I am bi-polar and have ADHD and have had a violent upbringing. This is an eye opening for me and I have tried to get off of all my meds. I have gotten off of one, which I am happy about. I tried to get off the other, but went into a very deep and bad crash. I did not tell the doctor, but next time I go I am going to tell him I want to get off of it and ask him how to do it. I have been on anti’s for over 10 years and they do not work anymore, just like this article states. Thank so much for this.

    • Betty Anne Emery Rubendall

      Please do not try to go off the meds by yourself!! A dear friend of mine committed suicide trying that same thing! If your doctor refuses or throws up roadblocks, find a doctor who will help. Sending positive thoughts your way!!

  • Jan-Hein Groot

    Now I am 40 years old and experienced this all by myself. Nobody understands, I can’t find words to explain. The best way I can do is to write it down.
    And now I read this I am so happy somebody else has exactly written down how it is.
    It is what it is, it’s you in your full potential, pure and sweet and and and…it never ends. No limits, they are created by fools.
    Stop using pharmaceutical drugs, they kill your body and your soul.

    A gifted human.

  • CarolEme

    there is some truth in this article but also some VERY wide brush strokes that need to be addressed – and I will do so to just a few. ALL providers in the field of psychiatry do NOT think that meds are the way to ‘fix’ a person with Bipolar Disorder. As a matter of fact the ONLY way to get meds or continue on meds where I work is to actively be in therapy…and yes, I am the med provider! MANY providers feel that meds are necessary when the person is out of control – and have been THANKED for the help. This being said, the person is expected to do the work necessary to learn how to cope with his/her symptoms and to hopefully lessen or extinguish them. For those people saying to just NOT take pharmaceuticals – it’s easy for you to say because you haven’t lived the lives of any of my clients. How about the man who has attempted suicide MANY times while depressed and when manic picks fights at ‘biker-bars’ because he ‘gets a kick out of it’. Or the other client who can ‘see through walls’ and ‘watch the people on the other side. I can see them, watch them and they can’t see me.’ Or the client who hopped on a train with no coat in a blizzard, no wallet, ID, etc in Boston and finally got caught and kicked off in MINNESOTA. All sounds ok but ALL of these clients were IN DISTRESS and wanted HELP. They are all doing well and working on their issues while being closely monitored by me and their therapist (and yes, I’ve altered each story slightly, etc., etc.,) Are meds over-used? Yes. Is Bipolar Disorder over diagnosed? I believe so. But meds DO have a place in psychiatric care and to basically try to get people to just drop their meds is dangerous.

  • Betty Anne Emery Rubendall

    I am 50 years old. A sober alcoholic. I gave birth to and raised six amazing sons. All six of them are at least leaning gifted. (110-126) and 3 of them are gifted-genius. Five of them had an ADD diagnosis!! Five!! After a few years of dealing with medication, I realized that my normal children were unacceptable to society! Addiction is rampant through my family. I have come to the conclusion that addiction is the coping method for those of us who live in an illogical world, constantly told that it is logical and that it is we that are illogical. I choose to believe me.

  • Lee Hutchinson

    interesting read. However, there were parts I disagreed with. For
    instance, diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is not based on a ‘subjective
    criteria’ in a ‘brief consultation’. The diagnostic criteria are as
    objective as they can be for a mental disorder,
    which relies to some extent on self-report and clinical observation.
    Also, to say that diagnosis always takes place during a single brief
    consultation is quite inaccurate (although I’m sure it does happen that
    way in some cases). I’d also like to know where the evidence for ‘money
    coming before patient needs’ can be found. Rates of diagnoses have
    skyrocketed because new research findings have led to greater
    understanding and awareness of the disorder, not just because there is
    money to be made from drugs. I agree that drugs are not necessarily the
    answer and certainly don’t solve the underlying problem completely, but
    they do help a lot of people. It’s all well and good to criticise drugs
    but the author fails to suggest an alternative intervention that would
    work better. There is merit in a lot of what the article says but I
    think it over-emphasises the money-making side of things to cast the
    mental health profession in a negative light.

    • Being bi-polar is a part of this physical existence. Modern human society makes it hard to cope with and some people find it more especially difficult. Government in league with big pharmaceutical companies are basically submitting us lesser mortals to MSbP by giving us SSRI’s and claiming us in need of constant medical attention.
      We are NOT sick – we do not have a mental illness, they do. It’s called Munchausen’s Syndrome and they are using us as their proxy.

  • Christine Close

    I am 58 years old and it was good to read exactly how I felt and know that is how people with bi-polar really do feel. I have huge learning disabilities as well as all the symptoms. When I went to university I found I was either way ahead of them in understanding what they meant but tended to take huge leaps ahead of them in my thought patterns when I understood what they were saying. On the other hand when I did not understand it took a particular way of explaining it to me before it was possible to get the right end of the stick. So good not to be alone in my thoughts.

  • Christine Close

    I tend to say I have bi-polar as I often feel pushed to explain myself. All in my way of thinking of course and know it is not a logical thought but still do it.

  • Valerie Rogers

    I would say Jacob is a success. Despite unfortunate treatment endured in the past, he was strong enough to ultimately rise above it. Early on he knew instinctively there was something inherently wrong with this society – one that despises everything from rebel rousers, non-conformists, and anyone that dare questions the status quo. There’s a tad of Jacob in many of us; we simply express it in different ways. A great article that pinpoints a disturbing trend in this overly-medicated “crazy” society.

  • Susan Jenner

    Effexor withdrawl can be awful. I have been through this myself. It helped to taper the dose, take a little less every few days over a couple of weeks, but it was still difficult. The effects are unpleasant but they DO wear off. Hope that helps.

  • Susan Moate

    I really enjoyed this article. I was diagnosed with bipolar in my twenties and was initially grateful to have a label and an explanation for what was ‘wrong’ with me. I dutifully took medications etc. However, gradually, over many years, the bipolar ‘highs’ began to be more intense and I became aware that they had a spiritual dimension. I felt compelled to take this seriously in spite of what psychiatry, mainstream society and my own upbringing /education had taught me.
    This led to me stopping medication, and I subsequently experienced a series of incredible spiritual awakenings, as well as several hospital admissions.
    The hospital admissions made me very angry as there was absolutely no understanding of the spiritual side of my experience and the ‘treatment’ was violent and against my will.
    Usefully though, this set me firmly against mainstream psychiatry and eventually I did not take medication again. That was nearly ten years ago.
    I now feel I have integrated aspects of the ‘highs’ into my ordinary life and as a result my life is more rewarding, more guided, more intuitive and more connected to my soul. These were all aspects I had previously suppressed.
    I am so grateful for articles like this one that raise awareness of an alternative to the mainstream psychiatric viewpoint. Bravo ?

  • Anna Lopez

    This is, unfortunately, an overly simplistic article that attempts to whitewash the very real problems of bipolar disorder and other mental imbalances. Sure, it’s true that too many gifted people, both children and adults, are misdiagnosed as “ill” and given drugs when what they really need is an environment conducive to true learning and living. I understand that the system is trying to push all the square pegs into round holes and force them to conform, doing it with drugs when necessary.

    That said, some people with TRUE mental imbalance LITERALLY cannot function in a basic everyday environment such as the home, a relationship, or a legitimate job without medication. When erratic behavior, violent outbursts, and other disruptive behaviors are severely compromising the lives of these people and those who have to live with them and be around them, medication can and sometimes does save lives.

  • Radha Sundari

    A diagnosis of “Bi Polar Disorder” comes only when a patient has had significantly long sessions with a professional Psychologist,or Psychiatrist.To throw the term”Bi Polar”,like it was the flavor of some ice cream, is a real dis-service to the thousands who truly face it,and the many more thousands who have been labedled this by an EMT,a teacher,or anyone with no credentials.It does take many long sessions to actually diagnose this effectively.People need to watch what comes from their mouth,because a lot of adolescents get this word thrown at them because they are Non-conformists.It is like “Autism”,some teacher tired of keeping her class interested in their studies,labels a child with this.Do you know how much pain this may cause this person if it gets put on their school papers,with no credible professional diagnosis to go with it.We have to keep focused on our similarities,and learn to accept our differences.The Earth is Round,so many types of beings can live here.

  • As a bipolar sufferer I found this article very interesting and true to my experieces of the illness. Bipolar cannot be cured, It’s so terminal to put it that way, Bipolar can be treated and I thank god for that. I am concerned that some people dismiss the medications that can help, I had a year off the meds and found myself back in hospital and under close supervision, I’m not saying meds help everyone as clearly there is evidence to suggest this isn’t the case, but, they do help me and eight years on from diagnosis I’m leading a life I never thought I’d see again, so be careful about the medication dismissal…. prior to diagnosis I took the odd painkiller and was adamant I wouldn’t take meds, saw them as an admittance of failure, however, a dice with death on the motorway changed all that! good luck to us all, do whats right for you

  • Betty Anne Emery Rubendall

    Balance. Many cultures and religions SAY they strive for balance, but can not simply because of their nature.

  • Charles

    I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 20. I had a suicide attempt at 19. I was first diagnosed with depression than I had a manic episode about a year later. I’ve been on and off medication because I didn’t really take the diagnosis seriously. I felt like I could just “get over it” by myself. After I had to quit jobs and college a few times because of the crippling depression and anxiety I’m finally starting to accept that this is an illness that sucks the life out of you. Some days during my depression I would literally isolate from the world, lock myself in my room, and fight for the will to live. Several years later and I finally feel like I can handle my emotions, after taking medication and support through therapy that I received. It has been instrumental in keeping me in a good place. Every day is a process and challenge, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone with bipolar disorder to stop their medication. I’ve gone both ways and tried many treatments out there, medication is the only thing that makes me function, focused, and not caught in a web of insecurity, low self-esteem, and self-loathing. I believe that it saved my life. From someone that has been very against the whole idea of taking a pill to solve your problems, I believe that since people with bipolar disorder’s brains are wired differently, medication and therapy are necessary for recovery.

  • Cynthia

    I have rapid cycling Bi-polar. I have tried all-encompassing meds for this insidious diseases I am a chronic lithium user. I am 54, and have been on and off meds over 30 years. The last 15 I have never stopped.I am in therapy.I worked as a hairdresser for 30 years married 23 years…divorced…raised 2 loving young men. I am intense, usually more manic. The cycles of the moon affect me. Life has had huge joys and horrible lows. I am stronger because of it. I have had a suicide plan for 20 years….this is the first year I haven’t even thought of it . Medication made it possible for me to have a full life.

  • Deborah Carr

    Bi polar has different types,people are different types-though have similar symptoms this does not mean what works for you,will also work for usual everything needs a label! But individuals are not a label,bi polar may have bee around for a long time but it’s filtering through society as if it’s a new condition we’re exploring and in my experience we seem to be just scratching the surface, why is this. It’s infuriating as enormous amounts of cash gets poured into psychiatry from governments the world over in fact in almost half a century. Why is it that -in that 50yrs psychiatry has been consistent inventing more mental illnesses and the pharmaceutical industry has been there inventing the chemical “cures”. The affects then create more categories of mental illness profiting everyone but the patient ..If medication helps then that’s an individual thing,it’s our right as a society to question this as it’s not a personal question to the people who live with mental illness,emotional problems and a general bettering of the quality of life-Instead we have the opposite…a drastic deterioration in all of the above..! Why? Is all I ask,new thinking is not just needed it needs challenged -people are not just business but no one seems to look at anything from other perspectives even if it’s just to know as much as we can

  • searchlight

    seeking knowledge set me free…..oh i was so blind but now i can see…