Rosalie is a petite white woman, raised in the Midwest, who married her high school sweetheart, and subsequently became an administrative assistant. Rosalie and Marc were unable to have children. Marc was an engineer, and a longtime smoker. She describes their lives as simple – “few friends, few vacations, few problems, few regrets.” She states she misses her husband and often cries when thinking about him.
When asked about psychiatric diagnoses, she answered: “I have psychosis. … My doctor said maybe schizophrenia, but he is not sure yet.” She described schizophrenia as hearing voices. Rosalie also mentioned having memory problems: “They cannot tell if it is Alzheimer’s disease until I die and they look at my brain, but the medication should delay the progression.”
She reported no significant effect from her prior antidepressant trials: “I am not sure if or how they helped.”Rosalie could not explain the role of the medication. “I take medications as prescribed by my doctor,” she said.
When discussing her antipsychotics, she mentioned: “Those are strong medications; it is hard for me to stay awake with them.” She declared having had no changes in the voices while on the risperidone but said they went away since also being on the quetiapine: “I wonder if the combination of the two really fixed my brain imbalance.”
I admit that I have a critical bias against the overuse of psychotropics, and this might have painted how I interpreted Rosalie’s story. Nonetheless, I was honest with her and told her of my concerns. I informed her that her diagnosis was not consistent with my understanding of mood and thought disorders. Her initial reports of depression neither met the DSM criteria for depression nor felt consistent with my conceptualization of the illness. She had retained appropriate functioning and seemed to be responding with the sadness expected when facing difficult challenges like grief.
Her subsequent reports of auditory hallucinations were not associated with delusions or forms of disorganization that I would expect in someone with a thought disorder. Furthermore, the context of the onset gave me the impression that this was part of her process of grief. Her poor result in the dementia screen was most surprising and inconsistent with my evaluation. I told her that I suspected that she was not suffering from Alzheimer’s but from being overmedicated and from anxiety at the time of the testing.
She was excited and hesitant about my report. She was surprised by the length of our visit and interested in hearing more from me. Strangely, I wished she had challenged my different approach. I think that I was hoping she would question my conceptualization, the way I hoped she would have done with her prior clinicians. Nonetheless, she agreed to make a plan with me.