I’m Not a Statistic! – Yes, You Are a Healthcare Statistic

Apparently I’m the only one that understands the concept and usage of healthcare statistics.

Recently a commenter got angry at me for saying this:

“. . . Are there people who have had a bad experience with ECT [electroconvulsive therapy]? Yes. Are there people who have had very bad experiences with ECT? Yes. But then, I was hit by a car, so things happen. It’s not really the car’s fault. . . ”

My point, of course, is that there are people who have bad experiences, I would never deny that. But there are people who have bad experiences with everything. That doesn’t mean it’s the typical experience. We work hard to reduce traffic deaths and injuries in North America and doctors work hard to try to implement ECT in the best way too.

A Commenter on Statistics

But the commenter felt,

“. . . And you wonder why are people anti-psychiatry? Because they had horrible horrible experience and are consider “oooops” and downplayed number in statistic . . .”

Well, um, yes. That’s what statistics are.

Healthcare Statistics

Healthcare statistics are just like any other statistic – they assert the relative risk of any given adverse effect. And every medication or treatment has statistics associated with its adverse effects.

Side effects are often classified as:

  • Frequent: more than 1%
  • Infrequent: more than 0.1% but less than 1%
  • Rare: Fewer than 0.1%

Or, at least, they are for psychiatric medication, some medication doesn’t get that specific and generally only cares about things that happen to more than 1%.

An example of these statistics would be:

  • Frequent: gross bleeding, gastrointestinal ulcers, abnormal kidney function, etc.
  • Infrequent: congestive heart failure, hepatitis (some cases fatal), asthma, etc.

And that deadly drug? That would be Aleve – an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Serious Adverse Reactions – Small Statistics

You are a Healthcare StatisticMy guess is that if you developed congestive heart failure from an over-the-counter drug, you would be pretty pissed off, if not dead (in which case your loved ones would be rather pissed off). I understand that. But it still doesn’t keep me from taking the drug.

In fact it doesn’t keep anyone from taking the drug, because the risk is so tiny that people don’t worry about it.

That’s statistics. If hepatitis happened to 50% of people, we’d be worried, but if it happens to 1 in 10000, we aren’t so concerned.

Moreover, we don’t know the complications that may have taken place in those who experienced infrequent or rare side effects. This is something that is never discussed in the literature – the adverse effects are simply listed as we’re better safe than sorry.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Statistics

Back to the matter at hand. So no, I would never deny that some people have had bad experiences with the very serious treatment of ECT just like I would not deny the dead person who took Aleve but that doesn’t mean that they rule my consciousness.

Because, whether you like it or not, you are a statistic. Not to you. To you, you are an individual. No problem. But to someone with perspective you are one in a sea of people and the only reasonable way to assess that sea and to assess the risks is through numerical analysis of the situation – statistics.

In my case, ECT did not work – that puts me in the minority – a statistic. But I don’t get all up in arms about it. Why? Because I understand that just because ECT works on more than 80% of the people with depression who use it 80% is not 100% and it can’t be expected to work on everyone. My head isn’t exploding because I wasn’t in the majority.

Similarly, when I was crossing the street as a pedestrian and was hit by a car I didn’t cry about statistics because I had perspective. Just think of how many times you cross the road without being hit by a car? The chances are tiny – but it could happen. But do you want to stay on your block for the rest of your life?

Bad Things Happen to Good People

As I’ve said, bad things happen to good people and bad statistics happen to good people too. Somebody is that 1 in 1000. Someone is that 1 in 100000. I’m sorry if it’s you. I am. I hate being that 1 in many. That sucks.

But I can’t let that one person drive my feelings nor my actions no matter how compelling their story may be. Certainly, if the adverse effect in question rises to the level of statistical significance, it should be looked at by doctors and those qualified to review such material, but for me I have to work with what I have – the numbers.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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