Taking away the power of psychiatry? How naive, some of you say. It can never happen. Anyway, some others say, why would we even want to do that? This comes especially from those who have been appointed by the psychiatric establishment to be our leaders, some of whom imagine themselves as becoming the leaders of psychiatry themselves.. And some people who I greatly respect say we should just focus on creating alternatives to the present system. I think that’s great, but what makes such people think that psychiatry, and the drug companies behind it, are going to allow these alternatives to replace the present system? Those who benefit from the way things are now won’t give up their money and power without a huge fight. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not being realistic.
THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT OUR SITUATION
Before going further, I urge my readers to have a look at Jim Gottstein’s recent excellent clear-eyed look at our movement and where it stands in the context of American politics right now:
Yes, we have little power or credibility right now, but we can change that. All movements for human rights and social justice in this country started out with little power. The movement for the rights of black people took almost four hundred years to get to the point where it is today, where we have elected an African-American president, something I and most people never thought they would see in their lifetimes.
I am old enough to have been involved in the civil rights movement of the Sixties. I remember how it inspired millions of young people like me. And the movements for liberation, including ours, that followed it were inspired by that movement too.
But our movement was almost destroyed by the federal mental illness system and its bribes. Now we are starting to revive, but the militancy of the civil rights movement is not there right now to inspire us, though of course black people still have a long way to go to reach their rightful place in American society. For most of the people reading this, the civil rights movement is part of ancient history. But there is much to learn from history, and I think it’s very important to study what other oppressed people have done.
Another group whose struggle we ought to look at is the movement of gay people. I think their situation is similar to ours in many ways. They can hide who they are, and most of them did for many years. Almost ALL of the thirty million or so people in this country who have been inmates of psych wards are still in the closet, a situation we ought to be trying to change.
But let’s look at what gay people have accomplished. Like us, they were treated with contempt. “Faggots” and “pansies” could expect terrible treatment from the media and most ordinary people.. Their gathering places were frequently raided by the police for no other reason than that they were gay. So what did they do?
They didn’t talk about such nonsense as “stigma,” which sounds as if the reason for bigotry against us is some quality we have. No, they came right out and threw the names they were called right back in the faces of the bigots. “We’re here and we’re queer! Get used to it!” They didn’t beg to be treated with respect, they demanded it. And it worked. We can do the same, with the same tactics.
I should note here that the campaigns against so-called “stigma” by groups like NAMI, when studied, showed that they actually made public attitudes toward us even worse. Of course they did. Like all other groups, we have to demand respect, and speak for ourselves.
THE BASIS OF PSYCHIATRIC POWER
At bottom, psychiatric power is based on what is essentially a religious faith in psychiatry. People believe in the “miracles” of psychiatry in spite of the complete lack of factual basis for these beliefs. Doesn’t sound easy to break that delusional faith, does it? No, it won’t be. But we have to try.
The fact is that there are a number of pressure points where those of us who want something better than a kinder, gentler, and still destructive psychiatric cult can exert some influence.
I hope those of us who really want to change things, both people like me who have suffered at the hands of the Church of Psychiatry, and our sincere allies, will start discussing strategy from the perspective of taking away psychiatry’s power.
PREPARING OURSELVES FOR THIS FIGHT
Before I talk about some possible ways we can start our enormous task, I think it’s important to think about what might hold us back.
First, of course, is to completely detach ourselves from the fake movement that SAMHSA has created. It has led, and was intended to lead, to an attitude that we can make progress by being incorporated into the system we should be fighting. Those who have bought this (and those who have been bought) tell us that we should mainly talk to the system, not to the general public. But talking to the general public is exactly what we must do to make any real changes. In a democratic country, it is the power of public opinion, not the power of mental illness bureaucrats, that should control public policy.
A few “leaders” who have been appointed by SAMHSA have benefited greatly from the present situation. But the great majority of people who have been sucked into this fake government-controlled “movement” are sincere folks who don’t see any alternatives. They hear talk about “recovery” and “peer support” (perfectly good concepts) and they are conned into believing that this is all we can expect. Of course, as long as psychiatry maintains its power, “recovery” will mean compliantly taking one’s drugs, and “peer support” will mean supplying the system with cheap labor.
I think we can reach the people who have been fooled by the system by showing them that we can really fight back and accomplish something. Recruit them into our actions. Point out to them what’s wrong with becoming part of the system. As for the government-appointed “leaders,” we should ignore them as much as we can. We can’t stop their betrayal of our movement, but we should stop taking them seriously.
We should try to make our movement into a supportive and caring culture. The Icarus Project has tried to do this, and I think it’s important to look at their successes and their ideas. We have a hard job ahead of us. It can certainly be draining and scary–it has been that way for me. So we need to spend some energy on mutual support, and on ways we can help one another overcome the alienation and broken self-esteem our psychiatric experiences have imposed on us. If our groups include real support for people, not just political activism, we will be able to accomplish much more. There is no reason we can’t do this if we decide that it’s really important, and it is.
I also want to say, and I know this will sound simple-minded, that we really have to believe in our cause ourselves. We have been attacked and damaged by one of the most evil institutions in this society. But sometimes people seem to trivialize this. Calling ourselves “consumers” is an example of this. Was Anne Frank a “consumer” of Nazi brutality? Was Frederick Douglass a “consumer” of slavery? Was I a six-year-old “consumer” of shock treatment and rape?
Our movement is about something more important than which brand of cornflakes to buy.
Again, there are many people who know they have been abused, and are rightfully angry about it, but use the word “consumer” because that’s what everyone around them says. But it is the mental illness system who wants us to describe ourselves this way. They know the power of language, and we should pay attention to the meaning and power of language as well.
NOW, SOME POSSIBLE TARGETS
We are not at the stage of our movement where we would have been if the federal mental “health” system had not disrupted our progress. Unlike, say, the gay movement, which started almost the same time as us, we can’t yet mobilize thousands of people at a time. We can’t effectively confront SAMHSA directly, and our demonstrations against the APA, while a good thing to do, can’t be large enough to create the kind of disruption for them that would force immediate change. But there are softer targets, institutions and groups that support the system that would be vulnerable to the amount of pressure we could realistically create.
One is NPR, National Pharmaceutical Radio. For years, they featured Frederick Goodwin, a leader of his profession, who once famously called inner-city demonstrators “monkeys” who should be the target of a massive drugging campaign. Even NPR had to get rid of him when the millions of dollars of drug company money he had received came out into the open. This was in spite of the fact that NPR itself had taken millions of dollars of drug company money and as far as I know still takes it.
Another regular guest on NPR is our friend E. Fuller Torrey, who as we all know wants to lock us all up and drug us with no legal recourse.
But I don’t know of even one instance where NPR has invited one of us, the people who are affected by psychiatric abuse, to present our case.
NPR is an example of the liberal establishment that consistently denies our humanity, while holding itself out as an arbiter of morality and social justice. Because of this pose, their dependence on listener contributions, and the strange attitude of the right that sees NPR as some kind of radical group. NPR would be very vulnerable to pressure put on it from our movement. Hypocrites like this could be very embarrassed by people like us exposing them for what they are. Their listeners and other funders might think twice before funding them further.
And while normally, at least in the past, demonstrations and campaigns against media outlets were not effective because, as one would expect, other media would not cover them, the times have changed. There are a lot of radio and television outlets and commentators now who would welcome the chance to expose NPR. I am not saying we could have one demonstration and they would cave. It might take a while, but this is a campaign we could win. And what we could accomplish with this is more exposure for our ideas and people on NPR, and even before we would win this, I think our campaign would get a lot of coverage.
A couple of other similar groups, establishment liberals who treat us like dirt, would also be good targets. The American Civil Liberties Union, as Jim Gottstein has shown, treats our oppression as not worthy of their attention, and us as non-persons. Just like NPR, they have a reputation to uphold as saintly progressives, though in fact their treatment of our issues is disgraceful. Again, they would be very vulnerable to being exposed as the hypocrites they are, and I think many of the people who contribute to them would be sympathetic to our issues (and stop contributing) if we brought them to their attention.
The various state Protection and Advocacy programs are yet another institution that claims to be our advocates, but in most states just take the funding and use it to build bureaucratic empires. The reason they got this money, many millions from the federal government, was that our movement had started to bring the violations of our rights to the public’s attention. The P&A’s just grabbed the money and ran. This money should be ours.
I can hear some of my readers now saying something like,”Oh, they are our allies. We shouldn’t attack our allies.” But in fact, in practice, they really aren’t our allies. They’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. The government has given them a lot of money to protect our rights, but in most states they only pay lip service to that. A pressure campaign against them would either force them to do what they should do, or even better, have their funds taken away and given to people who would really do the job.
There are a couple of important issues I don’t think we are pushing as hard as we can. One is the outrageous crimes against humanity committed by Dr. Joseph Biederman and his colleagues. To the credit of our allies among progressive mental health professionals, I see this issue brought up a lot by them.. But I see very little about this being mentioned by psych survivor groups. Hundreds of thousands, maybe as many as a million children, are being diagnosed with the childhood bipolar label invented by Doctor Biederman, some just being labeled, others whose brains have lost the ability to regulate their moods because of earlier drugging with SSRI’s and amphetamines, but all heavily drugged and their lives ruined.
Biederman was revealed by Senator Grassley of Iowa, hardly a radical, as having taken millions of dollars from psychiatric drug companies in return for promoting their drugs. In one instance, he was caught telling Johnson and Johnson that, in return for a large contribution to his Harvard-based research institute, he would provide fake research that would show the benefits of using Risperdal on children. Harvard’s response to this was a slap on the wrist.
We should make Doctor Biederman the poster boy for American psychiatry, because in fact he really does perfectly represent the moral depravity of the psychiatric profession. The public often tends to ignore horrors perpetrated on adults, but when they hear about children being abused, they get very upset. When we won the vote to ban shock treatment in Berkeley, I think part of the reason was that people got especially upset that I, as the spokesperson for the campaign, was shocked as a child. If I had been an adult victim, I don’t think people would have been so upset and concerned.
Yet another aspect of psychiatry’s outrages, the latest edition of the DSM, has of course been widely publicized. The furor has died down to some degree, but the fact is that the new DSM is scheduled to go into effect just as the APA has its next convention next May in San Francisco. Yes, there has been a lot of publicity, but I think we need to emphasize more that the new DSM would label as “mentally ill” something like 80% of the population. The public needs to realize that the horrors of psychiatry could be unleashed on almost everyone, not just on some tiny group of weird people wandering the streets talking to themselves and ready to kill people.
No, the fact is that most people can become labeled and victimized by psychiatry. This is an important idea that we need to concentrate on. When people realize that they too are at risk, they will become ready to stop what psychiatry is doing.
Of course there are many other tactics and targets we can look at. Demonstrations against local abusive institutions are always relevant. Bringing speakers to your town like Bob Whitaker, Peter Breggin, Bruce Levine, or many others is a good idea too.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. No one has. I am sure others will have more ideas and better ones. But I hope my imperfect and tentative effort here will lead to the kind of tactical and strategic thinking we must do if we are to defeat the people who want to lock us up and drug us and ruin our lives.
It won’t be easy to do this, but we have to try. We owe it to the tens of millions of people, the millions of children, who we should do all we can to protect.
And we owe it to ourselves.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.