The United Met States of Psychiatry

Laura Delano
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Dr. William F. McLaughlin Building, Metropolitan State Hospital, October 2012

 

About two weeks ago, I stood in silence to watch nature’s fiery colors make a beautiful and desperate attempt to engulf the history of human destruction emanating from this brick prison, the last remaining physical evidence of Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Knowing this to be the Administration Building, I imagined the offices that once felt sunlight through the now-boarded up windows, countless metal cabinets containing decades of human life reduced to charts, lists, files, and records, an institutional machine well-lubricated by the myth of necessary “long-term treatment” for the “chronically mentally ill”.  I imagined the building closing down at the end of the day, its staff locking up the doors and heading home for warm cooked meals and time with family.  But more than this, I imagined the inmates locked up a few hundred feet away, watching the cars pull out to freedom, the thought of sitting at a dinner table a distant memory from a lost time.  And although I admired the fall leaves for their efforts, I wasn’t for a moment tricked into thinking that the evil of Met State Hospital is a thing of the past, that all I imagined isn’t still happening right in this very moment, around me on a grander scale than ever before.

A designated group of people was systematically isolated, marginalized, and dehumanized by psychiatry for nearly seventy years on these grounds, under the Hippocratic Oath, ‘First, do no harm’.  Many of its inmates were decimated— turned into walking zombies by electroshock, lobotomies, and heavy psychiatric drugs, or even killed.  Met State prepared for this aftermath by building a morgue and a cemetery, which today lies hidden in the adjacent woods, relegated to a nearly forgotten status.  When I learned of this last spring, I joined a group of people, some of whom had survived Met State themselves, to visit the graves, tend to them, and pay our respects.  I walked the woods path slowly that afternoon, deliberately mindful of each step and exactly where it was bringing me.  Side by side with survivors of this institution, I was awed by their human resiliency.  Determined life, in the face of so much death.

After walking about a mile through the woods, we came upon an opening in the trees.  They were old trees.  Wise trees.  Trees that had seen things.  I wondered about their memories, likely now nightmares of all they’d been forced to witness.  Enclosed by an old wall of loose stones, the cemetery was made up of back-to-back graves covered in sticks, weeds, and tall grass.  There were hundreds of flat stones— hundreds of human beings that once lived and breathed and walked the earth as free men and women before being sentenced to Met State and discarded by society— each marked with either a ‘C’ or a ‘P’ and a number.  ‘C’ for ‘Catholic’, ‘P’ for ‘Protestant’, I soon learned.  Human beings, with unique human histories, reduced to a religious classification and a number, hidden beneath segregated soil for eternity.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of the darkest of mankind’s modern history, which I’d only ever learned about in classrooms.  I felt a chill to my bones.  These are my brothers and sisters, I thought.  How is it that I’m here, walking free, while they were robbed of their life and their liberty.  What is this society we live in, that speaks of liberty and justice for all?

After laying roses on a few of the graves, I found myself crying in the arms of a man I’d met that afternoon— an older man, one of the survivors who’d seen, among all the countless horrors at Met State, people die while he was locked up there as a young man.  We stood there, holding each other, holding the weight of everything this place represented.  As I looked into his penetrating blue eyes, fiery spirit beneath a wrinkled face and missing teeth, I had no words.

Although Met State’s doors may have closed in 1992, the institutional oppression that fueled it for all those years is with us today, and not just in the well over two hundred state psychiatric institutions that still stand in operation across the country after the proclaimed era of “deinstitutionalization”.  It thrives as well in the hundreds of millions of pill bottles that scatter the bedside tables and bathroom sinks of America— in 2011, 264 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants alone.  It thrives in the more than one million Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM-IV) that sit propped up on desks in hospitals, clinics, offices, prisons, and schools across the country— pseudoscience disguised as medicine, a black and white belief system of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors deemed “normal” or “abnormal” now firmly ingrained in our societal fabric as though it were a capital ‘T’ Truth.

Psychiatry’s desperate drive to legitimize itself as a profitable medical authority has resulted in a mass delusion so pervasive and destructive that it’s put us on a path towards societal collapse.  This is not an overstatement, in my opinion, as the statistics are mind-boggling— one in five Americans are on psychiatric drugs.  One in five.  By my calculations, this means that 62,913,200 people ingest mind-altering, body-altering, spirit-altering pills they believe to be “medications” on a daily basis.  Not only are “medications” aimed at treating physical disease and dysfunction, which all that is labeled “mental illness” most surely is not; “medications” are also by definition substances that restore or preserve health— not psychoactive chemicals that disable the vital neural pathways determining one’s ability to feel, to think, to connect, to speak, to love, to hate, to fight.  To feel alive.  To be alive.  At the mass level, psychiatry is committing genocide of the human spirit.  It is a loaded statement, and I own it with conviction.

Far from disappearing into the rubble of its demolition in 2009, Met State’s sinister legacy is spreading outwards, past its existing fellow state hospitals as an existential plague that festers in our nation’s emergency rooms, locked psych wards, group homes, ‘day treatment programs’, ‘partial hospital programs’ and ‘intensive outpatient programs’.  In our prison system, our juvenile justice system, our education system, our foster care system, our local communities, and behind our own closed doors.  While American society voraciously consumes sixty percent of the world’s psychiatric drugs, it is slowly self-destructing, day after day, as the “meds” continue to physically, cognitively, intellectually, spiritually, and socially disable us.  Again, strong words, and again, I own them with fierce determination.

Metropolitan State Hospital, pre-2009

The United States is Met State, in a most insidious and omnipotent form.  Its prison walls may no longer exist as brick and mortar, but they’ve now become the drugged minds and bodies of both those forced into psychiatry against their will and those spellbound by it.  As a once-spellbound ex-inmate, I know what it’s like to be locked away from one’s Self in an existential prison of psychiatric drugs and psychiatric labels, and I am grateful to have awakened to my oppression and found my freedom.  I now spend my days pondering what I see as one of the most important questions in this human rights movement— how do we help people awaken to their own oppression, which isn’t always visible and overt like the old walls of Met State, without perpetuating the force of “doing knowledge to” them?  How do we help our society understand that Met State is all around us?

References

Angell, Marcia. “The Illusions of Psychiatry.” The New York Review of Books 14 July 2011. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jul/14/illusions-of-psychiatry/?pagination=false

Centers for Disease Control and Preention, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2011/117.pdf

Lindsay, C. W. (2012) The Top Prescription Drugs of 2011 in the United States: Antipsychotics and Antidepressants Once Again Lead CNS Therapeutics.  ACS Chem. Neurosci. 3 (8), pp 630–631.

Wang, Shirley S. “Psychiatric Drug Use Spreads.” Wall Street Journal 16 Nov. 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203503204577040431792673066.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_5

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Laura Delano
Journeying Back To Self: Laura Delano is an ex-mental patient who writes about her thirteen years of psychiatric indoctrination, how she woke up in 2010, and what it's been like to come off psychiatric drugs, leave the "mentally ill" identity behind, and rediscover an authentic connection to self and world.

51 COMMENTS

    • Ted,

      Re: SAMHSA

      I understand your concerns (the ones you’ve expressed on MiA) about SAMHSA. I wonder however, if the organization may be doing some good, by encouragong people to believe in recovery.

      My thought is that if D.J. Jaffe (with Mental Illness Policy.org) wants to *get rid* of SAMHSA, it may be worth *keeping*.

      D,J, Jaffe, as you know is an advocate for forced treatment, IMO, a monster. He hates SAMHSA, with a passion. –

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dj-jaffe/washington-times-eliminat_b_961125.html

      Food for thought.

      Duane

      • They are highjacking what recovery is. They say you can recover, like a person with diabetes, you must be on medications for life, and you can only live a sheltered life surrounded by mental health professionals, with jobs chosen by us, etc, etc. That is not true recovery.

        The survivor movement came up with recovery, they have highjacked it to ensure that they can pretend to be listening to us and doing what we want.

        They do the same thing with supposed peer support. They choose the people who will tell you that you have a life long brain disease like them and can have some semblance of a life and they call them peers. Get the right people in those positions and you can give us what we demand and yet nothing of any real substance occurs.

      • I hear what you say about Jaffe. I don’t think he understands where his interests lie. SAMHSA is the liberal wing of the mental illness system, and Jaffe is bothered by, for instance, some of the harmless venting that SAMHSA allows. But what SAMHSA has done is to smash the movement we used to have, that did a lot more than vent. We had a movement that was starting to reach the public. Now for the most part people just talk to the mental illness bureaucrats.

        Please have a look at the article I wrote for MiA on the history of the movement, as there is too much to say about this to fit into a comment.

    • Laura,

      Thank you for writing such an honest and solemn piece.

      It touched my soul, because my great-grandmother spent the last seven years of her life in a similar prison (Pilgrim Psychiatric Hospital in NY).

      Her gretest sin was becoming frightened, suspicious, non-trusting (what psychiatry would call paranoid or delusional) when she was older. It cost my great-grandmother her freedom.

      I hope we wake up in this country, and begin to realize that these painful and frightening states of mind can be experienced by anyone, and that we need to provide *safe* places and *compassionate* care for our brothers and sisters, treating each-other as *equals^ at all times, during any/all states of mind, human suffering.

      Be well.

      Duane
      discoverandrecover.wordpress.com

  1. Once again a brilliant piece that has me thinking more about what was inflicted on me and how glad I am to also be free. Also about how to challenge society to question what is being said to them as some gosbel thruth, without the slightest bit of science behind it.

  2. If society hasn’t seen it up until this point they are not going to see it. Too many people are hanging on to their shoe strings economically that they don’t want to be scared even more. And it is not just The Church of Psychiatry, the whole medical profession is handing out pills like they are skittles. The US consumes 99% of the world’s hydrocodone! America is a rapidly declining empire with collapse ever imminent. That does not mean we should give up the fight because we have a moral obligation to fight back against tyranny and fraud in all its forms. I’m just saying if people don’t see it now, they are just going to have to learn the hard way.

  3. Who, What, Where, When , Why and How.
    “How do we help our society understand that Met State is all around us?”

    Who diagnoses mental illness? Not society or the people, the doctors give the diagnosis.

    What results in the diagnosis? A lifetime of psychiatric drugs.

    Where does this diagnosing take place? Everywhere there are “mad” people.

    When will this diagnosis and drugging stop? The brain chemical imbalance theory-explanation . When the “mad” stop being the responsibility of doctors. (Not going to happen)

    Why do people go “mad”? It is a mad world.

    Those spellbound by psychiatry seem happy enough to continue on.

  4. I love hearing about the psychiatric history of the state of Massachusetts. Maybe just as Ohio is a traditional weather vane of the presidential elections, Massachusetts is one for trends in psychiatry.

    I don’t live in Massachusetts. Not even close. Yet that is where I got my diagnosis of a lifelong severe mental illness.

    I had dropped out of college with just two weeks left in the semester and all A’s in my classes. I was convinced my panic and existential angst were not normal. There had to be something wrong with me.

    So I had the brilliant idea that I would get the best ‘help’ available. I did not want the experts from my world-renowned university that I had just dropped out of… too close for comfort. I did some research on the oldest and most esteemed psychiatric hospitals out there and came to the choice of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka (which has subsequently moved to Houston in 2003) or McLean Hospital in Belmont.

    Why would anyone do what I actually chose to do? It is a gross understatement to say that people often do things that don’t make much sense in hindsight… I entered McLean voluntarily without being in any acute distress.

    I went to a high-functioning ward where the patients were well-educated professionals. I went to get comprehensive testing to get a better understanding and outside appraisal of myself, but that never happened. What did happen was an indoctrination for drug therapy. Lots and lots of heavy duty drugs.

    Now, 13 years later, I am joined to you Laura by those experiences. I am learning about myself now through the Massachusetts portal of MIA.

    Life is nothing if not riddled by paradoxes and irony, of which Massachusetts is both the introduction to my psychiatric existence then and the hope of my new found antipsychiatry identity now.

  5. Laura, a very moving piece.

    What I find so frustrating about being a survivor, is the resistance to simply my existence by the people who are still in bondage and sinking, clutching their meds. I have been met not with just avoidance, but down right hostility. I understand this attitude from psychiatrists and other professional leaders, I’m thinking of priests here. They are in the position of power which we threaten. But the people who are being crushed, the spellbound, the people that don’t have long before their minds will betray them, they just don’t want to get it. Especially I shutter when I think of those in the ‘recovery’ movement who are peer support specialists and WRAP facilitators who are still on meds, still getting locked up, and the most confused by the presence of a ‘survivor’. They just space out. Surely there is a way to reach this particular group of phonies! That is a very unkind word, but they teach the newly ‘baptized’ by the system to build a crisis plan with which hospital you want to go to and what meds you want to take. They are giving the newly oppressed stones when they are asking for bread!

    I think we need to reach out to parents, normal parents. We need to inform them that putting their children in school is a grave danger to them these days. I pulled all of my children out of school when the teacher wanted my kindergartener to be evaluated for ADD. And now we’ve got juvenile bipolar and juvenile schizophrenia! The new DMS now lists these disorders with the additional qualifier of ‘spectrum’ tacked on to the end. We need to get parents to SF in May!

    I have a friend whose is a social worker for a county service board and her peers are having severe concerns about this broader DSM-V. We need to motivate these ‘normal’ people before they fall into the new ranks of the mentally disturbed.

    This is truly a human rights issue. EVERYONE is at risk in this system that wants everyone to be addicted to their expensive drugs.

    There are anti-DSM petitions floating around the Web. At least find them and sign them. And please, let’s have a showing in San Francisco on May 14. We can’t give up! Everyone’s freedom is at risk! I certainly don’t want to loose my new found freedom that I fought so hard to get.

    Thanks for listening.

    See you in Philly in November everyone!

  6. Beautiful piece as usual. Poignant, eerie. “These are my brothers and sisters, I thought. How is it that I’m here, walking free, while they were robbed of their life and their liberty.” It often occurs to me: The people (at least the same kind of people_ who so vibrantly contribute to enhancing consciousness today were effectively rendered mute–and destroyed– in another era.. “How do we help our society understand that Met State is all around us?” Yes but even beyond psychiatry–the prisons that have multiplied with the growth of prison-industrial complex, the soldiers that come back from the war crippled, physically and or emotionally–and drugged..The society as a giant madhouse, Panopticon as Foucault called it–the effort to bring everyone under surveillance and control
    Spellbound–that’s great word. I forgot about that word.
    Sleepers awake!
    Seth
    wwww.sethHfarber.com

  7. thanks for writing such a great, thoughtful article! mentioning your visit to the graveyard at met state reminded me of visiting the cemetery at central state hospital down in milledgeville, georgia. i used to live about a hour and half away in athens for a few years. a community/interest group erected a simple memorial there at CSH, but the woods on the grounds of the old asylum have as many as 25,000 unmarked graves… so tragic. i’m a musician, and visiting and researching this place so powerfully effected me it even inspired my last record. thanks again, mark tulk.

  8. Laura, great piece.
    We’re considering a fairly risky and unorthodox approach that is consistent with your observations here. Simply put, we’re considering a network of “resource people” name not fully agreed upon, whose primary job would be to keep as many people out of the traditional community mental health system by linking them with other support systems/resources that are less harmful. It’s a prevention approach, where we’re preventing the harm caused by a broke system.

    As you might imagine the details of something like this are tricky and need thorough study, but we can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done and expect something different to happen. Preventing a DSM label, preventing harmful drug prescriptions, preventing disability due to a “mental illness” preventing the notion that “you can’t work” and “you have a chronic illness” seems like a good place to start!

    • David,

      I’m not convinced that what is needed to spare someone from a lifetime of “mental illness” is more “thorough study”.

      My psychiatrist claimed to not be able to help me get off of the drugs she prescribed for me because she wasn’t trained to help me taper. She needed some “thorough study” that she did not have nor ever intended to waste her time getting.

      Ignorance of the “tricky” details of an alternative way (which is a life without experts) is nearly always a clever excuse for maintaining business as usual (which never had anything to do with health, anyways).

      Also, who is the editorial “we” that you are referring to? Because Laura is not a “trained” mental health worker, as far as I know.

      It takes the experts to get people hooked on legal drugs… All 62,000,000 Americans today. The experts have done an excellent job.

      Where would my life have led me had I not sought out such expert ‘help’?

      Sorry for coming on harsh here as I know that you are working very hard to not pathologize people in your work,
      Emily

      • I appreciate the passion Emily! I work for a governmental agency responsible for providing a network of services to folks, regrettably, diagnosed with so-called mental illness and addictions. We have a Board structure of 18 persons who are ultimately responsible for making decisions, thus the mouse in my pocket. I say regrettably because I don’t find value in labeling of this sort.

        There is a bit of careful consideration needed because what we would be doing is creating a system that deters people from another system we’re supposed to be promoting. Also, we can’t treat everyone the same. We have to ensure that all options exist for folks after informed consent is provided. For example, we can’t refuse to offer psychiatric services.

        I think what you will see with Laura is someone trying to actually make a change in how we currently function as a system. I see her as kindred spirit in this regard. I think it’s important to note that change looks different and can come from different perspectives/directions. My focus is making changes at the level I work at and have some limited influence. Laura makes change where she’s at, et ct. We need everyone to push for the changes we’re talking about here at MIA for it to become reality.

        I understand that change does seem to take too long. It probably does. I feel like we’re doing a lot to make things better here in little old Ashland Ohio though. Thanks.

        • David,

          Must look up your Little Anytown, USA one of these days.

          Thank you for your generosity of spirit and further explanation… You are killing me with kindness!

          Yes, change takes time. This I can understand. But still, it is a great excuse of people who do not necessarily mean well to suggest, “further study recommended”.

          You are not one of those people using that kind of cop-out.

          I can get a little possessive of such a rich resource such as Laura to want to represent the patients’ perspective vs. the experts, but in reality she represents both. True life goes beyond the limits of an us vs. them paradigm.

          You’ve won my confidence,
          Emily

  9. Thank you, Laura. This is a beautiful, poignant, strong and important piece. I remember being at the closing of Northampton State Hospital when music was being played while many people gathered outside in the chilly mist. For me, the music was totally weird as it was in some way making the closing into a performance which couldn’t possibly come close to paying the proper respect for the thousands of souls lost in that awful place. I also went to the closing of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston where I spent a long year of my teen life. The entire building was filled with tulips…gorgeous tulips. I had thought that I might be able to actually visit the room where I had spent so many days and nights. The patient rooms were sealed off, and they would not let me in past the tulips. Very sad and also infuriating. The tulips were for the many doctors who were there chatting and smiling. To me, here also the “event” was completely inappropriate. They thought they were honoring the former patients, but it just showed how far removed the doctors were from the reality of how it feels to be locked up in a place like that.

    Keep writing, Laura, as you are making a real difference!

      • Chrys,

        I suppose someone could argue that drinking alcohol helps them deal with life’s pains. And I would venture to guess you could easily find a bunch of folks who might go as far as to say that alcohol saved their lives.

        But mostly, I would say that it may be best to ask them (the ones who swear by their drugs), and not someone like myself, who sees no “medicinal” value… i.e, certainly no proof of correcting chemical imbalance… in fact, a strong argument in the other direction…

        The drugs appear to create a chemical imbalance with long-term use, much like alcohol or street drugs. There’s not much difference.

        Duane

        • I suppose an argument could be made (in fact, has been made) that their short-term use may be of benefit for a minority of folks – acute crisis, to help with sleep, etc…. especially, since there are so few places that offer alternatives… but they are not a long-term answer, IMO.

          Some may disagree.
          So be it.

          Duane

          • Thanks for responding Duane.

            I didn’t like taking psychiatric drugs, even short term, as they made me feel really bad. The psychosis wasn’t a problem for me but it was for other people. Which is interesting I suppose.

            I don’t like alcohol, the taste or effect, never did even when young, when I took alcohol when out with friends. It didn’t affect me much, as in make me any different. And I don’t smoke, was never tempted to. Although my mother and father both smoked.

            But I know that some and even many folk like to take something or other to make life a bit easier. And that’s fine with me, as long as they don’t try and make me take stuff.

            This is why I don’t like force being used in psychiatry. For I don’t like it being used in ‘normal’ life. And I don’t want to be made to take chemical substances which make me feel worse. Although I do take pills for my blood pressure. Which seem to help.