I was barely eight years old, an inmate of Rockland State Hospital, and the war in Europe was over. On the front page of every newspaper were the photographs taken by the soldiers who had just liberated the Nazi concentration camps.
There were stacks of emaciated bodies, almost unrecognizable as human beings, except at the end of every log was a twisted, tortured human face. I looked at these pictures over and over and tried to understand how anyone could treat human beings in this way. I wondered if this was going to be my fate when I died in Rockland.
The Nazi death camps did not come into being suddenly. Although the Nazis did not invent German anti-semitism, they skillfully took advantage of it. Even before Hitler took power in 1933, German Jews were the target of constant vilification and dehumanization by the Nazis. Every social problem in Germany was blamed on the Jews. The German public was being conditioned for what was going to happen later.
Before, or more accurately, at the beginning of the Holocaust, the first group to be systematically murdered were the German psychiatric inmates, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the German psychiatric profession, whose moral compass was little different from the American profession today. The techniques of mass killing were first developed on the psychiatric inmates, and the first official to be put in charge of later mass killings was a psychiatrist.
Outside of Germany, many national governments had created databases that included all known Jews. In the Netherlands, for example, such a database enabled the Nazis to find and round up all the Dutch Jews almost as soon as they had invaded the country.
My friend Dunya Breur was a leader of the Dutch psychiatric survivor movement. Her father was tortured to death by the Nazis for leading a strike of the Amsterdam dockworkers to protest the deportation of the Jews. Her mother barely survived the war in a concentration camp, and she herself, as a toddler, had to be hidden in the Dutch countryside one step ahead of the Nazis.
Dunya frequently talked with me about her experiences as an inmate of a Dutch psychiatric institution. While it sounded to me exactly like the ones we have in America, she always referred to it as “my concentration camp.” She said this publicly and often, and no one accused her of being “extreme” or “exaggerating.” That is because the Dutch people, and many others in Europe, had experienced Naziism firsthand, and they knew it when they saw it.
I make this point because what I am about to write publicly here, as I have written privately to some people in our movement, has been called too strong, not credible, by people I respect and who should know better. We here in the United States have been spared for the most part the horrors that people in the rest of the world have had to endure. So we often refuse to look at the reality of our situation.
And at this time, the situation of people in America with psychiatric labels is almost exactly like that of the German Jews in the early 1930’s.
For the last few decades, there have been more and more episodes of mass shootings of innocent people, perpetrated by people who have been labeled as “mentally ill” even when they had no psychiatric histories. The frequency of these killings has been almost perfectly correlated with the increase of psychiatric drugging beginning in the late 1980’s, especially among children. Even the Food and Drug Administration, which is mostly controlled by the drug industry it is supposed to regulate, has mandated “black box” labels for most of the drugs taken by the school shooters, that warn against homicidal impulses caused by the drugs. Just about every school shooter was on one or more of these drugs. But as we in the movement know, these facts are suppressed.
Meanwhile, the latest, most horrible shooting incident, in Connecticut, has finally alerted the public that something must be done about guns and gun violence in this country. But there is little political will to do something about the real problem. As with most social problems, if there is no solution, there must be a scapegoat. And our people are that scapegoat.
I live in Northern California, one of the most “progressive” areas of the country. I am frightened by the open bigotry against us that I see now. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. The mental illness system, and the drug companies that control it, have discovered that blaming us for the killings that are actually caused by their drugs is a very effective way to extend their power. Already in New York State, laws have been rushed through that greatly extend outpatient commitment, where people are essentially rounded up and forced to take psychiatric drugs in the community. Such laws stripping us of even more of our legal rights have been introduced in a number of states.
As long as we continue to be seen as subhuman killers, we can expect to lose more and more of our constitutional rights. And just as in Nazi Germany, where everything that was done to the victims of Naziism was done in strict accordance with German law, if we don’t do something more than we are doing now, we will have the same fate, with no protection of the courts. Everyone said it could never happen, but it did.
What can we do? Right now, we have become non-persons in the media, where the “mental illness question” is discussed as if we are completely invisible, except as objects of “treatment.” How did this come about? As I have written earlier on Mad In America (madinamerica.com/2012/08/the-history-and-future-of-our-psychiatric-survivor-movement/ ), before most of our human rights movement was taken over and incorporated into the federal mental illness system, we had frequent access to the mass media. I myself appeared many times on national television. When we organized the Berkeley ballot measure to ban shock treatment there, we received huge amounts of media coverage, where our criticisms of psychiatry were thoroughly expressed. Now we are the “recovery movement,” the “peer movement,” little wrinkles within the psychiatric system. Of course the media pays no attention to this, as it is just a version of the same old “more money for mental health” nonsense. So we find ourselves in a position, where our very lives may be in danger, that we have no way of addressing the general public.
How can we change this? We have to look at how this happened and who is responsible for it. And these are the people who have taken the payoffs from the system, the thirty pieces of silver in exchange for betraying their brothers and sisters.
Once again, when I speak of this, i get a reaction something like,”Oh, you’re too extreme. So and so is such a nice fellow.” Well, these people have gotten us into this situation, and if they are not confronted and we let them present themselves as our “leaders,” we can’t defend ourselves. These people recently issued a statement that basically endorsed President Obama’s call for more people to be drugged, with the bulk of the statement calling for more funding for themselves. My movement comrade Tina Minkowitz has published a valuable critique of this. (https://www.madinamerica.com/2013/01/ncmhr-does-not-speak-for-me/)
These despicable opportunists claim to speak for us, but in fact they are simply a branch of the federal mental illness system. We can’t afford any longer to tolerate them. If they were confronted vigorously and frequently, the chances are high that their employer, SAMHSA, would realize they are no longer useful.
Refusing to be realistic about these people is almost literally like committing suicide. We can’t tolerate this any longer. They represent nothing but the people who give them their money. We have to develop more of our own leaders, real leaders with principles who will work for our freedom, not their own personal advantage.
Half a century ago, the civil rights movement captured the conscience of the country, and of millions of young people, including me, by their brave confrontation with the people and laws that abused them. Civil disobedience is a tactic that has worked for many movements, and is just and right, and will be paid attention to by people of good will. Martin Luther King did not talk about a “recovery movement,” He talked about justice and freedom and what is morally right. We have to do this too.
There are many other things we might do, like making alliances with progressive churches and other movements. I have always found that black people, having experienced so much oppression of their own, understand and sympathize with our issues. The gay movement, whose militance has earned it great advances, should be emulated in many ways. Like us, everyone despised them. Now, in the same speech in which President Obama called for more money for mental health and more drugging of children, he singled them out as a part of America whose rights should be respected. They didn’t talk about being a “recovery movement,” they didn’t have ”leaders” who were funded by their oppressors. They demanded their rights and respect, and now they are getting them. And these tactics have worked for all other movements for liberation in the last half century. Why have we tolerated “leaders” who work against our true interests?
As our country experiences more and more social problems that our dysfunctional government is unwilling or unable to solve, there will be more and more need for scapegoats. At the very least, the huge increase in drugging that is being put into place now will obviously lead to more incidents of shootings of innocent people. And what then? It will be blamed on us. And there will be calls for even more drastic actions against us.
There will probably not be the kind of camps where people will be literally killed, if for no other reason that dead people cannot be profit centers for the drug companies. But the likelihood of a revival of the death camps of the spirit, like the state hospitals of the 1940’s where I grew up, is very high.
Because of what the psychiatrists did to me as a child, I will be on that database of crazed killers. I may be among those who will be rounded up and locked up because of our psychiatric labels.
But I refuse to let myself be betrayed or controlled by the sellouts who claim to be our leaders. If I am going to be locked up, let it be for peacefully blocking the entrance to a psychiatric convention, or for refusing to leave the office of some vicious politician who gains power by calling for locking up the crazies.
I am not going to passively wait to be locked up and drugged. I’m going to fight back.
And I hope all of you reading this will join me.
“Those who can protest an injustice but do not are accomplices to the act.” (from the Talmud)
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.