Psychiatry Under Fire:
“Does Mental Illness Really Exist?”


U.K. newspaper The Observer, in a front-page story and two-page spread, covers  today’s position statement of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, calling for the abandonment of psychiatric diagnosis and the disease model. “Medicine’s Big New Battleground: Does Mental Illness Really Exist?” covers the controversy surrounding the forthcoming DSM-5, and “Psychiatrists Under Fire in Mental Health Battle” examines the DCP’s position that “there is no scientific evidence that psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are valid or useful.”

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. I don’t particularly enjoy the stigma of schizophrenia, but a short excerpt from a basic intro to psychology textbook will state that when you starve human beings and stress them out? On the whole many people have invested interests in starvation, and so these odd harassment models develop out of a business scheme that doesn’t adequately reflect the current field. Pellegra, coeliacs, and beriberi, but people will hand out their old fortified bread and genetically modified corn, that is supposed to be used for energy. On the whole I see the label more as a testament of, yes due to many factors they have been deprived in life. And when I read most psychiatrists, I just don’t see them qualifying it as violent, or in need of institutionalization, but yes it is a complex of physical factors that if seen in a biological or genetic way, can be cared for in a somatogenic and environmental way. but if people think there is a big paycheck? that is where I start to believe in mental illness. I just can’t wrap my brain around people who are just allowed to eat and would still kill and mutilate others. I am so grateful to just be allowed a decent diet that doesn’t constantly put me at threat of medical attention. And all medical attention from emergency rooms, did they kill the asthmatic? to psychiatric settings are inhumane and deranged. foucault on the birth of the clinic. we still live under infectious ideas, instead of degenerative ideas. they won’t finally let us be free. so on the whole I actually do still believe that one we can believe in mental illness, and two don’t need to be cruel. it is these types that attempt dangerousness propaganda, that really get to me.

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  2. Regarding “…schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are (not) valid or useful.”
    “Schizophrenia” is useful to me as the diagnosis gets the Government to pay my rent and food bills every month.
    They made me schizophrenic in 2003. I was diagnosed schizophrenic in 1987.
    How do you guys pay the bills?

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    • well these are the questions some may be reluctant to look at both in the US and the UK, and some recoverists would chastise people for taking social security.
      I’ve said elsewhere that not everyone can work consistently enough in the long term [not just short periods of time]. Some people have never fitted into traditional working patterns and never will, some cannot do it consistently enough, and some need to do voluntary work and remain on benefits [this is allowed in some countries]. The removal of the DSM will not change these facts. It’s about valuing contributions to society which are not predicated solely on economic worth, and some collective responsibility in that, because we are all different. Even if psychiatry was removed tomorrow and replaced with survivor-run services accessed through the existing service provision structures, it still has to be paid for. Not all Americans have health insurance so what happens to them? Here only the rich have comprehensive private healthcare insurance including psych care, and that’s time limited and new applicants are not covered for any ‘pre-existing’ conditions. The political climate here is very sink or swim libertarian with ‘work as the solution’, politicians vilifying all disabled/sick/unemployed/vulnerable people to the degree that disability hate crime has risen, and some people have been left literally destitute. They have even suggested disabled people [including mad people] should work for less than the minimum wage [being people of lesser value], and those on Workfare can be kept there indefinitely doing slave labour for the profits of greedy corporations [paid for by tax payers]. We have food banks, you have food banks, that’s indefensible, we are not 3rd world countries. So in working towards the end of psychiatry we do have to consider that some people have more skills and resources than others, some have had better education and opportunities than others, and how poverty, and inequalities do have an impact upon human distress – to overlook this would be a gross act of denial.

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      • Joanna,

        I agree with you. Not all people can work, certainly not consistently, full-time, competitively due to emotional distress; fallout from psychiatric “treatment”; trauma; underlying and unaddressed physical conditions that mask as “mental” illness.

        Having spent the majority of my adult life working with people who are disabled, I had the opportunity to provide expert witness testimony for the Office of Hearings and Appeals (disability determination). On many occasions, it was my testimony that a person could not work (actually, that jobs did not exist in significant numbers in the labor force that would have fewer demands; use a person’s transferrable skills…)

        The bottom line is that I agree with you. And, as you know, I consider myself a conservative. The point I was making the other day is that we need a large tent – politically, and otherwise.

        Ronald Reagan did more than any president in recent history to protect Social Security, to keep it solvent. Many conservatives want to make sure SSI/Medicaid and SSDI/Medicare keep their promises. I certainly do, having worked with totally blind folks; those with uncontrolled epilepsy; cerebral palsy; amputations; traumatic brain injuries; all kinds of conditions, including “mental” illness diagnoses.

        Also, not all corporations are greedy. My best friend has an S-Corporation, providing caregiving services for homebound folks. His is not a non-profit, but it matters not, he does good work. What about people who own small antique shops, boutiques, gift shops – corporations, business owners who work 60-70 hours per week. At what point are they *greedy*? My dad was a federal employee with HHS; my mom a small business owner. Was one “good” the other “bad” for having done different kinds of work?

        Please don’t throw conservatives under the bus.
        You’d have to start with Peter Breggin, M.D. –

        Think “Big Tent”…. It’s the *best* strategy.


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    • I pay the bills the hard way; working four days a week at a state hospital! Refused my diagnosis hands down since it was given to me by a certified quack that got fired from the community mental health clinic he worked at. Psychiatrists se4ldom get fired but he did so it goes to show just how bad he is.

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  3. Become cyber activists! There are so many good writers with much knowledge and experience in MIA, but sometimes I feel it is wasted on people who have good attitudes already, in other words, you are preaching to the choir. All these good comments should be put on sites read by people who normally don’t come to MIA, like the Guardian, New York Times etc. That’s where we can make a difference. And we may always refer readers to MIA! One tip: Google e.g. on “antidepressants comments” and choose setting “within last 24 hours”. Then you will have the opportunity to reply to people who have no idea about all the positive things MIA readers already know about. This will really be useful activism that may reach millions.

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  4. I’m pro choice [how we name and frame our experiences and how we choose to manage/survive/recover. Someone asked me, ‘what if given the choice the person chose to define themselves as ill?’
    My answer had to be I’d have to respect that because if choice is to mean anything then we would have to accept people making choices we don’t like or wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
    So another issue is, we would still have a proportion of people describing themselves as ill long after the DSM is gone and they would still need our support.

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  5. Their film ‘Psychiatry an industry of death’ holds psychiatry responsible for the holocaust [yes I know their collusion but they were not alone] and for pretty much any other atrocity on the planet and features your Szasz, and I know one person in the film was embarrassed by how they used them. Now I’m not going to protest against Scientologists because 1] I’ve got better things to do 2] They take action against anyone criticising their work, you really don’t ever want to be on the wrong side of them

    Capitalism – is a dog eat dog system and hurts the vulnerable – which created the system of workhouses and asylums in the first place – horrifying to think that survivors actually support it. You can hide behind oh please don’t offend us by saying anything remotely “political” but I don’t care who is in power if their policies hurt those with the least power and resources John H was right, your position is contradictory.
    In Hungary homelessness has been criminalised, as you should know survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless, so what would you say to Hungarian survivors? Oh sorry we can’t talk about that because it’s “political” as though psychiatry is The Enemy to the exclusion of all else and exists in a vacuum. So there are no political causations of distress [be that from the left and the right]? To deny the impact of inequality and political oppression on mental distress and as a cause of mental distress is a gross act of denial. Our Lucy Johnstone would never deny these things and she is the person to thanks for your celebrations

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