Why the Rise of Mental Illness? Pathologizing Normal, Adverse Drug Effects, and a Peculiar Rebellion


In “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?” (New York Review of Books, 2011), Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, discusses over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, pathologizing of normal behaviors, Big Pharma corruption of psychiatry, and the adverse effects of psychiatric medications. While diagnostic expansionism and Big Pharma certainly deserve a large share of the blame for this epidemic, there is another reason.

A June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have “checked out” of them. Life may or may not suck any more than it did a generation ago, but our belief in “progress” has increased expectations that life should be more satisfying, resulting in mass disappointment. For many of us, society has become increasingly alienating, isolating, and insane, and earning a buck means more degrees, compliance, ass-kissing, shit-eating, and inauthenticity. So, we want to rebel. However, many of us feel hopeless about the possibility of either our own escape from societal oppression or that political activism can create societal change. So, many of us, especially young Americans, rebel by what is commonly called mental illness.

While historically some Americans have consciously faked mental illness to rebel from oppressive societal demands — e.g., a young Malcolm X acted crazy to successfully avoid military service — today, the vast majority of Americans who are diagnosed and treated for mental illness are in no way proud malingerers in the fashion of Malcolm X. Many of us, sadly, are ashamed of our inefficiency and nonproductivity and desperately try to fit in. However, try as we might to pay attention, adapt, adjust, and comply with our alienating jobs, boring schools, and sterile society, our humanity gets in the way, and we become anxious, depressed, and dysfunctional.

The Mental Illness Epidemic

Severe, disabling mental illness has dramatically increased in the Untied States. Marcia Angell, in her 2011 New York Review of Books piece, summarizes: “The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”

Angell also reports that a large survey of adults conducted between 2001 and 2003 sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that at some point in their lives, 46% of Americans met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one mental illness.

In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago… the average age at which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5… Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400% in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently-used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. By 2008, 23% of women ages 40–59 years were taking antidepressants.

The CDC, on May 3, 2013, reported that the suicide rate among Americans ages 35–64 years increased 28.4% between 1999 and 2010 (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010).

The New York Times reported in 2007 that the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder had increased 40-fold between 1994 and 2003. In May 2013, CDC reported in “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005–2011,” the following: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”

Over-Diagnosis, Pathologizing the Normal, and Psychiatric Drug Adverse Effects

Even within mainstream psychiatry, few continue to argue that the increase in mental illness is due to previous under-diagnosis of mental disorders. The most common explanations for the mental illness epidemic include recent over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, diagnostic expansionism, and psychiatry’s pathologizing normal behavior.

The first DSM (short for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), psychiatry’s diagnostic “bible,” was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952 and listed 106 disorders (initially called “reactions”). DSM-2 was published in 1968, and the number of disorders increased to 182. DSM-3 was published in 1980, and though homosexuality was dropped from it, diagnoses were expanded to 265, with several child disorders added that would soon become popular, including oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). DSM-4, published in 1994, contained 365 diagnoses.

DSM-5 was published in May, 2013. The journal PLOS Medicine reported in 2012, “69% of the DSM-5 task force members report having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” DSM-5 did not add as many new diagnoses as had previous revisions. However, DSM-5 has been criticized even by some mainstream psychiatrists such as Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, for creating more mental patients by making it easier to qualify for a mental illness, especially for depression (see Frances’s (“Last Plea To DSM-5: Save Grief From the Drug Companies”).

In the last two decades, there have been a slew of books written by journalists and mental health professionals about the lack of science behind the DSM, the over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, and the pathologizing of normal behaviors. A sample of these books includes: Paula Caplan’s They Say You’re Crazy (1995); Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk’s Making Us Crazy 1997); Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder (2007); Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (2008); Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen’s Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (2013); Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (2013); and Allen Frances’s, Saving Normal (2013).

Even more remarkable than former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, Allen Frances, jumping on the DSM-trashing bandwagon has been the harsh critique of DSM-5 by Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Insel recently announced that the DSM’s diagnostic categories lack validity, and that “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” And psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, former chair of the DSM-3 task force, wrote the foreword to Horwitz and Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness and is now critical of DSM’s inattention to context in which the symptoms occur which, he points out, can medicalize normal experiences.

So, in just two decades, pointing out the pseudoscience of the DSM has gone from being an “extremist slur of radical anti-psychiatrists” to a mainstream proposition from the former chairs of both the DSM-3 and DSM-4 taskforces and the director of NIMH.

Yet another explanation for the epidemic may also be evolving from radical to mainstream, thanks primarily to the efforts of investigative journalist Robert Whitaker and his book Anatomy of an Epidemic (2010). Whitaker argues that the adverse effects of psychiatric medications are the primary cause of the epidemic. He reports that these drugs, for many patients, cause episodic and moderate emotional and behavioral problems to become severe, chronic, and disabling ones.

Examining the scientific literature that now extends over 50 years, Whitaker discovered that while some psychiatric medications for some people may be effective over the short term, these drugs increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill over the long term. Whitaker reports, “The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug — say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant — and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.”

With respect to the dramatic increase of pediatric bipolar disorder, Whitaker points out that, “Once psychiatrists started putting ‘hyperactive’ children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.” And then these children and teenagers are put on heavier-duty drugs, including drug cocktails, often do not respond favorably to treatment, and deteriorate. And that, for Whitaker, is a major reason for the thirty-five-fold increase between 1987 and 2007 of children classified as being disabled by mental disorders (see my 2010 interview with him, “Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America?”).

Whitaker’s explanation for the epidemic has now, even within mainstream psychiatric institutions, entered into the debate; for example, Whitaker was invited by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to speak at their 2013 annual convention that took place last June. While Whitaker concludes that psychiatry’s drug-based paradigm of care is the primary cause of the epidemic, he does not rule out the possibility that various cultural factors may also be contributing to the increase in the number of mentally ill.

 Mental Illness as Rebellion Against Society

The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, is not humanly interesting… In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree… Ultimately such a society produces only two groups of men: the conditioners and the conditioned, the active and passive barbarians.

— Lewis Mumford, 1951

Once it was routine for many respected social critics such as Lewis Mumford and Erich Fromm to express concern about the impact of modern civilization on our mental health. But today the idea that the mental illness epidemic is also being caused by a peculiar rebellion against a dehumanizing society has been, for the most part, removed from the mainstream map. When a societal problem grows to become all-encompassing, we often no longer even notice it.

We are today disengaged from our jobs and our schooling. Young people are pressured to accrue increasingly large student-loan debt so as to acquire the credentials to get a job, often one which they will have little enthusiasm about. And increasing numbers of us are completely socially isolated, having nobody who cares about us.

Returning to that June, 2013 Gallup survey, “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement”, only 30% of workers “were engaged or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.” In contrast to this “actively engaged group,” 50% were “not engaged”, simply going through the motions to get a paycheck, while 20% were classified as “actively disengaged”, hating going to work, and putting energy into undermining their workplace. Those with higher education levels reported more discontent with their workplace.

How engaged are we with our schooling? Another Gallup poll “The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each School Year” (released in January, 2013), reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become. The poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in 37 states in 2012, and found nearly 80% of elementary students reported being engaged with school, but by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. As the pollsters point out, “If we were doing right by our students and our future, these numbers would be the absolute opposite. For each year a student progresses in school, they should be more engaged, not less.”

Life clearly sucks more than it did a generation ago when it comes to student loan debt. According to American Student Assistance’s “Student Debt Loan Statistics,” approximately 37 million Americans have student loan debt. The majority of borrowers still paying back their loans are in their 30s or older. Approximately two-thirds of students graduate college with some education debt. Nearly 30% of college students who take out loans drop out of school, and students who drop out of college before earning a degree struggle most with student loans. As of October 2012, the average amount of student loan debt for the Class of 2011 was $26,600, a 5% increase from 2010. Only about 37% of federal student-loan borrowers between 2004 and 2009 managed to make timely payments without postponing payments or becoming delinquent.

In addition to the pain of jobs, school, and debt, there is increasingly more pain of social isolation. A major study reported in the American Sociological Review in 2006, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades,” examined Americans’ core network of confidants (those people in our lives we consider close enough to trust with personal information and whom we rely on as a sounding board). Authors reported that in 1985, 10% of Americans said that they had no confidants in their lives; but by 2004, 25% of Americans stated they had no confidants in their lives. This study confirmed the continuation of trends that came to public attention in sociologist Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone.

Underlying many of psychiatry’s nearly 400 diagnoses is the experience of helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization — culminating in a loss of autonomy and community-connectedness. Do our societal institutions promote:

Enthusiasm — or passivity?

Respectful personal relationships — or manipulative impersonal ones?

Community, trust, and confidence — or isolation, fear and paranoia?

Empowerment — or helplessness?

Autonomy (self-direction) — or heteronomy (institutional-direction)?

Participatory democracy — or authoritarian hierarchies?

Diversity and stimulation — or homogeneity and boredom?

Research (that I documented in Commonsense Rebellion) shows that those labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do worst in environments that are boring, repetitive, and externally controlled; and that ADHD-labeled children are indistinguishable from “normals” when they have chosen their learning activities and are interested in them. Thus, the standard classroom could not be more imperfectly designed to meet the learning needs of young people who are labeled with ADHD.

As I discussed last year in AlterNet, in “Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem,” there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities. Thus for many M.D.s and Ph.D.s, people who rebel against this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world — a diagnosable one.

The reality is that with enough helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization, we rebel and refuse to comply. Some of us rebel by becoming inattentive. Others become aggressive. In large numbers we eat, drink, and gamble too much. Still others become addicted to drugs — illicit and prescription. Millions work slavishly at dissatisfying jobs, become depressed and passive-aggressive, while no small number of us can’t cut it and become homeless and appear crazy. Feeling misunderstood and uncared about, millions of us ultimately rebel against societal demands, however; given our wherewithal, our rebellions are often passive and disorganized, and routinely futile and self-destructive.

When we have hope, energy, and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy, and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

For some Americans, no doubt, the conscious goal is to get classified as mentally disabled so as to receive disability payments (averaging $700 to 1,400 per month). But isn’t that, too, a withdrawal of cooperation from society and a rebellion of sorts, based on the judgment that this is the best-paying and least miserable financial option?


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.


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          • Yes Duane, I have seen that Breggin video before, but it was worth viewing again.

            One button that is too hot for even Breggin to push is how the victims of the extermination program were induced to participate, and that participation improved the efficiency and the cleanliness of the killing machine. Something comparable to turbo charging and exhaust gas recirculation on a modern automotive engine. The method used to gain the cooperation of selected victims was simply to tell them that they were special.

            Bernhard Schreiber’s book explains this in some detail and it is vital to an understanding of the present situation which those diagnosed or yet to be diagnosed with “mental illness” are facing. The same forces are still at work today.

            If you have not seen it (and it is worth several viewings) the Tim Blake Nelson film “They Grey Zone” is not afraid to push that button, and offers a shot at redemption for the special ones.

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          • You’re awesome subvet, I learn something from your comments every time. I will check out this Grey Zone film.

            “The method used to gain the cooperation of selected victims was simply to tell them that they were special.”

            Makes me think of some of the people forced into psychiatry that later become crusaders to take away the rights of their ‘peers’.

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        • Yes Duane…..the very notion those young women and equally as horrifying men (since no 18 year old girl in America rich or poor deserves entitlement to life and limb over any boy, even less if she is not a conscientious objector and the boy is) is part and parcel of the mental illness running rampant in America. Thank you for mentioning this. Time to look at the negative affects of a violent, oppressed culture on the mental health of once innocent kids. This is exactly the culture within of which is causing shootings in schools and otherwise….The American unsustainable (yet profitable in pockets of perpetrators) culture of building a war economy rather than peace economy. I learned this myself as a woman who grew the ladder of corporate America to executive level and getting sneak preview of “business ethics” within (have since left my cushy double six figure income to do something good for society), from traveling around the world and standing corrected on our American sense of supremacy and being commissioned by God to drop bombs around the world, own more guns than any nation in the world, then turn around and call our youth shooting people “mentally ill”. Our culture within taught them such mental illness…..we are becoming a 3rd world.

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    • nonchalantly mentioning the “marines” and worse, anyone believing a poor boy would make such “choice” over me, a woman from a privileged home, is even worse. Above and beyond this well written article about how “mental illness” is “on the rise” in USA mainly due to pathologizing of normal behavior, over drugging America and adverse drug affects….is the number one cause of a “rise” in “mental illness”: The American culture within of extolling so much “virtue” over war, weapons, violence for profit. We use powerful marketing slogans purposely instilling false flag fear onto the American people of need for so much “defense”…..from guns, war, and other costly weapons. USA spends more than half the world combined on war/weapons, rather than health, education, services, environmental justice all of which “protect” our people FAR FAR FAR more than any of our wars ever have, foremost the young women and just as sady men put into harms way for nothing but a corrupt political/economic model driving our nation to 110th in global peace rating. THAT is what is causing “mental illness” on top of the insightful information detailed here. Every tragic episode across our nation of late can be directly traced to our military mindset….the CT school shooting, AZ Safeway shooting of Gabby Giffords, the Co cinema shooting, Boston Bombing and even 9/11……have all happened DUE to our culture within. If anyone wishes to remain in the dark on this fact, unfortunately they remain within the zone of the mental illness running rampant in our nation.

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    • That’s normal Ted… sometimes things take a little while to find their slot on the main page.

      A good blog for anyone who enjoyed this article is Jack Saturday’s blog, an anti wage slavery blogger, who I have followed for six years now… he diligently blogs, and a number of the studies and surveys cited in this story, I’d already seen on Mr. Saturday’s blog.

      For Jack, every day is Saturday. He’s a Canadian who really hates working.

      If you hate working, and jobs, you’ll never find six years of content that is up your alley that is quite like Jack Saturday’s blog…


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      • Not read that blog but being anti wage slavery and poverty pimping seems reasonable to me. 80% of job creation here has been little over the ‘minimum wage’ which isn’t a ‘living wage’ given it typically requires housing benefit (lack of affordable housing/no new build/buy-to-let landlords raking in housing benefit sometimes via multiple properties including party donors)and Working Tax Credits (subsidizing business not wishing to pay decent wages). We’re also seeing the rise of zero hour contracts with no sick/holiday pay, and unemployed put into ‘Workfare’ costing millions(making good money for party donors and chums)now shown to be less effective than leaving people to find their own jobs (chasing less available jobs than the 2.5 million unemployed).
        Even food banks make money for party donors apparently whilst whilst parliament deny any connection between poverty/denial of welfare and the need for food banks, which is akin to denying malnutrition being related to a lack of food

        Check out this great Canadian anti poverty group for poor people in work and legitimately out of work through unemployment, underemployment, caring responsibilities, ill health, disability:


        “For some Americans, no doubt, the conscious goal is to get classified as mentally disabled so as to receive disability payments (averaging $700 to 1,400 per month). But isn’t that, too, a withdrawal of cooperation from society and a rebellion of sorts, based on the judgment that this is the best-paying and least miserable financial option?”

        Really? You believe that people in receipt of disability payments make a conscious decision to do so and that it’s the ‘best-paying and least miserable financial option’.
        In the UK 32 people a week are dying by condition or suicide because of welfare assessments. Readmitted, sectioned, self-harming, attempts to die because of the stress of going through truly dire assessment processes with the very real risk of ending up with no income or homeless. Loss of legal aid makes appealing difficult and the process leaves claimants with no income for an unlimited period of time ie weeks to months which can lead to debt, loan sharks, food banks, eviction notices, and Amnesty International have now condemned what is happening in this country.

        People in receipt of state support are certainly not taking an easy option and are subject to considerable harassment now, we have increased rates of disability hate crime fueled by right wing media and govnt {all parties}.

        This is before we even touch on why psychiatric survivors end up on disability payments in the first place. I doubt most think it’s a desirable position to be in but the reality is those defined as mentally ill have the lowest employment rates for many clearly recognised reasons which are nothing to do with ‘rebellion’ or ‘opting out’.

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        • I have personally met people in the states who have done this. They call it, with a twinkle in their eye, “crazy pay.” Many I know also work a bit under the table to make ends meet and spend a lot of the rest of their time on creative pursuits. Doesn’t sound all that bad to me, actually. Not that I think our society should be structured this way, but I do think Bruce’s assessment is right, having seen it in action.

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          • Not saying it never happens, but the vast majority I do not believe do so, and the assessment procedures are extremely stringent requiring considerable evidence. There are people here who have stopped going out and living in any meaningful way let alone doing any creative pursuits.

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          • A psychiatric label is the ticket to lifelong early retirement if you want it, in many places. I don’t think society should be structured in this way too, but I also know defense corporations, big government workers in useless programs, are doing the same thing, so whatever, it’s an endless conundrum that we won’t solve today or in our lifetimes probably. I think there’s a lot to be said for the personal power of the individual who achieves financial independence, I particularly like this guy, from Early Retirement Extreme, an ex physics lecturer, who, with extreme frugality, lives on like 8 grand a year… his stockmarket investments have built up a large nest egg, and he is truly an independent voice… the wonders of compound interest.


            I like the idea of raising chickens, solar panels, even though I’m no dogmatic environmentalist, and really just self sustaining.

            Far away from the moral minefield of welfare politics, the idea of making your money work for you, in leading a frugal existence, is very appealing for the primary reason that it frees you from that politics, that unpredictable crackdown in policy or whatever is going to come.

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          • Joanna, I completely agree that this is a minority phenomena. Isn’t that what Bruce Levine writes? I suppose it could be taken in a number of ways, and maybe more clearly stated that his “some people” is a very small number.

            I think there’s something to what Anonymous says about big corporations, government contractors, etc. If all these hugely wealthy people and organizations are unfairly extorting the system, then why shouldn’t I get mine too? At one time I thought about doing this myself, but I agree with Anonymous that, if possible, I’d rather be interdependent with people and social systems I actually respect than receive payouts from a government that I do not.

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    • I just got it up on the front page. As you may know; authors can post their blogs to the site at will, but we need to review them and put them in the “featured” section. This is a compromise we’ve worked out; we want authors and commenters alike to have immediate access to posting, but we reserve the right to vet front-page content. Some authors appreciate that we relieve them of the need to copy-edit; it means they can put all their energy into writing things quickly, and count on us to catch typos, grammatical errors, or fuzzy/imprecise language. It’s a collaboration aimed at everyone looking their best, hopefully. There have also been some occasions when authors have really strayed far from content that we consider (or, for that matter, interested lawyers might consider) to be appropriate; so we have been forced to adopt this failsafe.

      I didn’t happen to see that this article was here until five hours after Bruce posted it, and there were a lot of formatting and a few other edits that were required. When authors copy and paste their posts into the website, surprising things often occur that I have to fix manually. I’ve also been making a practice of trying to hyperlink everything I can so as to make the document more useful and informative. So all of this meant it was six or so hours before I put Bruce’s article in the “featured” section. But rest assured; I am only too eager to feature a Bruce Levine article as quickly as I am able.

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      • Thanks, Kermit. I came upon the article as a link from Monica Cassani’s “Beyond Meds” blog, and just couldn’t figure out why I didn’t see it on the front page. By the way, are not too many people sending in new stuff lately? I always check MIA every day to see what’s new, and had not seen anything for a while.

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        • If you regularly poll the front page of MiA and also other blogs, it may be worth it to invest time to learn about RSS and different kinds of RSS readers. The “hidden” blog posts in MiA will show there before they’re released to the front page and you may save plenty of time. The idea is that you subscribe to RSS feeds of different blogs with your reader and when one blog has a new post, it will appear in your reader.

          You can even subscribe to all comments in MiA blog posts, at first I found that a bit overwhelming but now I’m used to it. 🙂

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    • Great article.

      Maybe NSA caught on to him, Ted.(Joking) Actually I’d like to see an article by Bruce on Snowden, Manning etc Assange was probably a rebel since high school or before, but Snowden and Manning represent something different–and encouraging. I wonder if Bruce has any insights to add.

      OK Bruce there is one major omission in your work. In the early 1960s R D Laing hailed schizophrenics as the most radical critics– mostly unconsciously–of the existing order. He had various formulations. In a secular one-dimensional disenchanted rationalized world (Max Weber, Marcuse)schizophrenics were exploring the inner world and seeking to recover their connection to the divine. At one point–in The Politics of Experience– Laing even went further: “The socially adjusted bomber pilot may be a greater threat to species survival than the schizophrenic who thinks the Bomb is inside him.[The context of course was Vietnam and the arms race.] Our society may itself have become biologically dysfunctional, and some forms of schizophrenic alienation from the alienation of our society may have a sociobiological function that we have not recognized.”

      That’s a radical thesis, one that Laing never developed and abandoned within 2 years.For Laing the mad person is expressing (in what we would call metaphorical language) –and living– a critique of society. But what is the sociobiological function of the mad person in the context of species survival? Wow. I have developed these embryonic notions of Laing in my own 2012 book, a cultural history of the anti-psychiatry movement, The Spiritual Gift of Madnesshttp://www.amazon.com/The-Spiritual-Gift-Madness-Psychiatry/dp/159477448X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375359691&sr=8-1&keywords=farber+mad Thus I argue that by sociobiological function Laing is really talking about a redemptive function which calls for a redemptive-messianic praxis. I argued that “psychosis” was often a prophetic calling, a calling to collectively propagate a messianic vision. Not everyone will accept the validity of the idea of a calling, but it has a history.

      As far as I know I am the only “professional” (psychologist) who has attempted to develop these Laingian ideas in this kind of radical manner. (The transpersonal psychology field was never radical like Laing–they were not challenging the premises of psychology/psychiatry, unfortunately.) This is because most of Laing’s fans have not taken their cues from The Politics of Experience.(Nor did Laing himelf after the 60s.)They are more interested in phenomenology and therapy.I am more interested in madness and revolution–or more specifically in what I call messianic politics.(This is more
      unconventional by today’s standards than Michael Lerner idea.)Nor has the book had an influence on the current Mad Pride movement,partly for reasons discussed in the book.

      Anton Boisen also saw the schizophrenic sensibility as the same sensibility as that of the religious prophet–not the other-worldly mystic, but the one who seeks to change the world, to base it on the principle of unity, of spiritual sacrifice and love.He does a excellent job of drawing the parallel between Jesus, St Paul, George Fox,on the one hand and the “hospital patient on the other.(This was in the 1930s!)The Icarus Project started off in this quasi- messianic (the secular left would call it utopian) direction and rather abruptly after a few years retreated to a less radical position, for reasons I discuss in my book. Ashley McNamara wrote essays in 2005 in which she referred to madness allusively but unequivocally as a catalyst for collective spiritual transformation.

      I’d be glad to send you a copy of my book, Bruce.Although its may be too metaphysical for your taste. Although the book has been from what I hear an inspiration to the diaspora of mad people, it’s not discussed in the movement itself. Sascha graciously tried to call attention to it, although I was critical in my discussion of him in the book of his trajectory. I had hoped the book would prompt some discussion within the mad movement but it hasn’t as of yet although it has a Foreword by Kate Millett. (A couple articles I wrote for Reality Sandwich provoked a lot of controversy among Mad activists who saw it) If my ideas were of any interest to you (even if you disagreed), your mention of it might bring it some attention within the movement.

      One more thing I did not discuss it in my book but the most overt argument for mad people as revolutionaries was not Laing but Allen Ginsberg. Unfortunately Allen also abandoned these ideas but he very clearly redefined so called mental illness (at least among his friends) as a mystical quest, as a desperate and noble effort to reestablish a connection with the Absolute. Abby Hoffman claimed he learned Howl by heart in high school. But no one now even seems to realize it is a Mad Pride statement. It is even more overt and direct than Laing’s PE in 1967.
      Best, Seth
      Seth Farber, Ph.D.

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      • Laing was guilty of forcibly drugging the people he labeled ‘schizophrenic’. He has no right to judge the air force bomber. Laing committed heinous violence himself.

        How is the planet going to be destroyed?
        How is a messianic escapist narrative labeled ‘illness’ much different to a paranoid CIA narrative labeled ‘illness’? Many, myself included, would say the CIA, espionage, AND religion, are just cultural artifacts that may be worked into an escapist crisis labeled ‘madness’. There is no reason to believe the ‘spiritual’ content of a troubled person’s thoughts is any more significant for the future of the planet than the ‘CIA’ content.

        You seem to be focused, fixated, on what gets called messianic delusions of grandeur. Why ignore the many people whose experiences don’t have religious mythology themes?

        I don’t believe the planet is in danger from anything apart from the scientific certainty of the sun blowing up in a billion years. The planet will be fine for a long time. What needs to be shut down, is people like the late RD Laing, who think it is OK to breach the human rights of others to own their own bodies, who think it is ok to stick things by force into other people’s bodies.

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        • As R.D. Laing’s work was focused on schizophrenia, to me, it would be strange to get a diagnosis of schizophrenia if you didn’t entertain religious and mythological themes. These kind of philosophical and metaphorical preoccupations are at its heart.

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          • ” these voices are from GOD or from some other three-lettered intelligence agency?”

            I have to say subvet, that is awesome, made me laugh, GOD in the same sentence as three letter intelligence agency.. that’s gold. I never thought I’d see that sentence so long as I lived. Good stuff. The three letter government agencies are such a bizarre thing. Three letters! everywhere you look.

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          • “I’ll remain anonymous for as long as I see fit. I live in a place where many people who think forced injections RD Laing style, are a form of help, and I have very little legal protection from what they could easily do to me. When your human rights are on the line, and very easily ripped away from you, you can pontificate on who should and should not write under their real name and when.

            I’ll ask a third time, why are the thoughts of people labeled ‘mentally ill’ so compelling to you if they have religious content, but not if they have CIA content?

            Let me understand you, so if someone has a message from God (which religion’s God I don’t know), and they are, and I’m quoting you, “catalysts for a new Great Awakening which could be the first major step towards ushering in the Kingdom of heaven on earth, thus saving humanity and our sacred mother earth from destruction.”, but if someone has thoughts of the CIA stalking them, they don’t have anything to offer the intelligence community or the practice of espionage, they can’t usher in a new era of espionage or security studies or have nothing to offer international relations?”

            Right on! Welcome to the real world, where the face of the Virgin appears on the wall of a rusting warehouse and attracts throngs of the faithful, where a cornflake found in the likeness of Jesus is sold on E-Bay for thousands.

            Now technologies are being deployed that are able to put voices in anyone’s head. Will the general population have the discernment to distinguish whether these voices are from GOD or from some other three-lettered intelligence agency?

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          • SethF1968,

            You are attributing statements to me that I have never made regarding my considering myself a victim (I have always tried to live as a fighter) and my opinions about the state of worldly affairs and global warming.

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        • First of all there is no evidence that Laing forcibly drugged anyone but Clancy Sigal.Sigal claims credibly that Laing drugged him–but Sigal was an unusual case.He was Laing’s peer and friend.You are propagating a rumor that has no substance in reality. Did you see the film on Kingsley Hall? There is a young girl about 18 who has prominent role in the documentary. 6 years ago I saw the film (for the second time). The young woman had come to NY to publicize the film. She is today an alternative psychologist. Had Kingsley Hall not existed this woman might have become a chronic schizophrenic. As Bob Whitaker has shown the typical treatments in the West are disabling. She believes that Kinsley Hall saved her. She and the other residents had the freedom NOT to take psychiatric drugs. She made that very clear. KH fell apart for complex reasons but the idea lived on–the idea was to have an asylum–a place of hospitality–in which there was no coercion. Laing affirmed and explain this idea of non-coercive environment in his memoir Wisdom, Madness and Folly. Loren Mosher, a close friend of Laing’s, was inspired by KH to establish Soteria. Laing spent his life trying to get funding for other places where patients could go. David Goldblatt established Birch House (which lasted over three decades) due to inspiration by Laing. Andrew Feldmar established a non-coercive environment inn BC, Canada. The idea of a non-coercive environment was popularized by Laing. I have great respect for Szasz but I also have criticisms. Szasz insisted that there was no need for “schizophrenics” to have any sort of healing place to go because there was nothing wrong with them.

          You write “I’ll ask a third time, why are the thoughts of people labeled ‘mentally ill’ so compelling to you if they have religious content, but not if they have CIA content?”

          Often the CIA narrative goes together with the religious narrative. Almost all the people I have met labeled “schizophrenic” had
          spiritual experiences. There were even people who were atheists until they had so called psychotic experiences. My theory is based both on readings and on experiences that have been told to me by hundreds of persons labeled psychotics.

          You write;”but if someone has thoughts of the CIA stalking them, they don’t have anything to offer the intelligence community or the practice of espionage, they can’t usher in a new era of espionage or security studies or have nothing to offer international relations?”

          That’s very possible. Except I think the intelligence community does not serve to protect
          national security. Rather it does more nefarious things in order to advance the interests of the corporate elite that controls this country–the 1%. Oh yes I did have one friend who had only negative ideas that the CIA was controlling her mind. Before she died she had quite an impressive website on the CIA and mind control. I encouraged her to use her knowledge to alert others. She would not be the slightest bit surprised by revelations about the NSA. What has not been revealed except in alternative sources is the CIA’s development of a sophisticated technology of mind control. I’ll leave it to others to come up with creative
          theory of how people with CIA narratives could contribute to transforming the planet. End of Part I (I have to run out.)

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          • I’m not sure exactly who I’m responding to here, but IMO, paranoia without religious and mythological interests is just psychosis. Dr. Abram Hoffer claimed that paranoid schizophrenia (where paranoia was the most evident of the symptoms) was the easiest of the schizophrenias to treat, meaning it responded well to an orthomolecular approach – niacin, other B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc.

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          • Szasz was in favor of ‘adult orphanages’ so he was not opposed to any voluntarily organized place for overwhelmed people with extreme problems in living to go. On a scale of 1 to 10,000 in usefulness and insight into the states of mind that get called ‘mental illness’ I rate Laing a 3 and Szasz a 9100.

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          • To continue Subvet, Claire felt the CIA was stalking her, she felt they were trying to control her mind. Were they? Ewen Cameron did experiments with mental patients. Claire had reams of information n MK Ultra. It’s possible. The thing is Claire was so crazy she would have thought that even if they weren’t. On the other are not those kind of people the best to experiment on, precisely because no one will believe them? Claire was killed, hit by a car. I would have assumed it WAS the CIA except Claire had a bad habit of crossing the street and not looking. I only found out a year later so I don’t know the details.

            Claire was a nice lady and she had a superb collection of texts on mind control. Was the Batman killer a victim of CIA mind control? I think so. But neither Holmes nor Claire could contribute much to leading a rebellion.

            Subvet you are interested in preventing psychiatric oppression (as am I)of which you have been a victim. You are not interested in changing the world which you say is fine. You don’t even believe in mad-made global warming. But Bruce Levine
            is interested in changing the world.

            Bruce Levine is talking about rebellion yet due to the secularist outlook which he shares with most of the left and certainly with you, Anonymous or Subvet he overlooks and ignores the sensibility of those people who have been in the forefront of the rebellion. Sascha Dubrul and Jacks McNamara were diagnosed as bipolar and originally they also rejected the philosophical materialism of modern culture.(They have since changed their minds.) McNamara claimed to have a mystical understanding of the world through “mania” that it had taken an aspiring spiritual adept she met 20 years to reach through meditation. She experienced the unity and infinite meaningfulness of the world. If the world can be changed and saved as I believe it can be, although the prospects look dim, Levine should take into account the
            experiences of those who have had spiritual epiphanies and visions. While Sascha may now dismiss these vision Paul Levy does not.

            As John Weir Perry argued and I argue in my book
            those who have a new mythic vision are usually those who in the past have galvanized movements for profound social change. Although R D Laing hailed schizophrenics as the one group most resistant to modern technocratic society–the same argument Sascha made about bipolars before he became more conservative–Bruce says nothing about them.

            Bruce write. “Some of us rebel by becoming inattentive. Others become aggressive. In large numbers we eat, drink, and gamble too much. Still others become addicted to drugs — illicit and prescription. Millions work slavishly at dissatisfying jobs, become depressed and passive-aggressive, while no small number of us can’t cut it and become homeless and appear crazy. Feeling misunderstood and uncared about, millions of us ultimately rebel against societal demands, however; given our wherewithal, our rebellions are often passive and disorganized, and routinely futile and self-destructive.” This is true
            and very insightful.
            But what about those who rebel by retreating to an inner world. Laing and Campbell and Perry think this may have a potential we fail to recognize.Laing wrote, “If
            the human race survives, future men will look back on our enlightened
            epoch as a veritable Age of Darkness. The laugh’s on us. They will see
            that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often
            through quite ordinary people, the light began to break in the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.”

            Saul was traveling to Damascus and he heard a voce say “Saul. Saul Why do you persecute me?” And he looked up and saw the risen Jesus. Neither of Paul’s 2 companions saw or heard anything. By today’s standards Paul had had a psychotic breakdown marked by auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions of grandeur.
            If not for the schizophrenic St Paul Christianity would be unknown today/ It started off as a popular anti-Empire movement and a few centuries later was coopted by Constantine. But it was the messianic vision and missionary preaching of a “psychotic”–St Paul– that launched a radical social movement to change the world.

            “When we have hope, energy, and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy, and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.” That is true and as I have argued rebellion is galvinized by prophets and messiahs–not e “messiah,” but many messiahs. They create hope and energy and community. This happened during Americas Great Awakenings including the counter-culture of the 60s. That is it takes a great revival and preachers who propagate a new vision so that many people are gripped by a vision of the promised land and will rise up in rebellion and demand justice and righteousness and care for the earth–so that finally we can realize the nKingdom of heaven on earth.
            Seth Farber, Ph.D.
            www sethHfarber.com

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          • Anonymous
            writes, “On a scale of 1 to 10,000 in usefulness and insight into the states of mind that get called ‘mental illness’ I rate Laing a 3 and Szasz a 9100.”

            How much have you read by Laing? BTW Szasz wrote the Foreword to my first book. Most of the people I know who were so called schizophrenics believed Laing had more insight into their state of mind. For those who have not read Laing, Laing stated in The Politics of Experience that schizophrenics deserved to be treated with reverence as explorers of the “inner world.” Although Laing abandoned some of the central ideas in PE, he retained the idea that the mad had a special insight into the spiritual dimension of life. He also believed they were very interpersonally aware.

            Tom on the other hand felt “schizophrenics” were very “ordinary” people.He did not appreciate their assets. While in the 60s-80s he seemed to have compassion for them he increasingly regarded them as malingerers and people who would not face the facts about their lives. That’s not to say he did not passionately defend their rights. But I was alienated by Tom’s growing disdain for the mad and his inability to see that they were gifted.

            So Anonymous let me make a guess about you. I already know you were a victim/survivor of Psychiatry. My guess is that you were not labeled schizophrenic. I think had you been put in THAT box–and if you had the schizophrenic sensibility–you would have more resonance with Laing and more respect for him. And you would also be a little more reserved about Tom. Am I right? Maybe you don’t want to say. I don’t know the label you had but not that one. Maybe depression..

            It is also clear you are not sympathetic to Laing’s mystical/spiritual sensibility.
            You are probably an atheist. And a rationalist/ And a libertarian. So you start off with a bias toward Szasz.

            Furthermore you seem unaware of or indifferent to Laing’s life-long commitment to opening up safe non-coercive asylums for “schizophrenics.” He started the Philadelphia Association for that purpose. You keep saying Laing forced- drugged people but except for the exceptional case of Sigal, there is no evidence of that. Even his son Adrian who did not like him admitted Laing was very compassionate to mad persons.

            Tom’s positions were sometimes heartless and they grew increasingly so as he got older. You say, “Szasz was in favor of ‘adult orphanages’ so he was not opposed to any voluntarily organized place for overwhelmed people with extreme problems in living to go.” Big deal. Laing was in favor as were Mosher and Breggin of state funding for alternative asylums. Tom’s position was that “schizophrenics” were not sick and therefore were not in need of treatment or entitled to taxpayer funded asylum. It’s irrelevant that they were not mentally ill. They are in extreme states and they were in need of help. Instead of attacking Laing Szasz ought to have joined with him in supporting the right of the mad to State subsidized non-coercive asylums for persons undergoing madness.

            I don’t know what you mean by usefulness but voluntarily organized places do not solve the problem. Szasz’s Libertarianism got in the way of his supporting the RIGHT of people in extreme states to be supported by the State. There was no way to raise enough private money for alternative asylums. Tom’s voice was noticeably silent when Soteria Project funding was cut. Many admirers of Szasz don’t even know he took these positions. Ron Leifer did and he opposed Szasz. The idea that people undergoing so called “psychotic episodes” don’t need or deserve help was cruel and indefensible.

            Laing DID reject the medical model but people undergo crises, extreme states, and part of the anti-psychiatric agenda should be to demand the State subsidize non-coercive asylums like Soteria. Szasz accused Laing of hypocrisy for running an alternative asylum.

            Szasz of course had a more consistent and more developed position against involuntary treatment and he provided a rationale for the mental patients’ liberation movement that sprung up in 1970 and then spread.

            Szasz would never admit that Laing’s work complemented his own. There is lacunae in Szasz’s work that is filled by Laing. I ve argued inb my book and in my essay in MIA on Szasz and Beyond that Szasz established the foundation for the movement, for its demand for full rights as citizens, for the battle against involuntary commitment. (Although due process is being undermined all over America
            the last few years.) He also was the first to deconstruct the medical model. But I argue as the movement grows, at least that part of the movement that consists of “schizophrenics” and other psychotics, in the next and higher stage of its development, the writings of persons like Laing will attain a more prominent position. The Icarus Project was moving in this direction before it reversed course in 2009. But its Mission Statement reads like something written by R D Laing in the 60s. Ironically the co-founders of TIP had never read Laing–nor Szasz, nor Breggin. Nonetheless as compared to the first wave whose position was Szaszian, TIP sounded Laingian.

            So my theory is you don’t like Laing because of your own background. I know plenty of psychiatric survivors who consider Laing’s work as important as Szasz’s, if not more so.

            To me they stand together–with Breggin in the third position.John Perry is not well known but he ought to be. Along with Anton Boisen.
            Whitaker is another generation.
            Seth Farber, Ph.D.http://www.amazon.com/The-Spiritual-Gift-Madness-Psychiatry/dp/159477448X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367953344&sr=8-1&keywords=farber+gift


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          • Seth I’ve been following this exchange and wanted to come in, as a response to your comment August 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm, in particular to do with the Damascus road experience and the bipolar disorder label.

            I had a ‘Damascus road’ experience in September 1981 which changed my life completely, and I wasn’t mentally unwell at the time. Christianity now describes it as conversion or being born again or coming to faith etc. Many, many people experience this. I also have experienced three psychotic episodes and these were different although they had spiritual context. However for me the psychoses were in reaction to life changes and meant that I was extra sensitive to the world around. For others it might be different.

            It wasn’t just Paul’s preaching and vision that “launched a radical movement” for his main focus was the Greeks or non-Jewish folk. The disciples who had lived and worked with Jesus also were taking the message out. A combined effort, a collective vision, if you like. Although I do believe it changed the world I don’t agree with you as to how the change came about or what the changes are, similarly with the concept of the Kingdom of God.

            As for the bipolar disorder label I thought it was obvious that it had come about because of the overuse of psychiatric drugs. The psychiatrist tried to pin that label on me in 2002 after he’d put me on a psychiatric drug cocktail of risperidone, venlafaxine and lithium, and because the drugs didn’t work. I resisted getting the bipolar label so he gave me a schizoaffective disorder label. As if my rebellion to a psychiatric label signified mental illness.

            The drugs are ineffective, even useless for some of us, yet they label us ‘treatment resistant’. It’s nonsense. Therefore, to my mind, the psychiatric diagnoses or labels don’t mean anything if you don’t believe them. Psychiatric constructs. Although some and many folk like to have a label to make sense of how they feel or because they have been told by the psychiatrist that they have a ‘lifelong mental illness’. It’s difficult to resist that prognosis.

            As for visions and dreams well I think that’s part of being human. Every night in sleep we will dream and awake we might also daydream and have visions. Some folk will write their dreams and visions down in book form, become famous authors of fiction. Others will keep them in their minds and hearts, an encouragement and hope for the future. Psychiatric drugs, in my experience, dulled the creative thought processes and dimmed the hope. They’re not for me. But for others the drugs might help them to function better, keeping the negative thoughts at bay. Each to their own. But people shouldn’t be forced to take them or coerced into believing the label.

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          • Hi Chrys,
            I’d like to hear to hear about your Damascus Road experience. You mention it but don’t explicate.
            “Although I do believe it changed the
            world I don’t agree with you as to how the change came about, similarly with the
            concept of the Kingdom of God.”
            You disagree with me but do not say
            how, why etc. You only mention Paul. Paul is generally credited with the expansion of Christianity which soon was abandoned by the Jews. But even if that is untrue my by modern psychiatric criteria point was a person who was “schizophrenic” was highly functional and had a major effect upon the world. I was using that as an illustration of the potential of these kind of unusual spiritual experiences.

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          • Further to my comment to Seth ‘August 4, 2013 at 1:08 am, I’m not prepared to go into detail about my ‘Damascus road’ experience because it’s not on topic, similarly with the other religious differences of opinion.

            The point I was making is that, for me, there was a difference between the psychoses I went through when in mental distress or breakdown and the spiritual experiences I had and have when mentally well. I didn’t appreciate the forced psychiatric drugging but, looking back, neither would I have appreciated anyone trying to interpret, enter into my inner world or intervene. A friend did try this and it wasn’t helpful to either of us.

            I would have appreciated respite and rest, time for me to get out of the psychosis on my own, gently, not the harshness of the psychiatric drugs. But neither would I have wanted to live in chaos, things going out of control. Here’s the challenge. Allowing people space in their madness, to be safe and to recover. Not interpreting their experiences in the ‘light’ of our knowledge or supposed wisdom. For how can we really know what someone else is going through? It can only be imagined.

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  1. Hi Bruce. Many thanks for this thoughtful and interesting article. I’d like to pick your brain about the notion you raise here: “However, try as we might to pay attention, adapt, adjust, and comply with our alienating jobs, boring schools, and sterile society, our humanity gets in the way, and we become anxious, depressed, and dysfunctional.” I have no trouble buying this at a general level (i.e., life dissatisfaction breeds distress), I’m curious about the mechanism through which broad life dissatisfaction/angst turns into, say, PTSD, OCD, or panic disorder. These anxiety problems are usually thought about as stemming from relatively problem-specific beliefs, behaviors, and learning experiences. Life stress undoubtedly sets the stage for the development of an anxiety disorder but experts think general vulnerabilities need to be combined with more specific learning experiences in order for one of these specific problems to develop. My question for you is this: how exactly does the “urge to rebel,” or stress created by dysfunctional society, lead to the development of some of these more specific anxiety-related problems? Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for sharing your opinions and expertise on this site.

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    • If I might venture a thought on this point, I believe we all have an inherent desire to be creative, to experiment with life, and to rebel against those who would restrict us from doing so. Unfortunately, when the entire society appears to conspire to restrict us from living and creating and making our own decisions, the conflict can be overwhelming and lead to what are now termed “mental health issues.”

      I certainly experienced this in the school environment. I had my own world of thoughts and wishes and fantasies and emotions, all of which was clearly not welcome in the school environment, and I felt I would quickly be punished by both the teachers and my classmates for letting any of that out. So I was very shy and anxious and pretty depressed throughout my elementary years, leading to a brief “outburst” in 5th grade at Valentine’s day, where I put a “fuck you” message inside a classmate’s valentine and was busted for it. (Interesting that I chose Valentine’s Day as a time to give my rebellion voice, as to me it seemed to represent both a need to pretend to like people that I didn’t, and a competition for social attention at which I did not excel and didn’t really want to participate. This was before the days where kids had to make valentines for everyone, and my box was always one of the emptier ones.)

      I ended up seeing a psychologist for an evaluation and getting “special attention” for what today would certainly have been diagnosed as a “mental disorder” of some kind or another, and would surely have resulted in some kind of recommendation for “treatment.” But it’s clear to me that my internalized anxiety was a result of an resolvable conflict between who I was vs. how I was expected to behave by the authorities. I was clearly in passive rebellion from the first day I arrived at school in Kindergarten, and would have done almost anything to escape from that oppressive environment, where I was expected to kowtow all day to the arbitrary demands of teachers who didn’t know me nor seem to care to know me and simply seemed to care about making me do as I was told, and where I was forced to associate with kids that I’d mostly never have even talked to if left to my own devices. But I was impotent to make any kind of change to that environment, and simply had to go, day after day, week after week, year after year, suppressing any outward expression of what was really going on internally and acting as if nothing was amiss. It is a small wonder and a credit to my internal self-discipline that I didn’t act out more violently much sooner. But of course, no one would ever have given me credit for 5 years of self-restraint. My one small act of rebellion was the focus, rather than the years of suffering that led up to it.

      I think this mechanism leads to a ton of anxiety and depression that is not necessarily linked to another obvious cause. Naturally, other traumatic events that may have happened in someone’s earlier childhood contribute to how a person might choose to act in such a situation, and I had a few of those, but nothing too severe compared to what a lot of folks have tolerated. Yet the school experience welded into place a style of responding to the world by suppressing my true impulses, feelings and thoughts in ways that affect me to this day, and that transcended any personal issues I might have had prior to entering the walls of that institution. It literally made me nuts!

      This fits into Bruce’s “internal rebellion” theory very nicely, and takes the explanation of “mental illness” beyond the realm of personal trauma and adds the impact of an oppressive and sometimes seriously abusive social structure as a huge contributing factor.

      Bruce, I loved the article! A very timely reminder that rebellion against an oppressive society will always be attacked, but when “mental health” means submitting to an insane system, then the only sanity is to rebel!

      —- Steve

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      • As a former teacher I can substantiate all that you state here about how abusive the educational system was when you were a kid. It’s the rare teacher who truly helps students to learn and to think for themselves. Of course, the purpose of school is not to teach people to think for themselves but to conform and be compliant. The purpose of education in this country is to force people into learning how to “kowtow” as you put it. I used to be against home schooling but am a champion for it today.

        How many other social structures are toxic and abusive to people? Today I would say all of them.

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  2. Great post, Bruce. There’s so much here that is right on and needs to be heard beyond the “mental health community.” But what I want to address is the revision which, to my knowledge, has never been proposed to the DSM but which should be, if they don’t throw it out altogether. There is a provision in the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia that the episode of psychoses must not be due to “organic brain disorder” or, I believe, induced solely by the use of drugs of abuse such as LSD or amphetamines; i believe there is something similar regarding bipolar diagnoses, that the qualifying manic episode must not be actually caused by amphetamine use. (I don’t have the DSM in front of me, so i can’t quote it). There should be a similar criterion added, to whit, any otherwise qualifying manic episode must not be due to a prior course of antidepressants, and if there *was* an immediately prior course of antidepressants, not only should those be discontinued, but confirmation of a bipolar diagnosis should be withheld until a *further* qualifying manic episode occurs *after effective withdrawal* from antidepressants. In other words, no hanging a lifetime label suggesting lifetime medication on someone on the basis of what may be only a side-effect of a drug they perhaps should have never taken or should have discontinued sooner.

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    • Here’s a link to the bipolar criteria clearly stating if a symptom is caused by a drug, then a bipolar diagnosis is incorrect.


      And this psychiatric industry oversight committed on a massive scale is the cause of the iatrogenic bipolar epidemic. It’s shameful how many have been wrongly defamed, harmed with toxic drugs, and mislabeled for life because of this type of psychiatric malpractice.

      Very nice article, by the way Bruce, and I agree. I personally think a big part of the societal disconnect is due to the US moving away from some semblance of a democracy, to a more fascist system where the government is controlled by big business. And there is good reason for Americans to be disappointed by what’s currently going on in this country. The disparity of income levels has gotten too wide, and the wealthy are using their power and influence to crush and steal from the middle class. What the banking industry did is deplorable, as is what the pharmaceutical industry did. But the government is saying these businesses are too big to fail. No business should be too big to fail, it only reduces innovation, and breeds arrogance, leading ultimately to corruption.

      IMO, it all comes down to the problem of greed, and a deterioration of ethics due to such. And likely the move towards belief in the DSM “bible” of stigmatizations, rather than belief in the wisdom of the Holy Bible, and a little fear of God. We need a return of the democracy, and some good old fashioned Christian ethics.

      I’ll try and pick up your book, Seth, it sounds interesting to me. And thank you for the other book recommendations as well, Bruce.

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      • I just read this link from an email I just recieved, that also points out corporate greed is now being seen by others as a problem, society wide:


        Plus I recommend the book “The Trillion Dollar Conspiracy: How The New World Order, Zombie Banks, and Man-Made Diseases Are Destroying America.” Unfortunately, the banking and psycho / pharmacutical industries’ greed inspired behavior is causing real problems in our society, and they are not just some fictional “conspiracy.”

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      • Thanks.
        Don’t forget what’s happening with NSA and what NYT calls
        a second “secret Supreme Court.” And the manner in which the Obama Administration, which campaigned in 2008 on restoring transparency, had gone after whistle-blowers with a vengeance. Today US denounced Russia for giving Snowden asylum. After all Holder gave assurances Snowden would not be tortured..
        Although what do their assurances mean–Manning was subjected to torture for months, although they don’t call it torture.

        The attack on the once considered fundamental rights…

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  3. Bruce, thanks for the usual thought provoking post. Children and teenagers are under such pressure to perform academically beginning at the earliest levels of education. Some, particularly boys, who are generally bored to death in elementary school, are deemed ADD or ADHD, and put on drugs. If they stay on these drugs, they seem to lose sparkle, passion, and from my limited observations, become robotic. I have worked with quite a few interns from the most prestigious universities. They are super-competent, but seem to lack joie de vivre. They are very in control of their emotions, too much so. Doubts, if they have any, insecurities, if they have them, are buried well below the surface. The period of one’s twenties is a crazy, emotionally tumultuous experience, or used, to be. I’m not getting the vibes from these twenty somethings, that life is anything but straight up the harder they work and aspire to achieve. In many ways, they are ideal people, but I wonder …….

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  4. Rossa

    It’s interesting that you mention interns who lack “joie de vivre.” I live right next to a state university medical center; many of the people who rent in my neighborhood are med students, interns, etc. I did a year of clinical pastoral education in this university medical center. I also work in a state hospital where one of the units uses med students and interns from the medical university. So, I get to see a lot of these people as they go about doing what they do.

    My experience of these young men and women is exactly what you point out here. I always wonder about them; they seem so cold, so calculating, and so emotionless in everything that they do. Frankly I don’t like to spend time around them due to their lack of joie de vivre. They are way too serious for their age and won’t even laugh when you joke with them. Many of them actually walk to classes reading their notes or books as they walk! they may be big achievers but they don’t seem to be much fun to know.

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    • Stephen, Like you, my experience is with medical students, or those hoping to be medical students. I know it’s not a fair comparison, because medical students are supposed to be driven, and are usually top students or they wouldn’t get into medical school. But, these days the competition is even stiffer. Not just GMAT scores and excellent grades, but community service work, etc. must show up on resumes. The planning for medical school is a killer, and that’s just trying to get in. Then to stay afloat once inside, well, if they are used to taking drugs for concentration, they may think little of continuing that habit. It’s just guess I my part.

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  5. I was just wondering if any of you good people can help out here. I have been waiting for an appropriate article to come up to air my concerns and thought maybe this one was suitable. I’d also be interested to know whether any one of you have come across this before. To me it is just another problem caused by psychiatry etc.

    My 60 year old divorced brother is having issues with his two grown up children. It all started when his daughter did a psychology course at uni (which she did not finish) and this led to a fundamental change in perceptions. The son was both influenced by his own ‘research’ and what his sister had to say (these children still live with their mother). What has transpired in the last 18 months appears to be a form of coercion in the sense that these grown up children have analyzed their mother and basically urged her to ‘accept responsibility’ etc for things that have happened during the marriage to my brother and in her own family life. The mother’s position/reactions have been defined as passive aggressive, being in denial etc and this would depend on whether or not she accepted what they said.

    Even though divorced my brother has for a number of years periodically stayed with them and recently he was given the same treatment. Among other things, he too was accused of ‘being in denial’, passive aggressive (more so than the mother), emotionally distant, a narcissist and so on. Although he acknowledges the difficulties in the marriage etc, his reactions/non-compliance were not acceptable to the children to the point where they turned him out of the house. The mother is seen as being ‘compliant’.

    He is quite upset by all of this and doesn’t understand. He doesn’t mind talking in context and in everyday language about these things but the pervasive authoritarian like psychological perspective by which his children now interpret whatever has been said and done has become divisive and detrimental.

    A last point is, up until now my brother has generally got along well his children and I saw this for myself, he was involved in their lives from babyhood, encouraged them and overall did the best he could.

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    • Cathy,
      Sounds to me that the “children” are finally rebelling against the parents. A natural course of events (or should be) in people’s lives.You don’t say how old they are, but I imagine they are in their early twenties. Psychology courses have a knack for making every one an amateur psychologist. The woman’s movement back in my time and my reading of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, really set me off against my father. He got the brunt of my disdain (wife oppressor, daughter oppressor, blah, blah blah) I got over it, but it was more about me and my inner turmoil.
      You know what I would do if I were your brother? Ignore it. if he has to disengage for a while, then he should step aside and let his children work through this. Most likely, they too will move on.

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    • Thanks. I meant people who achieve independence are freed from being dictated to by the welfare rules. They won’t be freed from high taxes, but that’s another story. I’m well aware of Britain’s extent of socialized control of medicine, and schooling. It’s tough to live under the results of misguided public policy that has been in place for a long time.

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  6. People cannot achieve independence when wages are so low, rents so high with no affordable housing being built they are forced to claim housing benefit and working tax credits. It is big business which feeds off the state.

    The British people will fight to the death for our NHS

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    • The state by definition couldn’t exist without confiscating money from wage earners and business big or small. Some industries feed off the state, true, but by no means all. The state is the great feeder. Small business would have the scope to increase wages if taxation wasn’t so high.

      As for Britain’s love of its socialist medicine system, I’d believe it, and so would the billion television viewers treated to the politicization of the olympics opening ceremony last year, the NHS tribute, something I’m not alone in thinking was creepy, bizarre, and reminiscent of other bizarre Olympics opening ceremonies from world history,…


      The stadium photo needs to be seen to be believed.

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  7. Business confiscates and leeches off the state and poor, this is widely recognised now.
    Yes we love our National Health Service.
    Mmm, think I’ll say it again because I love the words so much – National Health service..

    I know I do apologise on behalf of the British people for our creepy bizarre government. They are an embarrassment to us, but it’s a totalitarian regime you see, we have no control over such things.

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    • I don’t see business locking people in prison for not paying high taxes, and giving them cavity searches when they visit their families. This is the latent violence behind every tax dollar that exists. No, I see people voluntarily buying the products businesses sell. Peaceful exchange for mutual benefit. The more of it the better, the less of government the better.

      I think it best to keep this taxation violence to a minimum, socialists think it best to expand this violence to 100% of human activity. We’ll have to agree to disagree. People who love the NHS trust government to look after them, I don’t trust government. It’s not government that is putting a dishwasher in millions of Chinese homes and raising living standards worldwide, it’s trade. Mutually beneficial trade.

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      • One perspective is that “mutually beneficial trade” is always exploiting someone or something to be making its profits. The suicidal workers in Chinese factories might not be so cheery about their manager’s dishwashers. The managers with dishwashers might not be so excited about the highly toxic air they have to breathe. I’m not a socialist or a capitalist, I think a healthy system that is not systemically exploiting or committing violence requires a whole new level of thinking.

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        • Fair enough. I think its important to point out that the working conditions of a factory job are known before voluntarily going in, and they can quit. Social pressure from family and social station face saving and so on, cultural things, are all factors leading people to exert themselves so much, and clearly I would condemn any employer that doesn’t treat their employees well. Factory workers in China mostly leave the provincial life for the cities with great expectations from family etc. Let’s not forget to even become a Chinese factory worker, one has to escape the government’s one child policy first, and even be born. I agree that the Apple / Foxconn suicide nets are a serious reflection on Apple. I’m a Windows user. China has a horrible human rights record. The people might rise up one day I hope so. They already grabbed their guns.

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          • People can just leave a factory or fight against poor employers – it must be comforting to believe that’s true. As for slavery, yes we have that here, it’s called ‘Workfare’ and there have even been discussions about ‘residential workfare’ specifically for sick/disabled/people deemed to be mentally ill. It’s called workhouse ethics

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          • Very true. I live among many Chinese families who came from the mainland. They don’t plan to ever go back to their land of birth. The air, land, and water are polluted beyond anything we can imagine here. They were so intent on industrialation at all costs and having an economy that could sit with the major powers in the world that they’re willing to destroy everything to attain this. It really doesn’t matter how many people die from the pollution since people are seen as expendable. The requirement to achieve is paramount. Chinese children are expected to excell at their studies since they are representing not only their individual selves but their entire family too. They carry everyone on their shoulders and the entire family will make great sacrifices to ennable the child to move ahead. The pressure to be successful is unbelievable. The old ways of thinking, stemming from Confucius, are very much alive and are melded with modern communistic capitalism. I have the feeling that it makes things difficult.

            It’s always interesting to sit down and listen to my neighbors share things concerning their country and what is happening within it. It doesn’t sound good to me and they don’t plan to ever go back. They say Americans don’t have the slightest idea what pollution really is, although they say this very politely.

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          • Someone who farmed with their family in provincial China who decided to stop doing that and leave to go to the city in China to improve their way of life in a voluntarily accepted job, can leave yes. It’s not slavery. This isn’t just something I ‘believe’, its a demonstrable fact. I don’t agree that ‘workfare’ is slavery either. Offensive to real actual slaves to even say conditions on welfare are equivalent to slavery. If anything, workfare is like a 1930s depression era ‘make work’ scheme. A New Deal type scheme.

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      • You might be right if businesses were answerable to the communities they serve, but they aren’t. The levels of pollution are just one excellent example – industry has traditionally polluted the environment with impunity. They have no incentive to do otherwise, except for small businesses that have to be accountable to their constituency and drink the same water as their customers. If there were no government to tell the big corporations to stop polluting, it would be up to each individual consumer to investigate and understand the nature of that company and decide to purchase the product of someone who doesn’t pollute. Not realistic, especially with the media picking and choosing the stories they cover under the influence of advertising dollars from those self-same industries they’d have to rat out.

        There are no “free markets” in this world economy. My biggest objection to government these days is that they are owned by these very corporations who supposedly are so interested in making our lives better, and the governments take money from those who can least afford it and spend making laws and regulations to support and empower those who need it least.

        I’m not a big fan of the welfare state, but things are so screwy at this point that the average person in the USA can’t afford healthcare without insurance coverage. (Naturally, this situation was created in the USA at the behest of the insurance industry, and they’re making lots of money while US healthcare outcomes are the worst in the industrialized world.) Whatever you may feel about the NHS, and I understand they’re a bureaucratic mess, I guarantee it is better than the multiple bureaucratic messes that comprise the US system that costs far more and delivers far less than the NHS users can probably imagine.

        Simply removing government and letting the corporations have their way is not the answer. It’s actually part of how we got the mental health system we’re all so upset with – the pharmaceutical industry got control of the psychiatric profession, and now profits are more important than patients. I wish trusting the capitalist system were an answer, but I’m pretty clear that the current low-accountability high-profit business system is more the problem than the solution.

        —- Steve

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        • I’m no fan of corporations. Corporations wouldn’t exist without government. It is corporations law that allows them to exist.


          Governments pollute too

          there are non big government ways of dealing with pollution that center on existing property laws


          Government licensing is one the primary drivers of cost in medicine, creating a monopoly cartel of government licensed doctors that can restrict supply of new doctors etc


          Humans have been trading since time immemorial. Only in recent generations has trade come to be seen as an ideology, an ‘ism’.

          Hundreds of millions of dead in the 20th century at the hands of utopian Marxist ideology and other central control statism ideologies.

          I think we should build 20,000 platforms in the sea and start a new country. Start over. I can dream.


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          • You’re right about corporations, especially in the USA – one of the biggest problems is that they’re viewed as “people” based on past court rulings, and as such, have “free speech” rights that include bribing, oops, I mean contributing to politicians’ political campaigns in a completely unrestricted manner. This is part of how the government has been increasingly sold off to those monied interests.

            Trade is the foundation of civilization, and money is supposed to represent the labor underlying the efforts at developing and trading goods, as well as the risks assumed in bringing goods from where they are plentiful to where they are scarce, etc. What is so unfortunate is that there are so many making many billions off of products (like psych drugs) which don’t actually benefit the recipients, or who “make money” while producing nothing at all, which takes money away from the honest traders.

            Hey, I like that last one. Inside each cynic is a romantic utopian at heart. I’d be happy to live on the same platform with you!

            —- Steve

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  8. I think you’ll find most people desire interdependency..
    The reason why citing the minority is somewhat tedious is because here it’s been flogged to death, used to deliberately misinform and stir up hatred. I think we need to concentrate on the real meat of the issues for the majority

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  9. chrys, most beautifully phrased and the most pertinent statement for me on this thread:

    “I would have appreciated respite and rest, time for me to get out of the psychosis on my own, gently, not the harshness of the psychiatric drugs. But neither would I have wanted to live in chaos, things going out of control. Here’s the challenge. Allowing people space in their madness, to be safe and to recover. Not interpreting their experiences in the ‘light’ of our knowledge or supposed wisdom. For how can we really know what someone else is going through? It can only be imagined”.

    I think Laing and Mosher grasped some sense of this.

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  10. Seth I appreciate your insights on Laing and Szasz, as a person dx as Schizophrenic Laing certainly ‘spoke’ to me more, his compassion and appreciation of altered perceptions. His desire for there to be supported provision as with Loren and Soteria. Loren’s warmth and compassion touched me, I met him once in the late 80’s.

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  11. Thanks for testifying. MY own claims that Laing empowered many labeled “schizophrenics” are second hand and thus don’t carry much weight.It is painful to me to hear Laing’s work denigrated and Laing vilified as if Laing was on the side of the establishment, as if he was drugging people and locking them up–al based on rumor and Laing’s vexed and abusive relationship with Clancy Sigal, and on Szasz book on Laing. Although Szasz wrote the Foreword to my 1993 book and I was very influenced by his work, it is important that the record be set straight. Szasz trashed Laing’s work but was oblivious to his own blind spots. Szasz stood up for the outsider, he had a profound belief in American constitutional democracy. But his effort to write Laing out of the movement was misguided.

    The book Szasz wrote on anti-psychiatry is completely misleading. One reason Szasz did not appreciate Laing’s contribution on behalf of the mad is Szasz did not understand and frankly did not like mad people. For example, he called them malingerers, he accused them of self-deception, he felt disdain for their spirituality, he did not approve of their taking money from the government. Some of Szasz’scriticisms may be accurate. But they are not balanced by an appreciation for the particular assets of the mad. Laing on the other hand was awed and humbled by the genius of the mad.On the other hand it is to Szasz’s credit that he was able to passionately and eloquently defend the rights of a group of people for whom he felt no particular affinity.

    The work of Szasz and Laing fit together like a gestalt–they complemented each other. Laing dialogues with mad persons–some were recorded– demonstrated that Laing intuitively understood the mad. He liked them and they took to him right away. Szasz did not understand the mad and he did not understand Laing. The book he wrote about Laing in 2005, 15 years after Laing’s death was cruel and obtuse albeit witty–he did “get” Laing. It would be like reading a book by Richard Dawkins on the Kabbalah or the Theosopical movement. He would not understand. Peter Breggin had been a student of Szasz but Szasz would have nothing to do with him EITHER because at some point his ideas diverged from Szasz. They were all in the same anti-medical model camp. Part of the problem was Szasz did not approve of Laing’s efforts to get funding for non-coercive asylums. Szasz was opposed to any government funding for Libertarian reasons/.

    Those who did not know the scoop assumed Szasz and Laing were in the same camp against the establishment. They were, and they each deserve their place in history. They each should be read by every person in the mad movement or survivors’ movement today. They each made an invaluable contribution–like it or not they were on the same side.

    See my article Szasz and Beyond: The Spiritual Promise of the Mad Pride Movement http://www.madinamerica.com/2012/11/szasz-and-beyondthe-spiritual-promise-of-the-mad-pride-movement/

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    • “One reason Szasz did not appreciate Laing’s contribution on behalf of the mad is Szasz did not understand and frankly did not like mad people.”

      Garbage. Rubbish. Szasz maintained friendships and correspondences with people you would choose to label “mad” for decades. He did singular service to us, and never once forcibly drugged anyone.

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      • Anonymous
        My last statement was about Szasz. I don’t understand your complain I called you a victim. When? Where? I was already penalized for making personal comments so I am being careful not to do that. I don’t recall. And you don’t quote me—I have about 8 post here, most defending R D Laing.
        I don’t understand how you can so casually dismiss
        the various threats we face. If you do not believe in msn-made g.w., there are enough other threat–productds of a totalitarian plutocratic society. I do not remember EVER saying or thinkng you acted like a victim.

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  12. Yes he did, but he has stated on several occasions in his polemic against Laing that there was nothing mystical or poetic about the schizophrenic, that she was just an ordinary person who was malingering or acting in bad faith. I ‘d have to search but on a couple occasions Szasz is himself explicitly denigrating. Another alternative to the illness model was presented not only by Laing but by John Weir Perry and by Anton Boisen and others. The “psychotic” was experiencing a spiritual crisis. Without invoking a developmental model the alternative to an illness model was that the “psychotic” was just putting on an act. This was one reason Szasz excoriated Laing for opening up an alternative asylum for persons in extreme states. Anyone with any Romantic tendencies could not fail to be struck by the poetic and poignant way the mad person used language to communicate. But Szasz finds nothing exceptional in the “schizophrenics” whose cause he champions. Missing in Szasz’s work is any sense of the extraordinaryly poetic sensibility of the schizophrenic Other.In fact Szasz never writes about his own experience of the Other who play such a pivotal role in his work. The Other is purely an object or member of the collective object of oppression. There is no positive content to her identity. This is a major omission in Szasz’s work, in the same way as the political dimension is not fully articulated in Laing.

    But Laing at least acknowledged a debt to Szasz and reached out to make common cause with him. On the one occasion he picked Szasz to comment on one of his talks, Szasz dismissively commented that after sitting through Laing’s talk he had a sense what it was like to be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Yet as I’ve stated Laing’s work complemented Szasz’s. Although not a systematic thinker Laing brought brilliant insights to the understanding and appreciation of the poetry and genius of the madness. It took the genius of R D Laing to illuminate to the 1960s generation the genius of the Mad.

    Szasz accused Laing of unconsciously assimilating the medical model but it was Laing, ironically the quasi-socialist, not Szasz the capitalist individualist who appreciated the subjectivity of the mad, who rescued her from the anonymity of the collectivity. Considering the non–person status to which the mad were relegated Laing’s recovery of their subjectivity was no mean feat. It was Laing who in the tradition of Artaud demonstrated how the mad person became a spokesperson for the Great Refusal, to use Marcuse’s term for the Western tradition of Romantic art. Over and over Laing would reproduce the very words of the mad person and showed how in the language of poetry, of dreams, she mounted a critique on the banality and violence of everyday life.

    For example in Laing’s first and worst book The Divided Self,, a traditional medical model account, he already demonstrated how the “patient,” excoriated the psychiatric degradation ritual. Szasz never analyzed the communications of the IP, and it was Szasz who failed to see there was something other than bad faith at work in these communications.

    The example is taken from the work of the German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926), who pioneered the classification of mental disorder on the basis of thousands of case studies.] Here is Kraepelin’s (1905) account to a lecture-room of his students of a patient showing the signs of catatonic excitement:

    “The patient I will show you today has almost to be carried into the rooms, as he walks in a straddling fashion on the outside of his feet. On coming in, he throws off his slippers, sings a hymn loudly, and then cries twice (in English), `My father, my real father!’ He is eighteen years old, and a pupil of the Oberrealschule (higher-grade modern-side school), tall, and rather strongly built, but with a pale complexion, on which there is often a transient flush. The patient sits with his eyes shut, and pays no attention to his surroundings. He does not look up even when he is spoken to, but he answers beginning in a low voice, and gradually screaming louder and louder. When asked where he is, he says, `You want to know that too? I tell you who is being measured and is measured and shall be measured. I know all that, and could tell you, but I do not want to.’ When asked his name, he screams, `What is your name? What does he shut? He shuts his eyes. What does he hear? He does not understand; he understands not. How? Who? Where? When? What does he mean? When I tell him to look he does not look properly. You there, just look! What is it? Why do you give me no answer? Are you getting impudent again? How can you be so impudent? I’m coming! I’ll show you! You don’t whore for me. You mustn’t be smart either; you’re an impudent, lousy fellow, such an impudent, lousy fellow I’ve never met with. Is he beginning again? You understand nothing at all, nothing at all; nothing at all does he understand. If you follow now, he won’t follow, will not follow. Are you getting still more impudent? Are you getting impudent still more? How they attend, they do attend,’ and so on. At the end, he scolds in quite inarticulate sounds.”

    Kraepelin notes here among other things the patient’s `inaccessibility’:
    “Although he undoubtedly understands all the questions, he has not given us a single piece of useful information. His talk was … only a series of disconnected sentences having no relation whatever to the general situation.” (pp 29-30)

    Laing disagrees. He thinks that Kraepelin’s own approach is shaping his vision in a specific way, and that there is another, better approach. “Now it seems clear that this patient’s behaviour can be seen in at least two ways … One may see his behaviour as `signs’ of a `disease’; one may see his behaviour as expressive of his existence. . What is the boy’s experience of Kraepelin? He seems to be tormented and desperate. What is he `about’ in speaking and acting in this way? He is objecting to being measured and tested. He wants to be heard.” (pp 30-31)

    “Kraepelin asks about his name. the patient replies by an exasperated outburst in which he is now saying what he feels is the attitude implicit in Kraepelin’s approach to him: What is your name? What does he shut? He shuts his eyes. … Why do you give me no answer? Are you getting impudent again? You don’t whore for me? (i.e. he feels that Kraepelin is objecting because he is not prepared to prostitute himself before the whole classroom of students), and so on.
    Seth Farber, Ph.D.

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  13. Szasz called one of the UK’s most respected survivor researchers a ‘malingerer’, her work is her life, you would never find a more hard working person than her. The only time she has ever taken out has been when she’s been hospitalised, mostly under section.It seemed so bizarre that he would say that of her given she hadn’t taken any other state support.
    Another friend saw Laing in his youth a couple of times and found his grasp of his perceptual differences to be unusually enlightened, he experienced Laing as a gently compassionate and deeply intuitive person.
    Both their works contribute something important, whether people favour one or the other I’ve concluded comes down to general outlook rather than their work. Neoliberals veer towards Szasz.

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    • Cite the source of that allegation that Szasz called this person a malilgnerer. Name the person he called a malingerer. Why is it fair to name Szasz but not this allged ‘leading survivor researcher’, more info please. Location, year, parties involved, where it’s been published elsewhere, if video or audio exists, anything. Anything at all, context please.

      I like Szasz for his work and the fact he never forced himself on anybody. You can claim that I like him for other reasons… that’s your claim.

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    • I always felt the work of Laing and Szasz complemented each other. (I’m glad Joanna you are also affirming the value of Laing’s work–your description are I think accurate and moving.) Not only did do I feel that way but they were constantly classed together in the 60s and 70s, and that was appropriate. It is unfortunate that Szasz chose in 2005 or so to write a book declaring Laing worthless.

      Szasz wrote the Foreword to my first book published in 1993, Madness, Heresy and the Rumor of Angels: The Revolt against the Mental Health System.. Ron Leifer encouraged Tom to do this. This book has an obvious Laingian influence. AT that time-a few years after Laing’s death–Szasz’s feelings against Laing had mellowed. But his acrimony returned by the time he wrote the unfortunate anti-Laing book. Tom’s intolerance for certain perspective foreign to his own showed a lack of humility. Of course one could say Tom was a genius in his own right and actually quite humble as a person, but evidently there was a philosophical arrogance.
      I don’t think it is quite right to say neo-liberals veer toward Szasz. You know the neo-conservatives hated Szasz as well as Laing. Szasz was of course a Libertarian, but that is different than a neo-liberal. I stand by what I wrote about Tom above in a previous post: He was tolerant of but he did not have Laing’s appreciation for the “schizophrenic” sensibility.Unfortunately Szasz was not tolerant of Laing–except for that brief time after Laing’s death. Tom was an atheist. Laing was a mystic. That to me was the most relevant distinction. It is why I personally had more resonance with Laing. Tom’s most spiritual book was The Manufacture of Madness.

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      • It’s just my personal observation Seth regarding Szasz supporters tending to have a neoliberal outlook, I’ve just yet to encounter those who don’t so it’s become an association for me. I’m finding your writing on Laing and Szasz interesting and believe your analysis of the two men to be fair.

        No Anon I will not name my friend Szasz called a ‘malingerer’, I don’t have her permission to do so, Seth’s writing of Szasz in the context of viewing psych survivors as ‘malingerers’ reminded me of her experience which she relayed to me verbally, it is not recorded or in print, otherwise I would have referenced it. It was a relevant example in the context of Seth’s writing, it is of course your choice to discard it.

        Yes Workfare is state enslavement. I’ve nothing against genuine unpaid work placements offering people experience and training they need, but when companies are using people forced to be there for 30 hrs a week, displacing existing staff and on an ongoing basis, that is not acceptable. If they have 30 hrs a week work available then they should offer those people forced to be there a paid job. Companies using free forced labour for their profits is not acceptable, it’s reasonable to expect people to be paid a wage for their work. It’s not ‘reciprocal’ when those people are faced with no income to live on if they don’t comply. The system doesn’t even work, it just puts money directly into company coffers. There are also individuals who have made millions out of taxpayers with their ‘back-to-work’ schemes which again have been proven to be failures. Both these and Workfare do not demonstrate they assist people to secure work.
        There should be real assistance to help unemployed and disabled people, but there isn’t. All there is are sanctions resulting in loan sharks/food banks and forced labour.
        I cannot understand why anyone would not wish for there to be meaningful help rather than this. There needs to be proper apprenticeships, much more support for people without level 2 education, and MH system survivors have the least employment support of all disadvantaged groups.

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  14. Workfare has been proven not to work, unemployed people are no less likely to secure employment by not doing it. It has wasted millions of tax payers money and gives business free slave labour, sometimes laying off existing paid staff or cutting their hours. People forced to do it are threatened with loss of their benefit which would mean debt/starvation/homelessness, so yes it is state enslavement. People who are sick, disabled, and defined as mentally ill are also forced into it. Graduates doing voluntary work whilst seeking a job relevant to their degree and desired future career can also be forced to do it.

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    • Again, I can only repeat that this is offensive to real slaves.

      There are actual sex slaves being held captive somewhere in this world. Actual labor slaves working diamond mines at gunpoint in Africa too.

      To compare this to a policy change in the UK around welfare reciprocal obligations, is just offensive to real slaves. The people who work are forced to work to make money that is given to people on welfare, and the people on welfare are forced to do a thing or two too. The UK’s ‘make work’ government schemes around welfare might have their pros and cons, but they are not slavery.

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  15. Marvellous article – People obviously end up entangled within the mental health system for individual personal reasons but it is clarifying to analyse the various means people are so seduced at vulnerable times in their lives – It sadens , frightens and angers me how children in particular are so abused.
    But in the spirit of people just ‘ making shit up’ in orde r to parlay their snake oil have a sneak at this – http://wormwoodgate.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/obsessive-posting-disorder/

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  16. I so agree with Dr. Levine. It is always somewhat sad when a person shows up in the office with obvious life difficulties just as Levine describes, and the person is mostly focused on what sort of DSM diagnosis they might have and concern that their emotional distress is a ‘serotonin deficiency’ and not acknowledging the expected human reaction to these difficulties. Its bad enough that people suffer in their lives, and even worse that they have to deal with concern that the suffering is really a ‘chemical imbalance’ and somehow not legitimate.

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