A Time for Heretics


Heresy – dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope.  Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.’
                                                                                                                   – Voltaire

This country desperately needs heretics – people that are willing to challenge the status quo.  There are several areas in Connecticut alone where the status quo acts as a barrier to human rights.  There are 17,000 people incarcerated in CT. Percentage-wise it ranks as one of the highest rates in the country; considerably higher than the other New England states.  A recent study shows CT ranks in the top five in the country in terms of drugging senior citizens residing in nursing homes with anti-psychotics. The “time out rooms” being utilized in some of our schools have garnered national attention.

The discrimination against people labeled by psychiatry has gone from bad to deplorable since Sandy Hook.  One of the responses to this tragedy was to require that everyone who voluntarily spends a night in a hospital for “psychiatric reasons” have their names placed in a database for suspension of Second Amendment rights.

Heresy is the answer.  We need people that have the courage and willingness to stand up to oppressive forces.  Make no mistake – standing up publicly against the status quo is extremely difficult.  When you stand up you will have rocks thrown at you.  And those rocks will come from all sides.  You will be ridiculed.  You will have your character and personality attacked.  You may be fired.  You may be black listed from future employment.  You will be called anti – (fill in the blank).  You will be told that your stance will hurt people.  You also might positively change the course of history.

One thing that history has demonstrated is that the status quo does not change on its own. Education alone is not enough to change the status quo.  Winston Churchill said, “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most times he will pick himself up and carry on.”  We must not only challenge and expose current practices and beliefs but introduce new modes of thought and practice by organized nonviolent direct action.

I facilitate a class that is open to anyone interested in social change.  I have tried to develop a curriculum that is conducive to affecting tangible change – and have sought input from many activists.  I feel the resulting material covers the necessary tools for effective advocacy.  The problem is that I do not know how to teach people the intangibles that make activists display unwavering courage – how do you teach the part of one’s soul that makes them stand up without concern for personal cost.  My grandfather was a successful basketball coach and I remember him joking that you cannot teach height.  I feel the innate part of an activist that provides the courage to stand up is comparable to height.  There is a calling in some people that simply makes standing up for what is right a personal obligation rather than a learned trait.

I was fortunate to grow up with parents that had this trait and were willing to fight for social change. They met in the sixties during the civil rights movement while teaching in an inner city school.  They taught me to value human rights and diversity above all else.  My dad often defended  individual rights.  My mother has spent her life fighting for people with mental health labels.  I was present to see the many rocks that were thrown at my parents.  What I remember from those times is not the fear I or they must have felt but simply my enormous pride that I was their son.

I remember trying to channel their courage one day in school. Some girl was being picked on and I felt compelled to intervene.  I took a pretty bad beating that day.  The bully that hit me had on a class ring – “class of” could be read on my forehead for a week.   The captain of the baseball team came up to me upon my return to school following my suspension.  He commented on my fight being the talk of the school.  I said to him in a shaky voice, “I showed the entire school that I do not know how to fight.”  He said, “no – you showed the entire school that you are willing to fight.”  I liked that comment – It has been 26 years since he said those words and I still think about them.

It is important to remember that it is taking action that is important.  A desire to “win” advocacy encounters or to deliver the perfect witty remark in response to a discriminatory comment will often lead to inaction.  Action can be an end in itself.  We need to be willing to engage the process of making things right versus requiring ourselves to know what the right thing to do is.  We need to be willing to make mistakes.

I knew early in my life what I wanted to do for a living.  I wanted to be an activist.  I went to school in the south – mainly to study civil rights.  I protested KKK marches while in school.  I wrote my senior thesis on John Lewis – the amazing former head of the SNCC and now a congressman.  I went to law school because I thought I could be most effective as a human rights attorney.  Sadly, my demons took over and led me down a dark path.  I spent some years living a life that was completely counter to my core values.   It all ended in destruction.

After a personal transformation process, I am now doing what I have always wanted to do.  I am not doing it as a lawyer.  I am not the person that comes from a place of strength and parental inspiration that I was 20 years ago.  I now have a background that makes me an easy target for those unwilling to argue the principles and only wanting to talk about personalities.  I spent a part of last week in the hospital for what was described as a “reawakening” of symptoms from a past stroke.  Health issues are a reality for me – undoubtedly brought on by my old lifestyle.  I am not the prototype activist I dreamed of being as a child.  What I am, though, is what I apparently was 26 years ago – willing to fight.   I hope my willingness to engage bullies combined with my commitment to personal growth will enable me to contribute in the fight against the predatory practices of Big Pharma, corrections and the gambling industry.

One of the amazing things about my new life and new career is the people I have met.  I have become part of a movement that is filled with heretics.  I am constantly inspired by the people that have the courage to write in this and other forums.  I am inspired by the people that protest and refuse to accept a broken paradigm.  It is exciting to know that I have friends that are not only willing to stand up and have rocks thrown at them – but also have the skills to beat the bullies.  And by them having these skills it means that all of us in this movement have these skills.  As my fellow revolutionary Dr. Michael Cornwall said, “The collective horsepower to take back our culture from its blind masters resides right here on Mad in America and on every psych ward and in every prison yard.”

Helen Keller said, “the heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.”  If people feel that risking their job or being subject to ridicule is too much – they ought to take some time to study historical movements.  Now is the time for heresy in CT and beyond. Now is the time to establish the orthodoxy for the next age.  The extent to which we are willing to sacrifice will determine the extent we are able to change the status quo.


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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  1. Deron,

    Thank you for a beautifully articulated post.

    Having worked with blind people for many years, I especially enjoyed your Helen Keller quote.

    In order to radically change the status quo, we must remain bold and steadfast to the cause. It is a without doubt, a “daring adventure.” –

    “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

    In solidarity,

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

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    • Duane,

      Thanks for the great quote! I love reading the articles on here but I also enjoy following the comments by people like you. Honestly, sometimes I see what you and some others say in your comments prior to reading an article. I always have been a little backwards. Thanks for your thoughts.


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  2. Connecticut. That’s where I am. Can’t get much more heretic than screaming out that psychiatry is the antichrist. lol

    And what’s really trippy about that is that I live in Bethel (which means “house of god”, “house where god lives” and “house of idolatry” – where god is meant to be one’s idol). AND, I got here by praying (go figure!).

    Oh, but it’s all just a fairy tale, right? God isn’t real, the antichrist isn’t real – whatever.

    psychiatry is the antichrist. There is no other entity on the planet that qualifies. It is up to entire world to prove me wrong. And I don’t want to hear that Obama is the antichrist. That’s ridiculous.

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  3. The word “heretic” is accurate in so many ways that it is difficult to make justice in a few sentences although I will try.

    In the Western World, the word “heretic” came to prominence through its usage by several Christian Churches to label those who deviated from religious orthodoxy. The best known example of a systematic persecution of “heretics” by a religious tribunal is of course the Inquisition Tribunal established by the Roman Catholic Church, however, it was far from being the only one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs .

    Now, fast forward to the XXI-1st century and we have our own version of those religious tribunals: the members of the DSM committees, who decide “who is normal” and “who isn’t” based solely on their subjective opinion. They then write the DSM, which is rightly called “the Bible of psychiatry”, that is used by “lower religious courts” everywhere to impose the behavioral orthodoxy on society. These “lower religious courts” are of course the Psychiatry Departments at our nation’s hospitals.

    The word “heretic” to refer to somebody who rebels against the arbitrary imposition of a religious reality, in this case psychiatry, is 100% pertinent. So yes, I am a proud psychiatric heretic as well!

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      • I am glad you liked it but in fact is nothing but a recycling of Thomas Szasz’s mantra that psychiatry is about “behavioral control”, just put into its right historical context. :D.

        In the context of human rights abuses, it is historically true that mainstream society has always had trouble recognizing the abuses that are ongoing at a given time. That applies to labels of “heresy” but also other. Now people look back to the 1800s and ask how is it possible that black people were slaved and that those who didn’t agree with their condition were given diagnoses of “drapetomania” for seeking freedom. Yet most people today have no problem accepting the opinion of a psychiatrist bashing so called “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” people (whatever those terms mean) on public TV. Mainstream society has also no problem assimilating the notion that leaving “these people” untreated would result in dangerous consequences. I assume that 100 years from now, if our democracy survives, people will look back and ask themselves how was it possible that these people were labeled, forcibly committed and forcibly drugged. And I am also sure that at that time there will also be other human rights abuses ongoing that people will have no problem accepting as “normal”.

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  4. Yes I’m with you in the fight Deron. Thanks for a revealing post that gives food for thought. It’s been more about daggers in my back than rocks in my face, since getting up to my neck in Scotland’s mental health world, in 2008 proper.

    At first it took me by surprise, the backstabbing and badmouthing, hadn’t expected it, but now I’ve got used to it. And expect it. Even welcome it. Which sounds a bit mad but anything rather than a boring, uneventful life, is how I see it.

    I agree that action can be an end in itself. It’s often more about the process than the outcome is how I look at it. And therefore important to enjoy the ride. As I write this I’m listening to Queens of the Stone Age singing ‘If I had a Tail’, not sure if I understand what the lyrics are about but I do enjoy the beat and it has these words “I’m machine, Obsolete, Land of the free, Lobotomy”:

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  5. I liked this post and I don’t mean to be a devil’s advocate and maybe I’m just one of those bitter people who is lacking in courage at the moment but here is my response to this post.

    I sometimes reflect on the extraordinary individuals in the old south who were slaves, yet never lost faith in their innate humanity and dignity. How did they have the courage to escape their plantations, risking snake bits, and starvation, and hound dogs and armed bounty hunters, to follow Harriet Tubman and other leaders in the Underground Railroad?

    The courage you are talking about is the courage that free people have such as the courage shown by free slaves in the North who spoke out for abolition and used the legislative system to effect change. People who are living day to day and surviving in the psychiatric and penal systems need an entirely different kind of courage. My daughter is forcibly committed and medicated with a depot injection. She is in the state hospital.

    I fear her losing her spirit even more than I fear her losing her life. So-called advocates of forced outpatient treatment have talked about ‘dying with your rights on.” I think that living on the streets with all of the dangers of the street is often better than torture and abuse in an institution. You can call put any kind of window dressing on institutionalization and forced treatment but as my son says, you can’t polish a turd and expect it to smell nice.

    While visiting my daughter, I’ve spent countless hours in institutions throughout Oregon. From experience, patients who don’t comply are treated worse than those who do. A pecking order results in institutions. Some patients who try to ‘organize’ other patients are subjected to back stabbing. Patients who try to escape have their sedation increased. And peer service providers are often not what they are cracked out to be. Often peer providers dish out the same ubiquitous abuse, i.e. use the same psychiatric labels, the same rationalizations to get patients to join others in the daily medication line. There is nothing sadder than seeing ten people lining up daily for their medications.

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    • Madmom,

      Thank you for your post. I have learned a lot from this and other comments you have written. I agree courage does take different forms or needs to come from a deeper place in situations like the one you articulated. I do think that most of the people that write in this forum have been both fighting from the locked confines of psychiatric hospitals and also using the legislative process. I know I have been in a med line like you described. I hope we all come together to do something about these awful human rights violations.


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  6. was chucked out of a psychiatric ward two days ago for trying to advocate for a friend who is a voluntary patient. However it did result in better care for him.

    My friend called me at 4am saying he was unhappy with his care. He is a voluntary patient. The doors are locked and it says that if you are a voluntary patient and you want to leave you need to speak to a member of staff first, that they may want you to stay on the ward and that it maybe dependent on your, “care plan”. So basically they put moral pressure on people who do not want to be there to stay. There notice could be interpreted as saying, “Do as we say or we might section you.”

    The ward is locked. So I went at 8am to advocate on his behalf. Unfortunately visiting hours are not until 2:30pm, I thought they
    started at 8am. Never mind, I thought, I’ll ring the bell. A staff member came to the door and explained it isn’t visiting hours. I said I was my friends advocate and he wanted to leave today. The lowly staff member (probably a health care assistant) said he would speak to a senior staff member (probably a staff nurse) and told me to wait outside. Well I wasn’t convinced I would see my friend if I waited for the senior nurse and I had things to do later that day, so I walked in behind the person who answered the door.

    The staff asked me to leave so I said I was looking for my friend. I found him in the kitchen. I asked him if he wanted to leave. He said yes. The staff came to the kitchen and asked me to leave. I said I was advocating on my friends behalf and he wanted to leave today. They said he would have to see a Dr. I said that was illegal and as he was a voluntary patient he could leave when he wanted. They said I was doing something illegal by being on the ward outside visiting hours without permission. I asked what law that would be? They said they did not have to tell me.

    They said they would call the police. I said I was happy with that. I think the hospital would not want this to go to court as I would have a lot to say about their practices in court.

    My friend said that he was unhappy with how he was being treated on the ward. The senior staff member said, “Why didn’t you tell me? I regard this as blaming my friend for not speaking up. The member of staff could have said, “I’m sorry you are not happy about being on the ward, would you like to tell me more? We could sit in a side ward and discuss it. Would you like to bring your friend with you?” Instead they said they would use force to remove me.

    Another staff member said to my friend he could get into trouble if I stayed on the ward. This is putting pressure on my friend to behave himself and cooperate in getting me to leave. My friend continually said he did not want to get me into trouble. I said I was happy with whatever happened. I have been on office occupations before and been arrested on a Greenpeace action so I was prepared for that and had assessed the likely hood of that happening. If I was arrested then I thought it would be dropped as it would be waste of public money to pursue it.

    At no time did the staff offer to talk to my friend about why he had called me at 4am to complain about his care. I Pointed out the my friend that if the staff were really concerned about his welfare they would sit down with me and him to discuss things as I might know things about my friend that would be useful to everyone.

    I was then forcibly removed from the ward, although I did not put up any resistance, they did have their hands on me. At no point did they offer to talk to me and my friend together or listen to either my or his concerns.

    At 8:20am I met a manager outside the ward who offered to talk to me. She asked me how I got on the ward. I refused to answer, that was not why I was there. She said that if she was running the ward she would be worried by my behaviour. I said so she should be but her primary concern should be for the patient and therefore she should be interested in why I was there. She said she could not talk about my fried without his permission. I pointed out that she could listen to my concerns and check them out with him or set up a meeting with me, him and her. She wasn’t interested in doing that.

    She did say she would investigate and get back to me. I asked when. She said later that day. So I left her office at 8:30am to try to find the complaints officer (the PALS officer in England). He wasn’t in and no one knew where he was. I left a message asking him to phone me. Two days later I have had no reply.

    After one and a half hours, it was now 10am, I phoned my friend who was still on the ward. They had not talked to him. So I phoned the manager and asked her when she would talk to my friend? She said later that day. I asked when? She said she could not say. So I said if she did not get back to me by lunchtime I would phone the local paper.

    So far their procedures have come before the care of my friend. Three hours later no one had talked to my friend so I called the manager and asked when this would happen. She said she would contact me later. I asked when. She could not say. So I said I would call the evening post if I have not heard by lunchtime.

    I was in text contact with my friend. He was given the run around all day before he was let out.

    However the manager and the senior staff member who removed me from the ward did eventually sit down with him and talk over what happened. He is now allowed to leave when he wants, providing he lets staff know, and he was allowed to return after visiting hours ended.

    So they have considerably relaxed the rules and how they enforce them with him. He wants to go home during the day and back to hospital at night. He says things have improved on the ward and he thinks it is due to me stirring things up.

    I have written it all up and am considering my next move. My friends care comes first but due to this incident, other things my friend told me and things I saw I think I have enough to mount a campaign. I’m not sure that I want to at the moment but I can see how to do it – and most of it would not be using their formal complaints procedures. I’ve done that and it’s slow, not very rewarding and too much on their terms.

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  7. John,

    Thank you for the book suggestion. At some point I needed to mention the gambling industry. I realize this is not the forum but the damage the gambling industry (with government support) is doing to this country is extensive. I wear two hats in my work but at the end of the day human rights abuses are human rights abuses regardless of what form the predatory body takes. Also, thank you for sharing your advocacy narrative. I cannot stress enough how much I learn from the articles and comments on MIA.


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    • Why isn’t this the forum?

      Do the issues cause stress? Will that stress lead to a diagnosis? Will that diagnosis lead to a prescription? It isn’t all about the drugs, right?

      I like it when people discuss *the issues* that cause and drive their stress and “problems”.

      I’ve been to a casino only once in my life. I vow that I’ll never go back, ever. My reason? It isn’t about gambling. It isn’t about money.

      It is about those KIDS I saw wandering around at 2 o’clock in the morning, abandoned and unsupervised and unloved and trashed and neglected and victimized.

      Now, how many of those kids are going to end up in “the system” and will be prescribed?

      Abortion isn’t the answer
      Drugs aren’t the solution
      Money is a problem (both when people have it and when they don’t)

      What in America makes people THE MADDEST of all? About which issue? There’s so many to pick and choose from that I think nobody will ever conclude what REALLY causes and drives “madness”.

      Sex, probably. Is Mad in America not the forum to discuss how sex and sexuality gets the biggest slice on the pie chart of which issues cause and drive SEVERE “mental illness”?

      Let’s talk about effexor xr!
      Let’s talk about trazodone!
      Let’s talk about paxil!

      As long as SO much focus is on the drugs, the diagnostics, the “manual”, the primary issues remain secondary. And the sick cyclical cycle continues!

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    • well I learned from the book that they fuel gambling addiction which can cause bankruptcy, homelessness, is linked to domestic violence, crime etc etc etc. Now we know when people are stressed they go to the Dr who prescribes anti-depressents and other psych drugs.

      So all in all they are related.

      It’s a profit driven system casing human misery. People are then sold fake cures of pills which cause even more misery.

      My friend problems stem from domestic violence and long term problems, but the services don’t deal with that. Hey ho – and I’m furious.

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