One of the most bizarre statements of many made by E. Fuller Torrey on national television in the last few days was his complaint that people opposed to his totalitarian views are “anti-psychiatry.” In the context of his rant, the implication was that anyone who opposes his plans for unchecked power for organized psychiatry is somehow either the equivalent of a Muslim terrorist or at least a homicidal “schizophrenic.”
What does it mean to be “anti-psychiatry?” To me, it’s simply being opposed to psychiatry’s abuses.
It doesn’t mean that one thinks that all psychiatrists are evil. Of course there are decent psychiatrists. One of my heroes was Loren Mosher, who was a high-ranking official in the NIMH before he developed Soteria House. Because of his decency and concern for his patients, he was driven out of his job. And I certainly have experienced other psychiatrists who sincerely wanted to help, including some of the folks who post on Mad in America, and even one who worked at Rockland State Hospital when I was there as a child. But such doctors are a tiny endangered minority in their profession, as we know.
Being anti-psychiatry doesn’t mean either that you have to believe that there is absolutely no physical basis for some of the distress that is called “mental illness.” I personally think that some so-called mental illness may well have a neurological or metabolic cause. (Hey, friends, don’t beat up on me for this.) But we have no way to know what the truth is when there is so little objective research. I also think that some people may benefit in the short run by taking psychiatric drugs, though I certainly wouldn’t take them myself.
Over and over on MIA and on all the various websites and blogs that I follow, people complain about the horrible experiences they have had, drugs forced on them, being completely disrespected at a time in their lives when they most need support and nurturing, being converted from a human being to a strange, discredited, and despised “mental patient.” But then some of them say (as one group recently did) that they aren’t “anti-psychiatry,” because after one psychiatrist after another treated them like dirt, at last they found one that was decent.
So? Who do they think was responsible for all the abuse they experienced, the tooth fairy? (Sorry, tooth fairy, just kidding.) Their experience, and the suffering of other millions of people, was caused by the psychiatric profession as it is now.
So of course I am anti-psychiatry. It seems very strange to me that people can recite horror stories over and over, and then act as if somehow the profession that is creating these horrors shouldn’t be confronted and called out for their evil practices.
Some years back, the wonderful political cartoonist Jules Feiffer drew a strip making fun of the wishy-washyness of some people who were opposed to what was going on during the Vietnam war, but were unwilling to take a real stand. The main character in this strip was holding a sign that said, “A little less bombing, please.”
Is that where we’re at? Should we carry signs that say, “A few less lobotomies, please?” Will one of our demands be that fewer of us should be beaten up? Come on, people. One of the reasons we have become invisible to the general public, and the media ignore us, is we’ve become a kind of auxiliary to the mental illness system. Yeah, if you want a job lording it over other folks trapped in the system, you better not say you’re “anti-psychiatry.”
But if we really want these abuses to stop, we have to be forceful and direct in what we say to people. If we want to change the horrible mental illness system as it is now, we have to take risks. If we are afraid to call this system what it is, why should people outside our little bubble pay any attention to us?
So yes, you’re damn right I’m anti-psychiatry. And you should be too.
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.