Psychiatry: We Need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Mental Health

Leah Harris
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Speech written for the protest of the
American Psychiatric Association
– May 4, 2014

My name is Leah Harris and I’m a survivor. I am a survivor of psychiatric abuse and trauma. My parents died largely as a result of terrible psychiatric practice. Psychiatric practice that took them when they were young adults and struggling with experiences they didn’t understand. Experiences that were labeled as schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder. My parents were turned from people into permanent patients. They suffered the indignities of forced treatment. Seclusion and restraint. Forced electroshock. Involuntary outpatient commitment. And a shocking amount of disabling heavy-duty psychiatric drugs. And they died young, from a combination of the toxic effects of overmedication, and broken spirits.

Grassroots activists gather at the APA, New York City.
Grassroots activists gather at the APA, New York City.

My father would have loved this protest. Before he died, he used to e-mail me links to MindFreedom and call me his “darling left-wing daughter.” MindFreedom gave him hope and made him smile, when he had been told he was nothing more than a mental patient. Be sure that your presence here today is giving a lot of people hope.

I am here because I too, was almost made into a permanent patient. I entered the mental health system as a girl, traumatized by the painful experiences my mother and I had faced in a hostile world. I escaped the mental health system, thank God, at the age of 18, when I decided I would not be left to rot in a decrepit group home, eating food not fit for dogs, and surrounded by filth. As hopeless as I was, something inside me said I was deserving of a better future. And psychiatry and the mental health systems would not able to give it to me. I would have to find it on my own.

Yes, we protest at the APA today. But this is bigger than psychiatry. This is about the way we treat the most deeply suffering people in our society. I give psychiatry a failing grade. I give our broken mental health systems a failing grade. Not only are they not helping people, they are killing them, body and spirit.

We are here today to remember many people who have fallen due to abuse and neglect at the hands of systems that purport to help. Today we remember Esmin Green, who at Kings County Hospital was made so long to sit in a waiting room to get some support for her mental health struggles, that she died of a blood clot caused by prolonged sitting. In 2009 I wrote a spoken word piece about her, and here’s a little bit of that:

You might ask – how this could happen
in the good old US of A?
where oh where was the compassion
on that fateful july day?
If you’re a woman of color labeled mentally ill
Poor, powerless and vulnerable
Your life is apparently dispensable –
it’s criminal – reprehensible
perpetrators will be held responsible

Esmin Green – we’ll never forget you
Not gonna let your death be in vain
We the people gonna make sure
This never happens to anyone again
We the people gonna get up stand up
Stand up for our rights
Walk good, walk good, sister Esmin
And we’ll keep up the fight

We the people are here! Standing up for our rights. We survived. We must celebrate that, in the midst of our grief and rage for all who have lost their lives and their dreams.

You are the people who gave me a better future. You are the people I found when I thought I was all alone. The ex-patients, people with disabilities, the labeled, the discarded, the forgotten. Some of you made it out. You shared your stories before me, and I saw the patterns so clearly. The patterns of oppression, but also, patterns of liberation. Of defying the prognoses. Of defying the negative stereotypes that society and the media put on us. The psychiatrists said I would turn out like my parents. They were wrong. You told me to tell my story. And I have never stopped telling it. Now I fight so that no one need suffer my parents’ tragic fate. Esmin Green’s tragic fate. Justina’s tragic fate.

Anne Braden was a white woman who became active in the civil rights movement, and spent the rest of her life dedicated to anti-racist organizing. She said, “As long as people of color can be written off as expendable, and therefore acceptable victims of the most extreme inequities, none of the basic injustices of our society will be addressed; they will only get worse.”

I think Anne Braden’s comment gets to the reason that we are here today. We are here today to bear witness to the “expendable people.” The people who hear voices, who have visions, who live in realities we don’t understand. The people who have been traumatized, abused, are then subjected to further indignity and abuse by the mental health systems that are presided over by their high priests, the psychiatrists. The harmful practices perpetrated by the mental health system are wrong. They’re just wrong. Force has no place in mental health care. It just doesn’t.

We are here today to say NO to federal legislation launched by Mr. Murphy of PA called the Helping American Families in Crisis Act of 2013. We are here to say you cannot continue to medicalize and pathologize our suffering. You cannot continue to scapegoat us for the larger problems of violence in America. You cannot declare us too sick to deserve human dignity and self-determination over our bodies and our lives. You cannot roll back the rights we have fought so hard for. You cannot reward states who promote an institutional paradigm of forced care at the expense of the real, voluntary, community-based services we want: affordable housing, opportunities for education, work, creativity, being a part of a supportive community.

Mr. Murphy, you say that we cannot recover our lives, and that our voices don’t matter. It’s only the voices of the MDs in that convention hall who matter to you. And we are here to repeat and adapt the words of Anne Braden: as long as WE, the crazy people, can be written off as expendable, and therefore acceptable victims of the most extreme inequities, none of the basic injustices of our society will be addressed; they will only get worse. And indeed, they are getting worse. Our country is fraying apart at the seams, and the DSM gets thicker every edition.

We are here to say NO to H.R. 3717. No to fear-based legislation, and yes to social policies based on hope, human rights, and good common sense.

Loren Mosher, for those of who didn’t know him, was a psychiatrist of conscience. There aren’t too many of those left. He is no longer with us, but he resigned from the APA in 1999 and he wrote a very powerful letter, which I encourage everyone to read. I want to share just one part of it, in the hopes that these words may somehow reach the people in that convention center. He had some recommendations, which I want to share:

  1. To begin with, let us be ourselves. Stop taking on unholy alliances without the members’ permission.
  2. Get real about science, politics and money. Label each for what it is — that is, be honest.
  3. APA should align itself, if one believes its rhetoric, with the true consumer groups, i.e., the ex-patients, and psychiatric survivors.

The revolution in mental health is happening; and we are at the forefront. And we will not stop. You need to get in line, or become irrelevant as a discipline. The National Institute of Mental Health has already said that your approach is basically obsolete. Everyone sees the sham of what you are doing but you. We call on you to wake up, APA! We call on you to admit that you have been wrong on mental health, just like this country had to admit that it had been wrong on race in the 1960s.

We need a sort of “truth and reconciliation commission” like they have had in South Africa, Rwanda, and elsewhere where violence has been perpetrated upon vulnerable people. It’s time for you, members of the APA to be honest about Pharma’s undue influence in what kind of medicine you practice. Be honest that practices such as seclusion and restraint, forced hospitalization, electroshock, and forced medication have NO place in health care. These practices are merely a reflection of your inability or unwillingness to consider an approach beyond labeling, drugging, shocking, and locking people up. Whatever you are up to in there is a farce, when such human rights violations are occurring on a regular basis under your “care.” Let’s come together as people who have all been victims of a barbaric and broken mental health system, and figure out how we can effect change together.

Until you join us as equals in the struggle for human rights and social justice in mental health, and to help create real community supports that address the real needs of real people, we will be here speaking out.

After the revolution, historians and anthropologists will study our time and say, “how barbaric, that these things used to happen in health care. The mental health system was so backwards. We’re so glad we’re more enlightened now.”

We will see this day. We are winning. And we will win.

Love to all of you who carry on this struggle for peace, justice, and community.

* * * * *

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Leah Harris
Speaking Truth to Power: Leah writes about holistic, community-based approaches to support those experiencing emotional distress and extreme states; storytelling as a vehicle for personal liberation, human rights, and social justice; and connections between creativity, activism, spirituality, and social change.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Right on, Leah!

    One of the truths we need to tell is that medical school is exactly the wrong training for people to use in order to learn about emotional crises and their causes. The more time I spend following the opinions of some psychiatrists, the more I realize how poorly educated most of them are in the humanities and how gobsmackingly ignorant they are about politics and government. Seeing people who think themselves superior but clearly don’t even know how the three branches of government work expounding on larger social forces, is like seeing monkeys trying to use the field phone. Psychiatry is a cargo cult that convinces most of its practitioners that they understand the human mind/brain and its malfunctions when they don’t even understand themselves or culture and how the two are related.

    Just the fact that so many of them think themselves to be so much more intelligent than others is evidence of what a poor education they have— they don’t know the difference between having (expensive) knowledge and being intelligent. They, with few exceptions, have so little to offer their field and the political aspects of its impact that they have next to nothing to offer to right the wrongs their scientificist religion has spawned.

    Only the exceptional psychiatrists and mental health professionals who see the light should be taken the least bit seriously by survivors. There is no reason for survivors to waste anymore time with most of them, other than what the survivors need to process for the purposes of their own healing. We owe them nothing. I don’t care how much money they lose, or how much it hurts for them to see the truth. I’ve suffered because of them— we’ve all suffered their “treatment”— and it will be a cold day in hell when I suffer for them and what they have to lose in the face of facts and the realities of those they’ve poisoned and labeled.

    Anyone who is not willing to humble themselves and consider the voices of survivors is comfortable in their ignorance and should not be allowed the table, because they have nothing but their own lies to support them. TRUTH comes before reconciliation, there is no other way, and our truth is THE truth of what psychiatry has wrought, not the crap they learned in medical school and their internships.

    Their opinions, if not enlightened by the truth of survivors, are lies. That they’ve been given license to treat their brainwashing like truth is THE problem, not A problem. The starting point is US and our experience, not theirs. They think they’ve been “in the trenches”? Let them take the drugs they prescribe if they want to know what it’s like “in the trenches”.

    • Not only medical training but the self-selected demographic which applies to medical school in the first place—often very idealistic, hard-working and intelligent but also overly given to concretist, physicalist, and/or reductionistic ways of thinking at a personal level (because it’s what they’re most comfortable with?).

  2. Hi Leah,

    As usual, thanks so much for your great efforts on behalf of all those brainwashed and hoodwinked by what can only be rightly called the “mental death profession” professing nothing but lies. Your speech, post, arguments and citations are all excellent as usual. And I especially want to thank you for sharing with us about what went on at the APA meeting protest of 2014. I’d sure like to hear about anything else you saw, learned or heard there since such information by survivors who attended tends to be rare or I just don’t know where to find it. Any help with that by anyone would be appreciated.

    Despite the positive things you report such as Dr. Christopher Lane’s great article in Psychology Today about Dr. Thomas Insel debunking the DSM and other common sense promoted by Dr. Lane, I was disgusted to see the supposed response by the greatest pusher of the latest fad fraud bipolar epidemic in the world it seems: Nassir Ghaemi. He has argued with Dr. David Healy, Dr. Allen Frances, Dr. Joel Harris and countless other psychiatrists that despite tons of evidence that the bogus bipolar babble/mythology was invented to push the lastest lethal neuroleptics and epileptic drugs like Depakote with the bogus Big Pharma pretense of “mood stabilizers” based on a junk science theory as usual, Ghaemi insists otherwise despite many expert critics who say the opposite all too frequently at MIA and elsewhere. The fact that serial killers like Gary Sampson and rape, domestic violence victims alike are stigmatized with the deadly bipolar fad fraud stigma is no problem for the likes of Ghaemi. In fact, the military now makes it routine to stigmatize female rape victims bipolar to discredit, silence and punish them for speaking out and to rob them of all their civil rights, careers, earned benefits and basic humanity in general per many sources with even NOW and a forensic psychiatry web site expressing outrage at this gross violation of human/female rights. The fact that bipolar imperialism was invented to “fit” such a wide range of human “symptoms” like asking to be raped or some other crime makes no difference to the likes of Ghaemi. One psychiatrist on the great web site, Narcissism Sucks, admits that since character disorders weren’t covered for insurance, they were “fitted in” to categories like bipolar, which is why trauma/abuse/bullying victims and serial killers can both be stigmatized as bipolar!! However, he also admits that psychiatrists don’t like to deal with such nasty people with narcissism or psychopath anyway. So, they prey on the victims instead and stigmatize them with bipolar per Dr. Carol Warshaw, Psychiatrist and Domestic Violence Expert. Talk about fraud and evil!

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mood-swings/201305/nimh-requiem-dsm-and-its-critics

    Searching the internet, one finds that Ghaemi promotes every Big Pharma FRAUD claim to push the bogus bipolar on just about everyone on the planet because his whole career revolves around this horrific assault that Dr. Fred Baughman, Neurologist, calls one of the greatest medical crimes against humanity ever. Dr. Baughman exposes that all DSM stigmas are 100% fraud and anyone using them to “diagnose” anyone is committing malpractice and gross violation of patient rights.

    Ghaemi’s angry, very dishonest, reprehensible, insulting, outrageous response to Dr. Lane to vent his ire against anyone who would dare question his agenda that bipolar should be expanded ad infinitum to include so called borderline and many other categories of the DSM he claims to despise as “unscientific” except for his precious “bipolar” bread and butter at the cost of countless lives is very upsetting to me. Like Dr. Healy, Dr. Joanna Moncrieff has also exposed at MIA and elsewhere as in her new book, The Bitterest Pill, that the horrific bipolar epidemic today has very little to do with what used to be the very rare manic depressive illness from which most people recovered completely after one episode without drugs, but, of course, Ghaemi argues otherwise as usual. Robert Whitaker also exposed this mainly iatrogenic disaster in his great book, AOAE as have many medical experts. But, Ghaemi still argues it is greatly underdiagnosed because unlike most other experts and The Physician’s Desk Reference, Ghaemi believes that those who have iatrogenic reactions to the horrible SSRI’s, kiddie cocaine and other toxic psych drugs should be given the bipolar stigma and poisoned for life on the horrific lithium and whatever other brain damaging tortures he pushes as so called bipolar “treatment.” As Dr. Joanna Moncrieff points out in her great book, The Myth of the Chemical Cure, the so called therapeutic dose of very dangerous lithium is about the same as the lethal dose destroying kidneys and other vital organs in addition to the horrific chemical lobotomy it delivers like the plague to create a miserable, destroyed life with a horrible stigma identifying the victims as “seriously and persistently mentally ill,” the current targets of Tim Murphy and Fuller Torrey.

    And no surprise that Ghaemi is very supportive of not only Joseph Beiderman single handedly creating the child ADHD and bipolar deadly epidemics, but also Beiderman’s taking lots of drug company money to do so while promising positive studies in advance for Johnson & Johnson’s deadly neuroleptic drugs for children/toddlers before the studies were done as Senator Grassley exposed along with many other such arrogant KOL’s of biopsychiatry. We have those like Beiderman and Ghaemi to thank for deaths of toddlers like Rebecca Riley for pushing this latest horrific bipolar fad fraud with its associated lethal drug cocktails on such innocents along with the life destroying stigma labeling the victim as a dangerous mental patient for life subject to forced drugging and commitment and robbery of all human, civil, democratic rights based on the whims of those like Ghaemi in spite of his own obvious out of control rage against anyone who dares challenge his bipolar imperialism, which could also easily be labeled bipolar!

    You have to read Ghaemi’s article to believe it with his rage at the former editors and creators of DSM like Dr. Frances who at least expressed regret about the bipolar fad fraud epidemic he helped create along with others and argued against the further monstrous life destroying disease mongering and bipolar epidemic for typical life crises and problems via DSM 5 since very toxic drugs are prescribed for this fake disorder.

    What is really appalling and hypocritical is that Ghaemi accuses these “old men” and people like us of being against real science while he promotes the absolute LIE that bipolar disorder is totally proven to have lots of genetic causes per his outrageous response to Dr. Lane!! Dr. Jay Joseph has written articles at MIA and books like The Missing Gene and The Gene Illusion proving that such claims that DSM voted in stigmas including bipolar are genetic are 100% fraud with no evidence whatever. MIA has also posted several articles by and about the most famous and qualified experts in genetics and they have admitted that no genes have been found for any so called mental illness and especially the fad fraud bipolar created specifically to push certain lethal drugs on patent as Dr. David Healy exposes in his excellent book, Mania: A Short History of Bipolar Disorder. Dr. Healy has also written great articles about bipolar babble and mythology that resulted from the “partnership” of biopsychiatry and Big Pharma which has resulted in more attacks and angry denials by the king of bipolar, Nassir Ghaemi!

    As you can see from his angry reply to Dr. Lane, Ghaemi is champing at the bit for those old, more conservative DSM guys to retire since they dared criticize more bipolar expansion in the DSM 5 despite the fact that studies by Dr. Mark Zimmer of Brown University showed that there is rampant overdiagnosis of the fraud fad bipolar due to such proponents like Ghaemi. In fact, Dr. Joel Paris, who deals with the insult stigma of borderline personality disorder for women who have been abused and traumatized (exposed by trauma expert, Dr. Judith Herman, in her classic work, Trauma and Recovery) has complained about Ghaemi’s “bipolar imperialism” because he is trying to devour borderline, anxiety, depression, iatrogenic drug reactions, drug abuse, trauma and many others for his bipolar fad fraud agenda. He has even written a book on famous people whereby he goes back in history to insult and stigmatize certain unfortunates as bipolar despite the fact they didn’t request Ghaemi’s opinion and fared very well without such horrific “treatment”; Ghaemi can’t resist defaming even the famous like Abraham Lincoln and others with his bipolar imperialism with the pretense it is a compliment that the great people of history were “mentally ill.” I have my own “diagnosis” for Ghaemi, but I will be kind enough not to make it public since one should not share such “medical” information without permission or unless the Murphy bill passes.

    Anyway, I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but as you can see from his article, Ghaemi is champing at the bit to replace those like Dr. Frances whom he sees as much too conservative and “unscientific” for trying to put a reign on the bipolar fraud fad nightmare. He is also in a rage against those like us he believes are anti-science and applauds Dr. Insel’s bogus claim that all mental disorders are brain diseases and other typical pseudoscience ideology the NIMH promotes. The purpose of biopsychiatry ideology has always been to cater to the 1% to prey on the rest of society with impunity while blaming their victims for the gross inequality and human slavery they have inflicted while justifying their entitlements and profiting from the suffering they inflict twice from their original injustice/oppression and then their lethal psych drugs and degradation rituals via the DSM in the guise of medicine and so called science to cull the population for easier control and fascism. These are the same old eugenics of the old robber barons that resulted in the Nazi Holocaust and are now causing rampant suffering and death globally along with destruction of the planet thanks to these psychopaths in power per the great book and web site, Political Ponerology, and the work of psychopathy world expert, Dr. Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. Dr. John Clark, another psychopathy expert, has written the great book, Working With Monsters, with the title giving an honest picture of the horrendous suffering psychopaths inflict in the work place and world at large.

    So, I hate to be a killjoy, but Ghaemi has made himself the king and spokesman for the bogus bipolar fad fraud from which he makes a lucrative living selling text books, popular works and “educating” one and all about so called bipolar as a professor with every Big Pharma ploy a la Mitch Daniels, Big Pharma CEO; per Dr. David Healy, (always blame the victim’s so called mental illness for any horrible drug reactions, mistakes, fraud, incompetence, hidden drug study deaths and deadly reactions, etc.). He is obviously champing at the bit to replace the old supposed conservative guard of biopsychiatry, so I would say if Ghaemi represents the next generation of biopsychiatrists, the recovery movement working to change the current pernicious deadly robber baron regime of the mental death profession’s current eugenics agenda they promoted in the 1930’s with Rockefeller and others certainly has a David versus Goliath fight on its hands.

    The fact that Ghaemi can claim that the bogus bipolar has tons of evidence it is genetic is so outrageous, dishonest, horrific and unethical, I shudder to think what things will be like when this so called “scientific” generation takes the reigns of biopsychiatry.

    There have been a ton of books written in recent times about The Narcissism Epidemic, The Culture Of Narcissism, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, Working With The Self Absorbed, Why Is It Always About You, The Narcissist in Your Life and countless others that expose that this plague on humanity along with psychopathy/sociopathy has made our world very unsafe indeed. Sadly, narcissists are unable to see or admit that they have this character disorder that greatly endangers those around them. No surprise that the DSM 5 committee wanted to remove this diagnosis, but there was too much of an uproar, so they kept it in.

    Anyway, I thank you again Leah for your usual hard efforts on everyone’s behalf, but due to the likes of Ghaemi, I think it is a bit premature to celebrate and we need to watch the new breed of biopsychiatrists very closely indeed if we or anyone hopes to survive the current and future plagues created by this pseudoscience “profession.”

    • Leah, wonderful speech, and thank you for the work you’re doing.
      Donna, I agree, the “bipolar” fad is deplorable. And you’re correct, according to all the psychiatrists I dealt with, “concerns of child abuse,” with medical evidence, is “bipolar.” And the “cure” for “concerns of child abuse,” with medical evidence, is massive drugging with drug cocktails that are known to cause anticholinergic intoxication poisoning. Thankfully, in my case, I had an oral surgeon who was not stupid like the psychiatrists, who confessed that “antipsychotics don’t cure concerns of child abuse.” Quoting this oral surgeon was enough to embarrass my last psychiatrist into weaning me off drugs.

      I’ve since been told that defaming and drugging victims, so child molesters can stay on the streets raping more children is, and historically has been, the function of the psychiatric industry. Six children my child’s age, in the child molesters’ neighborhood, who were diagnosed with DSM disorders and drugged, committed violent suicides while my child was in high school. I’m quite certain psychiatrists who are covering up child abuse, by defaming and drugging the victims or their parents, are causing more harm than good. We need the child molesters put behind bars instead, psychiatrists.

  3. Leah , They almost succeeded in making me a permanent patient too. After 38 years of it I broke free .
    I really appreciate your articulate passion and Im sorry so many of us have been dragged through hell by the “educated” psych-pharma gestapo. I will fight them to the end of them .
    Their stupidity is a wonderment . Their arrogance boundless, and only matched by the arrogance of social workers I’ve talked to.
    Maybe now they are like a star in an expanding state that will collapse on itself. Hopefully before this day ends.
    In Solidarity,
    Fred

  4. Hi Leah, good to have another one of your articles to ponder. I hope you understand I like reading your stuff, so if I pick at seemingly little things it doesn’t intend to take away from our overall solidarity, it’s just that just agreeing with things all the time can get repetitive & monotonous after awhile.

    Anyway, the idea is great, the one thing I would have to point out though is that in South Africa the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was instituted after victory had been achieved by the people over the South African state. In our case we are nowhere close to such a victory over psychiatry; in some senses we’re hanging on by our fingernails. I doubt that the institution is about to do a serious self-criticism of any sort, that would only expose more of the contradictions, don’t you think? So I think in their present power position they would simply manipulate it to serve their own ends.

    Also you’ll probbaly not be surprised to hear me say: the notion of a “revolution in mental health” is an oxymoron; after any revolution I would ascribe to there would be no conceptualizing of suffering in terms of “mental illness”; and if there is no such thing as mental illness, how can progressively-minded people talking in terms of “mental health”? But again, I’m being picky.

    Thanks for posting the video which I will watch forthwith (I thought that was probably you in the D.M. documentary but wasn’t sure). I will ask you as well: can you or one or more other MIA participants at the protest write a longer account for MIA (or is such already in the works)?

  5. Thank you for your contribution.

    I would like to draw your attention to the CRPD Committee (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilitie), 30 March 2015 to overcome these human right violations with the suggestions:

    Restitution (restoration of liberty)
    Compensation (economically, moral damage)
    Rehabilitation (official declaration, public apologies)
    Satisfaction (e. g. truth commission)
    Guarantees of non-repetition

    https://dk-media.s3.amazonaws.com/AA/AG/chrusp-biz/downloads/294485/Side_event_CRPD_Art15_March2015_Hege.pdf