Part 1 of this blog presented a case for how modern day psychiatry has developed into what is more often referred to today as, Biological Psychiatry. Based on this history and a careful examination of its role in present day society, I think for the following discussion it’s worth repeating the definition proposed at the end of Part 1 of this blog:
“Biological Psychiatry is the wedding of genetic based theories of so-called “mental illness” with the American Psychiatric Association and other leading psychiatric organizations in the world, together with the pharmaceutical industry, and the major training institutions for psychiatry.
“It promotes and maintains a genetic/brain disease based/drug centered medical model of treatment. It also promotes and enforces various forms of coercive types of so-called “treatment,” including forced drugging and electro-shock. It controls, conducts, and corrupts most psychiatric drug research which has led to millions of people throughout the world being severely harmed and/or dependent on brain and body damaging drugs.
“Biological Psychiatry is useful for the ruling classes in society to maintain power by using “genetic theories of original sin” to shift people’s focus away from the innate inequalities and daily traumas experienced by people living within their system. Their drug centered model of social control has especially targeted youth, prisoners, non-conformists and other more volatile sections of the population, including women and minorities.*
“Biological Psychiatry, when combined with Big Pharma’s innate drive to maximize profits, has become the driving force within the Psychiatric/Pharmaceutical/Industrial Complex.”
*(Based on further thought, I decided to add “women and minorities” in this section due to the disproportionately higher percentages represented within today’s mental health system)
This definition does NOT mean that psychiatry in the prior period should be labeled as somehow more benign or potentially less dangerous; forced treatment, electro-shock, and lobotomies have a clear legacy in the earlier years. This analysis is merely an attempt to describe what modern day psychiatry has evolved into over the past 40 years; an evolution punctuated by major leaps in growth and overall influence throughout society. Biological Psychiatry has actually become the worst of psychiatry on steroids, with many additional forms of oppression. While some may have differences with the use of the word “biological,” I would ask: Is the above definition not a fair and accurate representation of what psychiatry has become in today’s world?
This evolution of psychiatry in the recent era has to be carefully examined in connection to its strong links to the U.S. economy, especially the meteoric rise in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as other geo-political developments in the world, including increased governmental control and forms of repression in post 9/11 America.
Biological Psychiatry is not your grandmother’s or father’s psychiatry, as the expression goes; it’s not just “psychiatry being psychiatry” all over again. It is exponentially more dangerous and powerful than ever, and absolutely more essential to the “powers that be” in preserving the status quo. To not understand or grasp these historic changes will cause us to underestimate what we are up against and possibly misdirect us away from knowing how to develop the appropriate strategy for future efforts to end all psychiatric oppression.
To those who say that “psychiatry is dead,” and that it’s about ready to “collapse under its own weight” and that it just needs a little push from us to knock it down for good, I say this fails to understand what psychiatry has truly become in today’s world and how deeply entrenched and valuable it is to the ruling classes and to the survival of their entire monopoly capitalist system.
Perhaps those who are saying “psychiatry is dead” mean that it is “intellectually dead” due to the fact that every one of its major theoretical pillars can be proven to be false and scientifically invalid. And that out of fear and necessity for survival, key psychiatric leaders have begun a rather desperate form of defensive counter attacks against its critics. If that is what is meant by that statement, then I can partially agree. But to leave the argument there without ALSO acknowledging the immense power of this oppressive institution and how vital it has become to preserving the status quo, is to grossly underestimate what it will take to make psychiatry (along with the entire therapeutic state) finally leave history’s stage.
Consider the following statistics and facts when looking at issues of power and control in modern day America: Since 1970 in the U.S., psychiatry has actually doubled in size from approximately 23,000 to 50,000 practicing doctors. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have increased more than 250%, and that number is expected to double again by the year 2020. Meanwhile, worldwide there are approximately 200,000 psychiatrists.
Six out of the ten largest pharmaceutical corporations are centered in the U.S. and as an entire industry it is valued at over $300 billion per year. One third of all their sales revenue is spent on marketing. In 2001 the profit levels for the pharmaceutical industry averaged 18.5% compared to 2.2% in the rest of the Fortune 500; today, according to World Health Organization figures, their profit margins hover at around 30%. There are more drug corporation lobbyists than congressmen. From 1999-2000, $197 million dollars was spent by Big Pharma on lobbying congress; $50 million more than any other industry. A single major tranquilizing drug, Abilify, made $8 billion dollars in gross sales last year, which surpasses one half the gross revenue of Google in the same year.
Twenty percent of all Americans are taking some type of psychiatric drug. This year about one third of all Americans will qualify for some type of a psychiatric diagnosis. Seventy percent of Electro-shock victims are women. Women are also two and a half times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than men, and two times more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines and other anti-anxiety labeled drugs. African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than other Non-Hispanic Whites. The mass drugging of children and adolescents (especially those from poorer backgrounds) is one of the fastest growing and more profitable markets for Biological Psychiatry.
The pharmaceutical corporations have been fined over $13 billion dollars in the past 5 years and not one CEO has spent a day in jail. In 2013 a 16 year old teenager from a middle class family in the Northeast part of the U.S. was openly kidnaped from her family (with the knowledge of the press and major political leaders) for 16 months by the State at the behest of psychiatric leaders in a world-renown children’s hospital. The sectors of U.S. society that are today the most heavily drugged within the community mental health system, also represent the same base in society from which emerged many of the radical activists in the 1960’s.
All these facts and statistics, combined with our own collective experience living within this system, leads us to one possible chilling conclusion: Today’s Biological Psychiatry has become such an essential part of the economic and political fabric holding together our present day society, including its ability and need to maintain control over the more volatile sections of the population, that its future existence may be totally interdependent on the rise and fall of the entire system itself.
Asking ourselves four important questions will only highlight this above statement:
- Where would the U. S. economy be without the enormous growth (and projected growth) and profitability of Big Pharma, especially that sector of the industry devoted to psychiatric drugs?
- Is it necessary for those in power to shift people’s focus away from the inherent inequalities and daily traumas within their system to more of a focus on human genetics and brain-based diseases (and other so-called “natural” flaws within our species) as the main causes of human suffering?
- Do the “powers that be” have a clear and vested interest in preventing various forms of dissent and rebellion, similar to (or even greater than) the 1960’s, especially among youth, minorities, and women?
- Has their need, within our culture of addiction, to anesthetize and render ineffective (with legal and illegal drugs) those potentially rebellious sectors of society, increased since the 60’s and especially in a post 9/11 world?
Any honest and in depth answers to these four questions should lead us to another scary conclusion – Biological Psychiatry will NOT be going away any time soon, especially as long as we live under the current economic and political system. If one were to look at the sheer number of major credible negative critiques (in the press and major book publications) exposing numerous examples of psychiatry “gone wild,” with its manufactured diagnoses and mass drugging of children and other sectors in our society, you might think that this would weaken this institution and decrease its popularity. You would also think that this would lower the number of potential victims entering “treatment” and taking their dangerous drugs. This is simply NOT happening; the growth of the mental health industry and the use of psychiatric drugs is only increasing by the day; the “Cabaret” continues to march on.
The anatomy of all the particular forms of power and control that Biological Psychiatry wields within this system appears to reveal just how vital it has become to the future survival of modern capitalism. What else possibly explains this unfettered growth of Biological Psychiatry despite a growing credible and well-reasoned opposition made up of articulate psychiatric survivors, credentialed and experienced mental health workers, and a significant number of well-respected researchers and academic leaders? This opposition even includes a small number of psychiatrists beginning to express serious concerns and criticism of their profession.
What the hell more do we have to do to even begin to turn back this tide of psychiatric abuse in the world? Within all these very dire circumstances described in this blog, I still believe there are many openings and opportunities for us to advance our movement. In order to make these advances we must start from an objective analysis of the actual conditions we face. I hope this blog can stimulate discussion about some of the main obstacles standing in our way from achieving total liberation from The Psychiatric/Pharmaceutical/Industrial Complex.
Part 3 of this blog will explore some thoughts about where we need to go from here, and what it might take to strengthen our movement at this point in its development. Within Part 3, I will also critically analyze and reformulate my prior stance on the question of being “anti-psychiatry” versus “anti-Biological Psychiatry.”
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.