When I as a European follow American politics I can’t help being amazed by the – I believe a polite expression would be – colorful personalities in the Tea Party and how they manage to continue to be a powerful part of American politics despite making claims that as I see them reported are easily debunked.
American politics does not affect me directly but when I compare psychiatry as a part of the medical science to the Tea Party there are some striking similarities.
The Tea Party is largely funded by the Koch Brothers whose interests have quickly become an integral part of the Tea Party’s agenda just like Big Pharma’s interests has become an integral part of psychiatric science.
Like the Tea Party uses Fox News to distribute their theories about the problems in American society and economy, psychiatry uses medical journals to spread their biological explanations and justify the extreme use of psychotropics. For those of you who are interested in reading more about how Big Pharma has corrupted medical science I refer you to Peter Gøtzsche’s blog here on MIA or his brilliant book “Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare.”
Ever since the father of modern psychiatry Emil Kraeplin claimed that there is a biological cause for mental illness psychiatry as a medical science has focused its efforts and money on discovering this and since they focus on understanding the biological pathology of mental disorders psychiatry has failed to – or not wanted to – look at other explanations as to what causes people to enter states of extreme mental distress.
Psychiatry’s battle to keep mental illnesses part of medical science despite a 130 year track record of failing to describe any pathobiology of any psychiatric disorder can be seen as clear parallel to the Creationists claim that evolution is just a theory. The Creationists offer no scientific justification for this claim other than their belief in Genesis and other parts of the bible. I will encourage readers to listen to a creationist arguing against evolution and then substitute the creationist with a psychiatrist arguing for the medical model of mental disorders. Substitute the bible with DSM and the way of arguing is stunningly alike.
The modern ‘science’ of psychiatry disregards the traumas that people in the psychiatric system have suffered. The traumas that people in psychiatric care have suffered are disregarded just like the Tea Party denies climate change. The contributions from manmade traumas are insignificant or unimportant compared to the underlying biology of mental disorders much like the Tea Party denies climate change is caused by manmade emission of green house gasses. When these changes can’t be denied they are rendered insignificant by aligning them to solar flares or other external explanations for climate change. Danmarks Radio – the national tv-network in Denmark has broadcasted a range of programs about mental health disorders and people suffering from mental health disorders. In one of the shows the lead psychiatrist at a forensic ward tells the journalist, that the patients on the ward have all had horrible and traumatic lives but then continues to talk about the genetic and biological basis for schizophrenia. While the Tea Party at least denies obvious facts to hold on to their beliefs it seems that the psychiatric system is well aware of the life traumas of their mentally distressed patients – they just disregard them as plausible causes for the mental illness because they want to keep believing in their biological paradigm.
Psychiatric geneticists regularly appear in the media and receive a lot of coverage for their claim to have found the latest genetic basis of schizophrenia and yet when their colleagues, months later, publish articles reporting that this latest ‘scientific revelation’ can’t be reproduced, it gets bypassed in silence.
Republicans and the Tea Party regularly appear in the media and get lots of coverage for their newest revelation in ‘The Benghazi that when investigated turns out to be half fiction or directly untrue. Again there is a clear parallel between psychiatry as a medical science and the Tea Party as a political movement.
Most of the adoption studies used to justify the genetic basis for schizophrenia have been done in Denmark in the late 60s and early 70s. These papers should never have been published as they are the most flawed and badly conducted research I have seen. For those of you who want to learn more about psychiatric genetics I refer you to Jay Joseph’s blog here on MIA and especially to his books, “The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity, And the Fruitless Search for Genes” and “The Gene Illusion – Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology Under the Microscope.”
Even after President Obama made his birth certificate public there are still Birthers in the Tea Party who are convinced that the president wasn’t born in the US. this is absurdly mirrored in some peoples continued belief in an underlying chemical imbalance theory. Though all the data available shows no sign of a chemical imbalance in people with psychiatric disorders, it is still being used as an explanation for psychiatric disorders. Less than a year ago Anatomy of Epidemic was published in Danish and one of the reviewers, Professor of psychiatry Poul Videbech (specializing in depression, claimed that no serious psychiatrist had (ever) used the chemical imbalance theory as a scientific explanation for mental disorders. Right around the same time, Lundbeck – the Danish pharmaceutical company specializing in disorders of the nervous system and makers of Celexa and Lexapro – marketed a new anti-depressant which they claimed to be better at normalizing the chemical imbalance in depressed patients . . . So, a new drug is marketed rectifying a fictive chemical imbalance but psychiatric science disagrees with this explanation?
As most readers of MIA is perfectly well aware of, psychiatry has supported this myth for a long time and Phillip Hickey has nicely documented this in his blog “Psychiatry DID Promote the Chemical Imbalance Theory.”
I don’t believe in trickle-down economics, but those who push this theory resemble psychiatrists pushing the benefits of the drugs for psychiatric disorders. We have yet to see the positive impact of trickle-down economics on low income and middle class citizens whereas it is easy to find cases of those who have been hurt by this theory. I have still to meet those who have had positive effects of psychotropics that outweigh the side effects. I have heard plenty of promises to clients that these drugs will make you ‘so much better that you will again be a normal part of society’ only to see people ending up on disability (which thanks to the theory of trickle-down economics here in Denmark has been severely reduced) and in institutions where they are dependent on staff support.
I have been active in the fight for alternatives to standard psychiatric care in Denmark ever since I recovered enough to leave psychiatric services and in these debates those of us arguing for alternatives are often met with absurdly grotesque claims.
We are often asked: What will you do with the severely ill people who end up in locked wards? Will you just let them suffer? Lock them away for the rest of their lives?
Asking a psychiatric survivor those questions is ridiculous. I know what it feels like to be locked away while those asking these questions only lock people away. I know what it feels like to wake up and the only agenda for the day is to manage not to kill yourself. I also know that recovery is possible and that my focus is always on recovery. Thus, claims that I or other psychiatric survivors want people to suffer or be locked away are as absurd as Tea Party activists claiming that marriage equality for gays and lesbians is a threat to traditional marriage or constitutes a threat to the rule of law. Gays and lesbians have been able to form civil unions in Denmark since the late 80s and yet we still have traditional marriage, traditional divorce and we haven’t descended into a complete state of lawlessness. Helping people with ‘schizophrenia’ without or with a minimum of drugs does not equate locking them away and leaving them in their altered reality – but it is a very effective scare tactic.
Sarah Palin claimed to know about foreign policy because she was from Alaska and could see Russia from her bedroom window. The medical chief of one of the outreach teams here in Denmark was on the cover of the Journal of the Danish Medical Association claiming that “Psychiatrists were the best to talk to the insane.” I believe those two statements share a lack of logic. If you have an understanding foreign policy because you can see a foreign country, then it makes sense that a doctor who sees psychotic people as insane is the one who is best suited to talk to them.
If you believe the evidence linking traumatic life experiences and psychosis then labeling another person insane blocks any chance of a meaningful interaction with that person, much like if you conduct foreign policy based on your knowledge of your neighbor country gained from looking at it from your bedroom window. Your foreign policy will most likely end up creating international tension.
From the European perspective the Tea Party tends to be seen as right wing extremists lacking credibility – when will medical science adapt the same view on their own Tea Party, 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.