Dear Self-Proclaimed Progressives, Liberals and Humanitarians: You’ve Really Messed This One Up


Yes, I’m talking to you, oh person who is way too enlightened to ever deny white (or male, or heterosexual, etc.) privilege, and would never dream of chanting ‘All Lives Matter.’

I mean you, person who may have marched for a women’s right to choose (or at least heartily supports those who do), knows that drug testing for food stamps (or any other benefit) is not only offensive and classist but also a fool’s errand, and wouldn’t think twice about bringing your kids to the local Pride parade dressed in rainbows.

You are probably anti-death penalty, pro universal healthcare, at least a bit concerned about the environment, and couldn’t care less who smokes a little green. You’ve almost inevitably shared at least one ‘Daily Show’ clip or ‘Everyday Feminist’ blog on your social media feed (if you’re not too cool to do social media at all), and you’re completely horrified by Trump (and just about anything for which he stands). Was it you who shared that funny video about Canada running for president?

You… You more than anyone else… You are failing us.

When I venture out into the world (on-line or in real life), I can expect that – no matter where I land – finding someone who identifies as ‘liberal,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘leftist,’ and so on means I can reasonably express many of my own views and not expect to get strange looks or have to fight for my perspective. We can comfortably make make humorous remarks about the state of the world, and smile knowingly at one another. I can use terms like ‘systemic oppression’ and ‘social justice’ without having to explain what I mean, or arguing tiresomely about anyone’s ‘bootstraps’ and how they should just be yanking on them a little bit harder. And, should I come upon someone who stakes claim in those labels but is simply ill-informed on a particular issue, it’s fairly safe to assume that they will be open to being challenged, if for no other reason than wanting to live up to their political identity.

But, when it comes to psychiatric diagnosis, I can be almost equally as certain that anyone outside of my immediate field of work just won’t ‘get it,’ no matter where they stand on anything else. And not only won’t they get it, but they will often actively be one of the unwitting oppressive masses either through their inaction or worse.

Take the aforementioned ‘Everyday Feminism’ blog, for example. This is a site I might reasonably seek out for their witty and concise way of explaining almost all things on what I consider to be the ‘right side’ of social politics. But, take a quick gander at some of the highlights they’ve posted about so-called “mental illness”:

  • How Getting Diagnosed Schizoaffective Bipolar Helped Save My Life (August, 2015)  This gem starts out with a list of possible mental health ‘treatments’, including Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT – which it categorically denies causes any brain damage), and psychosurgery which it terrifyingly claims, “removes or destroys damaged brain tissue to change behavior.’ (Emphasis added.) Wait, what!? The depths of the myths that this one is swimming in – like the idea that anyone’s ever really been able to identify ‘damaged brain tissue’ and target it with psychosurgery – are staggering.

When our friendly neighborhood progressives over at Everyday Feminism are putting this stuff out, who needs enemies?! They not only don’t ‘get it,’ but seem to actively oppose and want to counter those who do. Could Big Pharma have gotten in the business of funding social justice blogs? Is one of their editors related to Tim Murphy? Those facts would at least help me make some sense out of all this. Otherwise, it just seems a little ironic (in the real, non-Alanis-Morisette-defined sense of the word) that people that quite specifically pride themselves on calling out systemic oppression would so quickly take on the costume of the oppressor without seeming to know it.

So, what gives? We need allies. We need them badly, and we need them now, but it seems no group is reliably inclined to rise to the occasion. To be clear, the point here really isn’t to condemn anyone who doesn’t identify as ‘liberal.’ If those on the conservative end of the spectrum seemed the more likely candidates from whom we might garner support, then I’d be writing about (and pleading with) them. After all, people do tend to be pulled not just by single issues, but by how they at least perceive they should lean in order to be consistent with their bigger picture, and right now I’m just looking for those I think should logically be easier to convince. But, in a country where some of the more traditionally-minded folks seem to still be arguing about whether or not the Confederate flag represents ‘hate’ (aka racism) or ‘history,’ or whether other types of systemic oppression are really a ‘thing’ anymore, doesn’t it seem only natural that we should expect that those who already fundamentally ‘get’ some of these basic concepts be the ones to stand up and help us out?

The problem – part of it, at least – really does seem to boil down to a failure to make the logical leap (however short the distance) between other types of systemic oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) and that of the psychiatric variety. Sure, people talk about the ‘stigma’ of being ‘mentally ill’ all the time, but really what most of them mean is, ‘Would you please stop judging those poor people so they don’t feel ashamed to go get what we’ve decided is ‘the help they need’?’ (See also ‘Anti-Anti Stigma.’)

It’s not even occurring to most progressives to consider this issue within a framework of oppression, no matter how damn familiar that framework may be to them. And, so, they are lured into thinking that they’re being truest to their social justice(ish) roots if they argue for things like ‘parity’ in the healthcare system, without ever really considering the nature, efficacy and potential problems with the treatment (or treatment systems) to which they are fighting to create access and equality. They seem to have no idea that they may be directing people toward shortened lifespans, voicelessness and loss of rights without any real due process at all.

Many will blame the average liberal’s apathy and/or ignorance on all the myths and misinformation floating around out there and being bolstered by Big Pharma’s perpetual spending spree, and there’s something to that. However, just about every issue of institutionalized discrimination has been similarly embedded in our culture and monetary systems at one point or another. We can’t continue to hold blameless the individuals who remain blind for too much longer. Or, is failure to see systemic oppression a sort of ‘illness’ itself? (Apparently, this guy might argue so!)

For a long time now, I’ve had visions and fantasies of creating an enormous chart that identifies as many similarities as I can come up with related to experiences of oppression between individuals who’ve been in the psychiatric system and members of so many other marginalized groups (while also still respecting the differences). I’ve finally started work on that project in hopes that it might help some of us begin to cut through whatever veil it is that’s keeping people from seeing experiences in the mental health system in the same light. (I welcome anyone who wants to offer up ideas to do so in the comments section here or to e-mail me directly.)

I’m thinking of things like how so many people now recognize and rage on about (though by no means have done much to successfully correct) the injustices against people of color who are forced by a discriminatory legal system into the prison industrial complex, while those same people barely even take notice of those individuals forced and incarcerated within the psychiatric system based on similarly subjective and distorted diagnoses and ‘risk assessments.’ Or, how many people across various oppressed groups are deemed ‘acceptable’ for entertainment, but then shuffled out the door or ignored when the ‘real talk’ gets underway. (Think of how we are often used for our stories, but not truly heard beyond that.) There are so very many examples.

And, here’s a particularly personal one:

People of progressive (and ‘feminist’) mindsets have always been quick to assure me (and others who’ve been sexually assaulted) that we can’t be blamed for what happened to us, regardless of how we were dressed, how much we drank, or the places we put ourselves in. No, they declare that showing our bodies, refusing to disguise our breasts, walking down dark streets, or trusting men in our lives to not take advantage of our intoxicated states… these are no justification for what happened to us. And, they stand on ready to rise up in outrage toward anyone who might disagree.

Yet, often those very same people have been equally quick to blame the distress I experienced as a result of that abuse on a ‘mental illness’ caused (they said) by a chemical imbalance or other biological problem in my head. And, I want to be very clear about something at this point. Blaming the distress that resulted from the physical, emotional and sexual trauma I experienced on a brain illness effectively gives those who directly hurt me a pass.

Blaming me for the results of the act of rape bears no real difference from blaming me for the act itself – except that people tend to understand one within the framework of ‘sexism’ (systemic oppression) and the other within the framework of ‘mental illness’ (biological disease).

Yes, by calling ‘mental illness,’ these folks blamed me – the ‘victim’ – for the impact of the violence that I suffered. This is the very thing they tried so vehemently to counter when in a ‘sexism’ frame of mind. Why is this disconnect not more obvious to… everyone?

And, isn’t victim blaming – in any form – against the liberal’s ‘code of ethics’ or something?

I guess, at some point, I’m just hoping that if we can all offer up enough similarities between oppressed groups, and enough incongruities between how those experiences are interpreted and understood, that some progressives’ circuits will begin to burn with the cognitive dissonance of it all, and they’ll twitch into action… and maybe invite some of their buddies along.

Doesn’t any self-respecting radical want to avoid being pulled along blindly by the masses, or bearing too much in common with status quo beliefs? I guess we’ll see.


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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      • It makes no sense.

        Liberals will fight all day for transgender bathroom rights but not for children labelled with “unacceptable” energy levels being drugged in school.

        Like I said below liberals claim to be for “the right to be different” wile supporting psychiatry the most diabolical instrument of social control ever created.

        Psychiatry: Not only are you different from the norm you are “diseased” too according to us .

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    • Sera: I was ensnared by the mental hygiene regime in 1989. It is really like finding yourself in an alternative universe. Around this time (During the switch over from manic-depressive to bipolar) there really did seem to me to be a lot of support in the entertainment media for “mental health advocacy”). Movies and television shows, with either plots or subplots of character off their “meds,” seemed particularly prevalent. This became so ingrained in American culture at the time to influence the good natured or not, ribbing of people to the “affect have you taken your meds today.”With the recent passing of Patty Duke, I am reminded of the made for tv movie concerning her life with bipolar. Given this cultural apparatus and the bipolar support group that I was funneled into, I would have to have been the ultimate shit-heel to question the benevolence of Psychiatry.
      The liberal social justice mantra you describe is the mirror image of the right-wing echo chamber of Fox News and talk radio. PR campaign debunker John Stauber, along with his “anonymous” source in the 99% Spring activist campaign, exposed it as a front for the Democrat Party, much in the same way Moveon helped to shift its followers from anti-war activism to Democrat electoral politics. As a whole, Counterpunch broaches a wider variety of topics and reaches out to fly-over America better than other Left communities, It is probably so coincidence, That MIA author gets his widest exposure on Counterpunch.

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  1. This may sound arrogant, but maybe the problem is that a lot of Americans are either stupid or not educated enough to be able to think critically about the issue of psychiatric diagnosis.

    As amazing as it is to say, 50% of Americans are less intelligent than average, even though no one will admit they are.

    We should remember that most people on mainstream forums discussing psychiatry diagnosis tend to be disproportionately:

    – young, thus less wise due to life experience;

    – less well educated than most, because “mental illness” diagnoses disproportionately get given to those in the least advantageous social situations, i.e. those with less resources for coping and adaptation; and education is one of these resources. (Yes, “mental illness” does discriminate against the poor and minorities).

    – more likely to see themselves as not having agency, and thus more likely to accept deterministic lifelong diagnoses… those who believe more in determining their own fate, as opposed to taking a pill and accepting a diagnosis, don’t tend to stay in the system for long.

    Most Americans today are obsessed with Facebook, little games on I-phones, what TV show to watch, and how to make enough money to scrape by in our capitalistic system. The articles Sera linked are often the longest, most complicated pieces of writing such people have read in years; few Americans read books these days. Thus their ability to think critically and examine assumptions about “mental illness” and psychiatric diagnosis is either limited or nonexistent.

    The adaptive aspects of believing in mental illness diagnoses, at least in the short term, is that it provides an illusory explanation for one’s problems and a temporary sense of relief of personal responsibility for whatever is going on. For many of the sheep in our society – which, to be cynical but realistic, is full of drones who don’t examine their assumptions critically – these “advantages” of psychiatric diagnosis preclude any depth examination of the validity, reliability, or meaningfulness of psychiatric diagnosis. Further, many people simply cannot believe or admit that a medical profession has completely deluded them and the rest of the country about the nature of our distress.

    So Sera, I am not very optimistic this situation is going to change, given the ignorance, stupidity, and lack of resources of so many of our fellow Americans who believe in “mental illness” (and yes I’m saying this as someone who went to an Ivy League college, was valedictorian of their high school, and reads books all the time… to those simpletons who believe in “mental illness” causing your problems, hate me if you must).

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    • I could have guessed at the Ivy League background from the contempt you consistently show for the “commoners.” Being mistaken or misinformed is not the same thing as being stupid or a sheep. There is some truth in what you describe, but you are blaming the victims. The logical conclusion to the masses being ignorant sheep is that we need wealthy, Ivy league educated people to “lead” us. We already have that, and how well is it working?

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      • No uprising, the logical conclusion to the bleating masses is that people need to stop immediately believing whatever they read or are told, and do their own research to come to their own conclusions about “mental illness” and psychiatric diagnoses. A close examination of the literature from antipsychiatry and critical psychiatry authors, as well as common sense, would make most people who really thought about it at least question the conventional narrative about psychiatric “illnesses”. But few people seem interested in this self-examination and independent thinking.

        The fact remains that unfortunately, there are a lot of unintelligent, uneducated people out there, and these are the ones who tend to disproportionately end up in our mental health services. I obviously wish this were not the case. The real reasons behind it include lack of financial/social resources as well as profiteering by industry and “professionals.” But lack of being able to think for oneself and do one’s own research plays a part. Our culture today is pretty superficial.

        As for wealthy, Ivy League people leading, I actually think that many of them are sheep too. By sheep I mean people who buy the conventional narrative about “mental illness” (or whatever the mainstream is saying) without carefully examining the evidence. With well-educated (in other ways) people, this often occurs for a number of reasons – including the denial and anxiety reduction the conventional MI narrative enables if one has a disturbed family member (seeing one’s family member as “mentally ill”), the profit motive if one is financially affiliated with the mental health industry mainstream,

        Although yes, I sometimes feel contemptuous toward people who blindly accept the brain disease narrative, I always try to help people who want to find a more hopeful vision of emotional suffering to become aware of resources such as this site and the many authors/resources that I often write about in comments. I trust that you do the same.

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        • And I am not blaming the victims. People stuck in the mainstream mental health system (viewpoint) usualy lack the resources, awareness, or in some cases intelligence to have a more informed view and/or be able to make different choices about their emotional problems. Calling it their fault would be simplistic. It just is what it is. If blame should go anywhere, it would be aimed at some aspects of capitalism, corporations, and the leaders of a society that does not protect its most vulnerable.

          But let’s not sugarcoat it, dumb people are out there, and there lack of being able to think in depth about alternate explanations for emotional problems can be a problem. As the little boy in the Sixth Sense discovered in the alternate version of that movie:

 see dumb people&filters[primary]=images&filters[secondary]=videos&sort=1&o=2

          And here’s an article discussing the referenced phenomenon of “Illusory Superiority”:

          Most people won’t talk about “stupid” people because it’s considered mean or taboo in our society to suggest that another person is dumb or “retarded”, as some of the kids I work with occasionally call each other (and I do stop them). But this doesn’t magically make 90% of people smarter than average.

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          • Interestingly, this article says, “”North Americans seem to be the kings and queens of overestimation. If you go to places like Japan, Korea or China, this whole phenomenon evaporates,” Dunning said.”

            To harp on a tangentially related topic, this seems to fit with American psychiatrists having done so much to overpromise (and underdeliver) on what their research into “the genetics and biological basis of mental illness” is going to discover and how it will result in improved “treatments.”

            Because the fact is that nobody on this forum can list even one single “patient” who has ever benefitted from American biological or genetic research into psychological “disorders”. And yet the billions of dollars continue to be collected into giant piles to be burned at our universities (oh sorry, used for “research”), year after year after year.

            I would guess that in 10 or 15 years the research psychiatrists will still be deluding themselves that they can find the genes that cause the illusory psychological disorders, not realizing that all the time these “disorders” are just labels given to people based on arbitrary clusters of behaviors.

            America does seem uniquely responsible for propogating the most stupid, ignorant, reductionist ways of conceptualizing human suffering all over the world via its researchers’ delusions about mental illness. What is wrong with our country…

            As our politicians might say, America is indeed “exceptional” when it comes to mental health “treatment” – exceptional for being one of the worst places in the world to become seriously emotionally troubled, despite being one of the wealthiest nations.

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      • Yeah, that was astonishingly arrogant. It’s not like the doctors responsible for contemporary psychiatry lack for education! Plenty of credentialed, highly literate people eagerly defend the profession, so something else must be going on. I’m certain there’s a more subtle sociological argument here for why self-identified progressives fail to see psychiatric oppression than ‘people are dumb’.

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        • No Bean, doctors responsible for contemporary psychiatry do indeed lack for education. There are many kinds of education, and it sounds like you may not be very familiar with how psychiatrists are trained these days. They receive almost no training on social, psychological, and depth/psychodynamic approaches to understanding emotional distress. Instead they are spoonfed the lies that discrete psychiatric diagnoses exist and that drugs are the front line treatment, from day 1. This dismal state of affairs is discussed on several listservs such as ISPS and Psych Integrity, as well as touched on here from time to time.

          So in other words, psychiatrists are well educated -well educated in how to be reductionist fools with no understanding of the real causes of emotional suffering.

          If that is arrogant, so be it.

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        • Arrogant, agreed. But also keenly unaware of the degree to which social programming permeates the mass consciousness on a subliminal level. However it is the responsibility of “progressives” in particular to see through this.

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    • BPD,

      I feel reluctant to write this all off as an issue of intelligence. Some of it is certainly an issue of access, and how all sorts of oppressions play out and impact people and whether or not they’re supported to question or not question, conform or not conform, and so on… And then there’s also the reality that many people who are very highly educated and clearly able to entertain complex thought are some of the most invested in this system remaining as it is… for reasons of power… for reasons of ego… and so on. So, yeah, I guess I’m sticking with my ‘it’s about systemic oppression’ rather than intelligence argument… 🙂

      But, either way, in this particular article, I’m also talking especially about people who commonly tend to see themselves as among the ‘better educated’ and more ‘thoughtful’ on these topics, anyway… Specifically, this blog is about wondering how on earth those who see themselves as so well-informed can possibly maintain such a disconnect or blindness when it comes to the psychiatric system…

      Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts, regardless of whether or not we land on the same page. 🙂


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      • Sera, thank you for your response.

        As I said in comment above, there are other factors turning some of these well-educated people into “sheep”, at least when it comes to blindly accepting psychiatric diagnoses, as well. These include, as noted above – the denial and anxiety reduction the conventional MI narrative enables if one has a disturbed family member (seeing one’s family member as “mentally ill”), the profit motive if one is financially affiliated with the mental health industry mainstream, the fear of psychosis and extreme states. All familiar topics on MIA.

        Also, I think very, very few of the better educated people you are describing are truly well educated about the area of psychiatric diagnosis, particularly the philosophical and/or psychoanalytic approaches to it. How many of these bloggers do you think have read Bentall, Boyle, Poland, Read, Kirk, Caplan, Leo, Whitaker, Joseph’s books in depth (these books are accessible to the general reader as logical critiques of the mainstream approach to psychiatric diagnosis)? And how many have read about curative approaches to psychosis and extreme states such as those in Sullivan, Searles, Volkan, Hedges, Steinman, Williams, Jackson, Boyer, Robbins, Karon (fewer would, as these are specialist books).

        If one reads most of these books, it gets hard to maintain the denial about psychiatric diagnoses existing as reliable and valid medical illnesses.

        I bet the answer though, as to how many are well read in these areas among the bloggers you are discussing, is zero or very close to. If this is correct, their blather must therefore be understood as emerging largely out of ignorance, not intentional choice.

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        • Hi Sera/BPD

          Psychiatric diagnosis like “schizophrenia” or “bipolar” are so convincing to the layperson that I wouldn’t blame them for being taken in. When I recovered myself, through fairly routine anxiety psychotherapy – I didn’t think all that much of my recovery either – until I saw how dangerous and ignorant my medical records actually were.

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          • Hi Sera/BPD

            I think the blindness comes from misinformation; and the trust people have in doctors. You might have noticed that Robert Whitaker himself when he began researching American Psychiatry presumed it was a type of ‘biomedical situation’.

            100 years ago I believe S. Freud is supposed to have said that psychotherapy didn’t work with “schizophrenia”.I don’t think some of the ‘people’ S. Freud described as hysterical would get that diagnosis today.

            There’s also very little information about on full Recovery from “SMI”.

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          • Fiachra,

            I agree with this. The ignorance of many people about the most common causes of psychotic breakdowns / feelings of extreme terror and rage is really profound.

            It is also not easy to find hopeful information about getting well after a psychotic breakdown, at least not via simple Google searches. However, there are at least 50-60 books on alternative successful approaches to getting well after psychosis, from the psychoanalytic, CBT, and other orientation approaches, if one knows how to search on Amazon.

            So no not surprising at all that most people believe their doctors – doctors who are in turn misled by their medical training, which falsely presumes the existence of a brain disease called schizophrenia.

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    • I don’t know if there’s anything that will deprogram a sheeple other than going through it themselves. I was intelligent and read about science and health in MSM as much as possible. I had no suspicions about psychiatry and psych drugs until after I escaped my accidental ordeal. I entered into it naive, and experienced lots of bad stuff while in the care of psychiatrists. I decided that my doctors were idiots, not that the whole field was bunk. Finally free of the drugs, and having met someone who knew of people like Dr. Breggin and Mr. Whitaker, I proved a quick study.

      No one in my immediate family really gets it. They still think Effexor mania and Adderall psychosis were me; My sister is on Lexacroak and takes 25mg Serokill for sleep. Since going on ADs she’s become so disagreeable that anything I say is automatically coded as false. Any number of articles from pubmed can’t dent her notion that doctors and drugs are good for us. I sometimes forget I used to like her. My parents have Ambien and Lorazepam on their nightstands. Even if I do convince one of them that my mental-problem-years were drug-induced, they forget.

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      • Ugh, your experience with your family is so like mine. All of my side effects and mania are all in my head. If a drug makes me suicidal, the more I say it makes me suicidal, the more people think it’s going to prevent me from being suicidal instead. Everything I say is wrong and the more I talk the more wrong I am. I don’t even know how it’s possible that people think I could behave the way I do while ON meds while OFF of them.

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    • Why do you harp so much on “Americans”? (other than the steady diet of cultural elitism which no doubt fed you at your “Ivy League” school)

      Name me one other country which has “enlightened” attitudes about mental illness, if anything most of them are increasing their degree of mainstream American understanding of psychiatry as a sign of “progress”.

      Btw, 50% of Americans are also above average in intelligence.

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      • America, a country with about 4% of global population, is the land where over 50% of antidepressants, over 60% of antipsychotics, and over 90% of stimulants are consumed, at least as of a few years ago (from Grace Jackson’s books available on Amazon).

        America is also the only country where a majority of the population believe that biological factors are the primary cause of emotional/”mental health” problems. John Read’s research showed that 24 out of 25 other countries surveyed (where they asked a broad range of people what causes feelings of depression, anxiety, confusion, etc) primarily thought in terms of social and psychological factors.

        So America is pretty pathetic when it comes to identifying the real causal factors behind life problems, as well as in taking way too many drugs. Of course, it’s not our fault (I am a US citizen)… the USA has by far the most drug company advertising and a very heavy penetration of pro-psychiatry views into educational and state institutions. US citizens cannot help being bombarded with this stuff, although one would hope more of them would fight it.

        Compared to America, almost any country is enlightened about mental illness, not that it exists.

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        • Other countries don’t necessarily have a better understanding of mental illness simply because they attribute it to a broader range of psychosocial factors, it depends on what kind of factors they’re talking about.

          In any case where are these great societies you’re talking about? It’s easy to generalize, or cite studies, but where do you know of better practices? Apart from the Open Dialogue in Finland, some placement programs in Sweden and family therapy interventions in Italy I’ve never heard anything that sounds truly enlightened to me.

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        • Having hung around the mental system for decades I can say I knew many battered wives who ended up on the wards. I befriended them. I found they were indeed very distraught. They were called MI along with everyone but at the time I wondered how being battered made a person sick. What sickness?

          It is a metaphorical sickness, not a real one that has germs or lesions. We live in a cruel society. Why should anyone adapt to it and accept it? Anyone who speaks out, rebels, or just doesn’t like the shit they are tossed into gets a mental label. Such was my observation from many years on the wards.

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      • I don’t think the suffering that is called “mental illness” in our society is made up. I think that the CONCEPTS they put forward as “mental illnesses” are in fact made up. In other words, people DO have mood swings, hallucinations, anxiety, etc. But finding someone who is genuinely depressed and saying “you have depression” really is an invention, especially if we regard “depression” as a brain illness of some sort. People are depressed for all sorts of reasons, some of them physiological, some of them psychological, some of them social, some of them spiritual. Calling them all “depression” takes away their meaning and prevents us from really looking into what is going on.

        It’s easier to see with something like “ADHD.” We decide that being active and disliking boredom and not liking to sit still or take orders are bad things because kids like that are harder to manage in a classroom. And instead of talking to the kid or finding out when he is bored and why or creating more interesting and engaging things to do or challenging him with more advanced work or putting him into a different classroom with a more stimulating teacher or structure, we say “He has ‘ADHD’ and that’s why he’s having trouble” and we give him stimulants. I’m not saying he isn’t highly active and intolerant of boredom and disorganized, etc, etc, but why do we assume that all kids who act like that have something wrong with them? And why do we assume that all of them have the SAME thing wrong with them, and need the same “treatment?” Especially when we now know that this “treatment” doesn’t actually lead to better long-term outcomes, it seems pretty silly to just group everyone together who acts in a similar fashion and say they have a “disease.” Why not just say, “He likes to run around a lot and doesn’t like doing boring things” and go from there.

        A description of behavior can’t possibly be a disease. It’s the IDEA of these “diseases” defined by behavior and emotion that is invented.

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        • It seems like we can never make the leap to asking about the etiology of these do-called “diseases.” If we did we might be surprised at some of the anthropological data. Addiction, for example, is not a hazard of being human. It only occurs under certain social conditions, and does not occur among intact indigenous populations. That means that our society actual provides fertile ground for addiction. Addiction is not so much about defective or vulnerable individuals taking drugs, but is a direct consequence of how we live. This is especially evident if we expand the franchise and acknowledge other forms of addiction (eg shopping, digital devices, gambling, food).
          If we look at psychosis we see something similar. Folks suffering from psychosis are much more likely to heal in the undeveloped world. And in many cultures psychosis was regarded with something like awe. Meaning, it was understood in spiritual terms.
          It any of this is of interest, I highly recommend Bruce Alexander’s book, The Globalization of Addiction: a Study in Poverty of Spirit.

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  2. That’s because diagnosing the agent behind a “mental” syndrome is much more complicated than psychiatric “diagnosis” and requires a kind of gift for playing psycho-physiological Trivia, seldom found in mental health professionals.

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    • bcharris,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment… I’d argue that the most complicated of all is to diagnose the *societal* ills behind psychiatric diagnosis, and that that certainly dissuades some from taking part… Though, again, when talking about people who are *all about* identifying the societal ills, their blindness to this issue remains a frustration.


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      • I suspect it is because Big Pharma has loads of money and people who are critical of psychiatry are not at the moment a very powerful group.

        I also find in the UK that liberals, socialists and even those from the Green Party do not get the basic arguments of the dangers of psychiatry but that anti-corpoarate anarchists do. It’s that suspician of big busineess and an interest in power politics that probably helps.

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  3. It is interesting that liberals will fight so hard for “the right to be different” and then support psychiatry the most diabolical instrument of social control ever at the same time.

    Those poor children can’t sit still in class and memorize really boring things for our standardized one size fits all tests, lets provide a link to “appropriate services” and get them started on dangerous behavioral drugs so they act more like the other kids.

    “We are not here to bash the use of these medications,” Clinton said. “They have literally been a godsend to countless adults and young people with behavioral and emotional problems.” Left untreated, such conditions as ADHD prevent children from reaching their full potential in life, Clinton said.

    Hillary has called for us to build on the bipartisan work taking place in states and communities across America that expand access to preschool by initiating new federal support for their efforts. Her proposal would ensure that every four year old in America has access to high-quality preschool in the next 10 years, by providing new federal funding for states that expand access to quality preschool for four year olds.

    “New federal support for their efforts” She also said the National Institute of Mental Health would dedicate more than $5 million to research ADHD and Ritalin use in preschoolers. The institute also released a fact sheet to help parents of children with emotional and behavioral conditions understand their options.

    Just for fun lets add this video , Hillary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight. Wow 3,809,963 views !

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    • Cat: I am running for the House of Delegates in West Virginia. (Green Party affiliated Mountain Party).I am torn between going to a meet the candidates night or a rally put on by the local AFT to protest ALEC bought and paid for members of our legislature. Rhetorically, AFT is opposed to the charterization of our schools, but their willingness to go along with Common Core and high stakes testing is a bridge to far for me. They and the Department of Education cavalierly dismiss the concerns of parents who opt their children out of these tests. Moreover, AFT President Randi Weingarten has used her office to undercut the BDS movement on college campuses, which together with the opt-out movement, black lives matter, and the Sanders campaign, represent a necessary upsurge in activism. AFT’s endorsement of Clinton is particularly tone-deaf when one considers that her campaign chairman, John Podesta, is past President of the Center for American Progress.”-CAP’s vision of corporate school reform dovetails nicely with the Chamber of Commerce, and the American Enterprise Institute with which it has shared event stages.
      So in order for critics of psychiatry to make headway in the Progressive Community, I feel that we need to be part of multi-issue and multi-ethnic coalitions. Also in my travels, I have noticed quite a few people who do not buy ADHD.

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    • Yeah, I especially hate that “when left untreated” crap, when the literature shows that stimulant “treatment” does essentially ZERO to improve any of the major outcomes that people care most about, including educational test scores, high school graduation, college enrollment, teen pregnancy, delinquency, social skills or even self esteem. It’s just a song they’ve been taught to sing, but they’ve never actually listened to the lyrics and tried to figure out if they made sense or not.

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    • Apparently LOTS of us get EXACTLY what Sera is writing about! As a psychiatric survivor who’s been involved in progressive movements for 40+ years, it’s really clear from my experience that the left mostly doesn’t “get it” about psychiatric oppression. Progressives seem able to reject the biased b.s. of the mainstream media about every issue except this one. Why is that? And why is railing against oppression “finger-shaking” in your mind?

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    • seltz,

      I’m sorry that you feel that this is just ‘finger-shaking’… Thank you for taking the time to read, nonetheless. I prefer to think of it is a challenge, but unfortunately one that will not be read by most of my target audience…


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      • Sera: I work as a substitute teacher and youth worker, so the issue of psychiatric diagnosis does come up frequently. I try to push back on this as best as I can. I sense from previous posts, that you are enmeshed in more full-time social activism work.

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  4. I believe that you have stated the problem very clearly in your short, bold type paragraph. Our culture considers rape to be a social (criminal) problem while it considers some reactions to rape to be medical problems. Few people in our culture understand that all mental distress is a social welfare problem of painful emotional suffering from real (distressful) experiences. Considering mental distress to be a medical problem creates an entirely different reaction than considering mental distress to be a social welfare problem. As long as natural emotional suffering is considered a mental “illness” or “disorder” (and “drapetomania” and homosexuality are no longer “mental illnesses”), no other oppressed group wants to identify with us.

    Best wishes, Steve

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  5. Why self-proclaimed progressives are so pro-psychiatry is something that’s bothered me as well. I have a few theories about it.

    First, the idea that psychiatry is “help”. There is a progressive idea that it’s wrong to blame people for their own problems, therefore those in trouble need “help”. I think progressives may be conflating all sorts of “help” into the same category. They may have an image of a comprehensive system that gives people choices and options, including counseling and talk therapy. Until you’re in the system itself, especially in a coercive situation, you really don’t understand that “help” can feel like torture or neglect.

    Second, many progressives have themselves dealt with problems for years without adequate resolution and been given the relatively minor labels of “depression” and “anxiety”. From their point of view, the “help” offered has been voluntary, and in fact, their experience is that their problems weren’t taken seriously enough to warrant adequate “help”. For them, the decision to take a psych drug might have come out of years of trying other things that didn’t work, and when psych drugs do work for them, they are liable to think that everyone should at least have that option. They like the idea that people in similar situations aren’t called “weak” or “lazy”, and they have friends with “depression”/”anxiety” that they can commiserate as they are able to go about their relatively normal lives. So their experience has been one of support, and possibly even successful psychopharmacological intervention. They see the issue as one of empathy for those struggling.

    Third, many progressives (as with everyone else) have family members with SMI diagnoses like “bipolar” or “schizophrenia”, and they see that when these people are coerced to be on drugs, they act in much more normal, understandable ways, and don’t run amok in ways that could get them hurt or jailed. Since they themselves have never been on the “antipsychotics” or “mood stabilizers”, they can’t possibly understand the cognitively and emotionally devastating effects of these drugs. They only see a relative who appears more calm and sane, and think that this is the desirable state for everyone. Therefore they see the intervention as “help”.

    I think there is an element of amnesia in the third rationalization, in that anyone who has witnessed or heard about forceful hospital inventions against a family member must feel the violence involved, but they are just so strongly invested in the apparently positive outcome that they can write those experiences off as the cost of treating an otherwise devastating disease.

    I don’t think progressives have their attitudes out of disdain. I think they genuinely believe that the mental health system is beneficial and that they or their relatives are being saved.

    And not all progressives think this way either. There are some who do “get” the point of view of psychiatry as being dehumanizing or inadequate in addressing people’s problems, but the conversation is often controlled by other voices. If you talk to people privately, they may feel, for example, that the hospital has treated their relative terribly, or know that their relative stops taking the drugs because they make them feel awful, but this is not something there is room to discuss in the mainstream conversation.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, SA. You offer a number of good points. I also find that even many of those who recognize that *a hospital* treated their loved one badly are still caught up in the idea that that’s just an example of someone doing a *bad job* of *the right thing.* In other words, they hang on to the idea that the hospital and general approach is right, and someone is just doing it in the wrong way…


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    • S.A.

      I agree. At one time, I was a great supporter of the so-called “antidepressants”. I thought that the damned things were actually helping me but all they were doing was numbing me to my emotions and feelings. I interpreted this as my being helped by the pills. In actuality I was just a zombie.

      In my zombified state, the result of a daily mega dose of Effexor XR, I strongly encouraged my mother to get her doctor to prescribe a wonderful “antidepressant” for her. She followed my zombified and very stupid advice and got a prescription for herself. Months later I went to visit her and asked how the “antidepressants” were doing and she said that they weren’t worth a tinker’s damn. She stated that she flushed them down the drain after sitting and looking at her dirty kitchen floor and realizing that they were making her into a zombie who didn’t care about anything any more. She never allowed her kitchen floor to ever be dirty so the realization made her wake up and pinpoint the cause of the problem. She was so much smarter than I was; it took me a few more years to make the connection for myself. Now I know that the “antidepressants” are the very devil’s tic tacs. But for a number of years, before I got my little introduction to the inside of the “state hospital”, I was a great believer and pushed these things on anyone who would listen. It took some time in the “hospital” to help me wise up.

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  6. This is indeed a thorny issue. I have always found myself well to the left of most “liberals” on a lot of issues, but for some reason, this issue of psychiatric oppression seems to resonate a lot more with people on the right. I am not sure I can answer your question on why, but it most definitely seems that the mainstream left has bought into the notion that it is politically incorrect to challenge the mainstream psychiatric view of mental distress as a biological disease.

    Perhaps there are too many users of psychiatric services in the liberal camp, or perhaps the idea of challenging doctors’ supremacy as Arbiters of Truth is too much of a challenge for folks who are still benefiting from the current system. Perhaps recognizing the oppression of psychiatry means looking deeper into our own complicity in the economic oppression of others around the world. Or maybe the idea that social conditions are the main causal factor for “mental illness” is just too depressing to be accepted.

    I suppose the other possibility is that the mainstream media has specifically targeted this group of people, by which I mean the middle- and upper-class liberals, with their “anti-stigma” messages and it’s had a powerful effect. It might be easier for someone personally victimized by general economic oppression to “get” how psychiatry fits into the oppressive picture.

    It is an odd situation, though. The people coming out to defend Justina Pelletier, for example, were almost entirely conservative columnists and activists. It’s definitely a thing. You’ve inspired me to start asking some people I know to help me understand why they don’t get this particular form of oppression and how it intersects with all the ones they appear to care about.

    —- Steve

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    • Steve, I think your idea is important – that facing the fact that social conditions are the main causal factor for psychological suffering may be too depressing to face. Facing the real prevalence of child abuse, emotional neglect, discrimination, economic oppression, poverty, greed, and other negative social factors – and admitting that parents and our own leaders inadvertently do these things to other people – is indeed very disturbing and upsets the psychic equilibrium (supported by denial) that many supposedly well-educated, successful people in our society are used to.

      On the other hand, until one faces up to what is really going on interpersonally and socially that is primarily causing people’s problems, very little can be done to ameliorate these issues.

      That is why I view identifying the abuse, neglect, and misunderstandings of parents, peers, and other people close to a distressed person as a positive thing, since it allows for taking responsibility and for change. The simplistic delusions about “blaming parents” and “brain diseases with mysterious genetic origins” on the other hand, should be exposed for their real functions, which include denial and protection of the abusers and those in power.

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      • I agree 100%. And I like how you include “misunderstandings,” because a lot of harm comes from parents simply not getting where their kids are coming from, and the kids not having the words to describe what is happening, or being too worried about their parents’ reactions to tell them. That’s why MOST of us need therapy, even if our parents (like mine) were not overtly abusive the vast majority of the time. It is not “blaming” to correctly assign responsibility where it belongs, and if done respectfully, it can lead to healing for all parties involved.

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      • I think the right’s support is more straightforward – they tend to be suspicious of any kind of government intervention into private lives, and arresting people for being “weird” and forcing them to accept “treatment” from the “nanny state” would be abhorrent to the more libertarian folks on the right. That being said, when a mass murder occurs and gun control is threatened, the Right is very willing to throw the “mentally ill” under the bus, and the Left is all too willing to join them.

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    • @Steve — There is some truth in each of the above observations you make. I think part of the problem is that many leftists who have discarded religion but don’t understand their alienation and emptiness have switched their faith to what they consider a “scientific” explanation of their existential emptiness. This gives them the hope they yearn for, hence their sudden inability to comprehend the meaning of metaphor (“mental health”). Some of them even feel the need to proselytize even when they seem objectively unworthy of emulation.

      The right-wingers sometimes are motivated just by seeing through the game or knowing someone who has been victimized. But I doubt even they would consider themselves for the most part anti-psychiatry. When they are they are coming at it from a different angle than most progressives.

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      • I think you may have something there. To not believe in psychiatry’s view apparently means being “superstitious” or “mystical,” which for many educated folks is almost the worst thing you could say about them. I’ve had many a discussion about the nature of the mind, and have often pointed out that it is no more mystical to insist that the mind is generated by the brain than to insist that it is an external entity occupying the body, as neither of these positions has the slightest degree of scientific evidence to support it. But I am accused of being unscientific for saying so. Apparently, accepting the philosophical doctrine of materialism seems to be a requirement for being considered “scientific” or “rational,” and the mind “must” be generated by the brain, because “where else could it come from?”

        Sounds like a pretty scientific argument to me!

        — Steve

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          • It’s not actually necessary to abandon materialism to question biopsychiatry though. Non-materialist perspectives are fine, but as I see it, the psychiatry’s real philosophical errors are a greedy reductionism that believes psychological processes are best explained at the level of neurons and brain chemistry (and that chemicals are somehow more “real” and scientific than thoughts and feelings), and the assumption that human beings are isolated systems whose mental states simply bubble up from genetically determined physiological processes.

            Neither belief really makes much sense — first, where greedy reductionism is concerned, why not go even deeper? Molecules are more basic than neurons, so why don’t we try explaining the mind through the actions of individual molecules reacting and moving about by the laws of chemistry? Or we can go deeper still, and try to explain human beings on the subatomic level. The problem of course, is that while it’s possible in principle (assuming a materialist metaphysics) to reduce everything to the interactions of subatomic particles, it’s a completely intractable approach, and there’s no reason to assume working at such a low level will grant any insight into what’s really going wrong. So why should we find insight even at the level of neurons? Perhaps the most fruitful way to understand human beings is at a more abstract psychological level.

            And second, I think the naive view of psychiatry is that psychological function (or at least ‘abnormal’ function) is a determinist process where genes determine your brain and its chemical balance, which then gives rise to your thoughts and feelings. But this is ridiculous! We’re deeply embedded in the world! Our thoughts and feelings (again, from a materialist perspective) come from the interaction between our bodies and the things we eat, our social interactions, and the world we live in. The possibility that trauma can change one’s physiology and hence one’s thoughts and feelings is entirely compatible with a materialist worldview. It isn’t however, consistent with the view that human behavior is solely a product of our genes.

            I think Steve is correct that many people are resistant to alternative explanations because they think they’re “superstitious” or “mystical”, but I believe there’s a subtler issue here — many critiques of biopsychiatry actually don’t require a non-materialist worldview to make sense, but psychiatry’s defenders are too mired in reductionist, determinist thinking to see the philosophical error.

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          • I agree and was by no means suggesting that a non-materialist viewpoint was needed to counter psychiatry’s ill-founded philosophical bases. I was merely commenting that people get “scientific” and “materialist” confused all the time, and the most materialist folks are quite intolerant of any kind of ambiguity or mystery, whereas a REAL scientist knows that mystery surrounds him/her at every turn of the road, and that the best scientific “knowledge” is merely an intellectual model to predict the behavior of a complex and highly mysterious reality into which we have only the opportunity to take an occasional glimpse. Newton himself said something along the lines of that all his knowledge was like a handful of sand out of a beach that reached as far as he could see in both directions. That’s a true scientific viewpoint.

            The good news is, psychiatry’s own research disproves its own theoretical underpinnings at every turn, as Bob Whitaker has so aptly pointed out. The bad news is, most people are so scientifically illiterate and so married to the infallibility of the medical profession that even good data is not sufficient to convince them that the psychiatrists have their heads up their butts. I mean, who can take a book seriously that has something called “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” or “Oppositional Defiant DIsorder” or “Disorder of Written Expression” as proposed “disease states?” It is absurd on the face of it, but folks simply assume that, as a colleague once put it, “there are years and years of solid scientific research behind” the DSM and are unwilling or unable to listen when I describe the actual conditions under which such “disorders” are invented.

            Sigh… It is hard to be an actual scientist in a world where pseudoscience is hailed as the height of technological brilliance.

            — Steve

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        • Not only that but so many people will call you antiscience when you point out how *all* studies “proving” genes and/or chemical imbalances causing mental illnesses are deeply methodologically flawed (as if taking scientific pronouncements on faith isn’t itself actually a form of scientism).

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        • Sera and all

          Great blog; very necessary discussion.

          I prefer to address this problem to those on the “Left” due to the general confusion and misuse of the labels of “liberals” and “progressives.” Oldhead correctly brought up the sarcastic and oh so true words in the s song “Love Me Love Me I’m a Liberal” and let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton describes herself as a “progressive.”

          BPDT’, your questioning of the American masses’ intelligence and over use of the word “sheep” is in the final analysis “victim blaming.” This part of your analysis severely undermines the many other good points in your overall comments. It is one thing to say, for dramatic effect, that people are acting like sheep, but to say they ARE sheep takes it to another determinist level.

          How is the over emphasis on “intelligence” much different than Biological Psychiatry’s emphasis on the genetic basis of “mental illness.” In the end to promote such a fatalist viewpoint represents a “lazy ass” approach to the important work we have to do to change people’s minds and build active resistance to this oppressive system.

          Every single important historical movement for revolutionary change had to confront a brain washed population of the masses with a backward outlook imposed on them by the ruling classes and the power of the status quo. It takes creative methods of struggle and hard work to change this; what’s new! Sera’s blog is one challenging and creative way to go about this. Kudos!


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          • Hey Richard,

            Always good to see you in these parts… Thanks for chiming in 🙂 Yes, I’m definitely aware of the misuse of all these ‘progressive/etc’ labels… And yet, was still just trying to cast a relatively wide net in terms of people in or toward the left 😉


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          • Sera and others,

            Doctors, Psychiatrists and other “mental health” workers are viewed (in general) as “helpers” as SA correctly pointed out. I believe it is for this reason that most people who come at the world from some place on the “Left” have both read and absorbed more of the Biological Psychiatry narrative and their phony scientific outlook that justifies their form of “helping.”

            Those coming from the “right” are generally more skeptical of “helpers” or “do gooders” or a “do gooding” analysis of the world. They have accepted a much more “Social Darwinism” and self serving (that is to ruling classes) Capitalist view of human nature. So therefore they would also be more skeptical of “high end helpers” such as Psychiatrists and the theories that guide their profession.

            One way to counter these narratives is to show how Biological Psychiatry and the current paradigm of today’s “mental health” system is trying to label, sedate, and drug away the next generation of new creative agents of change.

            Some of the most highly labeled and drugged sectors of our society today come from the same social strata that were most activated in the 1960’s and who created the greatest fear in the minds of the “establishment.” MIA blogger, Bruce Levine, in his writings really gets this point.


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          • Richard,

            I was tempted to say that if something acts like a sheep, and is white, and has fur, and says “Baah”, is it not a sheep?

            But I won’t say that 🙂

            I think your point about speaking about people’s behavior and not labeling them in an essentialist way, which may be read as denying their potential for change, is a good one. And I will remember that.

            On another note, if you see this comment, can you please email me – bpdtransformation (at) gmail (dot) com .

            I have something I want to ask you backchannel. I wish we could have private mail on this site.

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        • Hi Steve

          I am not sure I understood your critique of philosophical materialism.” A “materialist” philosophical approach to understanding the world arose in opposition to philosophical “idealism.” “I am therefore I think” makes more scientific sense than its opposite.

          So when you said: ” …it is no more mystical to insist that the mind is generated by the brain than to insist that it is an external entity occupying the body, as neither of these positions has the slightest degree of scientific evidence to support it.” I am not sure what you by this.

          Our mind, emotions and thought processes etc. exist due to our body and brain’s interactions with the material world – this is my understanding of a true “materialist” outlook. Are there mysteries in the world? To deny such a thing would be a form of “mechanical materialism,” that is, not a consistent or accurate application of materialist dialectics But I do believe that everything is “knowable,” however, because the universe is so infinitely vast and always in a state of change there will be an infinite state of things (or reality) we don’t yet know.

          Biological Psychiatry concentrates various forms of “reductionism” and “mechanical materialism.” We should not avoid the correct use of materialist dialectics because of their perversions of the scientific method and outlook.


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          • Perhaps “mechanical materialism” is more what I’m talking about when I refer to these folks. But the real point I’m making is that materialism of whatever sort, just like idealism, is a philosophical viewpoint, not a scientific verity. There is no requirement that a person subscribe to materialist or reductionist views to be scientific, nor is the presence of that kind of philosophical viewpoint a guarantee or even a suggestion of a person being scientific.

            It would be quite possible, for instance, to do scientific experiments into “ESP” to see whether it exists and if so under what circumstances. Many would think it unscientific to consider the possibility that “ESP” might exist, just on the face of it, because it would violate their reductionist philosophical assumptions.

            Now I’m not saying that ESP exists or that there is valid evidence for its existence. I’m simply saying that it could be studied scientifically as a question, with one’s hypothesis being that it did or did not exist, and measurements or conditions defined that would be considered evidence of its existence or lack thereof. That would be scientific.

            Psychiatry and its minions shy away from any real scientific thinking, because they already “know” that they are “right” about these things, and people who argue against them are “stigmatizing the mentally ill” or “parent-blaming” or what have you, and it sells partly because of the reverence that we have for doctors of any sort, who are viewed as “scientific” by virtue of their role. Most people unfortunately are unable or unwilling to dig beneath the surface and really look at what the basic assumptions of psychiatry are and whether they are borne out by actual experiment, while at the same time being willing to completely dismiss other possibilities without evidence because they conflict with the ‘scientific’ view purportedly being put forth by psychiatrists. It is indeed disturbing and for some simply not digestible that psychiatrists have simply made most of this shit up from a combination of greed and social bias, and have little to no shred of actual scientific evidence to support it. After all, they are DOCTORS, they must know what they’re talking about.

            Doctors are the priests of “scientism” and to question them is heretical to many seemingly well-educated folks.

            —– Steve

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          • I suppose the key point is that you “believe that everything is knowable.” I am not sure if I agree with you, but whether I do or not, we’re talking philosophy here, not science. In fact, I can’t think of a way to test the hypothesis that “everything is knowable.” It’s something we either believe or don’t believe based on our observations and understanding of the world. A person could be very scientific and believe that there are unknowable things in the world. Heck, look at Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – maybe there is proof of the “unknowability” of certain things after all!

            —- Steve

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          • Our mind, emotions and thought processes etc. exist due to our body and brain’s interactions with the material world

            I disagree. The material level is in my mind simply one manifestation of reality. I think advanced physics bears this out. This doesn’t negate dialectical materialism, it just allows for other levels of existence beyond or transcending the material one we are currently familiar with.

            I know this is probably considered heresy by most socialists.

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          • Steve

            You said: “But the real point I’m making is that materialism of whatever sort, just like idealism, is a philosophical viewpoint, not a scientific verity. There is no requirement that a person subscribe to materialist or reductionist views to be scientific, nor is the presence of that kind of philosophical viewpoint a guarantee or even a suggestion of a person being scientific.”

            I believe one must first make an historical choice between “materialism” and “idealism” in order to be thoroughly scientific in one’s approach to science. That is, grasp the fact that there is a material reality independent of our own thought processes.

            “Reductionism”, in my view, is a distortion of a true dialectical materialist approach to science, and therefore is a departure from “materialism” and a correct scientific method.

            I also have an issue with the use of the term “scientism” as a negative. It is like those who criticize “political correctness.” What is the hell is wrong with being politically correct? Something is either racist, homophobic, misogynist etc. or it is not. Isn’t this an example of those people on the Right who want to avoid debate or criticism of their backward views.

            On the same note, how can it be wrong to be TOO scientific? This makes no sense at all. Is this not an example of a criticism by those people who want to avoid following through with a more rigorous and thoroughgoing scientific method. Here again, Biological Psychiatry resorts to reductionism, pragmatism, and mechanical materialism etc. which makes them LESS scientific not MORE or TOO scientific.

            You said: “A person could be very scientific and believe that there are unknowable things in the world.”

            I agree. but that same person could ALSO believe that those things currently unknowable can ultimately one day be known. This is NOT just a matter of philosophy but I believe a basic tenant of a thorough going scientific approach to understanding the world.

            Steve, we are going deep here. I wish we (including Oldhead, Uprising, and others) could do this over a coffee or a beer. These may seem like obtuse discussions to some, but I believe they are critically important to how we ultimately solve some of the important issues confronting us at this particular juncture in human history.


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          • Richard, I think the key word here is “believe.” When we’re talking beliefs, we’re talking philosophy. Of course, there is no science possible without some underpinning of philosophy, but philosophy is not science and the assumptions and beliefs of our particular philosophy, while vitally important to be clear about in order to be scientific, remain beliefs. Beliefs also do have validity and can often have scientific support for them, but the belief that the mind is a byproduct of brain activity isn’t one of those beliefs. It’s an assumption, one that folks are entitled to make, but when I talk about “scientism,” I’m talking about turning assumptions into “facts” that can’t be disputed, because “scientists say it is so.” Any real scientist understands that even well-founded theories (like Newton’s laws of motion) which seem intuitively obvious can be disproven (i.e. by Einstein and quantum mechanics) by later experiment. To confuse assumptions with scientific facts is central to Psychiatry’s worldview. And one of their central assumptions-as-facts is the idea that we’re a collection of cells and that the mind is nothing more than the reactions of chemicals in our bodies. If that assumption is identified for what it is, the entire edifice of thought and justification for their reductionistic worldview comes crashing down.

            So if we’re talking about recognizing that there is a material reality separate from our own thought processes, I think there’s some pretty good evidence that that is the case. (Though some Eastern thought may call into question the actual nature of that “material).) That’s a pretty different matter (ha, ha) than jumping to believing that the mind MUST BE an illusory artifact of the operation of the brain, and that anyone who believes otherwise is “not scientific.” There are other materialist models: for example, one might describe the mind as the “programming” and the brain as the “hardware,” which I find appealing personally, but again, it’s not something there is any objective proof of, or perhaps any objective way to even prove.

            I agree, you, me and Oldhead at a pub would make a really fascinating evening’s entertainment and education! Either of you ever come t0 the Portland, OR area?

            —- Steve

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          • (Don’t know if this is posted anywhere near Richard’s post that it’s responding to.)

            I don’t know what you mean by thoughts and emotions being “dialectically” separate from the interactions in the material world which generate them, but in any case it’s not a matter of being “separate from,” more one of not being “limited to.”

            This is hard to articulate without LSD btw. 🙂

            I don’t know if you are familiar with the book Flatland, which though it was written by a British “conservative” (or whatever they called them back then) I have always found illuminating for other reasons.

            “Flatland” is a 2-dimensional world in which the universe as experienced by it’s inhabitants consists of an infinite plane. All the inhabitants see themselves as either dots or lines. Some of them actually are dots but others are lines which appear as dots because you’re looking at them from the end. Even what would be recognized as a circle looking at the plane from outside would be seen by those within the plane as a line.

            Got it so far? OK, now consider what would happen — since the universe is in fact not really limited to 2 dimensions — if a sphere (3 dimensions) intersected with the plane. From above the plane it would appear as a circle. But from the perspective of the plane-dwellers living 2 dimensional lives, even the sphere would appear to be a line — it would not be recognized as a 3 dimensional object, and the existence of a 3rd dimension would not even be imagined.

            Extrapolating, this shows me how 4 or 5 dimensional objects (or persons) could be cohabiting the material world with us, yet still be intrinsically connected to different yet simultaneous (since time is subjective) levels of existence — transcending the material, but not negating it. It’s just that for whatever reasons in our evolution as individuals or as a species we are “currently” focused on the material, 3D, cause-effect, time/space bound level of existence.

            But even if this is wrong we still need to expose psychiatry for the scam it is.

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          • Exactly my point! Denying the possibility of a spiritual reality does not make them “scientific,” it makes them stupid and reductionistic. I think there IS good evidence that there is such a thing as a human mind/spirit, though we have no real idea what exactly it is from a scientific viewpoint. To deny or minimize the role of the human mind/spirit in how we live is absolutely a denial of reality. Just as an example, there is a great case from Dr. Gabor Mate where a “schizophrenic” youth from the US, who had received all the usual “treatments” was taken to Africa to a shaman and came back a few months later, cured. He went to MIT and became a fully functioning member of society.

            From a scientific point of view, that was an intervention that WORKED, and it should be explored whether it will work for other people. But such an idea would be ridiculed as “superstitious” or “mystical” right off the bat, because “spiritual” solutions can’t be “scientific” unless they deny the existence of the spiritual element of humanity. Totally irrational, but they’d smugly call Dr. Mate the irrational one.

            If I’m going to subscribe to a mystical belief system, I at least want one that seems to work! Psychiatry’s mysticism is clothed in “scientific” language, but is indeed just as superstitious as belief in the shaman, and in at least one case, has been proven a lot less helpful.

            —- Steve

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  7. Here are examples of the appalling state of “care” that is provided to “those with mental illness” (labels) in one of our wealthiest states:

    To me this grim and violent situation can be understood as the endpoint of the disease model approach, what happens when you lie to people that they have mental illnesses, given them mostly useless drugs, and finally seclude them in totally untherapeutic environments where they have no freedom.

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    • SaraTonen,

      There’s so much to respond to in your post. I don’t think I could possibly respond to it all…

      First, thank you for reading and writing such an extensive response…

      Now some points I do want to clarify:

      1. I’m less arguing the ‘rightness’ of a particular political (liberal, in this case) perspective than I am pointing out the incongruities. People in this group really *should* be our quickest allies, but they just aren’t. It’s incredibly frustrating and baffling (though I’m not without the ability to come up with reasons).

      2. I really worry when you say that there is no discrimination in the mental health system. There’s actually a ton. People of color (for example) are more likely to be given the more ‘severe’ psychiatric diagnoses… they’re more likely to be put in restraints, restrained for longer, or end up injured (or dead) once in restraints. They are more commonly committed to ‘forced’ treatment… etc. etc. It’s fairly well documented. People who are trans*, gay, etc. also experience discrimination in the system. It’s actually quite profouned.

      3. I’m actually someone who *does* believe in people being held responsible for what they do. I find it incredibly frustrating – for example – that if someone in the mental health system hits someone else, the immediate reaction is to ‘section’ (force hospitalize) them, rather than to report them to the police for an assault. While there are nuances and contexts to be considered, in general, I think this is a terrible trend. HOWEVER, to suggest that the criminal justice system isn’t incredibly corrupt and biased is extremely problematic to me. For example, just look at the penalties for drugs common in communities of color verses white communities. Or look at how often people of color are killed by the police. Or look at sentencing practices. Or look at police profiling practices… or… so many other things. There’s SO much more to this, but if I continue down this path I’ll be writing a whole ‘nother blog in the comments section. Ultimately, I just want to say that a) I do not intend to suggest (at ALL) that people shouldn’t be held responsible for criminal behavior and b) so much of who/what/how people are held responsible IS based in an incredibly discriminatory system (that is also influenced by other discriminatory systems). It seems impossible to me to deny that.

      I also worry about the references to ‘reverse racism,’ which really can’t exist given that racism is not simply prejudice, but prejudice PLUS (systemic) power, and I have yet to see people of color have the kind of power in this culture (again, not talking about individual verse individual but whole systems) to make that even remotely possible… But again, I don’t want to go too far down this path.. And yet i couldn’t go without commenting at least briefly.

      In any case, thank you again for responding. I’m glad that we at least seem on the same page that the lack of allyship and understanding about psychiatric oppression is a real issue!


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    • MANY of those forced into the criminal justice system are criminals, perhaps even most. But that doesn’t mean the system isn’t biased. Since the advent of DNA evidence, it has been discovered that huge percentages of death row inmates are innocent, causing the Illinois governor to declare a stop to all executions until the cases were reviewed. Look at the case of Hurricane Carter if you doubt that this can happen. Additionally, you are apparently forgetting that lots of criminals DON’T go to jail, and that a lot of that particular cohort are white and well off and get away with horrific crimes without penalty. How many fraud cases were filed in the wake of the 2008 financial disaster? If it wasn’t zero, it wasn’t far from it, despite evidence of widespread fraud that cost more money than ten thousand AM/PM holdups. This is also injustice and bias.

      And as Sera has said, the “mental health” system is by no means an “equal opportunity” oppressor. Women and darker-skinned people have been shown to receive more and more serious diagnoses and often more serious and dangerous treatments, from large swathes of women getting “ECT” in nursing homes to the hugely disproportionate diagnosis of “schizophrenia” in African-American males. It’s not a “leftist platform” – there are hard data out there showing that this is the actual truth.

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      • Look at the case of Hurricane Carter if you doubt that this can happen

        Also check out the outrageous railroad jobs done on Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, both of whom are still locked up after decades of unjust imprisonment.

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      • Yes, mental illness does discriminate, to be simplistic, or more accurately people discriminate against other people.

        One of the most simplistic things one will ever read, and it crops up time and time gain, is a psychiatrist writing, “Mental illness does not discriminate by race, gender, social class, etc.”

        I always laugh when I read that, at the utter absurdity of a trained professional that actually believes that.

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  8. Amen Sera!

    Great article sister! Mainstream liberality’s knee jerk reaction toward supporting the oppression inherent in the psych establishment needs to be recognized and amended.

    There certainly does seem to be an inconsistency in the current “progressive” conversation which fails to recognize depth and breadth in morality and ethics which manifests in support of the psychiatric status quo.

    Szasz was a libertarian after all, and while I’m not suggesting that anyone take on his political views, they did exist on a spectrum that does not so easily fit into the current climate of left versus right rhetoric.

    A paradigm shift (or perhaps a logical analysis of the current paradigm) is much needed, and with this article has begun.

    Thanks for your voice and your courage, Sera!

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      • As I see it, we’re a percentage of a percentage, and that sentiment applies among left-wing circles, too. (I don’t see myself as, a big part of the problem, liberal.) This puts the pressure on us to educate those with little comprehension or understanding of what the issues of importance to us happen to be.

        I think if we are ever going to see some positive changes we have to do something about the corruption that so pervasive in politics that arises from the influence of big money on government these days. It may not be the mob that is buying votes, but those votes are being bought nonetheless. Clean up the political arena, and you’re going to see a lot more fair-play all the way around. That’s my opinion anyway.

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    • I skimmed through this article.

      There is no benefit whatsoever to the American elites and professional caste of recognizing that psychiatric diagnosis and our “mental illness” treatment system are respectively invalid and worse than useless. The primary motivators of those in power, i.e. self interest, profitability, and needing to control things, are not served by rejecting the brain disease/drug first narrative and embracing the uncertainty and individuality that are the true makeup of human suffering. So why would they pay attention to these ideas. Poor, suffering people are serving just fine as the fodder who buy the drugs that fund the corporations that fund their campaign contributions, so why try to understand them as people? I think forcible resistance by an highly organized group, much more highly organized than antipsychiatry people are at present, and with much more access to money and legal ability, is needed.

      An interesting article here examines just how unequal our nation is currently; surely this process is worsening the ability of disparate social classes to understand each other:

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      • Exactly. I think that many liberals do not seem to “get it” when it comes to psychiatric oppression because it’s not in their class interests to “get it.” Liberals can adopt watered-down and class unconscious versions of anti-oppression politics because there is no conflict between liberal identity politics and the class interests of the rich and the upper middle class. Movements against psychiatric oppression, on the other hand, hit them where it hurts.

        I think conservatives are more likely to “get it” about psychiatric oppression, because whereas the “Democratic” Party has shifted since the 1970s to pander to the upper middle class and working class people of color, women, LGBT people, and immigrants (all while being run by and for the mostly white rich), the Republicans (also by and for the rich) tend to pander to the white working class but NOT to upper middle class professionals, whom they often target rhetorically.

        I think it’s also true – as others have pointed out – that “progressive” people by default tend to think of any issue related to the “mental health” system as being a problem of insufficient access by the masses to all the awesome “mh” professionals and big pharma drugs. So-called conservatives find it equally easy to oppose anything that would appear to result in raising taxes to fund public services.

        I’m not sure if any of this represents a misunderstanding between social classes, because the 1% seems to understand just fine.

        Nice link, btw. You might find this one to be complimentary:

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        • Thank you Uprising, I have seen this site before. But went back and looked at it again; I still think it is right about how the country is controlled.

          CHS has an alternate conceptualization of who controls America, i.e. 9 classes of people, here:

          A more interesting, to me, and rather disturbing way of looking at social inequality based on causal factors including debt and energy efficiency (energy mainly from fossil fuel being the thing that underlies almost our entire economy) is here:

          This energy/debt issue is why I am quite worried about our planet’s future (much more than global warming). It’s quite scary to think about what might happen if fossil fuels have a massive price spike and/or debt totally overwhelms the financial system. Also interesting to think that organized psychiatry only exists, along with our many other institutions, because of the fossil fuel energy support that started the industrial revolution only two centuries ago now.

          Anyway I have gotten off the topic. Although, it is interesting to think how temporary and small-scale the issues of psychiatric diagnosis and psych drugs are in comparison with the issues of debt, climate change, and fossil fuel dependence facing the global economy. Not that any of the issues are small to those that are affected, of course.

          Returning to the issue of “getting it”, I think that with other oppressed groups – for example gay people, women… they were not so clearly the object of a single massive profit-seeking leviathan (i.e. the several large Big Pharma corporations that make most psych drugs) and thus educated people and those in political positions of power may at least not have had that corrupt motivator for keeping them down.

          With psych survivors, who cut across these groups of ethnicity, gender, and class, what they have in common is that they are monetized as a product and that many of the people in power benefit directly or indirectly from their oppression, far more than if, for example, gay people were denied certain rights. If mad people get less drugs, jobs will be lost. Mad people might be likened more to the black slaves that tilled the fields in the 1800s, who were an asset not to drug companies, but to the plantation owners.

          Psych hospitals are in essence neo-planatations where poor, terrified people are made into life long drug-takers, i.e. incubators for drug company profits.

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  9. This is amazing Sera — I was here late last night and this blog hadn’t even been posted, now it’s already about the longest comment thread going.

    Anyway it’s great to see you writing again, I was afraid maybe you were getting discouraged. So, now you’ve done it! My liberal friends are going to hate me when I forward them this link. (Not that there isn’t some kind of “liberalism” to be found in most of us.)

    The ultimate take on liberalism of course remains Phil Ochs’ “Love Me I’m A Liberal.” (I found it on youtube here: )

    Unfortunately Sera’s above words apply to many “radicals” as well. It wasn’t always like this.

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  10. Yeah, it baffles me that people will argue for women’s rights to bodily autonomy when it comes to sexual assault or abortion, but restraining someone, removing their clothing, and forcibly injecting a drug is apparently A-ok. Is bodily autonomy only for the ‘sane’?

    I think there’s a lot to unpack here. The ignorance self-identified liberals and progressives have toward psychiatric oppression is often mysterious, but I do have a few ideas. In my experience, self-identified liberals often draw ‘us-them’ distinctions like everyone else, but they draw the lines differently. Oppression on the basis of race or sex is verboten, but I’ve known people who wouldn’t dream of insulting another on the basis of race or sex who still sneer at working-class ‘white trash’, or think it’s fine to insult someone who doesn’t have a high-school diploma. I’m pretty left-leaning myself, but I’m afraid lack of compassion and understanding really isn’t a monopoly of the right. People on the left will categorize ‘the mentally-ill’ (when we aren’t talking about the acceptable sorts of ‘mental-illness’ like anxiety and depression) as ‘them’ just as readily as anyone else. My liberal friends in college thought nothing of throwing a Halloween party with a mental asylum theme.

    Additionally, (and I think this is related to a susceptibility to scorn people with less education) I think self-identified liberals often grant scientific and intellectual authorities respect where the right grants respect to the police, military, religious figures, etc. The established intellectual consensus is that mental illness reflects some sort of underlying biological problem, and most people who haven’t looked closely trust that if the doctors say so, well it’s probably true. Of course, there are exceptions — the left has it’s fair share of opponents to scientific consensus in the form of anti-vaxxers, GMO opponents and so on, but I think as long as psychiatry claims to be a science and progressives fancy themselves on the rational and scientific side (against a “creationist, superstitious right-wing”), the left will perceive opposition to psychiatry as anti-science superstition. Whenever I try to argue that not all forms of distress are biological in nature, the response I get suggests the person I’m talking to thinks I’m trying to argue that neurons and brain chemistry aren’t involved at all — that I’m really making a moral judgement about someone’s distress or talking about something religious like a soul. (or even that I’m secretly a Scientologist!) Neuro-reductionism seems more more human and more scientific than squishy psychological theories, especially when people think you’re implying Cartesian dualism.

    And of course, what psychiatry promotes sounds progressive! If psychiatrists really do help people with biological problems, then of course, access to treatment and a proper diagnosis should be a right! Progressives want healthcare for everyone, so shouldn’t that mean mental healthcare too? Liberals end up on the side of oppression out of a misguided attempt to help, and pharma and the psychiatric establishment are only too happy to say they’re defending people’s rights in doing so. Consider how a Republican like Tim Murphy can use the Orwellian phrase “right to be well” to justify psychiatric coercion. We’re fighting against a terrible amount of misinformation and propaganda that criticism of psychiatry means being both anti-science and hurtful to people with ‘mental-illnesses’. The right says we’re dangerous, and the left says we need more access to ‘treatment’. Is it any wonder so many self-identified liberals think they’re on the side of compassion and truth?

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    • whoops! In the third paragraph, I meant to say “Neuro-reductionism seems more humane and scientific”. We justify the accommodations of the psychiatry sick-role with the argument that the patient can’t help it, it’s a biological illness. If we don’t call it a disease however, people seem to think the only alternative is to throw everyone with ‘schizophrenia’ in prison, and tell people with depression or anxiety to just suck it up — and that doesn’t seem very humane.

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      • I know EXACTLY what you mean, “Lenora22”, and I’ve seen it myself. I was literally kicked out of the State mental hospital in 1987, and brought back here to my hometown with the local “CMHC” – Community Mental Health Center. I got out of the system – mostly – in 1996, but still see the “drug zombies” everyday. Worse, I see, staff-wise, that the best and brightest come and go regularly, but the worst just get entrenched. Over time, that makes the whole system lousy. So-called “mentally ill” are scape-goated daily. 3 of my female friends were raped, with impunity, because there rapists targeted them as “mental patients”. NO ARRESTS, despite all 3 attacks being reported to the Police, and investigated. And the attackers known and identified. This MHFA scam only reinforces the worst abuses. I can see why 17 years was enough for you! You’re in the right place NOW! Glad you’re here….

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  11. Hi Sera – real quick –

    I think that this:
    “…when it comes to psychiatric diagnosis, I can be almost equally as certain that anyone outside of my immediate field of work just won’t ‘get it,’ no matter where they stand on anything else”
    is a mindframe that comes out of being at a relatively low point in social struggles/consciousness right now. People can come to believe that only paid policy workers like themselves have informed views on these social conditions, because there’s not a strong loud mass movement/culture among the rest of the people experiencing them.

    But I think it’s still vital for people in your position to search for the thoughts/actions of people “outside your line of work” – people on disability, or working in the service or retail sectors, etc, are also psychiatric survivors, are also disabled, also have direct knowledge of how these systems/labels hurt people, also engage in small acts of sabotage and resistance every day, etc.

    I’d write more, but I’m, like, tired from transplanting lettuce all day.

    Also: quick note: I think Everyday Feminism is run by the same people who run the Polaris Project? Which is a NPIC / NGO “anti-trafficking” organization, which pushes policies that directly put sex workers and migrants in more danger of policing / criminalization. A number of sex worker bloggers have written about it I think.

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    • Hi Lily,

      Thanks for reading and responding. And yes, I noticed a connection to Polaris yesterday when reading one of the EF co-publisher’s (or whatever his title is) bio. I don’t know much about Polaris, but it’s on my list of things I need to learn more about!


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  12. Thank you for the thoughtful article, Sara. I worked in the field for 17 years, and got out recently. Spending all of those years witnessing the types of injustices and abuses that are described on these boards was very eye opening for me. When I first started working in the field, I had no idea what really happened to people once they got hooked into the system. They go in for help, but end up getting a little more than they bargained for. I wonder if some people jump in to defend the system because of lack of understanding of how the system really works?

    Also, besides everything that was already mentioned, one thing that chills my spine and makes me speak up every time, is when there is a shooting or you hear about a violent act, and people cry, “the real issue is mental illness!” They mean well, yet they have no idea how damaging this is as a whole for people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses.

    So much to think about..

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    • No worries on my name, Lenora. I think lack of understanding (and blind faith) is absolutely a factor… This comments section has been most interesting for it’s various takes and nuances on why this phenomenon is such a ‘thing.’ A lot to think about, indeed. 🙂


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      • One thing I wanted to clarify/add, is it was also shocking how many people worked in the system and went along with, and defended, the “treatments”, even after seeing how damaging they can be, including the types of supposedly civic minded folks you are describing. There’s this “those people” mentality hidden amongst the very people who you wouldn’t think would be this way. One liberal beanie wearing, yoga practicing, vegetarian who wouldn’t poison herself with a single jelly bean would get mad if by chance a doctor did educate a client/ person in the system on medication side effects. One time, she became outraged when a medical doctor told the person her losing her eyesight was due the long term psychotropic meds she was on. Not outraged that the meds did this to her, but outraged that the doctor told her this info and now she would have to deal with her coming off of those meds. Modern day poser? Probably, but it was also this hidden “those people” (with diagnoses, with problems, “I” can’t ever be that way) mentality that I saw among the very people you would think would be fighting that sort of thing…and this isn’t an anecdotal example, this is more pervasive than one would think. Sad :/

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  13. Sera

    I get the feeling that I kind of experienced the same kind of things that you’re talking about here when I taught Religion to Catholic high school students. It was in the 70’s and 80’s when the Church was much more progressive than it seems to be today. The doors have since been closed on open debate about many things in the Roman Church. Anyway, students would take things home to their parents that we talked about in class and the parents would come steaming up to the school to jump on me for trying to turn their kids against their Catholic religion. People who were successful professionals who seemed to be well-educated would say the most immature things about God and religion in general. Here I was expecting them to be spiritually mature like they were physically, emotionally, and psychologically and they would floor me with their seeming lack of spiritual maturity. They were grown adults with what seemed to me to have a grade school mentally of God. There seemed to be a total disconnect. It certainly wasn’t what I expected. These same parents sat on parish councils of their churches and made important decisions about the religious life of their parish. It never ceased to amaze me.

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    • One other characteristic of these parents was that they never, ever questioned the parish priest, the bishop, or Rome about any of the really harmful promulgations that were sent out for people to follow. According to them, if one of these groups mentioned said something you were to accept and do it, no matter what.

      I wonder of all of this, both what you talk about and what I mentioned, has to do with people learning to think for and evaluate things for themselves, rather than looking to some other authority for the answer. Learning to think for oneself is sadly not emphasized much in the school system, public or private. Students are not really taught to think for themselves. I suspect that if students start learning to think for themselves they’ll begin making decisions that those in authority don’t agree with or condone. Perhaps this carries over from school into the work sector and then into everything else.

      I also suspect that what Lenora says above has something to do with this. Unless you’ve been in the system yourself you have no idea what really goes on under the banner of “good treatment”. You just kind of go along thinking that doctors in general know what they talk about and that they truly care about people and if it’s all part of “medicine” then it’s got to be right. And then low and behold, you get caught in the net yourself and you find out what really happens with all the smoke and mirrors. I was totally disillusioned when I was discharged back out the door of the Admissions department of the “state hospital” where I was held. It took the personal experience to open my eyes to the reality of what truly is.

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      • The Catholic Chirch analogy is a good one, because behind closed doors, you have people in authority covering up all sorts of mistakes and client right’s violations, similar to how things would get covered up in the Catholic Church. Each part of the system works to protect the other. It’s absolutely shocking when you first see, in action, how it works. Also, going to someone outside of the system (like the media) can be tricky, because the very HIPPA laws that protect a client’s anonymity also limit what you can reveal. Very insidious and layered, how it works in real life, when you get beyond “get help for your mental illness”.

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  14. Sera, I agree with you completely. I oppose psychiatry and psychotherapy. They are both ways of making people believe that they have something wrong with them, have some sort of a deficiency. They are ways of rendering people impotent in the face of injustices like economic injustice and familial child abuse. They turn the experience of injustice into a medical problem and a self improvement project. They make it all into another boot straps exercise. And of course I oppose all facets of the Recovery Movement as well, and I’ve been banished from just about every Recovery forum there is.

    The alternative is political consciousness raising and action. Action should be judicial, legislative, and direct action.

    Once people see that they have been violated, and that now they can be part of the solution, they will throw their street drugs, alcohol, and psychiatric medications into the garbage.

    Thank you for your excellent article!


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    • Nomadic,

      In fairness, I may want to keep a little alcohol 😉 Thank you for reading and commenting… I wish more people would see the environmental/social justice issues as primary, rather than – at best – a secondary issue that can sometimes serve to inflame someone’s biological problems. Sounds like you’ve got quite the track record with various forums… Glad you’ve stuck it out here! 🙂


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  15. Me again. Sera, I just checked out those articles you linked to at Everyday Feminism. Outrageous and scary. It might have been better not to provide the actual links, they could distract and misinform people who might be browsing through MIA for the first time.

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  16. I can agree with blaming the rapist for you being unhappy, rather than a chemical imbalance in the brain or mental illness called depression.

    Though I’d like to point out that liberals or whoever you are labeling here, blame both the rapist and a chemical imbalance leading to a mental illness called depression for your unhappiness.

    Many victims of abuse say they can’t do without anti depressants, I just want to also defend them for wanting relief.

    You are very strong not to depend on medication, and I respect your unwillingness to use medication and depend on alternative forms of treatment.

    The solution here is to respect both sides, find a balance between the medical and pharmaceutical industries profiting from over prescribing medications, while still protecting those victims from the under prescribing of these medications.

    For example if someone broke their arm, no one would say the pharmaceutical companies and doctors are over prescribing pain medications for money.

    Good luck with your healing and pursuit of happiness.

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    • jackdaniels,

      You’re applying things to me that I did not say. This particular blog isn’t about psychiatric drugs, so much as it is about systemic oppression and the absence of recognition of systemic oppression within the psychiatric system by those who generally seem to see themselves about most enlightened and aware of these sorts of things. It’s about our needing allies, their being what would seem to be relatively obvious candidates, and the ongoing blindness that keeps them from fulfilling that role.

      For what it’s worth – while I do not take psychiatric drugs and have enormous issues with how they are used and forced in this world – I also do not believe that there is a straight line or necessarily a direct association between the use (or lack of use) of psychotropics and a belief in the medical model.

      Let me briefly explain: The vast majority of us use drugs of one sort or another. One example I’ve used in the past is caffeine. I don’t personally drink coffee (and only rarely drink soda or anything else that has caffeine in it), but many people love it… And, the fact that they love the impact of caffeine on their bodies bears absolutely no relationship whatsoever to whether or not they suffer from a ‘caffeine deficiency.’ If they like the impact (or at least like the positives more than they dislike the negatives) and are aware of the risks, more power to them.

      Similarly… One doesn’t need to accept that they have a chemical imbalance or any sort of inherent biological issue to enjoy the affect of certain psychiatric drugs… And so if someone finds it helpful and chooses that path in an informed manner, okay. (Although, while I say this on an individual level, I seriously question our culture’s ability to make real space for people to actually do that, and so still can’t help but question whether or not these chemicals do more harm than good in the broader scheme of things…)

      In any case, overall, my point is that our culture’s approach is oppressive. We don’t actually need to take *away* choices or tools in order to make it less so.


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      • I understand but how can you have allies without giving them a reason to be your ally.

        Liberals or whoever you like to call them see it as a chemical imbalance or depression, the same way you see it as unhappiness or sadness.

        They may not be standing on the higher enlightened ground as you perceive them to be, but also in the same position as you are since sadness or depression is subjective.

        I mentioned many people taking anti-depressants to illustrate that the victims are both you, as well as others who don’t see systemic oppression when getting traditional treatment of medication and therapy.

        Now I understand there is abuse in the mental health system such as misuse of involuntary commitments, over prescription of medications, etc…but we ought to be careful how we generalize the problems as systemic oppression for one family or person seems good to another person or family.

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        • You simply canNOT equate the perspective of seeing a psychiatric diagnosis as emotional distress/trauma with ‘chemical imbalance’… One is a perspective and the other is a thoroughly debunked piece of misinformation. If you want to leave space for some people to see some diagnoses as biologically based (in part or whole) verses trauma based, etc, that’s one thing but perpetuating the chemical imbalance myth is just misinformation.

          Additionally, you seem to misunderstand the concept of systemic oppression. Systemic oppression exists regardless of what people believe at an individual level, and in spite of some people feeling they’ve had good experiences in that system.

          Take sexism for example… Even if I were a woman who felt I hadn’t been held back one bit by male privilege or systemic issues that favor men in power over women, that would do absolutely nothing to change that that systemic issue exists and impacts many, many people.

          An example from the psychiatric system: Even if I personally had the best psychiatrist on the planet who shared full information on all the perspectives, didn’t try to convince me that ‘mental illness’ was the only way and that I needed psychiatric drugs for life, and always prioritized my voice and listened to what I wanted to do… It would do NOTHING to change the fact that there is a *systemic* issue of promoting ‘mental illness’ as the only way of seeing things, that kind of the status quo is to talk about people without them and often make decisions for them, and so on.

          So, yeah, arguing that some people appreciate the medical model or have had good experiences in the mental health system (and never mind the added complexity and reality of internalized oppression in some of those instances) isn’t really connected to the idea of systemic oppression at all… The two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I’m pretty sure there have *always* been people saying ‘hey, my experience has been good! this isn’t an issue!’ in just about every civil rights movement for every marginalized group ever…


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          • I’d like to put my two cents in on this one:

            All hierarchical systems are inherently oppressive, meaning that the voices of individuals at the lower rungs of the hierarchy are not granted the same level of respect as those coming from people at higher rungs of the hierarchy. In a rigid hierarchical system there is going to be increased stress placed on individuals on the lower rungs of the hierarchy, especially those who actually espouse better explanations of reality than those in higher positions, if those in higher positions are trying to maintain their status regardless of how well their explanations of reality actually fit that which they are trying to explain.

            If those at the top consistently espouse explanations that are worse than those espoused by individuals on lower levels, and the better explanations are not able to be accepted into the social conversation, more people on the lower end are going to experience intense distress and emotional breakdowns (which the current psych system classifies as DSM diagnoses).

            People on the higher end are also going to experience the breakdowns, however, but in fewer instances, (as we see in society today), depending on how those on their particular rung or those above them permit their voices to be heard.

            The impacts of a hierarchical system that protects worse explanations can be amended through non hierarchical open dialogue. I believe this is why the Open Dialogue intervention has been so effective in helping people to come out of nervous breakdowns, while the hierarchical system of worse explanations (bio psychiatry) has worse outcomes than Open Dialogue and open dialogue styled techniques used in cultural and communal “healing” practices in “developing nations” like India and others.

            I am not suggesting that the bio model is not a better explanation than certain explanations for problems in living (like “unresolved Oedipal Complex” perhaps). But it certainly is a worse explanation than: power differential (hierarchy)+ denial of person hood (physically, sexually, or emotionally)= trauma (which results in distress that is represented medically by decreases in efficiency of neurological and executive functioning capacities, often referred to as “mental illnesses” in all their varieties).

            “Mental Illnesses”, the effects of psychological traumas and stressers, will decrease substantially in a less rigid social system where people who espouse and utilize the best explanations for reality (internal, external, and interpersonal realities) occupy the highest rungs in society, establishing and amending it’s social processes.

            Does this make sense?

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          • With all respect, I don’t think that view is realistic at all, there is no insurance reimbursement for emotional trauma. You have to be diagnosed with a chemical imbalance to get help for your sadness.

            What I’m saying is whatever you think is proper therapy for emotional trauma, and you admit medications are okay for some people, you need to provide them with an avenue to get that assistance.

            You’re making a false equivalency with systemic oppression in the mental health system with other forms of systemic oppression. This is a system designed to help people, by definition it can’t be ‘oppressive’.

            Their are failures in the system like I mentioned before, misuse of involuntarily commitments, and overuse of medications, but to slander the system as oppressive defeats your goal of having allies to your cause.

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          • jackdaniels,

            “You’re making a false equivalency with systemic oppression in the mental health system with other forms of systemic oppression. This is a system designed to help people, by definition it can’t be ‘oppressive’.”

            That just seems so incredibly naive and misguided to me. And, it’s just flatly not true… But I’m not sure I have the energy or time to lay out the why of it right now… So, I’ll hope someone else might step in and do that, while I just leave you with the following quote:

            “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

            C. S. Lewis

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          • I’m with Sera. I have worked in the mental health field, including doing involuntary detentions for a very short and very painful period of time, and I can tell you, it’s oppressive as hell, even though people believe genuinely that they are helping. Consider what kind of warped thinking is required to believe that forcibly putting electricity through someone’s head against their will and inducing a grand mal seizure is “helpful.” Consider that the introduction of Benzedrine and later Valium was intended to “help” suffering housewives “adjust” to their roles in the home. Consider “conversion therapy,” still being done in some places to “help” gay people decide to be straight, even though it’s been shown to be a very destructive process. Consider how “helpful” doctors in the 1950s convinced millions and millions of women not to breastfeed their children, because the new “scientific” baby formulas were better for them.

            There is no reason to assume that a system intended to “help” is not oppressive. I remember 13 years of slow torture in public school, all done “for my own good,” including the crazy second grade teacher who hit me on the head for confronting her about tossing a book across the room. When I finally graduated from high school, I felt like I’d been freed from prison! Oppressive? I think we can call it that, don’t you?

            —- Steve

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          • This is a system designed to help people

            Yes, it is designed to help those who profit from this socio-economic system, by restraining and suppressing those who are unsatisfied with it, and might even work to bring it down.

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          • JackDaniels,

            As others have said, the psychiatric system is designed to help those in power – i.e. corporations, shareholders of corporations, politicians funded by corporations, academics, and psychiatrists – gain power and cashflow. It has little or nothing to do with helping people; it is purely profit driven. Read Whitaker’s Psychiatry Under the Influence to gain an understanding of this. Starting in 1980, leading psychiatrists fabricated pseudo-diagnoses out of nothing and began systematically lying about the (inflated) effects of drugs and the (hidden) side effect risks. This is not a profession that helps; it is one that should be driven to extinction.

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          • Starting in 1980, leading psychiatrists fabricated pseudo-diagnoses out of nothing and began systematically lying about the (inflated) effects of drugs and the (hidden) side effect risks.

            So if so-called biological psychiatry didn’t start until the 80’s what should I call what they did to me in 1972, which consisted of being incarcerated and force-fed Mellaril for “psychosis” &/or “schizophrenia”?

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          • You can call it time-traveling psychiatrists, oldhead.

            No seriously, that is a terrible thing. What I mean is that biological explosion started in the late 70s/early 80s, with psychiatry massively expanding its prominence and medicalized message starting in that period. Before 1980, psychiatrists did not practice or speak in so rigidly a biological-medical way as after, at least on average. But of course coerced psychiatry and the precursors of the present-day DSM labels existed long before 1980, unfortunately.

            I think you already know all of this.

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          • Responding to JackDaniels,

            “With all respect, I don’t think that view is realistic at all, there is no insurance reimbursement for emotional trauma. You have to be diagnosed with a chemical imbalance to get help for your sadness.”

            There actually can be insurance reimbursement for emotional trauma, as long as the individual’s response to said trauma fits the criteria of a DSM diagnosis, meaning the traumatized individual presents with a series of behavioral “symptoms” that meet minimum criteria for diagnosis. No found chemical imbalance is necessary for diagnosis, because these chemical imbalances are not easy, or are potentially impossible, to detect in people. They are hypothesized due to the theorized effects of chemical substances (medications) on behaviors and subjective ratings of distress offered by patients who use them. If we were to use a more easily detectable mechanistic explanation for diagnostic distress, we could use the atypical results in magnetic and electrical brain patterns found in traumatized people based on brain scans. The logical mechanistic interventions based on these results however would be the use of magnetic and electrical means to treat the “abnormalities”. Interventions such as these are being used (ECT, electro cranial stimulation, and newer magnetic based interventions for example.) However, the results of these brain scans from a non mechanistic perspective could view the electrical or magnetic patterns as behavioral, ways of “acting in” while in distress, rather than “acting out”.

            “What I’m saying is whatever you think is proper therapy for emotional trauma, and you admit medications are okay for some people, you need to provide them with an avenue to get that assistance.”

            There certainly can be means by which patients can access psychotropic medications without telling them that they definitively have mental illnesses or chemical imbalances. One way could be to simply tell patients that we know medications make many people feel better when they are experiencing emotional distress, while also informing them of potential side effects that also occur in many people and also informing them that theories of how the medications work are largely based on hypotheses. Many people would certainly be able to understand this and make an informed decision. However, there certainly are people who are in so much distress that their capacity to make informed decisions is severely impaired. The vast majority of patients and inpatients do not fit this description, however. An ethical conversation should be had about whether or not administer medications to the severely impaired. I do not have an easy answer to this dilemma and have seen medications sincerely help people in this category. Many of these people who are assisted greatly while in acute distress remain on the medications too long which often leads to irreversible side effects.

            “Their are failures in the system like I mentioned before, misuse of involuntarily commitments, and overuse of medications, but to slander the system as oppressive defeats your goal of having allies to your cause.”

            There absolutely are failures in the psych system, as there are in all systems and all human attempts at success. Misuse of involuntary commitment and overuse of medications fit this description for sure. To “slander” the system as oppressive has definitively resulted in defensive responses by many psych professionals who could have been allies. The use of the word “oppression” is extremely loaded and insulting to many people with good intentions who work in the system. At the same time, many patients have experienced “oppression” within this system. It is possible that the system can be made less oppressive (and will have better results, see ‘Open Dialogue’) without calling it’s oppressive aspects oppressive outright. Conversations to develop effective language need to occur in forums such as this in order to recruit allies within the system. This dialogue is a start in my opinion.

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          • What I’m saying is that this supposed distinction between “biological” psychiatry and some other kind is highly questionable, to me it just seems like the same logic taken to predictable extremes.

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          • Rooster,

            It seems very common to me that people who hold power and privilege are offended when that is called out… Because they have trouble seeing it (such is the nature of privilege), because they hear it as their being a bad person individually (rather than a part of a bad system), and so on…

            It’s also very common for the response to be to demand that those in the role of ‘the oppressed’ are asked to be more ‘polite’ or to stop calling things what they are because it’s ‘too harsh.’

            And yet, I haven’t seen much come out of not calling things for what they are, either… Except for a reduction of tensions… that is often accompanied by an increase in internalized oppression.

            So, yeah, I’m not entirely sure that calling it something else and asking people to water down the truth is right, or even fair to ask?


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          • Sera,

            “So, yeah, I’m not entirely sure that calling it something else and asking people to water down the truth is right, or even fair to ask?”

            I don’t think we should expect people who experience oppression to not call their oppression what it is either. (Although as we both know this happens all the time, as an additional form of oppression.)

            The question remains, (as per JackDaniels) if someone wants to gain “allies” within the field is the word choice of “oppression” going to result in gaining the most allies, and the answer is probably not.

            However, people traumatized and concerned about their experience of oppression are rarely, if ever, looking for “allies” among their former or current oppressors. Very often they are looking for justice or retribution and, of course, they don’t actually need to be looking for “allies” at all. There are alternatives for them such as activism and social criticism.

            Anyone critical of bio psych has two overarching directions they can take (there may be others but I chose two for simplicity’s sake), these are to work within the system or outside it. Working outside the system can be in a critical capacity or in the creation of an alternative system altogether. I tend to prefer the creation of an alternative system, and if that system has better outcomes than the mainstream system, the less effective, mainstream system, will either adopt the practices of the alternative system, or become obsolete itself.

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          • That is a good point that some of the worse things in the world have been done with the best of intentions, I heard that in a movie sometime ago.

            I’d like to say that its very hard to put that into context with the mental health system, when they’re actually clearer more obvious examples like wars of nation building in the middle east that have yet to be fixed.

            What I’m saying here you should try to understand that over half of the country is making no attempt at being your ally, so be nice to ones that are making that attempt.

            The small number of Liberals, progressives, whatever you like to label them, would like to unite with you, while most everyone else would like to defeat your goals.

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      • One doesn’t need to accept that they have a chemical imbalance or any sort of inherent biological issue to enjoy the affect of certain psychiatric drugs

        I’m not sure what you’re getting at here — if people enjoy the effect wouldn’t that constitute “recreational” use of psych drugs? Otherwise they must be bought into the idea that it’s “medication,” which is definitely what I would call medical model.

        Not arguing with the recreational use of drugs, btw, just interested in keeping clear what’s going on…

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        • Oldhead,

          I guess my point is that I *could* say – hey, I realize that x experience is totally (or nearly so) connected to this trauma I experienced, but the reality is that when I take x drug, it helps me feel better and I like the effect… So, while I have a non-medical model perspective on why I’m experiencing distress, I want to use a medical model tool… because chemicals have an effect on our bodies, regardless of why our bodies are the way they are and the medical model’s ever-perpetuated myth that the psych drugs work because they somehow are targeting ‘what’s wrong’ on a physical level is bs, but also doesn’t need to be true in order for those drugs to still have some impact…

          I’m not making an argument for mass drugging, or intending to ignore the substantial dangers of these drugs (and I question if our culture could ever really use them responsibly on the whole), but I do think it’s important to at least think about separating out the various ‘tools’ from such embedded model relationships and myths…


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          • ‘Medical model tools’ or medical model fools? I think there is a double standard being applied here. I objected to the drugs I was being force fed because they made me feel awful. It wasn’t I who wanted to take them. It was a matter of social control. They gave me drugs in order to illicit the behavior from me they wanted (or to suppress behavior they didn’t want). I didn’t want to be any kind of doped up patsy. Of course, some ‘medical model tools’ are like recreational drugs for the harried, downtrodden, and exhausted, or distracted. I know why folks are marching on the APA, and I know why folks aren’t marching on Big Pharma, but I wish it was otherwise. My mental patient gloves came off long ago.

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          • Frank,

            I don’t disagree with you here, and that is why I fear that psych drugs could never be used responsibly within this society…

            However, I also see people use marijuana, psych drugs, various foods, exercise, herbs, and so many other things to impact the biologic and chemical make up of their minds and bodies, and if they do so knowingly, I’m not terribly inclined to stop them…

            And perhaps more importantly, I really do think there’s something important about separating out the tools from the perspectives … The medical model suggests that psych drugs are targeted chemicals treating specific chemical imbalances. That’s a dangerous and untrue theory. Being able to say – hey, even if you think this chemical is helping you somehow – it doesn’t mean the perspective itself is accurate is an important step in breaking down its power. Otherwise, every time someone says ‘hey this drug works for me,’ people continue to think ‘drug works’ = medical model proven true.


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  17. Hi Sera,

    I just wanted to say that like many people in the comments, Ive experienced the exact same attitude in my socially progressive queer community. If i try and talk about the huge issues with diagnosis and medication I frequently get eye rolls and condescending put downs despite having personal experience and also studying the subject at a doctorate level. There are a few people that knew what I was talking about (interestingly, there seems to be a lot of overlap with the prison abolitionist movement) but we usually have to awkwardly talk around it before we get to our real opinions.

    I think theres a few of reasons for this, first a lot of people have these diagnoses and/or use these medications, so by challenging them it is seen as really confronting and is often misinterpreted as ‘your pain doesn’t exist’. Second, when someone is in the full swing of Mania or Psychosis it can be pretty intimidating so people tend to lack empathy (although they may still be sympathetic). Third, admitting that psychiatry has such deeply rooted problems is a huge mental leap and an unsettling reality to confront.

    Full disclosure, I remember being one of those eye-roling socially ‘progressive’ types myself, and it was really only after I had some personal experience of the system (along some solid education) that I was able to see what was really going on

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    • Thanks, ConcernedPartner 🙂

      All your points seem valid… And yet, if we have to wait for people to have just the right kind of personal experience to bring them around, I think we’re pretty sunk. Hoping to find another way! I’ve heard from a few that the prison abolition movement is more open than most.. thanks for reminding me of that. 🙂


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  18. Sera, would you mind sharing a bit about the nature of your sexual abuse? Did it occur in the public or private arena? I ask because I’ve run into similar issues as a woman and have noticed differences in how these reports are received by psychiatrists (none are accepted as fully political, ie, not the victim’s pathology in some way).

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    • Zagoorey,

      In truth, I’ve had multiple experiences with sexual abuse, and while I’ve named some of this to psychiatrists they honestly just haven’t asked me for the details of what/where/when/how. Others in other roles have to some extent, but always as something separate from my ‘mental health’ issues – at least that’s how it came across. For what it’s worth, my experiences with rape and sexual abuse have always been with people I know to varying degrees.


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  19. Sera you have hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned. I will be linking to this article in my own blog (http;// in a few minutes because I think what you are saying here is so, so crucial.

    I came to MH in 1981. I had “found” feminism only a few years earlier after doing extensive reading on my own. I wondered why the two clashed and I never resolved the conflict. I kept trying to fit my ill-fitting diagnosis into feminism, which was like….Oh, trying to get a fish to ride a bike I suppose.

    Allow me to back up for a second. Anyone (like me) who came to MH with an eating disorder (i.e. had trouble with eating) was ill-fitting automatically. They had no clue what to do with us, since they didn’t have a nice, neat category for us. Any ED who showed up got labeled something else for convenience so that they, or their families could get billed. The “treatments” didn’t work, of course, since we never had the “disorders” in the first place.

    “Are the voices better now?”

    “Huh? Um….no.” Wondering what the heck they are asking about…..

    At the same time, I was learning all this cool stuff about feminism. When I went to MH, I figured this was the New Way and it was Very Enlightened. Seriously, this was Learning about Me. Wasn’t Learning About Me good? Imagine that, sitting in groups all day long, talking about Ourselves. This was All About Me.

    So in that sense, this was all brand new, and seemed Very Feminist to me. I’d never done anything like this before, certainly not in 1981. It had never, ever been about the Self before. It was always intellectual, about literature, music, history, science, math, religion, God, or dead white guys. Always cerebral. If it was about Me, it was feminist, right? A Room of One’s Own.

    This was the shift that happened sometime in the 1970’s, away from Everyone Must Be the Same to Everyone Must Be Unique. The shift was radical and scary and getting caught in the middle was confusing and frightening for anyone in my generation.

    And no one even noticed. The fish have been riding bikes for years now.

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    • Julie!
      Hey, I really like the nuance you just unpacked that with… It makes perfect sense, that someone could find involvement in mental-health treatment empowering in the sense that, for the first time, it’s a study of yourself/your thoughts instead of a study of academic jargon and dead white men.

      I was, like, born after the culture shift into “unique” self-stylizing had already happened… This helped me make sense of it, I think…

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      • Lily.c or anyone out there who feels that after studying other people or studying outside oneself and feeling the need to search within…If you feel that need, if you need to look within…You do not need a therapist to do that. You do not need “group” for that, nor the “group hug,” nor “group feedback,” nor do you need “analysis” nor “the couch.” You will not find yourself in an office. You will only find an office. And worse.

        Save yourself the doctor’s bills and the slavery to the System. Kindly bypass the mental hospital’s doors. That’s what I should have done myself. Pass Go, collect that $200 and go across town to the stationary store and spend it on a pencil. Now, you can write your story (maybe rent a quiet room in Ventnor with a pad of lined paper if it’s cheap instead of spending a night in an ER), and you still have $140 or so to spare. Keep writing.

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        • Yeah, I’m lucky enough to be living somewhere right now, where there’s both a radical mental health / psych survivor group, and where I can get medicaid to cover me working with a non-medicalizing counselor.
          And, like, honestly I’m finding the latter more useful right now. Because I just don’t have the energy to listen to other people’s issues, or figure out how to share time and space with multiple people right now. But, the rad-mad group is definitely something I’m grateful for, and want to help build on their political work when I’m less overwhelmed.

          Dolores who wrote the piece I linked to above, is talking about how there was this “Modernist” society that pressured everyone to be the same, but then there was this postmodern/neoliberal shift, to “everyone must be unique,” like you said. And there are ways that capitalism/the state pretty quickly absorbed that into consumer culture, and made self-improvement a replacement for social change or organized resistance. But also I think there are ways that introspection can be used in / contextualized in liberatory politics.

          So, going to just quote Judith Butler on this I guess:
          “What if we shift the question from ‘who do I want to be?’ to the question, ‘what kind of life do I want to live with others?’? It seems to me that then many of the questions you pose about happiness, but perhaps also about ‘the good life’ – very ancient yet urgent philosophical questions – take shape in a new way. If the I who wants this name or seeks to live a certain kind of life is bound up with a ‘you’ and a ‘they’ then we are already involved in a social struggle when we ask how best any of us are to live.”

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          • One of the main reasons I went to therapy in the first place was because my former employer thought it was cool. He told me Everyone should do it, because it was the Latest Thing, to Know Oneself. Let me tell you, my initial reaction was, Wow, how dumb. It’s too expensive, a waste of time to sit in an office and yap on and on about oneself like that. It seemed like an utter waste to me. Why not really do something good? He said you had to self-improve before you could do Any Good At All. I told him that was baloney, that it made no sense, and I felt he was wasting his time and actually he was being incredibly selfish and self-centered and childish. Although I didn’t stick my neck out that far, but it was my observation that he was being a Big Baby. I wasn’t that forward then. I wasn’t one to speak out, and he didn’t like that about me, either. He said I lacked assertiveness and “needed therapy to correct the fact that I was not direct with him.” This constituted bullying on his part. I really wanted to get away from this character-bashing. I was sick of it. I didn’t want to feel pressured to reveal my deepest darkest secrets to him, and felt I had a right to keep stuff to myself, and to share what I wanted to share when and if I chose to do so. A year later, I conceded to therapy, wondering if maybe he was right after all. Maybe I was indeed defective and needed “fixing.” The result of such “fixing,” as we all know, can be rather tragic.

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    • Hi Julie,

      Sorry for taking so long to respond (and this will be short as I’m in a rush at the moment)! (I’ve been having trouble logging on this site from home for some reason…) I like the image of the fish on bikes. 😉 That’s an interesting point… the ‘learning about me’ being in line with feminism. I’ll check out your blog!!!



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  20. Thank you for your article. Similar questions plagued me until I finally realized that the relationship between a psychiatric patient and doctor is just like the relationship between a slave and his/her owner. I then reread the 13th Amendment and finally realized what is going on. That amendment simply moved slavery from some people owning other people to the state owning everyone. It expanded slavery rather than abolishing it. I have made several comments regarding this on Michelle Alexander’s Facebook page. She is the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” I am also writing about it on my blog

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    • Hi dkjamil,

      I feel really cautious about making comparisons between psychiatrist and patient and slave/slave owner. I don’t want to do *anything* to downgrade or distract from the terribleness of slavery.

      I do, however, understand what you mean and yes, this world does seem to re-define and shift around *how* people are oppressed without ever fully coming to terms with the components of systemic oppression and how to really undo it on a broader scale.


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      • Sera,

        I think the comparison between psychiatrist/patient and slave/plantation owner is a good one. Psychiatrists are primarily involved in creating profit-slaves who serve Big Pharma, i.e. people who believe they have illusory brain diseases and will take drugs for life despite the lack of evidence of efficacy. These patients are at least somewhat analogous to slaves who toiled in the fields for decades creating profit for their white masters. A difference is the psych patients create profit by buying pills and/or allowing psychiatrists and Big Pharma to bilk insurance companies, whereas the slaves literally picked cotton to generate income for their masters.

        And many of the psych-slaves are black or other minority, while the psychiatrists are white. So it’s not such a stretch to go from white psychiatrists getting young minority people to toil in the pill-taking fields of the drug companies, to white landowners a couple of hundred years ago getting black slaves to pick their cotton. Both are great examples of exploitation by white people of minority and vulnerable people. It happens and we shouldn’t deny it.

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        • Well, it’s often pointed out that the overwhelming Black prison population has taken the place of physical torture, whips, etc. The psych system is an integral part of behavior control in prisons. So I would have to say there’s a direct connection as well as an analogical one. I don’t think recognizing this downplays the horrors of slavery, in fact it keeps slavery in the public consciousness when many would like to dismiss it as an aberration of the past.

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          • Good point – and America has 4% of global population, but about 23% of the world’s prisoners – including a massively disproportionate number of blacks, as I’ve commented in other articles. Psychiatric drugging is a prime way of controlling these undesirables today, as forced servitude was back in the 1800s.

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        • BPDTransformation, Frank, Oldhead, and others commenting on this piece:

          While I continue to understand what you all are getting at with the slave analogy and do think there are some important overlapping concepts, I also continue to see this comparison as potentially problematic.

          While – yes – many people of color are now subjected to oppression within the psychiatric system, and yes there is the substantial issue of how our prison functions, and so on…

          I’d also like to point out that the vast majority of writers on Mad in America are white, as are (I think) the vast majority of commenters on this topic.

          And when I’ve seen comparisons come up (to slavery, to the holocaust, etc.) in other forums where there are people of color, people who had ancestors that died/survived the holocaust, etc… I’ve often seen reactions that are not terribly favorable to these sorts of links.

          I am *all for* learning about the different components of oppression and how they’ve played out for different groups. I think that is so important (as I noted above). And yet, I wonder what we may unintentionally perpetuate when we start claiming close associations to slavery? Are we continuing to make this space one that is unwelcoming to people of color? Are we distracting from issues of racism and turning them back to those issues that are more personal to us?

          I hope you can hear my concerns and my points, and separate them out from the fact that I otherwise agree with all of you about the oppressive nature of the psychiatric system, and how it takes power away from so many people, etc.

          I do not think suggesting that we may want to take care in comparing one to the other needs to, in any way, lead to the denial of the very real exploitation and damage of the psychiatric system.


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          • And yet, I wonder what we may unintentionally perpetuate when we start claiming close associations to slavery? Are we continuing to make this space one that is unwelcoming to people of color? Are we distracting from issues of racism and turning them back to those issues that are more personal to us?

            This seems to be a de facto editorial line at MIA but I think it’s flawed and guilty of its own white liberalism. For one, “Black people” rarely think as a “race”; some Black people may object to the slavery analogy, others may not, just as some will see the historical connection between slavery and the prison system and others won’t. (I believe there are currently more Black people in prison than were enslaved at some points.)

            MIA may well seem unwelcoming to Black people — not so much because of serious analytical discussions which are taking place but because everyone is so…WHITE. People need to understand this and try to get some consciousness around it. But this doesn’t mean walking on eggshells around Black people for fear of saying something that might sound racist. If it seems racist people should feel free to point that out and for it to be explored.

            Maybe slavery isn’t a perfect analogy; few are. Making a comparison is not to insist the two are equivalent. But the answer is not simply to censor the thought from one’s mind.

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          • Slavery is a close enough analogy, just as racism compares with ‘sanism or ‘mentalism”. There are, of course, non-white psychiatric survivors, and so there are instances where racism and ‘mentalism’ are directed against the same individual. You could have sexism directed against that individual, too, were the individual a she. The word, and I’m not even groping for it, is prejudice. Racial profiling may be a problem among police forces, but you don’t just get racial profiling with them, you also get mental health profiling. Mental health screening of potential employees is a matter of course, and again, the keyword here is prejudice.

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          • Sera,

            It sounds like you either have somehow acquired demographic data about the skin color of MIA commenters, or you are making some pretty big assumptions.

            As for the rest, I agree with Oldhead’s comment.

            And nobody is stopping black, yellow, and brown people from coming on here. Nothing we have said about slavery should stop them either: slavery and racism are abominations/tragedies and of course, speaking for all of us I’m sure, we oppose slavery/racism. But the parallels between psychiatric practice, slavery, and discrimination are pretty clear, at least to some of us.

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          • And nobody is stopping black, yellow, and brown people from coming on here.

            This is NOT what I’m saying. There is plenty going on at MIA that could easily telegraph a message that this is primarily a site for white people. One of these is the way people here say “we” while talking about them. And this negligence to ferret out and criticize our racism is a definite problem, make no mistake about it.

            It is not “racist” however to engage in analytical debate which touches upon issues of racism, and slavery is sometimes brought up in such discussions. Seems to me we should be considering these connections more, not less. I don’t think it can be denied that the eugenics movement grew out of the slavemaster mentality and followed almost a direct line to what we have today with “modern” psychiatry.

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          • Bpd, Oldhead, Frank, etc…

            This is going to be my last post on this topic, I think…

            I’m finding it upsetting, but also just think I’m about out of time for this one right now.

            Bpd: I certainly don’t know the race or skin color of many commenters. However, some who have been a part of making this analogy have pictures next to their names or are people I know in ‘real life.’ They are white. That certainly doesn’t preclude others being of color, which is why I’ve said ‘most’ and ‘to the best of my knowledge.’

            What I *have* noticed, though is the *one* person who has clearly identified themselves as a person of color is someone who said that they found the analogy upsetting (which has appeared to go completely unrecognized by others engaged in this conversation).

            Oldhead, I’d also agree with you that ‘black people,’ ‘white people,’ and so on do not and should not be expected to think as ‘one,’ and that expecting them to is an issue. HOWEVER, what I *do* know is this:

            1. Many people of color do find it to be an upsetting analogy, just like many people of Jewish heritage object to the many Holocaust references that get made.

            2. While there may be other people of color who do *not* object to such comparisons, it is *not* my place as a white person (nor is it the place of any white person or group of mostly white people) to decide it is okay, even in the face of substantial objections.

            3. As should be true of any oppressed group, we should look to those who do have that direct experience to make the judgment call on these sorts of issues, and should respect those calls that get made.

            4. We need to accept that even if some people of color decide that it’s okay *for them* to make a slavery analogy, that doesn’t then necessarily make it okay for others to follow suit (much like the use of the ‘n’ word by people of color, or the use of terms like ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’ by people who have experience psychiatric oppression, and so on).

            While there may be *some* value in the analogy between slavery and oppression, I can’t fathom that that value outweighs the value of showing respect for people of color by *not* using that analogy.

            We can still speak to some of the overlaps, and common ways that oppression plays out across different groups… And there are enough analogies to go around.


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          • I agree that the end of a long thread is not the place to get into this so I’ll make this my last response on this for now. But I don’t think it’s something that should just be dropped, as it involves crucial issues, especially if people are seriously concerned about the lack of Black participation at MIA. (I speak for myself here and not to support or pile on to anything anyone else has said.)

            Sera, I’ve heard this sort of line before at MIA, and I think it’s condescending and misinterprets some valid principles.

            What I *have* noticed, though is the *one* person who has clearly identified themselves as a person of color is someone who said that they found the analogy upsetting (which has appeared to go completely unrecognized by others engaged in this conversation).

            I’m not sure what is being given the most significance here — the fact that someone is disturbed by something in the comments section, or the fact that she is the ONLY Black person on the site. I think the latter is far more significant and the thing which needs to be addressed.

            Second, I think that to conclude that a Black, Asian, etc. person being disturbed by a point being made in a sincere discussion about something which by definition involves racism (i.e. psychiatry), means that the discussion itself is racist, is off the mark and maybe even racist itself in a patronizing kind of way. The comparison of slavery and psychiatry, as well as the direct links between the two (remember “drapetomania”?) have been a consistent part of anti-psychiatry history and analysis at least since Szasz. And the comparisons should be upsetting.

            Comparing using a racial epithet to making a controversial argument, or engaging in a discussion intended to reach a greater understanding of our oppression, is also totally missing the point (despite the number of white males involved in this particular sub-topic). By this logic “white” people at MIA would have to tailor their beliefs and analyses according to which Black participants were involved in a particular conversation, those who accepted the framework of the discussion and basically agreed (in this case vis. a vis. slavery) or those who were offended by the very suggestion.

            Anyway, this will go on, but not here. Maybe it’s fitting that such a prolific discussion on liberalism, progressivism, etc. ends on a note involving racism. Hopefully we can continue this with a blog specifically about the topic of racism at MIA, much as sera did a while back with her blog on sexism. But I would hope someone associated with MIA with a revolutionary Black perspective can be found to do this, we don’t need some kind of tokenism. (I have one or two people in mind but don’t know if they have the time.)

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      • I think the psychiatrist/patient plantation owner/slave comparisons are apt. Ditto, rapist psychiatrist comparisons. I don’t want *anything* to downgrade or distract from the terribleness of forced psychiatry!

        1. Comparative studies can be, and are, done to good effect. (Examples: Psychiatric Slavery, 1977, and Liberation By Oppression: A Comparative Study of Slavery and Psychiatry, 2002, by Thomas Szasz.) 2. Forced treatment can’t take place without stripping the person being treated of their human rights, and reduced to a less than a full citizen, just as chattel slaves were accounted 3/5ths of a human being early on under law. Reversing the age of consent, as mental health law does, and removing a person from constitutional protections, renders the new born “patient” the legal equivalent of an “adult child”, and essentially places the person in a situation very comparable with that of a slave. 3. There is also the high mortality rates of people in treatment for the most serious of mental health labels that is comparable with that of chattel slaves. It would seem that almost any means would justify remedying it. Early death is another one of those things shared with other peoples without legal rights and protections such as slaves.

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      • I don’t think being a mental patient and being a slave are the same thing. Slaves actually did physical labour for their masters, whereas psychiatric patients consume a substance for which they or the government pay. Those are two very different activities. The psychiatric patient is not compelled to spend all their waking hours performing unpaid labour for the doctor. In fact, the drugs can make it impossible to do any sort of work if they make you enough of a zombie. I think we need a different sort of metaphor here. Perhaps, if you are forced to take psychiatric drugs, you are a prisoner (e.g. take a look at “Tranquil Prisons” by Erick Fabris). But slave, I don’t think so.

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        • I am more inclined toward the rape analogy, where someone exerts power over another for his/her own satisfaction. Slavery involves ownership of another, which is something different than exerting inappropriate CONTROL over another under the premise of it being “for his/her own good.” It certainly qualifies as abuse of power and intentional, systematic oppression, but I think of, say, trafficked youth and the total control the “pimp” has over the child’s life, including extracting financial benefit from forced labor, and it seems there is another element of slavery that is not present in the psychiatric survivor’s situation, as horribly oppressive and abusive as I see that situation being.

          —- Steve

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          • The distinction between “ownership” and “control” is moot when you’re dealing with a total institution. It’s not like you’re allowed to “own” your own property, thoughts, or behaviors. I’ve heard all sorts of lies about doing stuff for good of somebody else put forward as an excuse for psychiatric abduction, imprisonment, torture, etc. I imagine if you looked you could find evidence of the same sort of thing where slavery was concerned in the antebellum south. Perhaps all those happy darkies on Stephen Foster’s old Kentucky home weren’t so happy after all.

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          • I do think that during the time of involuntary commitment and control, the analogy becomes closer. But there are still ways to escape psychiatry that slaves do not and did not have. John Nash is a good example. He recognized who the enemy was and kept a low profile, didn’t tell anyone what he was thinking or doing and years later “came out of” his altered state spontaneously. He managed to escape by avoiding notice, something that a slave doesn’t have as an option.

            That being said, I’ve never had either experience, so I’m probably not qualified to really say.

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        • Nobody is saying that psychiatric slavery is identical to chattel slavery. If it were we’d call it chattel slavery, however, they are comparable. Slavery has been abolished. Racism, much like sexism and ‘sanism’, continues. I don’t thinks anybody benefits by not seeing the similarities between these institutions, and I don’t think covering them up will helps us end those similarities.

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          • It is not semantics and it is not an analogy or comparison. It is real and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes it LEGAL in the supreme law of the land. The State became the slaveholder. Slavery was NEVER abolished.

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          • Benjamin Rush, the “Father of American Psychiatry” was a slave holder who believed that being Black was a disease. Do I really need to go on?

            Mr. (?) Jamil brings up a very important distinction which I missed until recently. I would like to support the observation that the psychiatry/slavery connection is not an “analogy,” as historically speaking psychiatry is firmly and concretely rooted in slavery, not simply “comparable.”

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      • I was not making a comparison or analogy. I am saying it IS slavery according to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and court cases and legislation based on it. If you run afoul of the State and get put through one of its courts, including the courts that commit people to psychiatric wards, the State owns you–literally–and can do what it likes with you. That is slavery and is stated quite plainly in the Amendment our State-run schools tell us “abolished” slavery. It did no such thing.

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    • Liberals are not usually influenced so much by the writings of Karl Marx, and many actual Leftists (as distinguished from liberals) don’t subscribe to Marx’s analysis of the lumpenproletariat anyway (as you can read for yourself under the sub-heading “Anarchist and late 20th Century Perspectives”).

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      • Marxism was always flawed in many respects. It’s a wonder that the failure of the Soviet experiment hasn’t done more to tarnish its reputation. There is the materialism that underlies Marxism for one thing, the idea that you could just stand the spiritualist Hegel on his head, the project of these new Hegelian thinkers, and come up with a viable system.

        I’m not a capitalist. I see myself as a anarcho-communist. The determinism of Marxists however, in my book, is similar to the determinism of bio-psychiatrists, and I can do without the determinism of either. I see free will as incompatible with determinism. Of course, if you’re going to practice one form of tyranny or another, perhaps a good dose of determinism is called for, how else are you going get people voluntarily to fasten shackles to their ankles and wrists..

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          • You might be projecting something onto the term from your own experience, though I’m not actually sure how marx would define it.

            I also think that some things misapplied to individuals can be accurately applied on the class level. I’m thinking about the working class stiffs who call up talk radio to rail about welfare fraud, the “right to work,” etc. etc. as though somehow this is in their personal interest when it actually reflects the interests of their objective oppressors, i.e. the corporate bosses. I can see calling this sort of denial “false consciousness.”

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    • Sounds like he’s talking about what I would call lowlifes. I don’t bow down to assholes or criminals either just because they’re part of the “working class.” But I didn’t notice Marx saying anything about “mental defectives” in the Wiki blurb.

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      • I think the quote is from a passage in which Marx is making an argument that the populations he lists supported the dictator Louis Napoleon in the French coup of 1851 because of their relationship to the means of production. In my opinion, this point is obscured by Marx’s moralizing.

        It’s pretty clear to me that Marxian class analysis would put many mental patients in that category, too, given their relationship to the means of production.* And do you really want to say that the people on Marx’s list are all “lowlifes” when it is a list that includes beggars and itinerant workers?

        * from the same Wikipedia page:

        The Marxist Internet Archive writes that “[lumpenproletariat] identifies the class of outcast, degenerated and submerged elements that make up a section of the population of industrial centers” which include “beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps, chronic unemployed or unemployables, persons who have been cast out by industry, and all sorts of declassed, degraded or degenerated elements.”

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        • Also (and this is not directed at oldhead, but is a general statement), let’s not take a single quote from one person and act like we can then make general statements about movements that have been developing all over the world for over 150 years.

          Contrast the uncharacteristically sloppy and moralizing quote from Marx with this quote from the American socialist Eugene Debs who won 6% of the vote for president in 1912:

          “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

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          • while there is a criminal element I am of it

            That’s dumb actually. He didn’t believe that disenfranchised people can commit criminal acts against other disenfranchised people? Why would he identify with that?

            Mao discussed the differences between contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the state — a consideration which is probably relevant here.

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          • He didn’t believe that disenfranchised people can commit criminal acts against other disenfranchised people?

            Of course he didn’t. But remember, we live in a country in which the very poverty created by capitalism is criminalized (anti-homeless laws, for example). That’s why I like this quote.

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          • An interesting thing about Debs (I’m pretty sure) — Wasn’t the whole thing about not having a right to “shout fire in a crowded theatre” from his trial (his indictment of the system supposedly being an example of such)?

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        • Don’t know if that’s Marx’s quote or theirs, but no, I’m not going to claim that Marx was free of his own unrecognized class and culture bound prejudices. But he accurately surmised that practically speaking there is a strata that, for all practical purposes, is (or was) not amenable to organizing around the class struggle. But as we now realize, this is not necessarily immutable; prostitutes and other sex workers, for example, now do some very class-based organizing.

          I have a problem with giving people labels based on something they sometimes do, such as “beggars.” There are certainly people who engage in begging because they have no option, but where I live they also do it because they know there’s lots of guilty liberal schmucks who will buy into their con job sob story and give them money, which encourages them to continue lurking around the neighborhood and semi-intimidate people into helping them avoid working. I do consider them lowlifes.

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          • PS I don’t actually care about the avoiding work part, but object to them sucking $ from other working people who really can’t afford to give them anything but think they “should” to avoid trouble.

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          • Good point about the word “beggars.” I used that word only because Marx did and I was trying to keep continuity. And I was referring to people who have no other option because they are shut out of the labor market for one reason or another.

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  21. ^
    The invasive, demanding “right to know” the alien, the Other, the native.
    The paralysis inflicted by telling people they can’t change the world until they’re “healed.”
    The orthodox-communist scapegoating of the mutants / criminal-class.
    All these things are real. We never can do a simple thing, can we?

    We can never start on neutral ground. Unless we’re playing chess in New Orleans. 🙂

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Prime-Thirteen. I’m still so interested to see if we can break down the barriers, or at least better understand why they are there… This comments section has been useful to me in that direction, but I also totally get just being fed up and walking away!


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      • It’s really the coercion that I find atrocious. I’m agnostic about treatment modalities; I take lamotrigine myself and I find that it does help with my depressive cycles. I wouldn’t want to see treatment options taken away from people who want them.

        My experience is that most liberals and progressives simply want to reopen the old asylum gulag archipelago. They rail against Ronald Reagan “opening the doors and letting them run free,” putting civil rights in scare quotes (only true humans have civil rights) they use pejoratives like wacko, loon, “the crazies,” nutcase, etc. They use us as bogeymen and scapegoats; they impugn the credibility of their opponents through use of the DSM-as-weapon. They care about us in the same way they care about animals.

        I heard this kind of thing every single day when I was still with them. Every. Single. Day. The final straw was someone saying something like “to hell with their ‘civil rights.’ They wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway.” Screw them with rusty rebar.

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        • That was the neo-liberal scam to create totalitarianism as a way of life for everyone, not just institutionalized crazies. They got people dependent on institutionalization and threw them out on the street with a welfare or SSI check, with the inevitable results, then said they had “money management” problems as a result of their “mental illness.” Enter the “community mental health center” to scoop up the remains while drawing in the rest of the neighborhood to partake as well.

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          • Yep, my local medical clinic has a micro-psych ward hidden away in the back around a corner where nobody can see, with a (presumably) Red Alert light over the door. Liberal or conservative, progressive or reactionary, I don’t care. This is society’s failure and its disgrace. I am only one really bad day away from the wrong side of that door, and I live with that knowledge every day of my life.

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  22. Working outside the system can be in a critical capacity or in the creation of an alternative system altogether.

    It is erroneous to assume that this can be done while under the thumb of an oppressive corporate/governmental ruling apparatus. What do you mean by ‘alternative” anyway? — i.e. alternative what?

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  23. Hi Ms. Davidow,

    So far I am following what you’re saying but I need to clarify something. When you liken the examples of a rape victim to a person who is showing “mental illness” symptoms so to speak as a direct result of being harmed or hurt…can the same be applied to if someone is branded “mentally ill” even if they have *not* had any kind of traumatic experience? I don’t know if I’m making any sense here…for example, I completely understand what you’re saying when how if someone is raped and ranting about his/her judgement, how they were dressed, etc., is constituted as blaming the victim and it’s wrong. I also understand the counterpart example you’re laying out that if someone is traumatized and hurt, and as a result of that they become diagnosed if you will, with a mental illness, that is *also* bl,aming the victim and therefore wrong (did I understand this correctly?).

    My question is, what if someone has always had a mental health condition but not as a result of hurt from anyone or anything outside of themselves…would this still apply? Also, are you basically saying that all mental “illness” is a direct or indirect result of a specific hurt or trauma? I am not agreeing or disagreeing by any means at all. I am just trying to clarify and see if I understood your article as I’m brand new and was suggested to read this blog and you in particular because I am very interested in the mental health field. I hope my post made sense here. Thank you so much for this article!

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    • Hi, I am replying to the question posed by Sana95. Namely, what if a person is suffering or showing signs of “mental illness” yet did not have a trauma in their lives?

      First of all, I was a person who fell into such a category in a way. I was not abused as a child. I did not grow up in a violent household and by all means my parents were engaged parents who raised me well. There were a many reasons I ended up in the Mental Health System and the following is only one of the reasons.

      I appeared spacey and although I was highly intelligent and had no learning disabilities, I couldn’t hold down a job! I could do some jobs but not others. I was timely and responsible, this was not the problem. I had no trouble reading, writing, memorizing, comprehending, or doing math. Guess what I absolutely cannot do to this day? I can’t tell my right from my left. I am now 58 years old and it wasn’t until I was over half a century old until the wonderful field of neurology finally figured out that many human beings cannot do this very easily. No, it doesn’t come to us instantly as our society had originally assumed. Actually, the fact that it takes me ages to figure out which is which means I am not well suited for many jobs, but can do many others just fine. But some 40 years ago, I had no clue and many of my shrinks told me I had a bad attitude, was belligerent, was depressed, or was mentally defective.

      When you see me today, it’s still actually a rather visible trait. I really do look a bit lost in certain situations. People assume too soon! What I have has finally has a name after all these years. It is called right-left confusion. I do not have a mood disorder nor dementia. I never bothered to get tested since I simply knew as soon as I found out there was a name for what I always knew was true. Twenty-five percent of college students do not know their right from their left, regardless of gender, I have read. I know better than to try to go into certain lines of work, but most academic situations do not demand an instant, real-time knowledge of right-left directions, except perhaps team sports, which of course I have known to avoid. Nowadays I know enough to laugh at how I must appear to others who see only a spaceshot and have no clue.

      I believe the cause was an accident of nature that happened because of the way my ears and brain process sound signals (I was musically inclined anyway, so that figures) and because I am right handed and my other family members (my mom and my kid brothers) were left handed.

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    • Sana,

      No, I’m definitely NOT saying that all psychiatric diagnosis or related distress is the result of trauma. I’m really not a fan of stepping out of one box (it’s all brain diseae/medical model) *only* to step into another (it’s all trauma)… (I actually was a part of making a film ‘Beyond the Medical Model’ that makes this point precisely…)

      Moreso, my point is that our culture currently conveys that there is only one way, and they do so to such an extent that they often don’t even TALK about the ‘other ways’ and that that has been damaging on so many different levels to our culture as a whole and to people individually.

      In the end, I think there’s so many different reasons people have these experiences from trauma, to nutrition, to spiritual emergency, to a whole host of other possible explanations… Some of which make more sense to me personally than others. But in the end, I don’t think they need to all make sense to *me*… What’s important is that people have choices, opportunity to make their own meaning, and a chance to see how the meaning they’re making is actually impacting their life…


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  24. One last thing I’d like to mention is that if you’re sad and can’t work, you won’t be able to survive without the help of liberal social programs.

    The requirements of the social programs it that you are diagnosed with an illness called depression, that it is a chemical imbalance, and that you have a disability.

    I understand the point of corruption within mental health, but be careful what moral high ground you stand on.

    Some people can’t work without these medications, while others can’t work no matter what due to overwhelming sadness, and we shouldn’t question the victims without compassion in place to fix their problems during their pursuit of happiness.

    Criticize liberals all you want, but they off them compassion medications and income assistance, when others offer them nothing but meditation, exercise, tough love, which is well and good for some but not a fix for everyone.

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    • As I’ve been reading more and more of this blog, I don’t think it’s my cup of tea either. There is a lot of resistance to the system (in this case, the field of mental health and psychiatry) forcing their ideologies and treatments upon the vulnerable who feel like their rights is being squelched simply because they have a mental illness diagnosis.

      However, taking an absolute stance the other way doesn’t exactly protect the vulnerable who have the opposite experiences either. I am one of those, and I have come across many a condescending, holier than thou, do gooder anti establishment know it alls that treat me as if MY decisions and choices for treatment that I make for my own well being are somehow misguided and brainwashed. That I should not do this, but do either that or this instead. Meanwhile where does that leave me? Because these well intentioned, but downright condescending guidelines thrown out by people do not take the time to ask me that I have already did all that stuff you recommend, and it STILL didn’t help me to feel better and/or be me.

      It is insulting because there is this attitude that I or others like me, don’t know my brain or my body OR my own experiences. Therefore I should stop trusting myself and trust these raging voices instead. Meanwhile *I* and others like me pay the price.

      How is this behavior and finger wagging any different than the complaints being made against the psychiatric system that has also imposed their ideas upon others? Now people on this blog keep advocating for, what it sounds like to me, to do away with psychotherapy, medication, and its forms of treatment. Maybe that is not the message but it certainly is coming across that way. If that were to happen, what would people who are in a vulnerable state who actually benefit from these, do? What is left for us?

      Because the vulnerable is not just existent on one side of the experience aisle. My frustration is that articles such as these rather than being direct and addressing these issues, it antagonizes, criticizes those who see it differently, and seemingly veiling the suggestion that the only solution feasible is to get rid of treatments that a great number of people consider vital to their well being.

      And if I or others call that out, then we get accused of being “part of the system” or brainwashed.

      ALL experiences are valid. THAT is the mindset of a Liberal progressive. Has anyone stopped to think that the *reason* why the Liberals support psychiatry and mental health treatments it is because in their eyes even if there is a fraction of those who benefit from these treatments, than they should have the right to decide that for themselves, and ability to access it without being blocked? At least what I don’t see from Liberals is an invalidation of the negative experiences people had with psychiatry or any alternative routes chosen to take, and yet I come across exactly this time and time again by the anti psychiatry/anti-establishment groups.

      I think I’ll pass and move on.

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      • Sana,

        I actually don’t hear *most* people around these parts taking an absolute perspective against the medical model… Most of us are arguing most strenuously against the fact that the medical model is portrayed as the *only* option as an absolute truth. I think you may be misunderstanding some of what is being said… At least by me!


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        • I hope you change your mind. In my view psychiatry either is or isn’t a fraudulent proposition. “Mental illness” either can exist or it can’t; there is no logical middle ground. If it can’t, then saying the medical model is a matter of choice is like saying the sum of 2+2 is a matter of choice. Right?

          In any case, thanks again for instigating such a multi-faceted discussion.

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          • oldhead,

            Eh, three points:

            1) I think we (I) can say that ‘mental illness’ absolutely does NOT exist as people have purported it to exist, and *still* leave room for what we do not know about the potential of any sort of biological component for *some* people… It feels silly to me to claim that *I* would ever be able to know what is leading to the distress of every single person on the planet…

            2) The medical model of mental illness is (or at least usually is/has been) an absolutist approach that says *everything* is ‘mental illness,’ and doesn’t leave space for anything else. I can say, without doubt or hesitation, that THAT is wrong.

            3) But perhaps most importantly, my stance is largely about a lack of investment in controlling what people believe. In other words, even if I vehemently do not believe in the medical model of mental illness, I simply *have to* let go of forcing others to believe similarly to me or else I perpetuate certain aspects of the system that I very much want no part in. Sure, I think it’s *essential* that many of us are out there arguing #1, #2, and so many other critical points about which people are so misinformed (and that prevents them from being able to make any sort of legitimate choice about anything), b ut in the end… I have to let go of what they believe from that point on.


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        • Hmm. I don’t think you have to worry about “forcing” anyone to believe anything, I don’t think any of us have that power. But you can unequivocally state the truth as you understand it and hope others will catch on; if not there’s time for them to put it together eventually.

          But since I know you’re concerned with how words and language are used I’m sort of surprised that you neglect the most obvious reason that “mental illness” doesn’t exist, which is that unless you change the meanings of words and the way that language is used, you cannot have a disease of an abstraction such as “mind.” You cannot take a mind smear or dissect the mind at autopsy to see what went wrong. A metaphor is not the real thing. The mind is not the brain. I just don’t see any room for debate on this, not that I’m unwilling to engage in it anyhow.

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      • Now people on this blog keep advocating for, what it sounds like to me, to do away with psychotherapy

        First, if you feel put down by some here I’m not going to claim you’re imagining things, different people take different attitudes, some of them inappropriate. Although the “therapy” part of the term “psychotherapy” is a problem for many, there are few here who would actively oppose it rather than consider it your personal decision. There are many things called “psychotherapy,” some helpful, some harmful.

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      • As a person who has worked inside the system, I can tell you that the right to benefit from treatment is never at issue. It is the right to decide that one is NOT benefiting from treatment or would benefit more from another approach that is denied to clients/patients. In my view, a Liberal person, in the way you describe it, would be in a place where s/he wanted the PATIENT/CLIENT to be able to decide what their experience was and what it means, much in the way you describe wanting to have your own experience and viewpoint without having it invalidated. I absolutely grant you that right, and I think Sera has proven over many years of hard work that she respects the right of people to do whatever they need to do to take care of themselves.

        The bigger issue that comes into play is the DEFINING of people’s experience as “mental illness” based on a list of
        “criteria” agreed upon by a group of mostly male, mostly white, entirely middle- or upper-class American doctors (with a few psychologists tossed in here and there) who have little to no understanding as to what is or may be “wrong” (if anything) with the people they so label.

        Certainly, no one here would deny the reality of suffering, and as Sera has said many times over, she fully supports the use of these drugs by anyone who finds them to be helpful (given, of course, an honest “informed consent” discussion prior to them being given out). But finding a substance helpful for your own condition is VERY different from another person defining for you both what is “wrong” with you (based on the subjective and culturally-bound process described above) AND what you HAVE TO to for your “condition,” even if you don’t want to or have tried it and found it extremely destructive. I would think that any Liberal worthy of the name would be deeply opposed to the idea that someone else gets to both define your experience and command what experience you will have in the future based on a set of culturally-bound, subjective, and frankly deeply biased criteria invented by a committee at the APA!

        If, as you say, the Liberal mindset is one in which all experiences are valid, why is it so difficult for those same folks to understand that not all people have the same experience with the “mental health” system, even if some people (like you) report very positive experiences? Would you not expect that a Liberal mindset would involve acceptance that each person receiving such services would be entitled to his/her own perception and reaction to the services provided? Would s/he not be in favor of providing maximum information, choice, and empowerment for the recipients, rather than favoring the enforced intervention of the State “for the client’s own good?”

        — Steve

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    • jackdaniels,

      Sometimes that’s a bit of a trap, though, isn’t it? Part of my point – as you must realize – is that I’m speaking to ‘liberals’ here precisely *because* they SHOULD be allies for so many of their other beliefs and actions… And yet, largely, they’re not.

      It’s ridiculous that one should need to take psychiatric drugs in order to access benefits like housing, job benefits, social security disability, and so on… But that’s exactly what some of these programs require (varies somewhat from area to area on how much is required).

      Sure the programs are good in many ways for many people.. Yet, NONE of that addresses what I speak to in this blog. And, surely, if you’ve read through my blog and comments, it should also be clear that I’m not suggesting that medical model options be taken from those who truly want them, either…

      Ultimately, it all just brings me back to my earlier point about well meaning people bring about the worst kind of tyrranies…


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      • I don’t get how they don’t have the insight to realize that making social security conditional on treatment compliance inevitably contributes to homelessness. What most people don’t realize is that most homeless people are homeless because the alternatives are worse.

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      • Sera

        My point concerning liberals and you needing them as an ally is that without liberals, there is no help for people who are sad.

        The conservatives believe in tough love, not compassion.

        They believe sadness is weakness, depression is a sin in the way they interpret the bible. Love whether it is interpreted in bible or not does not punish the sad.

        What I’d like you and everyone here to understand is that we must unite among our petty differences, or divided our greatest fears become realized.

        Those fears are forced treatment or no treatment, or forced help or the absence of compassion.

        Well meaning liberals may be misguided but can be reached, while conservatives don’t want to be reached. While extending an olive branch for allies, try to make it appear more like constructive criticism as opposed to negative criticism..

        This will accomplish everyone’s goal without leaving a bitter taste that the other side will capitalize on.

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        • That’s a false dichotomy; the world is not composed entirely of liberals and conservatives. In fact most people who call themselves liberals or conservatives are no such thing when you look below the surface. Most people are fascists.

          But if I had to make a choice between forced treatment and no treatment, I would take no treatment any day of the week. No treatment is heartless, but forced treatment is an atrocity.

          I’m sorry, but the liberals lost me, and I’m never going back. They should be the ones extending olive branches, not us. Oppressed and marginalized groups are always being told by liberals that they should adopt a more deferential tone and maybe then they might earn a few scraps from the table. I’ve had enough. Enough to last more than one lifetime, for sure.

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          • There are certainly plenty of oppressive attitudes amongst “liberals,” and some “conservatives” I have found to be quite rational. I don’t think we should make assumptions about peoples’ openness to this kind of thinking based on political affiliations or beliefs.

            But I think Sera’s point is well taken – the question is not whether we should ally with such liberals as see what is going on and understand the overlap and interaction between racial, gender, and psychiatric oppression. I think she’s saying that liberals IN GENERAL should be open to making this connection (“Intersectionality” is all the rage theses days, after all) and yet a large majority appear to be unwilling to see the similarities and connections between these various forms of oppression and are all to ready to let psychiatry off the hook, and usually advocate for “more treatment” rather than looking at what the diagnostic and treatment protocols commonly practiced really DO to clients.

            In the end, psychiatric oppression isn’t a liberal/conservative thing. It’s about connections and compassion for the human condition, and frankly, a small minority of Americans seem to be able to muster these for the “mentally ill” regardless of what end of the political spectrum they represent.

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          • Prime-Thirteen you have that luxury to reject the compassion of liberals in the form of treatment, while others need those psychiatric medications to live and work, or the welfare income to eat.

            To Mcrea you’re missing the context, and irresponsibly taking the high ground by saying ‘this is not a liberal/conservative thing’, when the topic of this article clearly holds liberals accountable for a specific problem.

            If we’re generally speaking here then conservatives generally offer no compassion to those who are depressed or otherwise psychologically troubled, other than the church, tough love, or a simple phrase of quit whining everyone has problems.

            Simply put you’re asking liberals who generally offer compassion to accept they are the oppressors,, when its the conservatives who generally don’t offer compassion who are truly behind the oppression.

            A lot of these problems about forced treatment would easily be solved if more people would unite with liberals, and articulate the problems with their systems of compassion respectfully instead of with indictment.

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  25. Okay first off I want to sincerely apologize to Sera for blowing up last night with my post. There were several reasons based on my persinal experience on why I became triggered, and after reading this piece (and admittedly not being too clear on the intentions of where it was coming from) and then several of the comments here. I prohected, and I am sorry.

    I thank Sera, Steve and a couple others for taking addressing my concerns without attacking me and bringing me back to balance in answering my concern. I have constantly come across the controlling mind set of the opposite side of the coin and have been taken advantage of as well by those who, like JackDaniels mentioned, pushed meditation, food, Yoga, or the Anthony Robbins pick yourself up by the bootstraps neo aged misogyny type “life coaches” that were vehemently anti psychiatry anti treatment of any kind and got taken advantage of emotionally, financiall and even sexually due to my vulnerable state. Where I live is a type of place where even just mentioning slightly the word of seeking professional treatment I get “no no no no no, eat flax seeds, go to laughing Yoga retreat, learn to take accountability for YOUR state.”

    Little did these fools understand that I am a HYPER accountable person. I take accountability for EVERYTHING that I do and what others do TO me. Even in the midst of my sexual assault by a “teacher” I was confused and thinking *I* “attracted” this and that this isn’t assault. I am “brainwashed.” Or thinking that my non new aged coach who isn’t into psycgiatry or “labeling” at all, pushing and pushing me beyond the scope of my mental and physical limits is right when he says I am getting “lazy” and using my “past” to stop me from succeeding. Even when I only get 3 hours of sleep a night to complete the stack of work HE assigned me to “succeed” in life!

    I mistakenly thought this was similar, especially when I came across the comment of slavery being likened to Psychiatry. I am of African American heritage, my great grandparents were slaves, and for some reason I did not appreciate that metaphor at all. It felt like to me that once again, I am being talked down too and now my heritage is used to further a personal agenda.

    I didn’t understand with the addressing of this article to Liberals in a more established based context. I sort of did, but being Liberal myself I took it personally on an individual based context and felt blamed for supporting a potentially “oppressive” body of structure for some people. To answer Steve’s question, of COURSE the Liberal establishment should support more choice in treatment and not lock the system as a one sided, single minded approach of mental illness vs. no mental illness.

    Again I am sorry, I did not understand that was the intention. I fell into massive trigger mode and shot. I wqnt ALL aspects of people’s vulnerabilities taken into consideration and implement care that way. My biggest fear triggered when I heard and projected one establishment of control being replaced for another. I tend to be very hypersensitive, but I’m learning. Thank you for taking my hot headed views into consideration and addressing my concerns in a very thoughtful and even sensitive manner. I sincerely appreciate that.

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    • I very much appreciate your thoughtful reply. I find it rare that someone is able to reconsider their initial emotional reaction when faced with some rational counter-response, and in fact I would consider that ability the heart of a truly progressive attitude.

      I also totally get that there are plenty of other methods and approaches that are put forward as panaceas for your “condition,” and some folks advocating for these approaches can be just as rigid and oppressive as their psychiatric counterparts. None of that is helpful, honestly. Empowerment is what heals best, even if there is something physical that is objectively malfunctioning in an individual. Empowered heart or cancer patients have been shown to do better than those treated by an authoritarian and dismissive doctor – would this not be even more critical when mental/emotional distress is involved? I have never understood why this is not obvious to many in the mental health industry.

      There are also practitioners of every art and technology who are just abusive and use their approach to enable them to find victims more easily. Sounds to me like that might be what happened to you, and I can’t stress enough that in my view, you are NOT responsible in any way for that kind of reprehensible behavior from that criminal posing as a professional.

      It is an unfortunate reality, again in my view, that psychiatry as a profession has co-opted many people’s desire to reduce suffering and turned it into a propaganda campaign against anyone questioning their authority. This doesn’t mean people don’t sometimes or even often do better with the assistance of certain substances. It means that the profession at the highest levels is engaged in manipulation of known facts in the service of an agenda that has little to do with helping the likes of you and me.

      I strongly suggest you read Robert Whitaker’s book, “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” which was the inspiration for this site. It will, I think, explain a lot about why so many folks here are against the general concept of labeling and drugging everyone who is experiencing mental/emotional distress as a first line of “treatment,” when the evidence shows that such an approach in the collective appears to have some significant adverse consequences, even when in individual cases it may work out to a benefit. I am very hopeful you will find it eye-opening and educational.

      Thanks for hanging in and reading our replies!

      —- Steve

      P.S. As you can see from my comments, I agree with you about the “slavery” analogy being inappropriate, and I can understand your reaction. However, I think those referring to forced psychiatric intervention as analogous to rape have a lot of evidence to back up their views.

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    • It’s totally mind-blowing the first time people are exposed to an explicitly anti-psychiatry atmosphere because it changes all the parameters they’re used to and the (what pass for) supports to which they have become accustomed. It’s also no doubt threatening for you to hear people making connections between things you abhor and others you have learned to defend. So don’t waste your time apologizing, there’s nothing to be sorry for. You’re allowed to get pissed off here. 🙂

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  26. I recently decided that humans are judgmental, period. People make faulty conclusions based on first impressions. This is why we writers are told to write powerful first sentences, because our writers will be wowed by what hits them smack in their faces, before they get to what’s midway through. Never mind attractive book covers. Can we do political wheeling and dealing to change human nature? I don’t think we can change human thinking and get employers to EVER hire in an unprejudicial fashion. I cannot imagine employers will stop discriminating against overweight or older candidates no matter what the laws say. Kids who stutter will always face teasing at school. We can minimize discrimination, we can recognize that it exists, we can acknowledge it when it happens, we can be honest, we can apologize, we can state truthfully how we feel.

    I do not particularly like to be called stupid, abnormal, crazy, “not right,” or names like that. Told I am imagining something or making something up when I am not. Or have my humanity and credibility otherwise stolen from me.

    Last night I had the pleasure of meeting another person who told me that when he is on foot, he, too, has to cross busy streets and walk right up within a few feet of street signs in order to see them, since he cannot read them in focus otherwise.

    I said, “Me too.” Until that moment, we had both been called “crazy.” Ah, what a joy. Me too. No, you’re not crazy. God bless those words.

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