Is Society or Psychiatry to Blame for the “Seriously Mentally Ill” Dying 25 Years Prematurely?

The uncomfortable fact is that many of us don't care about the seriously mentally ill.


This article was recently published by AlterNet with the title Is Society or Psychiatry to Blame for the ‘Seriously Mentally Ill’ Dying 25 Years Prematurely?

“Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This is not controversial, as establishment psychiatry and its critics agree.

What is controversial is who is to blame—society, psychiatry, or the victims themselves? And what is too taboo for the mainstream media to even discuss is whether many of us, privately, don’t care—or may even want this population to disappear.

If we could admit that our society’s entire way of thinking about people diagnosed with “serious mental illness” has failed, we might become curious about other societies that view this population very differently—and have gotten very different results.

Who is to Blame?

In 2011, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that still another major study found, on average, Americans with major mental illness die 14 to 32 years earlier than the general population, and he then attempted to explain it:

Disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder are risk factors for suicide, but most people with SMI [serious mental illness] do not die by suicide. Rather, the 5 percent of Americans who have SMI die of the same things that the rest of the population experiences—cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and diabetes. They are more likely to suffer chronic diseases associated with addiction (especially nicotine), obesity (sometimes associated with antipsychotic medication), and poverty (with its attendant poor nutrition and health care) and they may suffer the adverse health consequences earlier.

Antipsychotic medications’ association with obesity, as noted by the NIMH director, is part of the explanation for premature deaths; and according to the American Family Physician, antipsychotic drugs’ “life-shortening adverse effects” include diabetes, postural hypotension (especially deadly for patients with fall risk), cardiac arrhythmia, and sudden cardiac death.

Psychiatrist Grace Jackson, critic of her profession and author of Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs, believes that establishment psychiatry minimizes the deadly effects of antipsychotic drugs. Jackson observes, “From the perspective of a physician, I agree that the causes of ill health are multifactorial and include poverty, poor diet, and homelessness, but even with proper diet, safe lodging, loving friends, and meaningful employment, psychiatric drugs end lives prematurely. It would be a tremendous disservice to patients to ignore the toxic effects of these drugs.”

The NIMH director also lists cigarette smoking as a major cause of premature death, noting, “People with a mental illness are more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes.” However, blaming patients’ irresponsible cigarette smoking is an unfair “blaming the victim,” as antipsychotic drugs actually increase the desire for nicotine.

Specifically, a 2009 report, “Smoking and Schizophrenia,” states that, “Smoking may be an attempt by schizophrenic patients to alleviate cognitive deficits and to reduce extrapyramidal side-effects induced by antipsychotic medication.” Cigarette smoking enhances dopaminergic activity, which is especially craved by people using dopamine-diminishing antipsychotic drugs. According to the report, cigarette smoking can increase the clearance of antipsychotic drugs, and thus may be a way for antipsychotic drug users to lessen the adverse effects of these drugs.

Antipsychotic drugs are the primary—and routinely the only—treatment by establishment psychiatry for people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. However, in addition to these drugs’ direct deadly adverse effects as well as increasing the desire for cigarettes, psychiatry’s primary treatment also contributes to the premature death rate because of its general ineffectiveness resulting in financial poverty.

Investigative reporter Robert Whitaker in “The Case Against Antipsychotics: A Review of Their Long-Term Effects” offers extensive research to back up his conclusion that: “Antipsychotics, on the whole, worsen long-term outcomes.” While for some individuals, Whitaker notes, these drugs may provide a short-term benefit, there is a long line of research showing that antipsychotic drugs, as he states, “Impair functioning over the long-term.”

Impairing functioning over the long-term is obviously going to result in increased unemployment and poverty. And poverty, caused by any means, is well-established as being associated with premature death.

The stigma of mental illness can result in unemployment, poverty, social isolation and also “diagnostic overshadowing”—a stigmatization in medical care in which the physical symptoms of people diagnosed with serious mental illness are falsely attributed to mental illness, resulting in not receiving treatment for very real medical conditions—another cause of premature death.

While establishment psychiatry rails against the stigma of mental illness, they have actually exacerbated it through their “brain disease” explanations. In “Myth: Reframing Mental Illness as a ‘Brain Disease’ Reduces Stigma, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF),” reported in 2012: “Despite good intentions, evidence actually shows that anti-stigma campaigns emphasizing the biological nature of mental illness have not been effective, and have often made the problem worse.” A 2010 study in Psychiatry Research reported that for the general public, the acceptance of the brain disease or “biogenetic model” of mental illness was associated with a desire for a greater social distance from the mentally ill.

The CHSRF concludes, “Biological explanations can also instill an ‘us vs. them’ attitude, defining individuals with mental illness as fundamentally different.” Especially maddening, psychiatry’s highly promulgated biological explanation of the “biochemical brain imbalance theory of mental illness” has long been scientifically disproven—this recently announced even by establishment psychiatry.

Alternately, the CHSRF concludes, “Presenting mental illness in the context of . . . psychological and social stressors normalizes symptoms, creating a healthier public perception of mental illness.” Trauma is the psychological-social stressor that is likely the most critical variable (see articles: Trauma and Psychosis; Trauma, Psychosis, and Dissociation; and Childhood Trauma and Psychosis—What is the Evidence?).

Even more helpful in reducing the stigma of “serious mental illness” is eliminating this term “serious mental illness,” and instead using terms such as “altered state” or “extreme emotional state.” While these states can be frightening for society, family, and those experiencing them, depathologizing these states is one of the best ways to eliminate stigma. Depathologizing these altered and extreme emotional states, debunking brain-disease reductionism, and advocating for psychological-social approaches are among the goals of organizations such as the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry; the National Empowerment Center; and MindFreedom.

So Why Do We Allow Psychiatry To Stay in Charge?

Given the horrific premature death rate and research such as a 2003 study in Psychiatry Research that reported: “On long-term prospective evaluation, risk for death in schizophrenia was doubled on a background of enduring engagement in psychiatric care,” the question is: Why do we allow psychiatry to stay in charge?

It’s difficult to imagine society allowing an authority with such horrible results to stay in charge of a population that a society actually cared about. Would professional sports team owners allow orthopedic surgeons to remain in charge of treating their injured star players if these surgeons’ results consisted of, on average, increased impaired functioning and premature death? Team owners and fans care about these star athletes and would not accept the litany of excuses for failure that most of us accept from psychiatry.

So, why don’t enough of us care about the population diagnosed with serious mental illness?

One answer is that altered and extreme emotional states of people diagnosed with serious mental illness can create havoc for families and society within our economic system—an economic system that obliterates genuine community and creates extremely stressed families already struggling to find enough hours in the day to survive. And so families are vulnerable to resenting those in altered and extreme emotional states who need a great deal of attention, support, and time.

In many indigenous and tribal societies that have genuine community, people experiencing altered and extreme emotional states do not create havoc but are seen in a positive light. In Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening, filmmaker and photographer Phil Borges, who has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures for over 25 years, investigated 40 shamans from all over the world. He observes that shamans in a community are routinely identified with “the call” going through a psychological crisis in their teens when they hear voices, have hallucinations, and exhibit other behaviors that are seen by psychiatrists in our society as “symptoms” of psychosis. In contrast to our society, in many indigenous and tribal societies, people who experience these altered states are viewed as “having a gift” and a “talent,” and so their behavior is seen positively. Instead of working with a psychiatrist and being viewed as mentally ill, they work with a mentor who has similarly experienced such a state and who is in the best positon to reduce anxiety and fine-tune their gift to be helpful to the community.

The late ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, who also studied indigenous and tribal societies, concluded similarly with Borges:

In a traditional society, if you exhibited “schizophrenic” tendencies, you are immediately drawn out of the pack and put under the care and tutelage of master shamans. You are told: “You are special. Your abilities are very central to the health of our society. You will cure. You will prophesy. You will guide our society in its most fundamental decisions.” Contrast this with what a person exhibiting schizophrenic activity in our society is told. They’re told: “You don’t fit in. You are becoming a problem. You don’t pull your own weight. You are not of equal worth to the rest of us. You are sick. You have to go to the hospital. You have to be locked up.” You are on a par with prisoners and lost dogs in our society. So that treatment of schizophrenia makes it incurable.

Prior to modernity and not just in indigenous cultures and tribal society, when people experienced altered or extreme emotional states—such as being seriously suicidal—there was a very different reaction than the one of our current society. Abraham Lincoln biographer Joshua Wolf Shenk, in Lincoln’s Melancholy, recounts Lincoln’s friends’ “suicide watch” over him; and Shenk describes how Lincoln’s extreme dark emotional states “seemed not a matter of shame but an intriguing aspect of his character, and indeed an aspect of his grand nature,” which rather than stigmatizing Lincoln actually drew people toward him.

The key to a community truly helping people experiencing altered and extreme emotional states is for that community to believe that these states have meaning and value for the community. Once a society diseases and pathologizes these states as mere “illness” and “defect” without meaning or value, those people experiencing these states are seen as burdens on society.

When people get treated as unwelcome burdens, they can become angry and agitated or, depending on their temperament, become passively dysfunctional.

The more a society demands machine-like efficiency and productivity, the more people experiencing altered and extreme emotional states are seen as monkey-wrenches and burdens. When a society becomes so fanatical about machine-like efficiency and productivity that ethical injunctions against murder are thrown out the window, societies like Nazi Germany emerge.

In Nazi Germany’s T4 Program, involving virtually all of German psychiatry, Hitler created a mandate to kill anyone deemed to have a “life unworthy of living,” which certainly included people diagnosed with serious mental illness. Lack of economic productivity was the major criterion for inclusion in T4, and the Nazis referred to the program’s victims as having “burdensome lives.”

To be clear, modern American society is not Nazi-German society, as it would be taboo in present American society to actually euthanize those diagnosed with serious mental illness. But in the United States in the earlier part of the twentieth century, there was widespread compulsory sterilization of those diagnosed with serious mental illness; and in current American society, apparently it is acceptable for this population to die, on average, 25 years prematurely without seriously challenging the authorities in charge of treating them.

Among societies that prioritize economic efficiency and productivity over life and all of life’s varieties, there are certainly differences in how they treat those who experience altered and extreme emotional states; but are these difference really a “difference of kind” or merely a “difference of degree”?

In any society that prioritizes economic efficiency and productivity over all else, people in altered and extreme emotional states will be seen as burdens, without meaning or value. And while such a society might have a taboo against euthanizing this population, most of that society’s members will not care enough to seriously challenge the authority in charge of treating this population despite that authority having a record of dismal failure.


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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  1. Bruce,

    I like this article very much.

    However, it seems likely that “people with serious mental illness” dying 25 years younger is not so clear-cut – what are the chances it would come down to that nice round number? As you know, “serious mental illness” is not one discrete entity, but a label given based on subjectively assessed behaviors, rather than anything clearly identifiable like diabetes. One has to wonder at studies saying people die “14 to 32 years younger” (which is it, and why such a wide range?).

    Still, it is almost certainly true that many, many people who are in terror, delusional, and nonfunctional are dying far too young. You are quite right about that point, although the 25 number may not be so clearcut.

    I also agree that treatable medical conditions are the proximate cause, not the ultimate cause of death in many cases of people labeled “severely mentally ill”. Most likely the actual chain of causality is much more complex than simply a physical illness, involving being in constant terror and rage, having a lack of supportive loving relationships, the need to smoke cigarettes and take drugs to compensate for powerful negative affects and lack of love, lack of money which is hugely psychologically stressful, the effect of stigma and being ostracized, lack of meaningful work and community engagement, and the effects of constantly being on harmful antipsychotic drugs. These and other factors must interact to put tremendous stress on the body and raise the chances of developing diabetes, cancer, and other diseases. So it is not simply that untreated physical diseases are the cause of people dying young in the cases of those labeled seriously mentally ill. That is like saying “schizophrenia causes X”… it doesn’t do anything. We need to look deeper at the social context. Treating the physical diseases might not even work very well, if the social factors and the drugging which have probably led to the physical breakdowns were not addressed.

    I have to question this part:

    “The key to a community truly helping people experiencing altered and extreme emotional states is for that community to believe that these states have meaning and value for the community. Once a society diseases and pathologizes these states as mere “illness” and “defect” without meaning or value, those people experiencing these states are seen as burdens on society.”

    There may not be much value at all in being terrified, paranoid and nonfunctional, Bruce… speaking from experience. Not every person who becomes psychotic is some hyperenlightened, ultra-spiritual variety of being. Some people are just suffering from horrific inner persection and overwhelming negative emotions and want to get out of that states. In these cases, the psychotic state itself is not meaningful or helpful to anyone, neither the sufferer nor the community. But he community can still respond by providing empathic listening, psychotherapy or similar interventions, and meaningful activities to draw the person out of the horrific psychotic state and help them develop emotionally. But this process is different from viewing that psychotic state itself as having a significant positive aspect; it may not do in some cases. Let’s be aware of this range.

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  2. Good article. Speaking as a current “mental patient,” I agree that multiple factors combine to shorten our lifespans. I think state-subsidized poverty is probably the biggest culprit, personally. Once a person/”patient” is on disability, that’s usually the end of the road. Poverty, shattered dreams, and drugs; lots and lots of psych drugs.

    “Real” doctors don’t much care for us “mental patients.” Part of it is stigma associated with the label, and a lot of it is poverty. Why bother? Doctors generally come from affluent families. The way doctors–psychiatrists and what I consider “real” doctors, too–treat us, the “mental patients,” is a reflection of how society in general treats the weak, vulnerable, the stigmatized. I think it is also a reflection of the values of The Medical Establishment and the elites of society in general. Right now in America, the elites seem to expect the rest of us to work more for less. Those of us who are poor need to stop being poor, and stop feeding off society. There is no sense of obligation to others below them in society, nor is there any sense of obligation to society as a whole. The very concept of “the common good” is increasingly regarded as commie talk. In this environment, one can see the psychiatric drugging and destruction of human beings in the name of “treatment” as a medically-sanctioned act of violence against “undesirables,” often funded by the government.

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  3. Besides obesity you also have the intense dementia and brain damage. Organ damage is done too: chronic CTE, dystonia, etc. Imagine your heart, anus, vagina, penis, ears, leg muscles, eyes etc all constricting as the pills severe control over your own body and functions resulting in dystonia and other neuromuscular problems. You end up with loss of function in organs, heart and organ dysfunction that never goes away. You have blood flow and oxigination issues. You have blood pressure issues. And it never gets better. The side effect drugs given when patients complain rather than take them off the meds or try other things for future populations at least can’t do anything but numb a person and attempt to kill off other functions in the cells and nervous system but don’t treat or cure the problem.

    Dang. Sure looks like these people got a reason to be dying 25 years sooner on average, and the studies show the drugs didn’t even help them much even without the cost associated.

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  4. Of course the problem lies with our entire society. But as people are starting to wake up, the places to strike are against Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Big Pharma, Abusive Parents, and against our Capitalist System which depends on the Middle-Class Family.

    The susceptibility to psychiatric medications is exactly the same as the susceptibility to psychotherapy, alcohol, and street drugs.

    Specifically for a start I say we should:

    1. Outlaw forced treatment
    2. Outlaw giving psych meds to children
    3. Enforce mandatory reporting, any therapy on children must be reported to Child Protection.
    4. Take profit out of Medical Child Abuse ( formerly Munchausen’s By Proxy ), parents are responsible for all harms inflicted, and disinheritance of one’s child is prohibited.


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    • I agree with all your statements, except that we need something further to protect the teenagers and adult. If we distinguish between age 18 as younger than being a child and older than being an adult, then the teenagers are protected. If not, we will need to add them as a separate category. However, just outlawing forced treatment, I do not think will be strong enough to protect the millions of adults who get into taking these toxic drugs without real knowledge of what is being done to them. We also need a separate law for the elderly; as many, especially in the “nursing homes” are forced to take drugs against their will or lied to about the drugs they are given. Finally, just for protection, we need to prohibit all drug ads in all media, especially the psych drugs. Other countries have done this, already.

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      • Yes, I see your points, we could try to go further. I’m just trying to put forth something which a large number of people might be able to agree on. So I am being moderate.

        Understand that #1 ends the entire rationale for psychiatry. #2 ends what is being done with drugs in Foster Care, and a huge number of doctors are gone with it.

        #3 eliminates the fix my kid industry

        #4 restructures our society as it exposes the link between the middle-class family and capitalism.


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  5. Wow…there are some good criticisms of psychiatry, but to focus on it as being the primary or even main problem in premature death defies logic. Wow, again. To just contend one point/example, you focus on cig smoking, but there are numerous physical ailments that can develop, due to someone not being adequately treated and/or supported. Let me try a few: diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, cataracts, brain tumor(s). How do I know? Cause my mother suffers from them all and each has developed or been made worse by not receiving treatment. She doesn’t believe she is ill! People like her need stabilization that meds can only provide, along of course with social and family support. If you guys are going to post a bunch of one sided crap like this, you should at least let someone give a rebuttal.
    -Mike Gaeta

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    • It remains a fact that more treatment leads to earlier death. What you say is, of course, important, but the author makes it very clear, with good research support, that dying 25 years younger on the AVERAGE can not be explained by “not understanding that they have a disease.” I would add that there are PLENTY of non-diagnosed people who deny or minimize diabetes or many other conditions and/or fail to seek or maintain treatment, so that factor would be even more reduced in overall impact with the general population.

      The fact is, the drugs given for “schizophrenia” and “bipolar disorder” DO cause diabetes, heart disease, and strokes, AND also encourage smoking and other drug use to compensate for adverse effects. This is NOT an arguable premise – it is known and published on the side of every bottle of the drugs. There is a black box warning regarding antipsychotics leading to early death in the elderly. This is NOT imaginary – it is a FACT.

      I will add that while your mom may not be willing to accept treatment for her medical conditions, if she is diagnosed with a “major mental illness,” I am guessing that the drugs she has been taking psych drugs for them. Am I wrong? If so, is it possible that she would not HAVE diabetes or congestive heart failure to be worried about if some other approach had been taken from day one?

      It is important to look at our own potential biases as well as any potential biases the authors may have before offering a critical analysis. I think things may be much more complex than your own description of your mom’s experience may suggest.

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      • My mom has never taken psyche drugs. You want to know what’s bad for one’s health? Letting someone slide deeper and deeper into psychotic episodes w/out any help/treatment. The author cherry picks examples and ignores a lot of other info/studies out there that counter and weaken his POV. Yes, meds have negative side effects and that needs to be addressed. But medical problems develop or become exacerbated anyways, especially among groups that seem prone to such ailments, like diabetes. Who comes to mind? Latinos, for one. My mom has been a long-time diabetes sufferer. Her lack of self-care, due to her MI, has allowed the diabetes to do more damage over time.

        And the author conveniently leaves out the 40% of the population with SMI that is not receiving treatment at any time, like my mom. You include that group and it’s much harder for him or others to posit what they are.

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        • Next question. How many of this 40 % untreated category that somebody thinks has some kind of “mental illness”, irrespective of whether they are the ones who think it, desire “treatment” for it? Many, many people are being treated against their will and wishes, begging the question of whether they might actually have any real “illness” in the first place. “Illness” here, being little more than a checklist of behaviors somebody, not necessarily the person “diagnosed”, finds unacceptable.

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          • That 40% figures comes from multiples sources, including NAMI and NIMH. Not sure what their methodology exactly is, but probably combination family surveys and data/info collected from providers and/or hospitals. Are some of these people misdiagnosed or falsely diagnosed? Probably. It’s not an exact science. Which behavioral science is? But the evidence is clear that these people are the ones that disproportionately end up in jails/prisons, in and out of ERs, homeless, victims of violence, in some cases the perpetrators. Conveniently, the MH system currently is setup in a way to not treat and/or support these people at all. Funny that the author doesn’t blame the govt. or actual MH system for any of this.

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          • NAMI is not a reliable source, nor is the NIMH necessarily, as they engage in lots of propaganda that simply is false (such as claiming that all mental illnesses are ‘brain diseases,” stated unapologetically on their website and in many of their publications and their courses. It should also be noted that a large segment of those “untreated” recover and are no longer counted as “mentally ill.”

            You really should read “Anatomy of an Epidemic” if you really want to have productive conversations on this site. I know a lot of what is said goes contrary to the “conventional wisdom,” but a lot of the “conventional wisdom” is shown to be false by psychiatry’s own scientific studies.

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        • Think about what you’re saying — two out of five people have what you call a “serious mental illness”? If such a thing existed this would basically constitute a pandemic. The reality is that there are lots of unhappy people in this capitalist society, as people are alienated from themselves, their humanity and their labor, and need to essentially prostitute themselves to survive.

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        • madmaster76,

          Many people develop diabetes from being on psychiatric meds, particularly antipsychotics, long term. Anyway if you want to reduce or eliminate the diabetes meds your mom is taking, take a look at this site.

          It is about how eating a high fat, low carb diet stabilizes blood sugar where the BS readings are consistent throughout the day. Unfortunately, you will not learn about this diet through the American Diabetes Association and many medical professionals who sadly think that diabetics can eat anything they want as long as they cover it with diabetic meds.

          Unfortunately, with their shoot em up with meds philosophy can go from having extreme highs to lows in BS which definitely isn’t good for someone’s cognition. And if they are already taking meds as I assume your mother is, this could be extremely devastating.

          At one point, the blog author was offering free online CDE courses. Not sure she is still doing it but it is definitely something to look into.

          Regarding mental health statistics, anyone who sees a mental health professional or doctor life issues will get falsely pegged as having a “mental illness.” So please keep that in mind.

          Best of luck to you.

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    • “Wow…there are some good criticisms of psychiatry, but to focus on it as being the primary or even main problem in premature death defies logic.”

      Excuse me, you get a lot of premature death, much more than in the general population. All of the people dying are in mental health treatment. Maybe there is a relationship.

      We know what typical and atypical neuroleptic drugs do. We know about the association of the first with neurological issues. We know about the association of the second with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes–all of which lead to premature death.

      It would seem from the evidence that whatever the suggestion that psychiatric practices leads to early death defies, it is not logic.

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  6. I really don’t have to read your article, but, I will. The answer is “psychiatry” the single greatest cause in the “free world” to chronic illnesses, etc. and other “problems” which cause the premature death. Once, I suggested that a “patient” who was also studying “psychology and such” to be a “counselor” and the man said, “No, No. It is the “schizophrenic’s lifestyle.” Now, please ask me how does such a person adopt such a lifestyle, if that is the case; through the psychiatrist’s administering of the toxins that only leads a person to longer care that he or she is a human being and he or she is basically “asleep” until the tragic premature death. So many good lives lost to the ignorance, uncaring, controlling, and very greedy psychiatry. A tragedy beyond any words in the English Language.

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  7. It’s the drugs. There’s a lot of trying to slide off the hook with this but even if you factor out the other characteristics people on heavy duty psychiatric drugs die prematurely.

    These drugs remain in the system 24 hours per day and are extremely toxic. When someone drinking a bottle of whisky every day drops dead eventually – the whisky kills this person (not something else).

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    • You are right. It is the drugs, but they stay in the body, mind-brain longer than 24 hours a day. I don’t think anyone knows how long they really do stay in the body, per se. The closest thing I can think of is the half-life of some of these atoms. From what I have read, there are places in the South Seas of the South Pacific and even in the deserts of the American West and other places, where atomic bombs and other experiments were “launched” and these places are still uninhabitable. If you think of Mt St Helens which blew in May 1980, life is returning to places there. The places beset with “atomic radiation” were attacked long before Mt St Helens and still have not come back to life. The problem with the latter, was “man’s” unethical, unnatural, and illegitimate “messing” with the atoms. This the same with us and the psychiatric toxins. However, this is not to cast doubt on the “intelligence” of the earth, I feel that with self-determination and self-love, you can overcome this.

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  8. it would be taboo in present American society to actually euthanize those diagnosed with serious mental illness. But in the United States in the earlier part of the twentieth century, there was widespread compulsory sterilization of those diagnosed with serious mental illness

    And, again, in 1942 the American Journal of Psychiatry sponsored a debate on “euthanasia” (ie. murder) of “mental patients,” taking an editorial position in favor of the practice:

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  9. I agree. I wrote long ago in an obscure place and in a much less structured way that dispatching people through the ovens one by one was a more palatable approach, than en masse.

    The shaman is an attractive alternative role for some people to adopt. Although in our cultures, people have been doing that anyway, alongside the history of schizophrenia, and that’s why we have mediums and churches and the New Age movement. And then if you put aside romanticists like Terence McKenna, and have a closer look at tribal societies, the shamans are inititiated way before they show any signs of what we come to call schizophrenia. And in fact, if you look even closer, the people with what we in the west call schizoprenia are often very harshly treated in tribal societies, such as being tied to trees, or purged from the village, precisely because the shaman can’t make head not tail of what’s happening to them. Because the mad person challenges the shaman’s conceit.

    The New Age romantic construct of the shaman is a nice idea, until you dig a little deeper.

    People that come to be diagnosed with schizophrrnia do not have a magical healing gift. They have madness. Or demon possession, as some prefer. And all the world over and throughout time, the mad person is rejected, tortured, or exiled.

    So the shaman role is a false hope, for the majority. Madness challenges everything. And tries the patience of everyone. Including the sham with his shakey stick and his peculiar genital mutilation rituals.

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  10. Also just to add: the shaman as one distinct entity is a New Age western construct. As an interesting thought experiment, if you took a village from south america and merged it with a village in africa, that had to retain some semblance of their tribal treaditions, the shaman though appearing alike to western eyes, would be violently opposed by the tribespeople.

    I imagine because the shaman is the holder of traditioon as well as the holder of stories and meciicine.

    Which is why a tribesperson that challenges the shaman would be violently opposed, and indeed is, violently opposed.

    Indiigenous Australians — as far as I’m aware — had various cultural traditions that barely changed in structure for tens of thousands of years. I don’t believe it is possible to institute against innovation and reform and new ideas without instituting violence. Opposing the shamanic would surely mean to oppose tradition.

    Which is maybe what true madness is., a challenge to all that is held to be sacred and iimmutable. Or even just what is held to be acceptable or deferent.

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  11. Just one last point. Just as tribes are very selective about who can be and who can not be a shaman (generally never if you are a woman), so too are alternative mad movements selective in who they will and will not accept into their fold as an acceptable manisfestation of a mad person.

    And boy do I know this to be true….

    Yoiu become a shaman and remain a shaman because you are selected by others and, at times, deselected by others.

    We do that too in the west. We laud and celebrate very specific people who hold qualities we consider not too dissimilar to sanity, generally people that make great effort to mimic the ways and mores of their times.

    When the mad person or the shaman does not adhere to very narrow lines of being and behaviour, they are excluded, persecuted, demeaned, punished and sometimes killed.

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  12. [side note. general point. trigger warning: may contain traces of humour]

    If you think that by not using the words schizophrenia or psychosis you will rid the world of what comes to be called schizophrenia or psychosis then as far as I’m concerned you are being a bit of a word I am not permitted to use.

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    • You can handle “schizophrenia” if you assume it’s just a syndrome- you simply point out the physical entity that’s inducing the perceptual distortions (e.g., Vit.B6 and zinc dependency) and explain what’s going on. “Psychosis” is harder, but you can figure out the components to figure out how much you can communicate with the individual you’ve encountered.

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  13. It may be taboo (or simply very difficult to get away with) euthanizing seriously mentally ill people, but giving them medication which kills them off 25 years early seems an alternative way of euthanizing them. Not to mention that medicating them is much more a form of punishment than “healing”, as Robert Whitaker has shown that long term use of psych meds increases symptoms.

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    • The use of “psych meds” or really “toxins” or “toxic drugs” is really a form of “euthanasia” It is just an horribly slow form where you die each day and lose all of who you are supposed to be or you must watch the one you love be involved in this evil. The tragedy may lie in the fact that so many in both groups believe they are helping the person or doing what’s right for the person. This is what they should expect and is a trade off for the maintaining the alleged “disease.” They, honestly, believe they feel better and are managing, until, perhaps like me, something happens to them. In my case, I got to the point that I could not wake up or be awakened. I ended up in the hospital, but, was lied to. from the beginning about the real reason for my condition and how it could be remedied. I survived. Somewhere, inside me, I began to feel something was not right. I moved in an effort to save my life, but still needed to go through some changes. I spent time trying this and that pill, all the way coming to the realization that the biggest drug pushers were probably the psychiatrists and friends. I read Whitakers book, “The Anatomy of an Epidemic” that literally fell of the library shelves into my feet. I also received a book that I did not order in the mail called “Waking Up Just in Time” that was “Peanuts” by noted Psychiatrist/Rabbi; Dr. Abraham Twerski. It is a cute book about alcoholism. But, since it was Peanuts, I think it was the title of the book that was important to me. It was almost as if God or the Universe cared enough about me to save my life. I listened. Since April 2015, I take no psychiatric drugs. I just say no and thus, I did break ties with an idiotic psychiatrist. I, thank God, woke up to the fact I was being slowly euthanized to death and losing my whole self. I hope others, do, but like the “proverb” is said, “you can bring a horse to water, but, you can not force him to drink.” I hope others get as thirsty as I was. It did save my life.

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    • I was being facetious, but as you said it directly, it isn’t taboo or difficult to get away with. At least it has not been historically. Generally, society just looks away. Sanism is rampant in the US (particularly within the justice system). The general public believes in mental illness; they just also believe that mental illness deserves to be punished. These people will argue that mental illness is an illness or a brain defect, but you don’t see them punishing people for having cancer, do you?

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  14. There may be something else working here along with the detrimental effects of the psych drugs. Many people labeled as “mentally ill” are survivors of childhood trauma. Children who’ve experienced large amounts of trauma have much higher chances of experiencing altered states, what the system likes to refer to as psychosis. And, as we all know, the mental health system, the psychiatrists, and many clinical staff absolutely refuse to admit that trauma is the reason for many people’s entrance into the system. And of course we all know that the system does absolutely nothing to help people deal with and heal from the effects of the trauma they endured. Forcing people to take the drugs only tamps down the problems resulting from trauma so that they explode later on even stronger than they were before.

    Trauma sets off the fight/flight/freeze syndrome. This syndrome is supposed to work for only short periods of time in order to save us from danger. The problem is that, for people who’ve experienced trauma, especially complex trauma where they’ve been abused over and over again, this fight/flight/freeze syndrome doesn’t shut off. When it works properly cortisol and adrenalin are dumped into your system to enable you to do what you need to do to survive the danger, and then these hormones are stopped. The problem with trauma survivors is that, for many of them the system didn’t shut off. These stress hormones are dumped into their systems 24/7 and the end result is high levels of anxiety, stress, being hyper-vigilant all the time, and even rage and high levels of anger. These hormones wear organ systems down, especially over long periods of time, leading to major health problems as these organ systems begin to fail. Unresolved trauma issues have a direct link to heart disease, kidney failure, copd, “mental illness”, and other major physical health problems. And it’s not just older people who show the effects of trauma through health problems; asthma problems are very prevalent in traumatized children.

    If people do not do something about their trauma issues they are highly likely to present with major health problems with organ system failures as older adults. Having the negative effects of the psych drugs dumped into the equation doesn’t help anything either. There are many alternative things that can be done to shut the fight/flight/freeze system down, shutting off the dumping of the stress hormones. Yoga is one thing that seems to work to great advantage. A good talk therapist is also of great help; a therapist who doesn’t try to control you but lets you set the agenda for your own healing.

    So, people with trauma issues get the double whammy. First, you’ll probably get labeled as being “mentally ill” which will lead to you getting drugged with chemicals that will shorten your life as well as cause severe health problems for you. Second, once you are in the system your trauma with be totally ignored if not denied (since we know that all “mentally ill patients” lie and manipulate). You will get no support from the system, no help that will lead to dealing with the major issues that need to be dealt with.

    Directly or indirectly, psychiatry is the culprit and the offender here. Psychiatry is the criminal.

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    • You are more than 1000% right, Stephen Gilbert. First, a person is traumatized by environment, circumstances, experiences, abuse, bullying etc. No one thinks how traumatizing it can be to live in a family or be involved in an educational system that belittles and undermines your gifts, talents, personality, and dreams. Then, the psychiatrist adds fuel to the fire and adds the traumatizing toxins to the person’s “system” All these “side-effects,” chronic diseases, etc. develop and in the end the person only sees a way out as “death.” The tragedy begins when we tell the person their gifts, talents, personality, dreams are at best defective, a diseases and then compound it with further toxins and other ways to remind them constantly they are sick and defective, not good and whole, as created. I think, my posting to these various articles, is one of the many ways, I am helping myself to truly heal.

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  15. I think that in addition to those being “treated” against their will; there is or may be a greater group of those who are a) being treated against their will, but are not aware of it and b) those who are being treated according to their will, but don’t realize it is killing them prematurely, because they have been “bamboozled”
    They are victims, because they think this must be the right thing for them to do. After all, these people are the “authorities” and must know something about them, they don’t. Our Culture/Society reeks with the constant lie that the individual knows nothing about himself or herself, because he or she does not have said alleged degree, papers, etc. or because the individual must be too young or too old or whatnot to know anything about him or herself. We forget the ultimate authority about the person is the person him or herself.
    The other problem that we must face is that the psychiatric drugging of America is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Have we considered the “drugging” of America for “physical complaints/illnesses, etc.” as fraught with danger and shortening of life, also. In our culture, we give out pills like candy, we sell them in all our store for everything we as humans think is not right with us and daily come out with more pills. We are killing ourselves with pills we think we need and don’t really need. I know this is an area that many disagree with me about and they can and do cite excellent examples. Deep down inside me, I think they are better ways to “cure our ills” or “make us feel better”. I just think we either need to discover them or re-discover them. I also think it will be better for our environment and the planet. I don’t know all the answers. I do know as humans we can get stuck on something and lose our way.

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    • Rebel

      The statistics show that medicines prescribed by doctors of all specialties is the third largest cause of death for people in the United States.

      I agree with you. I believe that Americans are much too prone to run and take a pill, no matter what it is that is challenging them physically or emotionally. Pills are the answer to everything these days. Americans want fast and easy answers to all problems and this is not necessarily a good thing for us in the end. A lot of this is probably due to direct to customer advertising by the drug companies on television. This should never have been allowed to happen but once the gates were opened we can’t seem to go back.

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      • My guess is some people don’t care about their family members and are glad to have them die early since they find them a source of annoyance or embarrassment. When creeps like that post on this site I want to puke. They’re usually the ones who drove the family member insane to begin with. NAMI is a front for abusive mothers/family members and pharmaceutical companies.

        The poison they force into them is slower and subtler than the Nazi gas chambers. But every bit as effective. (And they can pretend to be humane while they poison them.) But in their hearts they have already murdered the unwanted relative they perceive as a burden. THEY–the murdering relatives–are what’s wrong with psychiatry and society.

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  16. Mr. Fred Blankenship and all other good people,
    Absolutely any statistics coming from NAMI or NIMH are to be suspect. These groups only give out statistics to support their nefarious agendas.
    However, if one person is receiving treatment that is not or never was really sick, was given a dangerous diagnosis, or received psychiatric poisons for any reason; then the system failed.
    I am one person in that category. The system failed. I know there are others like me who suffer, also. The system failed so immensely that honestly, the current English Language lacks the adequate words to describe such a failure. Statistics are useless. My father always told me there are three kinds of lies, “lies, ‘damn’ lies, and statistics.” Statistics are usually used to promote an Orwellian, Huxley-like society or culture. Statistics are just another nefarious symptom as I described in the first few sentences of this post. I need to hear no more statistics of how the system failed. And, I do not need to hear NAMI and NIMH’S hogwash for their own evil agendas.

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  17. Thank you for the comments, which I read. A few of you might be interested in this follow up:

    As I noted at the top of the article, AlterNet also published this piece: “Is Society or Psychiatry to Blame for the ‘Seriously Mentally Ill’ Dying 25 Years Prematurely?” AlterNet’s “below the title hook” of “The uncomfortable fact is that many of us don’t care about the seriously mentally ill” appears to be TRUE for the general public, as evidenced by AlterNet reader views, at last look less than 400 “Likes” — this compared to the interest for my previous AlterNet article: “Proven Wrong About Many of Its Assertions, Is Psychiatry Bullsh*t?” which climbed to their #1 story with 3,400 “Likes.”

    I guess it’s more fun to read articles that cut down and make fun of illegitimate authorities but not so much fun to read about groups of people suffering because of these illegitimate authorities.

    Thanks again for your interest and comments — Bruce

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    • The situation is a little more nuanced than people are used to hearing and, like anything, appeals to only a specific groups when you keep it in the confines of psychiatry or mental illness. It needs to be connected to mass incarceration, homelessness and poverty/inequality in general for broader appeal.
      -Mike Gaeta

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      • No doubt. It does need to be connected specifically to the last mentioned matter on your list, inequality. We’ve got over crowding in prisons because of the war on drugs and nuisance crimes. Also, and through nuisance crimes, we’ve got transinstitutionalization, but this transinstitutionalization is exasperated by the extreme poverty of homelessness. You don’t get into this situation without catering to the rich, in their gated communities, at the expense of everybody else in the nation. This is related to corporate personhood, and the fact that super PACs have corrupted electoral politics. I don’t think the situation is going to be helped by the fact that we just put a corporate exec in the highest office in the nation, but it does give you an indication as to the extent of the problem. With the oligarchy, 1 % running things, 99 % are out on the street, and less fortunate, non-coincidentally, than big money.

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  18. A life of feeling dehumanized, limited, and defined by others through an impossible-to-overcome stigmatizing lens is enough to make anyone eventually want to give up, start over, and try again. That is simply a lifetime of suffering, regardless of who is causing it. I do wonder how to resolve this in an unwell and out-of-balance society.

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