I am battling rage. Rage against a psychiatric system that deliberately harms people and calls it treatment. I am a witness to this daily through my work life and the media, and now once again I am a witness to it at close hand. If I did not pinch myself I would not believe we were living in a so-called civilized country. I would think we were living in a fascist state where the state can take people off the streets, out of their homes, and take them to the dreaded headquarters where horrors behind locked doors occur.
Psychiatric headquarters somewhere in Denmark
A family struggles. Their son, their child is now in the psychiatric ‘headquarters,’ a place behind locked doors; being, they are told, ‘treated’ for his own good—though the rest of us, including the family, know it for what it is: torture. Their child is tied to a bed, forcibly medicated with a large cocktail of psychiatric drugs, and now the decision has been made to give him electroshock (ECT). And just like he is locked in, so is everyone else locked out, the door sealed separating loved ones in the name of psychiatric ‘help.’
“No, I am sorry, you cannot see your child,” says the psychiatrist over the phone.
“Why?” asks the mother.
“Because we have strapped your son to a bed.”
“Why?” the mother asks again.
“Because he threw his pillow and duvet at us, and says things we do not like to hear…” Pause. “Oh and this is why we have had to give him so many drugs far above the recommended dosage, but this has been absolutely necessary. Unfortunately he still defies us and does not accept our definition of him, nor does he concede his will to us and acknowledge that what we are doing for him is for his own good.”
“We have visited him before when he was strapped down to a bed, so that excuse is not true,” interrupts the mother, her voice trembling, the fear in her voice palpable. A short discussion ensues on whether what the mother is saying is true, but this is quickly ended by the next psychiatric statement: “Your child does not want to see you.”
“What do you mean he does not want to see us!? I don’t believe you,” says the mother.
“Are you calling us liars?” says the psychiatrist, the tone all too clear. “No, no of course not,” says the mother, backing down, “but he always wants to see us, so I don’t understand?” “Well, he has said loud and clear he does not want to see you,” states the psychiatrist.
The boy’s brother now enters into the discussion. “Have you asked him specifically with regards to me, his brother, if he wants to see me tomorrow when I am in town? We are very, very close and he never says he does not want to see me. So I cannot imagine he has said no to me.”
“He said that he did not want to see you either.”
“How is that possible? He does not know that I am in town tomorrow and that I was thinking of visiting, and this is the first time I am telling you, so quite clearly you are lying!”
Psychiatrist, now clearly angry at being caught lying, snaps, “He said he does not want to see any of you and I will not discuss this subject further!”
The discussion now moves on to the topic of ECT.
“My boy would never ever in a million years accept ECT,” says the mother. “Why are you forcing him to have ECT?”
“He is having a serious manic episode and we believe he is going into a delirium, something that is very dangerous as he can die from that,” says the psychiatrist, sounding concerned.
“Excuse me,” says the psychologist, who has been silent until now but listening in on the whole conversation. “Did you say you are worried that he is entering into a delirium?” “Yes,” says the psychiatrist, “so we have to do this to save him.”
“Hmmm,” says the psychologist. “First of all, it is extremely rare that people enter into a state of delirium and die from it. Delirium occurs more often than not with alcohol withdrawal, etc. Also, ECT when combined with high dosages of neuroleptics puts the patient at increased risk for brain damage and, dare I say it, he is more likely to die of the treatment than his mania. So I am curious, what signs indicate that he is entering into a delirium?”
“I already told you,” says a clearly exasperated psychiatrist. “He threw his pillow and duvet at us, and was giving us commands and orders like he thought we should obey him.”
“Uh huh… I see,” says the psychologist. “And,” continues the psychiatrist, “of great concern here is the fact that being in this mental state means he is frying his own synapses, so we are doing this to save him and his brain!”
”Really!? So if I am hearing right,” says the psychologist, sounding incredulous, “you are saying that you believe that being in a highly emotional state, be it highly distressed or madly in love, destroys brain cells?? Seriously?”
“We know what we are doing,” snaps the psychiatrist.
“Okay,” says the psychologist. “Let’s move on to the small but highly pertinent issue of the fact that he has slept 3 or 4 hours during the night and has been dozing during the day. That clearly indicates that he is nowhere near entering into a delirium, so something is wrong here, the grounds for ECT are clearly not present.”
Psychiatrist decides to ignore this discrepancy, instead changes tactic. “Well, he has said yes to wanting ECT so the decision is made. He has been informed about the whole procedure and made his own decision to have ECT and he wants it.”
“WHAT!?” says the clearly distraught mother. “You are telling me he has said yes to ECT!??He would NEVER say yes to that! He has always said to me, ‘mom, of all things please never let them use ECT on me, promise me that.’ He had to have been forced or manipulated into saying that! I want to talk to him and ask him myself so he can speak to someone he trusts. I don’t believe you! Can you please go to my son now with the phone so that I can ask him and hear for myself him saying that with my own ears?”
“I am sorry but this is a stationary phone and I can’t take this phone to him, so that is not possible.”
“My boy has a mobile phone which you have in your possession. Use that so I can ask him myself,” snaps the mother.
“You are raising your voice at me,” says the psychiatrist.
“No, I am not,” says the mother, lowering her tone. “I am just being very clear that I demand to speak to my boy.”
“I’m sorry,” says the psychiatrist, “that will not be possible. He is in an extremely bad mental state and needs complete and utter quiet with no outside stimulation of any kind whatsoever, so we cannot allow that.”
“That does not make any sense,” says the mother. “You say he was completely capable of listening to you inform him about ECT and that he was able to make a rational decision to apparently say yes to something he never has wanted before, yet, at the same time, you are also saying he is so ill that he cannot possibly speak to his mother on the phone?”
“That’s correct,” says the psychiatrist.
“That just doesn’t make sense!” says the mother, clearly angry but frightened at the same time. “How can he be considered completely sane when it comes to making such a huge decision as to whether he wants shock treatment or not—and I KNOW he doesn’t—but too insane the next minute to be able to even talk on the phone to anybody in his family?!”
The psychiatrist, also angry yet condescending, responds by saying, “This conversation is leading nowhere and we need to end it, but before doing that I will repeat: we KNOW what we are doing and you can be completely reassured that your boy is in the best of hands and that we are doing what is best for him. Unfortunately,” and the psychiatrist pauses to emphasizes his next words, “he decided to start withdrawing from his medication, which he cannot tolerate and which is why he is so ill right now.”
His brother now steps in: “How can you SAY THAT,” (almost shouting) “when so many things have happened in his life, our family, lately? His girlfriend has left him, Mom and Dad are divorcing, his favorite uncle has just been diagnosed with cancer and told he will not survive! It hasn’t got anything to do with medication, it has everything to do with what’s happening in my brother’s life right now! And now you want to shock him…” The brother stops talking as his voice starts to wobble and it is clear he is close to tears.
The psychiatrist says, “We know what we are doing and he needs this electroshock and has said yes to it, now please trust us.”
“Excuse me,” interrupts the psychologist. “Are you also saying that you, from an ethical standpoint, think that true and full consent is actually occurring here? Do you seriously believe that? You don’t think there are some extremely problematic ethical and moral issues involved when discussing ECT with a person who is so compromised right now? After all, you are discussing ECT with someone that you have tied to a bed with belts while at the same time forcibly injecting drugs into his body against his will. You don’t think that something is extremely wrong here? Because, pardon me, but I think what you are doing is completely and utterly out of order!”
“HE SAID YES and that’s it! And this conversation is not leading anywhere so we will have to stop now!”
“Okay, sorry,” says the psychologist, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. “Can you please answer us that since he is clearly not heading towards delirium, what are the medical indications for giving him ECT? What is the rationale behind your decision to shock him?”
“Yes, what is the rationale behind your decision to give my boy electroshock?” echoes the mother.
“I do not need to discuss this with you any further. We have made the decision and it is us who are responsible for his treatment, so he will be starting ECT tomorrow and that’s it!”
“I am going to make an official complaint,” says the mother.
“You are welcome to do that,” says the psychiatrist, and you can almost hear the laughter—for they know, as others do, that the psychiatric laws trump both the country’s own laws and that of human rights.
“I demand to speak to my boy,” says the mother, her voice desperate.
“This conversation is leading nowhere, I am going to hang up now, alright.”
And the psychiatrist has hung up the phone and a helpless family is left behind crying, powerless and fearing that their act of defiance will now result in even worse things happening to their child.
They are frightened, like many families were when their loved ones were taken into military headquarters and subjected to horrors devised by regimes, never knowing how their loved ones would be afterwards… that is, if they ever came out again.
For, like military regimes, psychiatry crushes people and many come out with their minds and soul colonized, head bowed, shuffling along introducing themselves as a schizophrenic long before saying what their name is.
And I look at that distraught family and pray silently to myself, repeating like a mantra: I hope he is one of the ones who survives, I hope he is one of the ones who survives…
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.