Time to ‘Drop the Disorder’

Jo Watson
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It was February 2016, the UK-EU referendum debate was beginning to warm up and my tolerance for absorbing toxic tweets and frustrating Facebook posts was dwindling fast. What then pushed me over the edge was yet another celebrity-inspired media frenzy about a psychiatric “illness.”

Despite the progressive image conveyed by British critics of psychiatry (both professionals and survivors), the biomedical discourse in the UK is still deeply embedded in public consciousness and actively promoted in anti-stigma campaigns and media reporting. Actor, writer, and national treasure Stephen Fry’s documentary “An exploration of manic depression” told of how he needed to take lifelong medication for his “bipolar disorder.” Celebrity and comedian Ruby Wax was on a riotous roll, and everywhere you looked, it seemed, someone was promoting the “broken brain” message.

The mainstream narrative, which tells of discrete diagnoses and disorders, was all over the place.

I am a psychotherapist, and somehow, when we weren’t looking, this “disorder” narrative managed to sneak into the field of psychotherapy and counseling. Despite all our knowledge about attachment, trauma and relationships, many of my colleagues have ended up colluding with the message that people are “ill.”

I see an increasing number of clients—and particularly young people—who arrive at their first appointment convinced that they have bipolar, or even worse ARE “bipolar.” Many, by the time they get to me, have internalized this as part of their identity along with the understanding that it’s a lifelong situation. Others come with crippling anxiety and a parallel belief that it is something that is part of them, that their brain is dysfunctional and they have no control over it.

I finally thought: I have to do something or risk getting a diagnosis myself!  I figured that getting people together to initiate a conversation about psychiatric diagnosis would be a pretty good start.

This conversation led to the creation of a daylong event on October 15 in Birmingham, England with Dr Lucy Johnstone, clinical psychologist, MIA blogger and author of A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis. Lucy had been a Twitter ally of mine for some time, and within a couple days of advertising the event, which we titled “A Disorder For Everyone!”, we had people eager to travel from afar. People came from London, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to discuss the culture of psychiatric diagnosis, evidence of a growing popular resistance to the “broken brain” narrative.

The day was a huge success! Survivor Jo McFarlane got us started with a moving live performance of some of her powerful poetry.

Lucy then talked the audience—a mixture of professionals, current and former ‘service users’, carers and interested lay people—through a critique of diagnosis and an overview of the alternatives. In the afternoon there was time for discussion and trying out some of these ideas.

Finally, spoken word artist Jasmine Gardosi ended the day by bringing one of my own poems—inspired by voice hearer and activist Eleanor Longden—to life.

Feedback on the day was excellent, and we have been invited to repeat the day in several other cities, starting with ‘A Disorder for Everyone!’ days in Edinburgh and Bristol this coming March.

After the Birmingham event, I started the Facebook group ‘Drop the Disorder?!’ with the aim of providing a supportive forum for the discussion of all matters related to psychiatric diagnosis, ‘medication’, and medicalization of emotional distress. In three months, membership has risen to over 2400 members globally.

The members of ‘Drop the Disorder?!’ come from a variety of backgrounds: they are professionals, survivors, ‘service users’, carers and people with a general interest in the debate.  We have been delighted to welcome some well-known figures in the movement, including  Rufus May, Rai Waddingham, Michael Cornwall, David Oaks, Bob Nikkel, Jim Gottstein, Kermit Cole, Malcolm Stern, Mary Maddock, Ted Chabasinski, Terry Lynch, Bonnie Burstow, Peter Kinderman, Lucy Johnstone, John Read and Katinka Blackman Newman and Paula Joan Caplan who I had the pleasure of meeting in New York in November. As you can see there are several MIA bloggers among the mix and we hope to welcome more soon.

Joining me on our admin team are activist and blogger Nicky Hayward, clinical psychologist and author Gary Sidley, counselor Teri Tivey, lived experience educator Joanne Newman and social worker Lanie Pianta.

The group provides a space to discuss important but controversial issues that arouse strong feelings, and at times it has felt like a bit of a roller coaster. However, I have been moved by the thoughtfulness and warmth people have shown to each other as they share feelings, experiences and dilemmas about working in, and being on the receiving end of, the psychiatric system. Many such issues that have been discussed and debated include “ADHD,” ECT, “Personality disorders” and “medication.”

We share lots of great pieces by critics of mainstream psychiatry around the world, passionately promote appropriate events and publications as well as doing the crucial networking which makes our movement stronger by the day.

It feels as if there is an appetite for new ideas and for change. There is definitely a sense of energy and excitement as connections are being made, views are being endorsed rather than silenced, and emotions are being expressed and heard.

People have told me that they feel hopeful, and that the group is a precious space for them. I too am hopeful.

One of the shared ambitions of the administrator group is that we can ultimately develop this resource into a much-needed “Mad in the UK” site.

In the meantime, I urge you to take a look—we welcome members from across the globe, and are indebted to Mad in America for links to some of the most popular articles and blogs. It’s time to ‘Drop the disorder!’

41 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the Commonsense Article.

    COPY OF EMAIL SENT BY ME TO A UK PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVE ON NOV 22, 2016

    “THE COST OF MENTAL ILLNESS

    Dear (Detail Removed)

    Mental Health often sounds hopeless.

    https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38025401

    RECOVERY DEFINITION
    I see Recovery as when someone is NO longer disabled, and NO longer costs anything.

    MENTAL HEALTH COST TO THE UK
    The UK spends about £100 million per year on Mental Health Research – with nothing to show for it. Mental Health Disability rates are rising and Mental Health life expectancy is falling. Each Severely Mentally Ill person costs the UK taxpayer on average £60,000 per year.

    RECOVERY
    I made my Recovery in (detail removed) in 1984 as a result of (carefully) coming off strong medication with the help of Psychotherapy.

    I can substantiate more than 30 years of solid Recovery. And I can explain how it came about.

    RECORDING RECOVERY
    I would like to record a Professional account of my Recovery because I genuinely need to – to protect myself against misrepresentation*. I would also like to Record my Recovery to contribute towards improvement in the Mental Health situation in the UK.

    FUNDING REQUEST
    I have previously asked my GP and the NHS for Funding for this, but have been avoided. The money might be taken out of this type of budget. Please read why below :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-25915457

    EXPLAINED FURTHER
    *I discovered in 2012 that my GP Surgery had put my name on a SMI Register in 2002/03 and were gaslighting my records in proportion. At this time in 2002/03 I was working as a (Detail Removed).

    *I have a (very fraudulent) SMI 10 year Record Qualification + As a (detail removed) I’m sure I’m Qualified to look after myself.

    I AM SERIOUS
    I am serious about my Funding Request, and hopefully making a contribution to UK Mental Health Recovery.

    Thank you for reading this.

    Yours

    (Detail Removed)”

  2. Good to read about push-back on this. I hear and read everywhere: ‘I AM [fill in the manufactured psych diagnosis]’, and ‘I HAVE [fill in the manufactured psych diagnosis]’. It’s the psychological equal of Identity Politics, which is terrible because it’s the death of critical thinking. This is Identity Psychology, and it stops people from thinking critically about their own lives, thoughts, and feelings. Pharma and psychiatry tapped into the human need to categorize, and the labels come with their own drugs. No more independent thought required.

    However, I hope the people involved are arriving from all political worldviews, otherwise it will devolve into just another groupthink, echo-chamber community. Good luck with the events.

    Liz Sydney

    • Even gender identity is a “mental illness.” Washington Blade ran this article this morning: “Denmark no longer considers transgender people mentally ill”

      Well, the proof is in the pudding. Wasn’t sexuality like being gay, lesbian, or bisexual considered a mental disease to be controlled or cured until recent history too (if it still isn’t)? I live in a place where cultural norms are much more accepting of LGBT, of “sexual diversity,” of gender, and a bit more tolerant in regard to identity politics, so I guess I haven’t thought about it’s impact and connection to psychiatric diagnostic labels much, but I can certainly see there is a deep stigma.

      https://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/01/04/denmark-no-longer-considers-transgender-people-mentally-ill/

      “Our ability to make our own decisions regarding our own treatment is being questioned by healthcare authorities,” she added. “We think it’s an important step because placing transgender people in the wrong category in ICD-10 leads to wrong treatment.”

      I’d add that this is the case with most if not all psychiatric diagnoses and the subsequent “care.”

      • I get in trouble with the Mental Illness Makers for a completely different reason. They said the symptoms of my “illness” were a belief in moral absolutes, an over-active conscience, and a decision to be celibate. Would they have thought I was healthy if I constantly defied authority, had no conscience, and was promiscuous? No. Why say I was well since that would mean one last cash cow in their herd? Moo moo.

    • I agree, great analogy to the lunacy of identity politics.

      As to, “I am a psychotherapist, and somehow, when we weren’t looking, this ‘disorder’ narrative managed to sneak into the field of psychotherapy and counseling. Despite all our knowledge about attachment, trauma and relationships, many of my colleagues have ended up colluding with the message that people are ‘ill.’

      “I see an increasing number of clients—and particularly young people—who arrive at their first appointment convinced that they have bipolar, or even worse ARE ‘bipolar.’ Many, by the time they get to me, have internalized this as part of their identity along with the understanding that it’s a lifelong situation.”

      This is exactly the message that the self proclaimed “holistic psychologists” have been spewing as truth for decades now, especially the “holistic” psychologists who like to profiteer off of covering up sexual abuse of small children for the religions, like my former psychologist. And even psychologist friends, who are rightly embarrassed by the historic psychological and psychiatric industry’s “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions” cover up of child abuse, evidenced by the medical fact that “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012).”

      You are absolutely correct, the psychological, the family therapy, and the social workers should now all be running as far away as possible from the scientifically “invalid” psychiatric DSM disorders as possible.

      Especially since today’s “bipolar drug cocktail recommendations,” particularly combining the antipsychotics and antidepressants, are already medically known to create the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via anticholinergic toxidrome:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxidrome

      And the “schizophrenia” drugs alone, the antipsychotics (aka neuroleptics) are known to create the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” all by themselves, via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroleptic-Induced_Deficit_Syndrome

  3. Jo,
    As a rabid critic of the biomedical model and psychiatric diagnosis, I could not agree more with this and so I joined your group.

    Via my own writing about “borderline disorders” and “schizophrenia”, I have received hundreds of emails about this issue, and not all but the large majority are people who are scared that they have a lifelong incurable disease that won’t allow them to work, have good relationships, and find fulfillment in life.

    Holding the beliefs I do about these problems representing emotional developmental arrests – i.e. primarily failures of ongoing emotional support, love, and security – I can present a more hopeful open-ended model of suffering to them. However, many, many people never hear or find an alternative to the model that your brain is broken and you need to take drugs indefinitely. But people keep searching online for more hopeful viewpoints, and many of them do find their way through to alternatives.

    If you want to add a couple more stories / resource lists to the group, please check these out:

    https://bpdtransformation.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/26-why-bpd-should-be-abolished-and-what-should-replace-it/

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/09/rejecting-the-medications-for-schizophrenia-narrative-a-survivors-response-to-pies-and-whitaker/

    I am in Washington DC – you know, the place where old guys sit in boardrooms and make up DSM disorders.

  4. Sounds great, except that unless people use FACEBOOK they can’t get info.

    You need a real website, as it is very dangerous for all people — but especially those with psychiatric histories — to use FB, which is essentially a data-mining and surveillance tool, and probably much more, if not now then in the future. This is not “paranoia.”

  5. Just to add to the chorus here as a survivor of the psychiatric system in the United States for over ten years, one of the most helpful components in helping me weather the storm and come to a strong realization that psychiatric drugs were not helping, but making my situation worse than it already was–was and is my therapist. However, not all therapists are created equal. That said, a COMPETENT therapist who keeps a safe and sound distance from the medicator is essential. That has been essential to my process of tapering down and getting far away from psychiatric drugs so that I can begin the process of reclaiming the pieces of my life. I’ve spent way too much time over the years with therapists who had an office in the same building as the prescriber; the job of the therapist was, it seemed me and is obvious in hindsight, to convince of or make me come to realize my “disorder” and my need to be medicated to high heaven (that is, into a living nightmare to be managed). In other words, way too many therapists are way too quick to fall in line and defer to the authority of the medicator instead of challenging thought content and issues surrounding the diagnosis; this is a huge mistake and clear detriment to the persons in the system. Clear lines need to be drawn for the sake of the person seeking help. In my opinion, therapy should be a place where concerns central to antipsychiatry (if one is has issues with psychotropics) should be safely presented, articulated, and processed.

    I imagine that professionally this must be like walking a tightrope high in the air with slippers on for therapists (and for the client), but it can be done.

    The first stanza of Thomas’ poem is anything but on topic with psychiatric drugs, but it’s how I can relate my mind to feeling on many crazy doctor drugs in that there’s a fight for consciousness, a weary battle like Thomas captures at the end of his father’s life to keep the spark of life alive (it’s a battle for one’s soul after all!). Keep the rage alive and fight for those who cannot because these drugs are mind deafening.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    –Dylan Thomas

    • A highly skilled psychoanalytically-oriented (though non-dogmatic) “psychotherapist” with whom I was long-acquainted pretty much requested that her clients not use psych drugs at all. I don’t know if she refused to take them on if they insisted.

    • I admit I envy you, Pulpamoor. I really have no help or support network offline when it comes to tapering.

      Right now I’m living with parents for financial reasons. Because they keep drinking psychiatry’s koolaid I have to deceive them. This makes me sad, guilty and angry–at the propagandists who make this deception necessary!

      • I hear you FeelinDiscouraged. I’ve had to turn into a patient advocate and it’s really tough. I have many friends who still drink the koolaid and strongly think that their psych drugs are really helping them out and I must admit that I can totally relate to that mindset. This website, the conversations here, and the archives have truly been a lifesaver. All of this is a treasure trove of resources and knowledge–all I can do for those around me is to educate them and prove to them that I can make it without psych drugs. I guess I’ve set this challenge for myself (and it is very frustrating and disheartening when others don’t understand what I’ve been through–or worse they couldn’t be bothered to listen). We are very lucky to have this online support network in place because it’s very hard if not impossible to find in many areas of the globe. I keep hoping and pushing for change whenever I can and for what I gather you do too!

  6. Yes, we must drop the idea of disorder or mental illness. But we also must drop the ideas of Psychotherapy, Recovery, and Healing. These too are ways that the survivors of abuse decide not to face their own feelings, and instead to abuse other survivors. Sometimes it is for profit too.

    Happy New Year!

    Nomadic

    Please Join:
    http://freedomtoexpress.freeforums.org/fighting-to-eradicate-the-mental-health-system-and-incarcerate-the-practitioners-f2.html

  7. OK, I see this who are self-diagnosing or were wrongly diagnosed.
    But I think this is belittling for people with real suffering for neurodivergent reasons. If you are not concerned with them, that’s fine. If you are questioning whether they exist, I would be interested in knowing that. I also wonder whether this philosophy finds people still suffering to be failures of the anti-psych world.
    This question has been ignored every time I’ve written it to authors on this list. Feel free to continue … just wondering.

    • hang on Paisley- your happy- im not- doesn’t your being happy- hinge on my- being not happy- in the same way you speak of that effect in your example– – im happy with happy- im not with unhappy- do they or you feel the same way- conversely- does my not liking beer- make all the beer drinkers feel crap – and so i should shut up about my dislike for it. because its going to upset the beer drinkers. man i think people are the same over generally- if your happy im happy- if your not im not. generally. And your talking about believing in people and what afflicts – them- like- that really matters.

    • I also wonder whether this philosophy finds people still suffering to be failures of the anti-psych world.

      The “anti-psych world” does not presume to end suffering, as the “psych world” itself does. Only revolutionary solutions could ever do that, and certainly not in our lifetimes.

  8. Feeling dark gloomy and lost- in amongst a darkness of thought and emotion— obviously needs- light – all i get in my mind -and thoughts – visual- are a small group of psyches chuckling – giggling away- after having made sure all the lights are off- and their crouched- watching behind a cover- the person- who needs the light to see- stumbling around in the dark- where they were once – free at least- and are now incarcerated in the dark- with no freedom.. that’s what it seems – feels like- looks like anyway. Unbelievable really. Thanks for a really good article.

  9. Jo — I have no reason to doubt that you support infinitely better ways. The focus so often seems to be in dismantling the DSM to the exclusion of any other goals (not necessarily you, but if you look back to past writers, this pattern emerges). Maybe the editorial board chooses only those kinds of articles. Do you think all that is needed already exists, but needs to exist out of the DSM system? So we’ve got that covered? Others have written about dismantling other aspects — counseling, for example. If anti-psych is just about identifying what’s wrong, that’s fine, and probably very necessary. I guess I would say I hope other movements crop up with suggestions for future movement, in addition to cutting down a very bad system. DSM has been a bane of my existence, too, and I’m far far far from supporting it. But … sometimes the balance seems off.

    • Unlike some of the more radical commenters I’m in favor of certain forms of therapy and counseling between CONSENTING adults. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can work wonders on some people with prolonged bouts of sadness brought on by negative thinking. Choice Theory, Dialogue Therapy, physical exercise, and simple old TLC can work wonders for most.

      Oddly enough, I no longer feel horribly sad all the time. My suffering is 90% physical symptoms and overwhelming exhaustion from tapering off my Effexor. We need a website called Iatrogenicillnessisreal.com. Most shrinks (and others) say it’s fake.