Creeping Fascism: University “Unfit to Study” Policies

Bonnie Burstow, PhD
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I am being put on medical leave by my college due to a number of long standing mental health issues… I am . . . devastated… I have nowhere to go.” (private correspondence, October 30, 2017)

I was declared “unfit to study” by my college over a year ago. It took the ground out from under me; and I doubt that I will ever get back my life. Dr. Burstow, how can they just do things like this to people? (private correspondence, November 6, 2016)

These are excerpts from two of the many letters that I have received over the last couple of years from students who have left their respective universities involuntarily. Called “mandatory leave,” the students subjected to these measures are categorized as “unfit to study”—and such policies are sweeping the globe, with the UK demonstrably taking the lead. Examples of UK universities that have adopted “unfit to study” policies are Oxford, Bradford, Bristol, Brunel, Cardiff, Leeds, London, Reading, and Queen’s University Belfast (see a list of such policies here). Many universities in North America have similarly adopted them, and the most prestigious university in Canada—University of Toronto—appears to be poised to pass just such a policy.

So what exactly are these policies? How are we to understand them? And as people concerned about human rights, decency, and social justice, what should we be doing about them?

On a simple level, they are provisions whereby the university administration can compel a university student to take a “leave of absence.” While the university’s code of conduct is frequently cited, breaking the code of conduct is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to be placed on mandatory leave. What is pivotal is the university being uncomfortable with the student—oh yes, and that magical term “mental illness.”

Being of danger to self or other is generally how this is understood, though thrown into the mix as well are what would appear to be primarily academic considerations. The policy currently being actively considered by University of Toronto, for example, reads:

The threshold for intervention encompasses two potential scenarios:

Scenario 1: A Student’s behaviour imposes a risk of harm to self or others . . .

Scenario 2: While not posing a risk of harm to self or other as described in Scenario 1, the Student is unable to engage in the activities required to pursue an education at the University not withstanding accommodations.

Scenario 2 is curious, for it appears to preclude at least one possible obvious explanation, which is that either the services are insufficient or the university is fostering a toxic or less than accepting environment that is taking its toll on students (e.g., rigid rules, snap tests, the systematic ignoring of the impact that life circumstances inevitably have, a lack of openness to people who think or act differently or not as those around them expect). One has to wonder why this does not occur to administrators? One also has to ask how failures generated in part by the university itself have been miraculously transformed into a “health” (or to be more precise, “mental health”) issue besetting the student?

More generally, what we seem to be seeing here is a catch-all category that allows universities to get rid of students viewed as troublesome or otherwise not up to the mark. As these expulsions are defined as temporary, they appear benign to the administrators. The problem is that they circumvent choice; they ignore circumstances; they invisibilize the university’s own role in what is happening; they take negotiation out of the hands of both students and faculty; they deeply stigmatize the students subjected to them, and they utterly disrupt the student’s life.

To see how the two scenarios described in U. of T.’s proposed policy work together, it is situations like the one depicted in Scenario 1 which allow the policy in its entirety to be seen as about “mental illness,” which is the essence of what most universities appear to have in mind. Note the strategic use of words here like “harm to self or others”—words that echo the phrases found in involuntary committal protocols. In turn, Scenario 2 widens the net, thereby enabling more people to be caught up by the policy. To put this another way, Scenario 1 defines how we are to understand the policy while Scenario 2 greatly expands its application.

To briefly cover a few other aspects of these policies: typically, an intricate procedure is spelled out which needs to be followed, with the procedure generally involving assessments by “mental health professionals.” An appeal process is likewise spelled out. And invariably, the mandated leave is described as not punitive but as a kindness to the student. Suicide is sometimes explicitly mentioned and indeed, the students most commonly subjected to the provisions are ones deemed “suicidal” and/or anxious. That said, window dressing aside, what are we actually encountering here?

On one level, we are encountering a profound human rights violation. It is one thing to remove students from their course of study on the grounds of them breaking the university’s rules of conduct—not that expulsion should ever be the default mode. It is quite another to throw them out on the grounds of being mentally ill. We are likewise encountering expediency. The university has an obligation to accommodate and provide service to students experiencing difficulty. The situation which the policy in essence sets up is minimal accommodation happening, with the university thereby saving money—for if you kick out students whom you regard as high maintenance, you save a great deal of money on services.

By the same token, a pathologization is happening, which similarly saves the university money. Note in this regard that instead of the university, for example, being faced with having to actually do something about the fact that it is creating an environment that leads to students becoming anxious and depressed, the university is identifying the students themselves—and only the students—as the problem, and configuring “their problem” as grounds for mandatory leave. Hence, the university need not take stock of how it is operating.

At the same time, the policy is both actively drawing on and perpetuating stereotypes. The point here, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, is that the so-called “mentally ill” are no more violent than anyone else. Correspondingly, we are seeing ableism and a human rights violation; moreover, a violation of other civil rights, including the right to an education. We are likewise seeing the universities intrude on personal matters which in the final analysis are none of their business. Once again, as I have repeatedly stated elsewhere (e.g., see “A ‘Hot-Potato’ Topic and a ‘Rational’ Book”), while we might dearly wish for people to stay alive, people have a right to kill themselves. They also have a right to think and act differently. We are additionally seeing a conduit into the psychiatric system being established both initially (note, in this regard, “mental health services” are framed as something to try first—that is, before a student is put on “mandatory leave”) and in the long run. On top of which we are seeing a woeful lack of insight and abject cruelty, whether intended or not.

In this regard, the majority of students that are subjected to such policies never return to school, or at least not to the school that has cast them out. As numerous emails which I have received suggest, they are humiliated and traumatized by what has happened. They typically find themselves at a loss, for they have been robbed of the routines on which they rely, of their way of coping, often of their housing—in short, of the life they have built.

Question: Why would anyone expect that banishing a “depressed” or “suicidal” person from our midst would do anything other than make them more depressed? More isolated? More “suicidal”?

If these policies are a disaster on the personal level—and for the most part they are—they are every bit as disastrous on the systemic level, and we need to keep our eye on this. What is happening here is institutionalized sanism. Moreover, what is happening is nothing less than an extension of psychiatric rule into the operation of the university. “Mental health services”—which as most readers know are themselves dangerous and can seriously harm—are being foisted on students. Psychiatry, not students and faculty, will be deciding who gets to be university learners. And psychiatry to a large part will be dictating who gets to return after the students have been turfed out (it goes without saying that only those who have “availed themselves” of “mental health services” have much of a chance).

There are very clear winners and losers here. So who wins? Psychiatry, of course, and by extension the entire mental health industry, for they are thereby colonizing yet another area and securing yet another stream of steady “customers.” And who loses? Pathologized people, the vulnerable, indeed, all students at any risk of being subjected to these measures—and who isn’t? While most academics seem strangely unaware of this, I would add that academia also loses—and at that, profoundly. What is in effect being accomplished by these measures is the ceding of an important part of the governing of the university to the “mental health industry.” More generally still, society overall loses, for in enacting and applying such policies, we are marginalizing and harming large segments of our populace.

Is this really what we want for our universities? Is this really what we want for society?

The story which I am telling here, of course, clashes in significant ways with the official university narrative, that being a story of progress and of generosity. Which brings us to a series of myths and facts:

Myth: Mandatory leave policies benefit the students subjected to them.

Fact: Evidence shows that the students do not benefit. Rather the students in question are profoundly harmed.

Myth: There are built-in safety mechanisms like the right to appeal that makes these policies reasonable, for students can always contest the mandatory expulsion.

Fact: The majority of the students are so overwhelmed that they never appeal. Correspondingly, as with issues of involuntary admission to a psychiatric institution, those who appeal almost never win, for the deck is stacked against them. Moreover, why should anyone be faced in the first place with such stigma, with such a profound assault on their dignity and liberty?

Myth: Other students feel unsafe with “these students” around.

Fact: Insofar as this is the case, that is a reason to engage in consciousness-raising, to take measures to counter sanism—not a reason to reinforce sanism by casting people out.

Myth: Were it not for mandatory leave measures, the “mentally ill” who break rules would be banned permanently.

Fact: Let’s not kid ourselves. That, for the most part, is what with these measures actually accomplish. Moreover, there is no law in any land compelling university administrations to remove students who break rules for any period of time. This is a university invention. And the university quite simply needs to find more creative and more humane ways to deal with conflict. Adding insult to injury, the issue of whether or not someone is “mentally ill” is a red herring, and is at very best irrelevant for rule-breaking and violence have no intrinsic connection with so-called “mental illness.”

Myth: Mandatory leave is a measure of last resort. It goes along with added support so that more students can stay in school.

Fact: While all administrations who adopt such policies make claims of this ilk, there is no evidence whatever that such practices function as measures of last resort. The point is that universities who have introduced such measures have historically not increased their services. In fact, most have cut back on their services. Which leads one to ask: Could not the desire to spend less on services actually be one of the primary motivations for introducing such measures? On top of which, the services offered are not just “offered.” There are forced on students and are a way of controlling students. Additionally, as already specified, so much of what is “offered” is incredibly harmful.1

Nor is this all that is wrong with “unfit to study” policies.

On yet another level—and we fail to recognize this level to our peril—this expansion of psychiatric rule into academia is itself part of a larger and truly worrisome trend. Significantly, just as psychiatric ruling is being used to remove students from school, it is likewise being used to purge the “helping professions” of members that in any way trouble their colleagues. In this regard, being (or being deemed) “mentally ill” is progressively being seen as a sign of “professional incompetence,” with mental illness discourse being leveraged to drive what are often perfectly capable social workers and nurses (especially those of colour) out of their professions (for a detailed analysis of this growing practice, see Chapman, Poole, Azevedo, and Ballen, 20162).

How does this happen? Each of the regulated professions have colleges or other similar associated bodies with which members must be in good standing if they are to continue practicing. The policies mandated by these colleges specify that for a person to be a member in good standing they must be “competent to practice,” and the policies explicitly allow for the removal of members found to be “incompetent.” Now with mental status progressively dictating how competence is understood, a member’s colleagues, a member’s supervisor, and others in their workplace are progressively on the lookout for signs of “mental illness.”

A nurse’s confidentiality having been broached by her supervisor mentioning to others that she was once diagnosed as bipolar, the nurse begins to be treated differently, whereupon she becomes noticeably uncomfortable with her colleagues. A social worker seems distraught one day when talking to some of her less than helpful other team members. A precarious worker at some point is spotted in tears—and who does not know that precarity makes one’s life harder? All this can and indeed has served as ammunition to level against them, to deem them mentally ill and thus incompetent and to deprive them of the right to practice. What makes matters worse, as shown by Chapman, Poole, Azevedo, and Ballen, 2016, people of colour are in special jeopardy of having these policies applied to them.

Further insight into this worrisome trend can be gleaned by looking at the language employed. To wit: just as vulnerable students seen as mentally ill and accordingly thrown out of the university are called “unfit to study,” social workers and nurses thrown out of their profession on “mental health” grounds are called “unfit to practice.”

There is a historical echo here that is unmistakable. While I am well aware that people applying these policies are not intending this echo and would indeed be shocked at the suggestion of it, as a Jew and as an authority on the Holocaust, on anti-Semitism, and on fascism, I cannot but notice that “unfit to study” and “unfit to practice” are on a continuum with “unfit to live”—or, to use the more common designation, “life unworthy of life”—a concept that ushered in the systemic murder of Jews, mental patients, and others during the Nazi era, with the eradication of the “mental patients” significantly coming first, paving the way for the others. (For one of the earliest and most influential articulations of this fascist concept, see Binding and Hoche, 19203; for an analysis of what came of it, see Lifton, 19864).

Now, to be clear, I am in no way equating these measures or indeed in any way comparing them—for the differences are enormous. Nor am I imputing what might be called “intent.” However, I am suggesting that they exist on a continuum. I am likewise suggesting that with this extension of psychiatric rule into areas like academia and into professions like social work and nursing (both, not coincidentally, “regulated professions”), what we are witnessing is creeping fascism—hence the title of this piece.

Alas, it is all too easy for the fascistic nature of such measures to go undetected, for it is not the blatant fascism that we hear about on the streets in Charlottesville. It is not hatred. It is rather, to coin a phrase, “respectable fascism.” Indeed, it bears all the marks of being kindly as well as responsibly intended. All the more reason we need to be on the alert.

What other groups will society start trying to control this way? What new modes of surveillance, control, and exclusion will be put into place? These are larger questions that are beyond the auspice of what can be handled in this article, but as society progressively goes down this path, they are important to keep in mind.

That said, to hone in once again specifically on what is happening to students—what can we do?

One thing we can do is rally students to mobilize their colleagues and the general public to sign petitions to stop these practices, and to mount teach-ins for students and others on the issue (both of which actions I am currently involved in at University of Toronto). When taking part in any such activity, it is important to challenge sanism, to prepare myth/fact sheets, to systematically make visible the contradictions, and to help people see beyond the rhetoric of the university, or to put this another way, beyond the rhetoric of psychiatry—would that they were not currently overlapping so! Other actions that can be taken include legal challenges (for we are witnessing human rights violations here), the mounting of university-wide demonstrations, and the insistence on real (and of course voluntary) services.

On a broader and more philosophic level, we need to educate around sanism. More broadly speaking still, if we are to help society arrive at a place where such policies would be unthinkable, we need to integrate what I have called “mad literacy” into school curriculums from the early grades onward (for details on what this might be like, see Burstow, 2015,5 chapter nine). We need people growing up knowing that there are many different ways of thinking and acting—rather than one right way. And we need them to be able to follow and value what is currently dismissed as “crazy.”

On an equally philosophical level, we need to help others recognize fascist thought when they see it, or creeping fascism will inevitably continue. On a more basic level, students and faculty need to proceed from vision. More generally, all of us need to defend freedom, to know what it means to be in community, and everyone who cares about human rights and social justice needs to announce unambiguously: We stand for inclusivity and accommodation. We stand for real community. We stand for learning from one another. And we affirm together: No one is “unfit to study.”

Make no mistake about it—there is a huge fight ahead of us. Allies that can be meaningfully turned to in the fight ahead include psychiatric survivors and their allies, the autistic community, student unions, students from every sector of the university, progressive educators, progressive university staff, disability rights groups, lawyers, activists, advocates, ombudsmen, politicians, religious leaders, and organizations of on-side parents.

The task before us, as I see it, is to assemble as many allies as possible, to build a broad-based coalition, and not to cease in our labour until a) such policies are struck down, b) university environments are safe for students, c) adequate accommodation is happening, and d) the oppression known as sanism becomes understood and instances of it are transparently treated as unacceptable—even when these arise from university governance itself. To be clear, while of course the actions of some students may legitimately be seen as a problem by university administrators, this reality in no way justifies sanist and otherwise oppressive policies and processes.

To touch base once again on exclusionary policies more broadly, beginning with what is currently happening to besieged professionals—while individual social workers or nurses may well be incompetent and best not employed for any number of reasons (e.g., they are woefully hegemonic, lacking in skill, or just plain insensitive), as Chapman, Poole, Azevedo, and Ballen so astutely put it, “the human experience pathologized as ‘mental illness’” is decidedly not among these. Correspondingly, in accordance with the same principle: while there are people who should not be parenting, perhaps because they are abusive, perhaps because they are negligent, being saddled with a psychiatric diagnosis is likewise not among these.

The point here is that where marginalization, exclusion, and control on the basis of putative “mental illness” is happening and/or is starting to happen in any arena, or to any designated group—and who’s to say that university administrators won’t be next?—we need to oppose the institutionalized oppression and stand in solidarity with those under siege. Just as we must do so with respect to students. Just as we must oppose “involuntary treatment” and incarceration more generally.

How else are we going to build a better world?

Show 5 footnotes

  1.  Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic psychiatry. New York: St. Martins Press.
  2. Chapman, C. Poole, J., Azevedo, J., and Ballen, R. (2016). A kind of collective freezing out. In B. Burstow (Ed). Psychiatry Interrogated (pp. 21-40). New York: Palgrave.
  3. Binding, K. and Hoche, A. (1920). Die Friegabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten. Lebens. Leipzig: F. Meiner.
  4. Lifton, R. (1986). The Nazi Doctors. New York: Harper and Row.
  5.  Burstow, B. (2016). Psychiatry and the Business of Madness. New York: Palgrave.

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71 COMMENTS

  1. Just looking at the stuff from Bath. Imagine how many people are going to suffer stress being away from home for the first time, and then from the study. Having no idea about psychiatric drugs, going to the GP and being given Sertraline or Citalopram, then having a reaction of low level akathisia and some behavioural dyscontrol, they do not stand a chance. They will not know what akathisia is nor will the university Personal Tutor or Director of Studies. What about if they fall out with a few house mates and decide to use this against them. Or a fling situation goes wrong and they use it against them. Terrible.

    http://www.bath.ac.uk/regulations/Appendix2.pdf

    • I’ve written about this since fall 2014, when I first became a psych victim by TCU/Texas Christian University. In fact, writing about it fall 2015 (including ‘paranoia’ about authority/government/’insiders’ or whatever theories) made me have to sign a behavior contract (that included to not laugh to myself) at a California University, and have those emails forwarded to judicial affairs. They wanted to psych evaluate me, and instead I eventually took a suspension.

      As for the nursing thing.. I got hit with a double-edged sword by TCU – Texas Christian University fall 2014… I was a pre-nursing student trying to finish up 4 pre-reqs and accepted to Baylor University for Spring for their RN program. I KNEW that I could never do nursing again… either way, seeing how psych is IN EVERYTHING also made me so afraid of all things medical. I saw them as control freaks, un-creative, and their true colors.

    • The TCU place forced a 7 day minimum “mental health” evaluation at Mesa Springs Behavioral Hospital. All I did was complain about some people in a fast talking/cali way, and it was hot, so I looked sweaty. They over-reacted too because they sent their cops to the public police station in Fort Worth, bc the station told them that I was a student. All it was was me reporting a break in/complaints against some people. Nothing even on record except a female or whatever. They actually checked, but I seemed stressed I guess.

      So then say to get counseling, and oh it can go on record. Well no… you go there, write intake on “unwanted contact from blah blah and an electrical outage.” Amanda Swartz (who STILL WORKS THERE) goes and claims that I said “electrical signals to my brain” from someone, when I was saying that people online etc, were giving warnings about stuff, so basically domestic stuff… and ignore me saying not true. So then, January 2015, IMO get MKUltra drug-like effects for 2 weeks such as burning/pulsating blood which I cannot find a damn thing about either. It felt like a project, so I nicknamed it BS… now I know the right name and they ARE connected to MKultra project 119/Saul Sells. I literally cannot find a damn thing about that burning stuff except on one MKUltra drug page. It was bad all around.. air pressure and other senstivities, breathing issues.

      So yeah, no matter what state, private or public, or country, “mental health” will destroy you.

  2. When I shared about the University of Toronto considering the policy on my personal social media, the reaction I got was actually really heartening. I’m in the US and I saw an overwhelmingly outraged response to this idea from many people who don’t identify as activists or have any particular interest in critiques of the biomedical model. I think there is certainly support for such measures from those who are deeply entrenched in conventional psychiatry’s paradigm, but perhaps (and hopefully) “This is so wrong” will be an intuitive reaction for many people.

  3. Fascist creep is right. We need to get the discussion of sanism/mentalism out of the mental health ghetto into the open and into Academia where it belongs. It is part and parcel of bringing that same discussion to the streets. Undoubtedly this witch hunt and concurrent suppression is connected to the corporate hooks in higher education, and those hooks themselves are connected to the corporate corruption of the political process. A lot of people are challenged by this notion of mass producing automatons for the system, and well they should be. Automatons are the pits when it comes to human conversation.

  4. This happened to me. More than once. In 1984 I went to LPN school, beginning in September of that year. This was mostly a schooling that involved tedious rote memorization. Those of us who were older and had more education behind us wondered why we were there, yet we dutifully did the memorization simply because we figured it would lead to a career in Practical Nursing if we did the slave work. A month or two into the schooling it was very clear that I was the leading student in the class. I was getting the top marks. I felt embarrassed every time the tests were handed back and I had the highest mark. I can’t help it. I’m a good student and I always did well. I told myself I needed to slack off because it sucked being smart and getting nasty looks from the others. I never told anyone I saw a psychiatrist, nor mentioned I took drugs.

    One day, I revealed that little fact to a teacher. Big mistake, but I didn’t know that at the time.

    It took about a month. I continued to excel. Meanwhile, the teacher, who herself had nothing against me, had informed the director of my so-called “condition.” She told me she was going to do this and I saw no harm in it. After all, mental illness was sort of an identity for me at that time. It was 1984. I mean, back then, it made me special and unique. I liked that. Artsy.

    December came. I hadn’t done anything wrong. My grades were still stellar. The director pulled me aside and that teacher and another were in the room. The director demanded that I take a semester off.

    I convened with my friends. We realized it was a convenient way for the school to get rid of me. I got paperwork from the school that indicated it was pretty much impossible for me to return and also, I was being charged a lot of money should I ever do so. The school disposed of all of my records.

    The same thing happened to another one of the older students that they just didn’t like. She sued, and won the lawsuit. I was encouraged to sue also. However, as you indicate in your article, Bonnie, the emotional toll on a person is high. This student, whom I remember well, was about 36 years old when she was kicked out of the school and even at that age, suddenly developed an eating disorder, most likely in response to the trauma of being kicked out. I left town a few years later (also in response to my own loss) and didn’t hear from any of those folks but I was very concerned about her.

  5. Another thing I thought of: Instances where students were kicked out and then, their lives were made much worse as a result. Look up Sascha Menu Courey, U of Missouri. Student from Canada. I happen to remember that one and i blogged on it. She was raped and went to the U’s health services, was told it was all in her head, and then, if I recall correctly, was put into the mental system, drugs involved, kicked off the swim team, was devastated and killed herself. Big story. Happened a few years back and in my view, the U, the guy that raped her, and psychiatry were all responsible for killing her. Yet somehow that one got all twisted around.

  6. My friend was urged to take a semester off due to “instability” but really, a prof had made advances on her repeatedly. Can we bring this one out into the open as well? Can we point out how many times campus rape is the REAL cause, and can we point out how many times women and people of color or minority religions are asked to leave?

    Can’t anyone be called crazy without any proof? Just send ’em to the counseling center and instantly get rid of them! Inconvenient major? The U isn’t fond of the gay club getting too much support? Is that performance or art project too expensive for the U? Student discovers something about prof that U doesn’t want leaked out? Send ’em to the shrinks to get rid of ’em!

    • Yes there are all kinds of violations by these crisis/sexual harassment/rape centers. Schools are awful… Finally made an account here. The military school article of students reporting sexual harassment, then getting psyched, and losing their careers is a good one.

      For them, it is also ‘liability.’

  7. Before the extermination of the Jews, the Nazis began to expel them from the universities. The Holocaust began in 1941, while the Nazis took power in 1933.

    As a concrete action, I propose: a campaign of denunciation, and an active boycott.

    For the whistleblowing campaign, posters:

    UNIVERSITY EXPELS DISABLED PEOPLE

    Names of officials participating in this program:

    [List of names of key officials, including psychiatrists]

    DOWN NAZI BUREAUCRATS!

    Followed by a beautiful black swastika, clearly visible.

    Do not worry: a poster with the words “expulsion of disabled people” “Nazi bureaucrats” and a swastika will be read and will open a discussion on the subject.

    For the boycott campaign: Students are strictly forbidden to attend, to speak, to eat with the officials participating in the program. To help students who may be expelled as a result of this program, all useful and effective means must be used to prevent psychiatrists from meeting them.

    Personal denunciation campaigns must be implemented against psychiatrists named and identified with a photo. Example:

    DOCTOR XX PARTICIPATES IN EXPULSION PROGRAM FOR DISABLED PEOPLE

    [Photo]

    [swastika]

    NO TO NAZISM!

  8. I like the idea of exposing the harms, Sylvain. The one thing I question is calling these students “disabled” because whether they are or aren’t isn’t actually relevant. They’ve been called that, or are perceived as such. Whether they are or not isn’t relevant, they’re being seen as deviant based on nothing substantial the U is willing to admit.

    • I understand your criticism. The purpose of the whistleblowing campaign is not only to expose the harm of the program, but to actually hurt the officials and raise the students’ indignation against them. Anyone exercising state (or private) bureaucratic brutality should suffer the most violent brutality of the people in return.

      “Expel people with disabilities” really sound like a Nazi program. It’s very good. In order to distance ourselves from the institutional vocabulary, it is possible to use even more outrageous terms to expose the deep nature of the program:

      UNIVERSITY EXPELS UNDESIRABLES, PARASITES AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

      Names of officials participating in this program:

      […]

      [swastika]

      DOWN NAZI BUREAUCRATS!

  9. What can be done? I see both sides of this situation, as I am the parent of a young person who experienced a psychotic illness (over a year’s duration) and is now a student, and I am also a university teacher and personal tutor. A couple of my students are suffering from serious depression and anxiety, which prevents them from attending classes or studying effectively. If they seek counselling, they spend a long time on a waiting list, as the counselling service is very under-staffed. They tend to get pushed towards GPs, who are quick to prescribe SSRIs, even though these can be risky for young people. Although I am familiar with some of their symptoms and medications, I have been told not to over-step my professional role in the support I offer them. I am afraid that they are at risk, without proper care or support, running up debt at university for no good reason. At the same time, I know from my daughter’s experience that inclusion in the community is a crucial part of recovery … My daughter is setting up a student-run group for people with anxiety, which seems like a really good idea. This is the only hope I can see – for students to self-organise and provide what universities are lacking …

    • YES! I wish, more than anything, that back in the day…I’m talking 1980 here, I had spoken frankly with other students about my eating disorder. I would have gotten the help I needed by sharing with them. Instead, my own sense of pride and need to keep it secret took over. I wish, above all, that I had never ever gone to mental health where they knew nothing about what I was going through. It was summer and school wasn’t in session. I made the choice to go entirely on my own.

      If I could turn back time, and I cannot, I’d actually go back and talk to that 23-year-old me, who had now been suffering ED a year, and tell that 23-year-old girl to turn her bicycle around and head home. I’d tell her that mental health had nothing to offer her but lies.

      I am saddened that the affluent and progressive college I went to, where I excelled in everything I did, where I was bound for success, where I was in high demand as a performer and composer, that college where I did so well (and paid tuition) now doesn’t even want me back to speak about eating disorders. I have inquired many times and they have told me over and over they don’t want me, they don’t remember me, that ED isn’t relevant to their mission. I keep telling them that maybe some of the students will be helped by what I have to say. I have now contacted their new radio station hoping they might take me as interviewee.

      Ah, the silencing………..

  10. My dorm mom held meetings about me every week or two. Everyone in the unit but me was invited. I was on a megadose of Stelazine that caused seizures and bouts of tardive psychosis. She got angry and said if I took it “exactly as prescribed” I would have no problems. These issues were impossible to conceal.

    Kim (dorm mom) told stuff about me during these meetings. What, I don’t know exactly. She claimed she was educating everyone. The mornings after people viewed me with fear and/or disgust.

    Eventually Kim told everyone to quit talking to me because they weren’t licensed professionals. A week later I was asked to leave. Kim claimed I wasn’t “taking my meds.” She was dumber than a stump or a bad-faced liar since “taking meds” was causing the seizures. She said I was frightening the other students and at risk for suicide.

    If I had killed myself elsewhere that summer, Kim would have smiled, “Well, at least we won’t have her corpse cluttering my nice clean dorm.”

    Kill yourself off campus. Then we can pretend it never happened. Selfish, cold-blooded creeps.

    • You see, Francesca Simpson, these officials are really fascists. They deserve to be denounced, and we must prevent them from doing their work as fascists. They are the ones to be ostracized, marginalized, expelled; if we do not demolish them, they demolish us. It is, strictly speaking, self-defense.

        • Bah! I see what you mean, but frankly, you’re wrong. In my experience, using an accurate and brutal argumentation is very effective in getting supporters together. You do not need to receive tenderfeet support.

          However, nothing prevents from running two campaigns simultaneously: hard and soft. I am in France, but if I was at university in Great Britain, I would propose to tenderfeet to run the soft campaign, while I would do the hard campaign.

        • Depends. If you are hoping to win the bad guys over it is a bad idea. But can they even be won over?

          Kim would have been horrified to be called a Nazi. Her self image was of herself as The Perfect Christian full of love and compassion–and current on modern science too! She knows mental illness is a brain disease caused by chemical imbalances like the commercials say. Well-informed indeed! 😛

          • Imagin this poster:


            DORM MOM KIM INVOLVED IN PROGRAM FOR MARGINALIZATION AND EXPULSION OF UNDESIRABLES AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES FROM THE UNIVERSITY

            [big picture of Kim, black and white]

            [big black swatiska]

            DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN NAZI MEETINGS ORGANIZED BY DORM MOM KIM FOR THE MARGINALIZATION AND EXPULSION OF VULNERABLE PEOPLE!

            Posters everywhere.

            Brutal vicious Nazi bureaucrats must be brutalized by relentless denunciation campaigns.

  11. When it comes to drugged or undrugged, I can tell a drugged patient a mile away by the twitching or shaking. In the example I gave before of nursing school, they actually cited the shaking as “symptom” of mental illness, but the shaking was from lithium, not from MI, interestingly. If a student gains 50 pounds in six months from Zyprexa, yes, it’s going to be noticed or questioned. I can see concern over diabetes or bone thinning from drugs, or serious heart trouble or seizures, all of which are liability problems for the colleges. These aren’t reasons to kick students out, but maybe reasons to question the drugging, or give extra support to the students. I remember a fellow student had breast cancer. They didn’t kick her out. They supported her. She took a semester off so she could get cancer treatment. (It’s kind of one of those jokes that women with breast cancer end up with more friends while we end up losing all of ours….)

  12. This is all very disturbing, and we should be fighting it in the courts, as well as by any other means available.

    But also understand, the much of the illegitimate justification behind psychiatry and psychotherapy, come from a family values vantage point. Most of these people who are in the mental health system have family members who have already rejected them.

    And right now there are negative parent child dynamics in play, where soon the parent will be driving the child to doctors, maybe getting drugs, maybe just getting talk therapy, but always making the child wrong and setting them up to become basket cases.

    The remedy to any of this can never be psychotherapy, even eclectic therapies. It has to be penalties for perpetrators and reparations for survivors.

  13. Dr. Burstow:

    I am mad as h*ll reading about this problem. I’m all fired up. You are right. We need to organize. I’m going to read your entire blog from start to finish when I get off work, as well as every comment posted on this blog and ask myself, what can I do?

    I am not involved with academia but I am glad you brought this problem to my attention.

    I have an adult daughter who is one of the ‘others’. She has an incredible mind for philosophy and she is tremendously creative when it comes to the arts but she is different. Is there a place for her in a college community? If the university is not accepting of her differences then there is very little hope. After all, the university is supposed to be a tolerant environment and attendees are supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. People can learn a lot from talking to my daughter if they truly have a curious nature but she can mutter to herself at times and say and do strange things. Oh my God! I’m sorry if this disturbs you or makes you feel ‘unsafe!’

    Gads, there is a homeless person walking on the university grounds. Someone get out the Lysol and spray the university! Report it to campus security!!

    • Madmom, I would suggest not saying a word about mental history. If your daughter wants to pursue an academic program AND…AND can do the classroom work…then by all means she should. Just NO NO NO mention of any contact with the system. And talking to oneself, that, by the way, is a trait most professional writers can’t get rid of. You can look this one up. It’s called Inner Speech. Seriously. We talk to ourselves constantly. It is the inner writer in us. We write in our heads. Now this is how you COVER UP that you’re actually talking to yourself if you don’t want anyone giving you looks. Nowadays it’s a snap. Either walk a dog and make like you’re talking to the dog, OR, make like you’re yapping into a cell phone, so, have a bluetooth in your ear all the time. Or…Honestly, Madmom, I really truly do this sometimes…When I catch myself muttering while walking along the street and Puzzle isn’t with me, I grab my totally dead cell out of my pocket and hold it to my ear so I can safely mutter to myself. No one ever knows.

      Trust me, most writers have this problem. Writers of memoir have it the worst. We write in our heads and it comes out as talking out loud. This is extremely embarrassing. It’s like we are writing our lives as they happen. And sometimes, we wish the writer in us would just shut up. I think, though, I am cursed because I don’t think mine will stop till I die. But…..since i’m sitting here with year after year with no writers block yet, and I can write on any topic at all (pick one out of a hat, please), I suppose it is a blessing.

      Perhaps your daughter would enjoy a writing class? Some are more structured, which are most likely better to start with, rather than the looser “workshop” types where you run the risk of ending up with people in the class attacking each other, which isn’t supposed to happen but sometimes does. In one of my summer classes, a super dedicated teacher had written her own textbook and even took the time to meet with each of us individually numerous times to discuss our projects.

    • She cannot talk to herself (at least not too severely) or they can force behavior contracts, psych evaluations, and even if you talk to yourself A LOT, they can call police to the classroom. Private vs public colleges also act differently, and per state.

  14. I’ve written about this since fall 2014, when I first became a psych victim by TCU/Texas Christian University. In fact, writing about it fall 2015 (including ‘paranoia’ about authority/government/’insiders’ or whatever theories) made me have to sign a behavior contract (that included to not laugh to myself) at a California University, and have those emails forwarded to judicial affairs. They wanted to psych evaluate me, and instead I eventually took a suspension.

    As for the nursing thing.. I got hit with a double-edged sword by TCU – Texas Christian University fall 2014… I was a pre-nursing student trying to finish up 4 pre-reqs and accepted to Baylor University for Spring for their RN program. I KNEW that I could never do nursing again… either way, seeing how psych is IN EVERYTHING also made me so afraid of all things medical. I saw them as control freaks, un-creative, and their true colors.

    Stay away from “mental health.” People email big wigs like this author bc they have large names.

  15. Now that I’m off those damned drugs I act normally. No one can tell anything is “wrong” with me. They were causing me to have depression, mood swings, and psychosis. Just like the stuff you buy on the street. Medicines my foot!

    I was relating to a new friend how Mom had referred to me as “odd.” She asked, “What was wrong with her?”

  16. Psychiatry, perhaps inadvertently, has created a fragmented and unregulated police force that now exists within universities and other institutions. This police force utilizes the DSM 4/5 as a book of law and turns it into a book of crime. The MMPI and other proprietary testing devices are being utilized as a substitute for a jury trial. A psychiatrist, chosen by the institution is like the hooded executioner. The accused is stripped of all rights and is turned into nothing more than a diagnostic code. This is like having a bar code stamped on your forehead. You are then run thru the sorter. Each barcoded individual is diverted to the sewer and dumped into a holding tank. Once dumped, the barcoded individual has few options. They can try to hire a lawyer at 150-500$ an hour. But most people are without the resources to pay the entrance fee to the courts. The majority become hopelessly unemployable. Their barcode is given as the reason for their prolonged unemployment. In reality it is a simple case of discrimination, exclusion based upon the label empowering the actions of the police force. This is blacklisting. And it’s being allowed.

  17. It could be that the big universities by and large have already become intractable servants of corporatism and enforcers of conformity; and that — barring a world revolution (something we should never do) — trying to change this at a systemic level will be like bashing our heads into a wall. There will always be pockets of progressive students with a higher level of consciousness than others, and this offers some hope for campus activism around this; however at the moment even the most “progressive” students cling to the psychiatric/”mental health” catechism, and seem unable to differentiate between impulsive idealistic emotionalism and Aristotelian logic. They’re just glad not to be one of “them” (us).

    While I’m not ga-ga about the so-called wonders of technology, the internet — at least while it’s still available — could potentially play a vital role in decentralizing information in general, and in our case might be able to far outdo the sluggish pace of academia in presenting the anti-psychiatry perspective not only to students, but the masses at large. Not that this will happen by magic.

  18. Oldhead wrote,

    “It could be that the big universities by and large have already become intractable servants of corporatism and enforcers of conformity;”

    “and that — barring a world revolution (something we should never do)…”

    I agree with his first statement, but disagree with his second part.

  19. This is really scary stuff. Any person who is subjected to such punishment is likely to have their entire life ruined. With digital footprints, it’s going to end up on line and it will be impossible to remove. The person will never get a job. With the creation of the internet, the potential of financial ruin is significant.