My introduction to organized psychiatry came when, as a college freshman, I joined a Harvard volunteer program at the local state mental hospital. I spent hundreds of hours on the wards and eventually directed the volunteer program.
Among the astonishing educational experiences I had, one of the most stunning was my conversation with the psychiatrist running the insulin shock room in which the staff injected the hapless inmates with overdoses of insulin until their brain began to die, sending them into convulsions, unconsciousness and then a deep coma. Sometimes they writhed, sometimes they lay still like the dead that they were becoming, until saved by doses of sugar.
I asked the psychiatrist, “How does insulin coma help?”
He replied with certainty, “It kills bad brain cells.”
While still a skeptical college freshman and sophomore, I began reading on my own about what the institution of psychiatry routinely inflicted on its patients. There was insulin shock—which undeniably killed brain cells. Tissue samples showed the dead and dying cell. And electroshock that wrecks the brain and kills the neurons of hundreds of thousands in America today, as well as the less common final resort, sending them off for lobotomies to have portions of their normal brain tissue cut or burned out. I struggled in my own mind as a young college student to understand what could motivate anyone to inflict such damaging assaults on the brains of other people.
Much more recently, in fact within the last year, I have returned to studying the origins of the first blockbuster miracle drug—Thorazine (chlorpromazine). I have already put up some of the original research papers from the early 1950s written by the pioneers Delay and Deniker on my free Antipsychotic Resource Center (www.123antipsychotics.com). After experimenting with the new drugs for about two years, and watching Thorazine go viral around the world, the Frenchmen realized that the drug was behaving like an epidemic encephalitis agent. They realized they had discovered a neurotoxin!
Delay and Deniker’s promotional work had already led to millions of patients being overwhelmed by the new neurotoxins, inevitable suffering from all kinds of dreadful neurological and physical reactions. By 1957, they knew in detail how their drugs mimicked a well-known neurotoxic epidemic called lethargic encephalitis.
So what did the two doctors do? Did they write and phone their colleagues to say, “Wait! We’ve made a dreadful mistake. We are spreading neurotoxins across the face of the earth.”
No, they didn’t. Instead, they contacted the drug company and asked, “In your monkey lab studies, what’s the most neurotoxic drug of all—the one that causes the most severe damage to the nervous system?” They quickly received a series of deadly agents and began giving it to their patients. Out of their approach came drugs like Haldol (haloperidol), arguably among the most toxic agents in medicine, possibly only outdone by the most radical cancer treatments.
Now, perhaps my conclusion begins to make more sense—that psychiatry has always viewed the brain as a cancer. Consciously or unconsciously, psychiatry views the brain as a malignant, incurable cancer that can only be controlled by drugs that kill brain cells and shorten lives. And if the drugs do not work, there is the shock machine to blast the brain to near death in which the brain waves often flat-line. And of course, as with any cancer, there is always the scalpel or the hot probe, in this case lobotomy and newer forms of psychosurgery, including radiation. Yes, radiation, just like a cancer treatment.
Before I took five years out of my life to stop the resurgence of psychosurgery around the world in the early 1970s, one of the most esteemed British neurosurgeons, Geoffrey Knight, performed his lobotomies by implanting radiation seeds in the frontal lobes of his patients! It makes me think I must be right: psychiatrists and some aberrant neurosurgeons believe that the brain is a malignant tumor.
I am nearly there, finally explaining what makes psychiatrists and some neurosurgeons seem so irrational and even mad. They do think the brain is a malignant tumor—one that, for practical reasons, can never be fully eradicated but instead must be managed and controlled for the patient’s lifetime, however shortened it may be by the treatment.
It also explains why all of our scientific and carefully reasoned efforts to criticize psychiatric drugs, shock treatment and lobotomy have fallen on such deaf ears. These people, these psychiatrists and neurosurgeons, do not think they are treating a normal brain with a mind and a spirit, and a living person—they think they are treating a subtle and sometimes flagrant form of cancer.
Now of course they speak of biochemical imbalances and how their drugs are correcting them. But they know it’s not true. The evidence is clear that the only biochemical imbalances present in the brains of their patients are the ones that they themselves put into them with their neurotoxins and electric shocks.
So why don’t psychiatrists pay attention to those of us writing so many scientific articles and books about what Peter Gøtzsche calls Deadly Psychiatry and what I have described as Toxic Psychiatry and Brain-Disabling Treatments? Why do they dismiss the havoc wreaked by their drugs, treating it as mere collateral damage in a war that justifies and requires the use of deadly chemical weapons?
Malignancy that it is, this sick brain must be brought to death’s door if necessary; and even if many millions of brains a year are killed or maimed, along with their owners, it’s the same kind of risk that must be taken with the treatment of any deadly tumor. After all, these brains kill the people they inhabit and sometimes they kill other people. Worse yet, these brains emanate life’s most unimaginable horrors: strong and sometimes overwhelming emotions that cannot be controlled without resort to neurotoxins and electric shocks to the head.
Before my insight makes you feel overcome with resentment or any other nasty emotions lurking in your malignant brain, think of this: What must these psychiatric exterminators of the brain think about the organ inside their own heads? Think how darkly and wretchedly they must feel about their own brains and hence about themselves.
I conclude with the most important insight of all. We have persistently failed in trying to influence psychiatry with scientific argument because we view the brain as normal and they think it is a cancer. Imagine how weird it must seem to them: We are talking about an organ inside our heads that we treasure, and they are peering at it the way a surgeon studies a neuroblastoma—or a killer views the object of his hatred. We love the brain and they are stalking it.
So there it is; but what new strategy grows from these insights? We must convince psychiatrists that their own brains are not cancerous. We must help them understand that all the emotions they struggle against within themselves are part of the human experience—that it is normal, indeed that it is exalted, that we human beings are so full of emotions and passions, painful and thrilling, depressing and elevating, and ultimately loving.
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.