Stigma: Mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person (Oxford English Dictionary)
I want to examine the widely-accepted idea that:
“Society’s stigma of the mentally ill is what keeps them from getting the help they need. Mental illness is no more shameful than any other disease, and elimination of such stigma will allow psychiatrists to treat their patients sooner, and greatly improve their prognosis.”
This is my own summary of the dominant attitude in society today, as taught by organized psychiatry and its business partner, pharma, as well as its governmental allies, and transmitted by mainstream media and absorbed by our population. I want to take a critical look at each element of this dogma and make the case that the only chance of successfully combating such propaganda is another campaign, a re-education aimed at our people, from the PhD’s to the plumbers.
I believe that those who understand psychiatry’s self-serving claims and want to be most effective in a campaign of re-education must never lose sight of the critical role of language in the forming of public opinion. I want to use the example of stigma to illustrate the “War of the Words.”
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Every day, each of us is bombarded by words chosen by others, and none of us is able to stop to really evaluate all the words coming in. In our efforts to help more and more people unlearn what psychiatry is teaching, and replace it with something better, we must ourselves be careful about our vocabulary, never calling a drug a “treatment” when no abnormality has been discovered that needs fixing, and never calling memory loss and learning disability from electricity to the brain a “side effect.” The result of electricity to the brain is injury, just as our common sense would tell us.
Another example: While genuine medicine finds the cause of distress or dysfunction and thereby makes a diagnosis and offers treatment, psychiatry regurgitates symptoms, responds with drugs or electricity, calls that “treatment,” and then alleges that whatever short-term change is seen, either tranquilization or signs of acute brain injury, is “improvement” and therefore proof that the disease exists and has “responded.”
One more: …“the pain and suffering of mental distress is as real as the pain and suffering of medical disorder.” No question about that, except that this hardly amounts to support for psychiatry’s claim that mental distress is a sign of disease of the brain.
Most important of all, genuine medical patients are truly free agents, the final arbiters of whether a treatment may be used. It is truly remarkable that the one branch of medicine that is not scientific, psychiatry, is also the one mandated by society to use force on its “patients.”
These are examples of the fundamentals we must teach. Let me now do this with the example of psychiatry and stigma, using my summary dogma above. Let’s re-examine “stigma,” “mentally ill,” “mental illness,” “disease,” “patients,” and “prognosis.”
Persons exhibiting signs of emotional turmoil and disturbing behavior have always been stigmatized. They make us uncomfortable, and their families and loved ones face a particularly difficult dilemma because they are the ones most wanting to help while at the same time being themselves very much in need of relief.
Psychiatry is not responsible for any of this. It comes with being human. We are uncomfortable because mental breakdown can be overwhelming. The threat of suicide is frightening for all concerned, placing grave feelings of responsibility on both the doctor and the family and loved ones.
Societies have always discriminated in a variety of ways, including with the use of physical restraints, against persons exhibiting disturbing emotions or behaviors. Whether such controls on persons who are disturbing but not criminal in their behavior are warranted is not fundamentally a scientific question but one of law and social policy.
This is where society, with psychiatry as its instrument, inflicts the most damaging stigma on the mentally troubled — its insistence on the use of medical doctors to administer a particularly dangerous form of coercion, forced “treatment,” one that puts the individual in a special class of citizenship with less protections, less credibility, less of a lot of things, but with more fear, more isolation, more vulnerability to all kinds of abuse and bodily harm.
I have discussed this on my YouTube channel, but I believe Laura Delano’s YouTube video “The Power of Psychiatric Diagnosis” says it best. Once accepted, a psychiatric “diagnosis” has the power to steal one’s very identity, rob one of hope and initiative, and drain millions of tax dollars from other crucial public services through skyrocketing disability claims.
And what are we to make of state-authorized psychiatric coercion of a designated group, the “dangerous (to self or others) mentally ill” — a category that has no reliable boundaries and is placed under the control of a profession that has no reliable way to determine who is and who isn’t “one of them”?
Because there is no “illness,” no test, no medical indicia, no predictive skills possessed by psychiatry, to scientifically show who is “in” and who is “out” of the category required for forced intervention, simple pronouncement of a purported “diagnosis,” along with another pronouncement of “danger to self or others,” is sufficient. It has been said that “The beautiful thing about psychiatry’s pronouncements is that no one can ever prove them wrong.”
In today’s “mental health system,” psychiatry rules, and legal reviews are window dressing. Judges and juries are simply intimidated by the white coats and the vocabulary. There will always be at least one “diagnosis” but since there is no real “illness,” only symptoms lumped together and placed in a book falsely called a “diagnostic” manual, all concerned will be swimming in a soup that has the look, the feel, and the smell of medicine.
We are now ready to de-code “mental illness,” that which our dogma tells us the “mentally ill” “have.”
Long before psychiatry had huge amounts of money to promote itself, and long before it had the computer revolution to “wow” the masses with its so-called “neuroscience,” an overwhelming variety of grotesque abuses were perpetrated on the inmates of mental “hospitals.” Each one of them was a “treatment,” simply by proclamation. Treatment was, after all, what doctors do.
Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the non-medical members of the therapeutic community, psychologists, social workers, family counselors, were gaining in confidence, and gaining clinical licenses. There was only one thing to do: Psychiatry would just have to find some mental “illness,” some brain diseases, that required the MD degree.
So, they created a new “diagnostic manual,” DSM III, one that had no genuine diagnoses, only symptom patterns. But hey, no problem. If they were listed in a “Diagnostic Manual,” what else would they be but “diagnoses”? It also followed that whatever a psychiatrist decided upon became a “treatment,” despite there being no genuine medical disorder found.
Next, psychiatry linked up with drug-company profits, tax dollars funneled through the National Institutes of Mental Health, and easy access to mainstream media, so that by now what is believed by our people to be neuroscience (I call it “Neuro-Sales”) is assumed to have triumphed over every other way of helping mentally disturbed people.
But putting a drug or electricity into someone’s brain does not a treatment make, any more than the lobotomist’s ice pick or the bleedings of yesteryear were treatments. The sad fact is that all of psychiatry’s bodily “treatments” result in bodily harm that is simply proclaimed to be “effective treatment.” This harm is what is being called “improvement.” Just as alcohol may provide temporary relief, this is not “therapeutic response.”
From Benjamin Rush’s claim that his bleedings were a treatment for too much blood in the brain, to today’s insistence that a drug that slows you down means your brain had too much of something and a drug that speeds you up means you had too little of something, nothing has changed except the dramatic growth in the hype and the hope. The general public has now become the cheerleaders, all too ready to get on the wonder drugs themselves.
Alleged advances during the 1990’s, the “decade of the brain,” as well as more recent claims, have been promoted so persistently that the public doesn’t even want to consider what is quite obvious if a genuinely scientific attitude is maintained.
And if you are still not upset, consider this: mental symptoms are no help whatever is getting to the real sources of mental distress. Reliance on symptoms, and physical examination, and laboratory findings, is the bread and butter of genuine medicine, but mental pain and distress, fears, confusion, disappointments… these things call for help that cannot be reduced to scientific medicine. If the problems are not medical, genuine and lasting solutions cannot be medical.
This understanding does not require prior training in science or medicine, only critical thinking and willingness to question authority, along with an understanding of what key words actually mean, and an understanding of what psychiatrists actually do. Backed by the power of the state, psychiatry is throwing dangerous chemicals and dangerous electricity at fictitious “diseases” with no regard to the possibility, no, the certainty, that harm will result.
It is now clearly demonstrated that harm is not only possible when such pseudo-science prevails, but inevitable. Does it take an advanced degree in biology or medicine to understand that chemicals specifically designed to enter the brain have no chance whatever of improving anything and will inevitably damage the overwhelmingly complex architecture and functioning of the central nervous system?
A psychoactive drug taken voluntarily, for a short while, as part of a program staffed by care-givers that includes a physician, could be an intelligent way to help someone get through a difficult time. Lack of sleep, for example, is known to be a very real precipitant of acute psychosis, but a short course of chemical help in conjunction with other assistance would be a far cry from what psychiatry is insisting on — the lifelong addiction to powerful tranquilizers justified as control of “brain disease.”
Moving on, we come to the word “disease.” Once we recognize that the use of force, or the threat of its use, is inherent in how society currently employs psychiatry, it becomes clear that everyone being “treated” by a psychiatrist has good reason to exercise caution lest they go from being a “patient” to a prisoner.
If I am correct when I say, “Fear of Psychiatry: It’s Not Irrational,” that means that all too many persons needing and wanting help are being deprived of help and are thereby more rather than less likely to resort to desperate measures like suicide or violent retaliation against someone or something.
Without force, so-called shock “treatment” would quickly disappear because few persons would agree to it. Without force, a public campaign of re-education would have a real chance to drastically reduce our consumption of psychoactive chemicals. Without force, no one’s self-esteem, no one’s hopes for the future, would melt away because they felt compelled to do what a doctor tells them. Medicine and force are simply incompatible, at least if our society really believes that the first rule of medicine is primum non nocere.
Once our educational efforts begin to include the fact that force is an ever-present contaminant of today’s psychiatry, we will need to explain other words, other concepts.
“Patients” and “Prognosis”
To be a medical patient includes the protection of “informed consent.” Repeated court findings and international declarations have made it clear that both words are critical: genuine consent to medical treatment must be both informed and consensual, free of coercion and free of misinformation.
This means that truly informed consent is simply impossible in today’s psychiatry. If psychiatry is capable of the systematic distortions that make up its “disease model,” it is certain that “patients” never receive sufficient information for genuine consent. They are also never truly free of the threat of force.
It seems that the conventional wisdom is an empty shell: To society’s traditional stigma towards mentally troubled persons, psychiatry adds its false claims, its use of force, and the grave danger of long-term harms from chemicals and electricity.
This denies genuine help to needy persons, driving them away by depriving them of the protections guaranteed to genuine medical patients and subjecting them to bodily harm in the name of treatment, assaulting their already compromised self-esteem.
If all this sounds harsh, I’m glad. We must communicate the seriousness of the problem by the emotion we show. We are not university lecturers but public educators.
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I want to conclude by letting psychiatry speak for itself and put its best foot forward. Let’s see if I am getting too “emotional.” As I have shown in the past, both in my book The Reign of Error, and decades later in reviewing Dr. Nancy Andreasen’s The Broken Brain, an examination of what psychiatry’s leaders have to say is most instructive.
Among the “best and the brightest,” Chairman of Psychiatry at Columbia University, and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, Jeffrey Lieberman fits that description.
Recently I came upon his TED Talk of January 11, 2016, “Imagine There Was No Stigma To Mental Illness.”
It was, in fact, this presentation and my reaction to it that became the inspiration for writing this blog. I was so appalled at what I heard — the obvious vulnerability of the rapt audience, the huge reach of the TED Talks venue, and the fact that what was being recommended would lead to a massive increase in the drugging of the world’s population — that I felt compelled to add my voice to those who have already pointed out that his message, and psychiatry’s message, has nothing to do with science and everything to do with sales.
Essentially, Lieberman in his twenty-two minutes focused entirely on the stigma traditionally attached to “mental illness,” went on to talk about the scientific advances from psychiatry, and promised that if we all would stop stigmatizing those in need of help, psychiatry could much sooner treat the brain disorders responsible, and in many cases “virtually transform people’s lives.”
“And the fact that I can’t even tolerate thinking about,” he said, “is that for all of human history up until the latter part of the 20th century, the barriers to getting any relief from your mental illness were lack of knowledge and lack of treatment. But now the barriers are lack of awareness, stigma, and lack of access.”
And then came the heart of the message, one that is truly chilling:
“So, what if there were no stigma to mental illness? We could launch a public health initiative against mental illness, and it could begin with three simple strategies. One would be: intervene and identify early. And we should begin with screening: in schools, colleges, primary care settings, workplace. In individuals who are identified as having symptoms or in incipient stages or at imminent risk, referrals could be made to specialized programs for mood, anxiety, psychotic disorders, that had an array of different services that are evidence based and known to help. The effectiveness would be to reduce the duration of untreated illness, provide the optimal level of care right up front, treat people to recovery, prevent relapse, and prevent potential harm to themselves or to other people.”
He then went on to talk about incorporating “behavioral medicine” into other healthcare settings to identify and treat “co-morbid mental disorders,” and establishing “community-based comprehensive care” that would include “medical management” and the possibility of residential facilities. I need hardly add that the evidence that psychiatry’s interventions lead to vastly more disability, rather than less, was overlooked.
Moving down the home stretch, Lieberman spoke of alleviating “the social problems that are so vexing to society.” He told the audience: “The worst of these, of course, are the civilian massacres, the mass violence. Mentally ill individuals are responsible for a very small percentage of the overall violence in the United States, but they contribute disproportionately to these glaring mass violent incidents that attract so much attention and concern from the public, the media and the government. And if you look at it, the individuals that have been the perpetrators are generally young males, who have suffered from the symptoms of their illness for a long time prior to committing their terrible deed. But they didn’t get helped. Instead they were shunned, and they were feared, and they were ridiculed, until tragedy struck.”
I’d be willing to bet that it is the rare psychiatrist who ever questions whether it is precisely because someone “reached out to help them” — i.e. took steps to initiate forced treatment with psychoactive drugs — that aggravated pre-existing isolation and resentment, pushing an already disturbed person toward rather than away from extremes like violence or suicide.
No sign that Lieberman or his mainstream colleagues entertain such possibilities, as judged by his concluding recommendations:
“We need to encourage people to regard mental illness as a medical condition much like other physical illnesses,” he said. He advised the audience to make it their business to intervene if they see someone “who’s acting strange, in psychological distress, or too often, intoxicated,” so they can “seek help.”
It all sounds so good that I’m sure that virtually every member of his TED Talk audience went away in solid agreement, not to mention the vastly larger audience that has already listened and will continue to watch via YouTube and continue to be influenced by the massive PR apparatus available to psychiatry and its partners.
But it’s a “funny” (NOT funny) thing: The Truth has a way of hangin’ around, and the critics of psychiatry — professionals, non-professionals, survivors, critical thinkers of every kind — are not going away.
Psychiatry as presently constituted can only survive as long as it is society’s enforcer, the profession elected by our laws and our traditions to be an adjunct to the police powers of the state, all in the name of help, through the legal doctrine of parens patriae.
If it were recognized by our people that science is irrelevant to the debate over whether society’s fears should trump individual rights to liberty, then we could begin what will be the long struggle to win such a debate. What needs to happen is that we start the debate now rather than wait until force and psychiatry are no longer joined. Legislators will never do it until the public demands it, and the public will never demand it until they understand.
That is where we come in. We must keep it simple and keep it strong, never afraid to show our emotions, but always remaining professional. We must be credible teachers, regardless of… well, regardless. We must, in the words of legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry, “keep on keepin’ on.”
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.