The Mad in America Parent Resources Q&A section is a safe place to ask questions and share concerns about children, families, and alternatives to conventional psychiatric treatments and have them answered on site by one of our subject experts. Please email your questions to [email protected]. Your identity will be kept confidential. Questions may be edited for length and clarity. An archive of past Q & A’s can be found here.


My son had no history of mental illness, but recently had a psychotic episode due to excessive marijuana use and a head injury sustained in a motorcycle accident. He is currently in legal trouble for hitting a staffer while involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.  Doctors now say he shows no sign of mental illness. He wants to get the charges dropped and to start drug rehab. My question: Is there any way to have a psychiatric diagnosis voided or otherwise stricken from one’s medical records?

Editor’s note: We passed this question to two different experts to solicit both a diagnostic perspective and a legal take on the topic.

Reply from Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D.:

I had been an advocate and teacher of the American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnosis manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), until I served on two committees of the manual’s fourth edition while it was in preparation. After two years, I had to resign on ethical, moral, and professional grounds. I learned that, contrary to the claims of the manual’s authors and publisher, psychiatric diagnoses are not scientific, and the labels in the manual are not helpful in reducing human suffering. Indeed, receiving such a label exposes the labeled person to a vast array of harms.

Over the decades, I have heard from thousands of people like you whose lives have been upended by getting one or more of the DSM labels. The kinds of harm range from plummeting self-confidence to loss of employment, child custody, and security clearance, to loss of the right to make decisions about one’s own affairs. In the military, people who seek help from a military therapist for understandable suffering (combat trauma, desperately missing loved ones, etc.) are often diagnosed as mentally ill. Sometimes, they are discharged on those grounds.

And of course, as soon as one receives a psychiatric label, one is told that one should take psychiatric drugs.  Many of these drugs have been shown to increase violent behavior against oneself and other people and to cause serious physical conditions including diabetes, heart problems, and even death. This makes it extremely important to be able to get such labels removed from one’s records.

Very occasionally, I have heard of a labeled person being able to get a diagnosis removed from their charts, but that has usually been because they found a therapist willing to say that they are not and never were “mentally ill” and should not have been given a psychiatric label in the first place. Sadly, I know many more people who have made these efforts without success.

The best way to maximize one’s chances of getting these labels removed is by working with a lawyer. In one case, I tried to help an Army veteran diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder after being repeatedly sexually assaulted to get that label removed from her chart. An M.D., who was not a therapist, reviewed her records, believed the wrong people, and declared that her diagnosis was in fact appropriate. Later, with the assistance of an attorney who was also a veteran, she did get the “diagnosis” excised.

Reply from Jim Gottstein, J.D.:

The shocking events you have described are sadly too common.  From my perspective, if a proper defense were to be put on it seems a jury would not be likely to convict your son if you can get the evidence to show what you say about how it all came about.

As to the question of changing medical records: Under a federal regulation, 45 CFR 164.526, a person has the right to ask for an amendment of their medical records.  There are various reasons why the medical provider (“covered entity”) can deny the request, but the person has the right to submit a statement of disagreement.  With some exceptions, any future disclosure of the information involved in the amendment must include the Statement of Disagreement or the request for amendment if no statement of disagreement (or a summary) has been submitted.

Good luck to you!


Paula J. CaplanPaula J. Caplan, Ph.D., is a clinical and research psychologist, activist, Associate at the Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, and the author of 11 books, including one that won three national awards for nonfiction and two about psychiatric diagnosis. Her books include They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal and the edited Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis.


Jim GottsteinJim Gottstein, J.D. A Harvard-educated lawyer and longtime activist for change in the mental health system, Jim Gottstein writes about law as it relates to psychiatric rights and fostering truly helpful, non-coercive alternatives to the current system. He is President and CEO of Law Project for Psychiatric Rights.


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.


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  1. Either way- whether it gets to a point of going to a kangaroo court to challenge the Government in it’s court, with its Judge, and jester, or not- its the “truth” that matters, and will always matter, so officially, regardless and outside of litigation, if you know it’s their drugs, and their dodgy imaginative diagnosis, that’s got you trapped and in a forced, abusive,adversarial, drugging situation, whether its going to become litigious or not, you should at the earliest opportunity let it be known officially, how it is, “for you” i only ever send emails cause their electronically recorded, cant get lost in the post or misplaced, so just remember whatever you say, as far as the law goes, can be taken and used in evidence for you and against you, so choose your words carefully, the truth usually wins out, not always, but hard to beat the truth, everyone’s got their own truth-s, but yours is yours. theirs is theirs, and even though you might lose against, their truths, that are still, lies to you, their not, your truth. or, your real, cause their not you, and you’ve got to let them know that, law court or not. Once somethings in your heart and your comfortable with it, and it can answer all challenges, comfortably without too much stress, your ready and you’ve already won, and that’s something no one can take away, or mess with,/ the comfort in the truth, the harmony, the peace, of truth, honesty,the knowing, MH/Psychiatry or the Government or its courts, can never take that away, cause hearts cant take bullshit, they only take the truth, heads lie, brains lie, people lie, hearts don’t. I know that’s a bit out there, but that,s how i feel, think, and that battles are won in hearts, not in heads, or kangaroo courts of law, in law, or by the manipulation of the law, or by a special language, by big shot lawyers, that disadvantage over half the people they, and the courts serve, so its not so much about winning against a corrupt legal system or an abusive government allowing it all, i mean you have to expect to lose, that way, which is why at least, the victory in your heart, that should win the court case, is as important as the court case or the result, cause its probably going to be the only truth at the court case, and its yours- you win- are already winning, in that true sense, that none of them will or can have, cause their not you.

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  2. I found a doctor, who had ethics and brains, who took a “bipolar” misdiagnosis off my medical records, once I explained the misdiagnosis. I’d had the common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome misdiagnosed as “bipolar” (antidepressant had been given for smoking cessation, not depression). Despite the DSM-IV-TR clearly stating:

    “Note: Manic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.”

    That disclaimer has disingenuously been taken out of the DSM5.

    Then I explained that misdiagnosis resulted in my inappropriately being given an antipsychotic. And combining the anticholinergic drugs (both the antidepressants and the antipsychotics are anticholinergic drugs) is a bad idea, because it can result in anticholinergic toxidrome.

    Two of the symptoms of anticholinergic toxidrome are “psychosis” and “hallucinations.” And our psychiatrists can NOT tell the difference between “psychosis” and “hallucinations,” which are caused by anticholinergic toxidrome, and “psychosis” and “hallucinations” caused by any of their made up DSM disorders. Or “psychosis” and “hallucinations” caused by street drugs, let’s be real.

    The doctor then asked me if I wanted the “bipolar” taken off my medical records. I said, yes please, since “bipolar” is a label for people who suffer from depression and mania, and I’ve never suffered from depression, and the only mania I’d ever experienced was drug withdrawal induced mania.

    At my next physical with that doctor, he had me teach one of his students, that “sometimes the patients know more than the doctors.” Which may become a more common reality, especially now that we all live in the information age. I think the doc had fun scaring his student with the potential medical knowledge of her soon to be patients. She was rather taken aback by a patient who could speak medicalese.

    But it was important, because one of my long run symptoms from all the malpractice is a wiggly ankle at night. This issue could have been misdiagnosed as “restless leg syndrome,” resulting in a prescription. But since I knew it was tardive dyskinesia, and called it what it was, there was no prescription needed.

    Best of luck in getting the diagnosis off your son’s records. The doc who took the misdiagnosis of my records, by the way, was head of family medicine at one of the most well respected hospitals in the country. I’d recommend going to a doctor you believe will be self confident, and ethical. And, of course, not the doctor who misdiagnosed your son in the first place, doctors don’t like to confess to their own malpractice, or even the malpractice of their co-workers.

    I will say, however, my neighbor – who worked in the “mental health” field – did tell me that a place he worked was successfully sued by a heroin addict, who was misdiagnosed with “schizophrenia.” He also said he used to smoke pot, but quit, because he saw way too many pot smokers end up misdiagnosed with the DSM disorders. Good luck to you and your son.

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