Disciplines of Dissent: On Antipsychiatry Within the Academy

Efrat Gold
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In the 2018/19 academic year, I was named the first recipient of the Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry, a newly established scholarship at the University of Toronto and the first antipsychiatry scholarship worldwide. When officially announced, the controversial scholarship attracted both praise and criticism, with some hailing it a milestone in the fight for recognition of the rights of the psychiatrized and others critiquing the scholarship as a degradation of science and likening the antipsychiatry movement to Scientology. Those who identify as antipsychiatry believe there are better ways to approach human struggle and suffering outside of the ‘psy-complex’ (consisting of psychiatry, psychology, and social work) which currently holds the monopoly on definitions of ‘mental health and illness.’ Departing from psy-complex diagnoses, what I mean by ‘mental health’ is a person’s ability to cope within their context — a socially constructed definition, not a biological one.

While we are still far from seeing the establishment of an antipsychiatry department at any university, Burstow’s scholarship does add legitimacy to academic research that falls under the antipsychiatry umbrella. To be clear, this umbrella encompasses the work of scholars who understand people’s struggles and crises less as the result of biological psychiatric disorders and move towards explorations of the social, political, economic, and geographic underpinnings that shape the way each of us experiences our lives and distresses. This includes, for example, recognition that normal responses to ongoing trauma are often pathologized as psychiatric disorders. Sometimes, it seems, the context is sicker than the individual.

The trouble with recognizing mental health struggles as only or predominantly biological, as is the standard in the field of psychiatry, is that it can make individuals feel personally (or genetically) responsible for social contexts that are beyond their control, thereby making it far more difficult to critique the oppressive structures that cause so many to suffer. This is not to cast off the all too real biological impact of trauma, but rather to challenge the assumed biological etiology that we have been led to believe is at the root of psychiatric diagnoses. Within dominant psychiatry, there is little to no room given for appreciating the effects of poverty, racism, misogyny, or violence on a person’s well-being; rather, these traumatic factors become relegated to chemical imbalances, genetic predisposition, and faulty biology.

Burstow’s scholarship challenges the dominant narrative on mental health by funding the work of students who are critical of psychiatry. The work of my colleagues in this field, fellow grad students, encompasses wide-ranging and under-examined areas such as war trauma, man-made disability, critical psychiatric nursing, Indigenous genocide and mental health, and pharmaceutical sponsorship within public secondary school mental health programs. This work is necessary and rigorous — these are the scholars I stand amongst proudly.

My own work is largely archival and seeks to uncover overlooked psychiatric histories with the aim of building alternate histories; histories told from below. The way history is recorded and subsequently understood fundamentally affects how each of us contextualizes the present; what events, norms, policies, contingencies, and economics have led us to the current historical moment? History is not neutral, having somehow been recorded by an impartial observer — it speaks to the beliefs, biases, knowledges, and power structures of particular people within particular contexts. The history of psychiatry has largely been recorded by those with relative power in a given time period; people fluent in the language, writings, norms, and knowledges of their eras (such as doctors and other professionals). Excluded are the voices of the marginalized — those who actually experienced the treatments and supposed help provided by mental health professionals. My work stands among a growing group of scholars uncovering the voices of those excluded yet deeply implicated and marginalized by psychiatric practice, discourse, and philosophy; voices such as those of psychiatric survivors and their loved ones.

Very few come to a position of dissent without struggling long and hard for it, and this is true within antipsychiatry as with many other disciplines of dissent. The antipsychiatry field and movement is populated by those who feel they or their loved ones have been damaged, often irreparably, through involvement with the psychiatric system. In this regard, I am no different, having lost a brother who never recovered from the trauma of involuntary interactions with the psychiatric system; a system he viewed as arbitrary law where one can be severely persecuted for their thoughts and beliefs. Within several years, my brother was permanently damaged by psychiatric drugs that caused him to gain weight, develop a serious heart condition in his 20s, and left him feeling fundamentally not himself — all common side-effects. This painful journey, spanning over a decade, led me initially to question whether psychiatry was, in fact, the ultimate authority on people’s well-being, and eventually guided me towards finding a community of like-minded scholars and activists under the auspices of antipsychiatry. My story is not unique — it is a tiny square in the mounting mosaic of those who have realized too late that there are alternate ways of approaching people’s struggles and crises.

Legitimizing antipsychiatry as an academic discipline, a discipline of dissent, is a step towards recognizing the trauma of those who have been harmed by psychiatry; some on an individual level, but many on a systemic one. It also works towards opening a dialogue that politicizes understandings of those groups who tend to be over-represented in psychiatric diagnoses — black and Indigenous people, poor people, women, refugees, queer and trans folk, the disabled, those living in war-torn countries, those surviving ongoing domestic violence and abuse — are we really to think the struggles of these populations has less to do with their ongoing oppression than it does their faulty genes?

Of course, antipsychiatry is not the only, and certainly not the first, discipline to be borne out of dissent and recognition of marginalized knowledges. Queer/trans studies, women and gender studies, black studies, critical disability studies, and Indigenous studies are only a few examples of academic disciplines that have struggled to receive legitimacy within the hegemony of more traditional forms of academic knowledge.

Queer/trans studies, to focus in on one example of a now-legitimate discipline of dissent, was initially rooted in the social, political, and economic oppression of Western queer people. Prior to the advent and eventual acceptance of queer/trans studies within the academy, queer people in North America organized for decades, arguing that the discrimination and social ostracism they faced daily was detrimental to their health, lives, and well-being. In fact, queerness, under various names, remained a diagnosable mental illness until 1987 and the trans identity remains a diagnosable mental illness still. Few continue to challenge whether queer/trans studies is a valid academic discipline, yet at its inception, the controversy of whether the marginalized voices of queer and trans folk should be taken up within academia had many arguing that incorporating this field would erode academic integrity and rigor.

The pathologization of queerness as a mental illness is not a unique example within the psy-complex. The history of what we today call psychiatry serves as a humbling reminder that diagnoses of mental illness have often had more to do with politics and social norms than they have science or medicine. In the mid-19th century, drapetomania was the conjectured mental illness thought to cause slaves to run away from their captors (of course, it couldn’t have been the dehumanizing conditions of slavery nor the desire for freedom). Until the 20th century, women who felt discontented in their narrow and marginalized lives were diagnosed as hysterics, with a common treatment of being masturbated by their male doctor. The practice of lobotomy, a practice that has since been replaced by electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and psychiatric drugs, was commonly used until the 1950s to subdue those seen as too difficult to handle. The brain damage caused by lobotomy was one and the same as the desired effect of making problematic people easier for others to deal with. The result, people unable to string together a coherent sentence, often incontinent and requiring care for the remainder of their shortened lives, was exactly the sought-after effect that was argued to constitute lobotomy a successful treatment. The victims of this cruel practice were often women, queers, and visible minorities. Given this troubling history, is there really good reason to be so confident as to think that today’s diagnoses and treatments are any less influenced by the politics, economics, and social norms of our times? Again, the psychiatric pathologization of queerness serves as a contemporary reminder that psychiatric disorders are a social construction rather than a medical fact.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), alternately known as the bible of psychiatry and published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is far more a political document than it is a medical one. Currently in its 5th edition, what becomes clear when reading the DSM is that today’s definitions of mental illness are contingent on a person’s ability (or willingness) to work — a clearly political and economic requirement that relates to medicine only insofar as a physical or cognitive impairment might prevent a person from working. As demonstrated by Bruce Cohen, contemporary psychiatric diagnoses speak to capitalist ideals of productivity, where being ‘unproductive’ is the defining factor of being mentally ill. Again, what begins to become clear is that the psy-complex defines mental illness into existence through social norms; scientific medicine this is not.

The point of antipsychiatry is not, and has never been, to do away with science; it is actually a call for greater scientific integrity, accountability, and honesty. The myth of scientific consensus within the psy-complex is a dangerous one that promotes a false understanding of how the brain works. Let’s take the example of depression: simply presented, the dominant narrative is that the brains of depressed people produce lower levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, therefore depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Assuming the levels of neurotransmitters in a person’s brain are actually known (tests not commonly performed preceding a psychiatric diagnosis), the causal statement claiming that lower levels of dopamine and serotonin are responsible for depression is imprudent and negligent. As the popular adage goes, correlation does not equal causation. What we do know about the production of dopamine in the brain, to follow one neurotransmitter, is that it is triggered by factors such as connection, love, exercise, sunshine, meditation, and music, just to name a few. Can we really be confident in claiming that the circumstances of a person’s life, conditions that directly impact the levels of dopamine produced by the brain, have no effect on their supposedly biological depression? Put another way, are we really to believe that the quality of someone’s life has little to do with the functioning of the neurotransmitters in their brain? The manipulation involved in the chemical imbalance hypothesis serves to mask ongoing oppression and injustice far more than it serves to help individuals who are suffering.

I often hear arguments presenting the real problem as the severe underfunding of mental health. I think that what many people mean by this is the lack of accessibility to resources that can actually help those who are struggling, and in this sense, I agree. Psychopharmacology, the front-line of current psychiatric treatment, however, is far from underfunded, with the pharmaceutical industry raking in billions in profits each year and little else trickling its way down to actually help people. Unfortunately, at the present historical moment, the priority of psy-complex funding falls squarely within pharmaceutical interests. There exists a myriad of established alternative treatments that seem to help people far more than psychiatric drugs, especially when we consider long-term well-being. This is not to take away from the very real suffering and struggle that many people must learn to live and cope with on an ongoing basis. The depth of suffering and the variety of sometimes intense interventions needed by those in crisis might feel for many like only superficial solutions currently exist. For some, the most effective way to cope might be talk therapy, while others may prefer meditation, yoga, EMDR, massage therapy, micro-dosing, or a combination of the many alternatives that are out there, although often these are still not enough. Even if these alternatives were enough, most people who would benefit from them probably couldn’t afford them anyways.

On a larger scale, we might start by considering the types of community supports, life skills, connection to nature, and self-knowledge needed to survive such complex and oppressive social, political, cultural, and economic realities. The response to human suffering has no real solution, within the psy-complex or outside of it, and may require a trial-and-error approach for many until they find what works best for them. Given the alternatives, some people might still prefer psychiatric drugs as the treatment that helps them most, and in my opinion, that’s perfectly fine — who am I to decide for others what they feel is best for themselves? When funding is directed only in the service of psychiatric drugs, however, many are forced into this singular option or else must struggle without any support or resources at all. The point is less to decide what is best for others than to fight for choice and alternatives so that people can make informed decisions that suit their individual needs.

For better or worse, the success of most academics is contingent on their ability to secure grants and scholarships in order to support their research. Funding for disciplines of dissent, generally speaking, is far less than that of traditional disciplines. Research that is overtly political, that critiques with the intent to intervene, unsettle, and fundamentally disrupt, is also research that is the least likely to receive funding. Why would an institution, after all, want to fund that which defies its very legitimacy? I can certainly appreciate the contradiction of critiquing the hegemony of academia from within. Yet, academia still holds the authority on much of the debate and dialogue on significant issues, including antipsychiatry. So many crucial conversations are silenced for the very fact that those trying to have them continuously fail to secure funding from traditional venues. Unless one is independently wealthy, academic funding provides a meager lifeline for those who sincerely believe their disciplines merit discourse.

The academy does not provide a level playing field where research and writing is primarily evaluated by the quality of its arguments and scholarship. Counter-hegemonic research is easily dismissed or else never taken up in the first place in favor of work that does not challenge the status quo, or challenges it only insofar as it can be easily revised within current structures of power and authority. In order to survive, critical scholarship must often be watered down, thereby threatening academic freedom and presenting a scholarly discourse that even its authors realize is censored and largely illegitimate. The University of Toronto’s antipsychiatry scholarship is not just a win for academic freedom, it is a win for students and the options open to them. Disciplines of dissent, antipsychiatry being among them, tirelessly fight to be heard within dominant dialogues that prefer critique remain silenced. A recognized antipsychiatry scholarship works to both legitimize this growing field and allow scholars whose voices have remained largely buried a fighting chance at meaningfully contributing to the mental health discourse. On this note, I congratulate the courage and foresight involved in establishing such a scholarship, and as its first recipient, I will continue the hard work started by those before me to push towards the legitimization of this discipline.

71 COMMENTS

  1. Efrat, Congratulations on your award and thanks for letting us hear your voice.
    And hearing is so so important! So many unheard and even if heated slowly or rapidly crushed in a variety of ways.
    Since I try to read everything and since you are an archivist- yeah!!!!
    Check out Tobert Coles. He worked with SNCC and knew the three murdered students of the summer of 1964.
    So in the psych world but something out of bounds. As a person in the system if I had encountered one doc but not anymore though who knows? Trauma is so pervasive and harmful for those unable to find release so again who knows.
    Please keep going and writing and maybe we all need to think of Rumi outside the fields of right and wrong I will meet you there. Go for it.

  2. Congratulations Efrat on becoming the first recipient of the Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry and thank you for this excellent blog. Also, God bless Dr. Burstow for all her work and generosity in the fight to protect people from human rights violations and harm of psychiatry.

    I am so sorry to hear of the tragic outcome psychiatry had for your brother. I also had a brother who was very physically healthy but saw a psychiatrist for depression, was put on psych drugs and ended up dying in his sleep. But I was brainwashed like many are to never question psychiatry and to believe they somehow are privy to knowledge that no other professional has.

    Then later on while in cancer treatment I developed insomnia from the chemo and steroids and was sent to a psychiatrist under the guise it was for “help with sleep meds”. That is when I learned for myself just how absurd, dishonest and extremely harmful psychiatry and their bogus labels and drugs truly are.

    Keep up the great work, this is good news and so promising for the future. Thank you again!

  3. Though I consider Efrat a comrade I am uncomfortable with the idea of “antipsychiatry” becoming an academic discipline. By making AP a “field of study” rather than a program for action we postpone the active abolition of psychiatry and encourage the development of more shrinks and social workers who label themselves “anti-psychiatry.” Black liberation succeeded (to the extent that it has) not as the result of white academics, but via revolutionary Black proletarian movements such as the Panthers. In fact most of the “radical” white students gave up on revolution after Kent State. Revolution is created by the masses, not intellectuals for the most part (though there is certainly an intellectual component to revolutionary theory). But many “anti-psychiatry” academics are still bonded to concepts of professionalism, which in the end helps reinforce the basic alienation which is the spiritual/emotional essence of capitalism (or whatever your preferred term may be for corporate totalitarianism).

    Don’t get me wrong, college students should absolutely be learning about anti-psychiatry, just as they learn about Black history and at least used to learn about feminism. More specifically they need to understand the basic truth that minds cannot have diseases (which is more the responsibility of language departments to explain). Everything that follows from that understanding cannot help but lead to an anti-psychiatry consciousness. The goal should not be to create careers in “anti-psychiatry”; it should be to end psychiatry NOW, not when “progressive” shrinks and MIA adherents decide that it’s “practical.”

    • Well, I’d like to see more antipsychiatry in the world regardless of whether that world is the world of the ivory tower, or the world of Main Street. I don’t think antipsychiatry on University Avenue is any further from Main Street than it would be on any other street. I actually think what Bonnie is doing is great because, Main street or academia, people are talking antipsychiatry again (and the freedom of pursuit that goes along with it). The final word hasn’t been said on psychiatry yet, and, of course, I’m not blaming antipsychiatry for that.

      I don’t think many people are talking anti-education today, but they are talking antiwar, anti-fascism, antiracism, and, hey, yeah, antipsychiatry. I can see a reason for all four: anti-violence, anti-fascism, antiracism, and antipsychiatry. I think we probably have a wee bit, to exaggerate, too much anti-education in the world as is.

      As an academic discipline, note, it is less likely to die out due to lack of interest (and lack of support by the way). Now, how do we get it into branches of government, and department stores?

  4. I don’t like the term antipsychiatry at all. When I was a resident in psychiatry in a German university hospital in the beginning 90s, the director of the psychiatry defined himself as social psychiatrist. It was good working, there was always the option of psychotherapy or drugs or both. He soon was replaced by a biological psychiatrist. Drugs, drugs, drugs, patients weren’t desperate, they had just genetically wrong brain receptors. Borderline disorder is nonsense, it is all schizophrenia, people with schizophrenia are in principle not trustworthy, they are every time mad, they just have periods without psychotic symptoms. I fled the psychiatry, went in the psychotherapy and became a psychotherapist too. A couple of years later, I found a job as a psychiatrist in the Netherlands in an outpatient department. I worked together with psychologists, system therapists, nurses, creative therapists… It was a nice working again, we made offers to the patient according to his needs. Honestly, I don’t understand, why under these circumstances a movement like antipsychiatry is necessary, because I’m not the only psychiatrist working this way. In many European countries the training of psychiatry is combined with a training in psychotherapy, so you will be a consultant of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

    I don’t think that we need an antipsychiatry. What we do need, is firstly more knowledge about the origin of psychiatric diseases. There have been a lot of insights in the last decades. About 50% of schizophrenia is caused by multiple and severe trauma’s in childhood and adolescence. Psychic traumas are followed by brain damage, associated with psychosis. There are a couple of cognitive schemes, learned in childhood, elevating the risk of depression (scheme therapy of depression). Developmental disorders of brain networks in association with adverse environmental factors are risk factors for addiction. The funny thing is, neuroscientists have confirmed the Freudian concept of repression recently. Secondly, we have to adjust rapidly prevention and therapy to the last scientific results, including social, psychological and pharmaceutical (psychiatric) interventions. Guidelines in many European countries for the treatment of depression call for a psychotherapy as first method of treatment. I’m very happy about this.

    The antipsychiatry is actually fighting against the fraction of rigid biological psychiatrists, claiming that psychiatric disorders are due just to the (genetically) disfunctioning of brain receptors. This is evidence of a lack of knowledge (sorry, for both of them, antipsychiatrists and biological psychiatrists). This view can no longer be maintained for long because of the many new findings proving a link between the social environment, biology and psychology in relation to psychiatric diseases. Biologistic psychiatrists will die out.

    I wish you a lot of fun in your work. I think, you are doing a good job, but the label antipsychiatriy is just misleading and unnecessary.

    • Antipsychiatry is not a label, its a predilection. Put me in your loony bin? No, not today, thank you. In fact, make that not ever again. We could make a statement, and have it signed, in triplicate. If you want to be a prisoner of the “war on mental illness” help yourself, but as for us. No. Not ever again. Smash the psychiatric state, and smash it to smithereens! Psychiatry is “just misleading and unneccesary” as far as those with this particular predilection are concerned. We’d prefer not to be tortured, analyzed, scapegoated, drugged, falsely imprisoned, treated for figurative diseases, invalidated, crippled, discredited, killed, etc., etc., etc. I think the word they used to have for this kind of predilection was freedom of deliberation, and freedom from harassment, and all sorts of other slights. Oh yeah, in particular, freedom from psychiatry. If anybody needs it, that must define a different population.

      • Henrik probably was drawn to it by the hopes of helping people–like his mentor advocated–and got disgusted by the bio model writing off people as hopelessly damaged items to pitch in the garbage bin called the “mental health” system.

        Sounds a lot like Peter Breggin’s story.

        Nowadays more professionals sincere about helping others are opting for counseling over psychiatry. And they need private practices since the centers demand they toe the line by enforcing “compliance” and constantly reminding the “SMI” how hopelessly broken and defective they are. (Those places are SO depressing.)

        • I guess there isn’t “one” psychiatry. For instance, the European psychiatrists don’t understand the US-psychiatrists when they are talking about bipolar disorder in childhood. There isn’t such thing in Europe. I have the idea, that the American psychiatry seems to be quite different in some aspects compared with the psychiatry in Europe.
          Psychotherapy is at least in Germany and the Netherlands obligatory (I worked in both countries) and the first method of treatment of many psychiatric disorders, as it is described in psychiatric guidelines. In the Netherlands for instance, people with schizophrenia have been taken out of hospitals into little publicly funded houses in the communities, accompanied by social workers about 20 years ago.
          By the way, there is no opioid crisis in Europe as it is in the US with about 70.000 dead people per year. In Germany are about 1.000 fatal victims of opioids per year.
          There was recently published a survey about the situation in the psychiatry in Germany. The biggest complaint of nurses and psychiatrists was the lack of money and staff to avoid coercive measures and high doses of psychiatric pharmaceutics.

          • The biggest complaint of nurses and psychiatrists was the lack of money and staff to avoid coercive measures and high doses of psychiatric pharmaceutics.

            Yeah, I’m sure they lose a lot of sleep over what they “have to do.”

            Nuremberg comes to mind.

          • There is huge difference of the psychiatry in US compared to Europe. Maybe you could use the experience from the organization of the European psychiatry to improve the situation in the US:

            Employees in psychiatry at the limit
            For today, 10 Sept. 2019, the trade union Verdi (2nd largest union in Germany with 2m members) has called for a nationwide action day for better staffing in psychiatry. The results of a survey among employees are alarming. Employees consider the situation in psychiatry to be completely inadequate. The situation is dramatic with regard to violent incidents and coercive measures, among other things. 60% of respondents believe that almost all coercive measures could have been avoided with better staffing. The inadequate personnel resources are at the expense of the employees and the patients. Workers in psychiatry and their trade union Verdi have long been calling for a successor to the Psychiatry Personnel Ordinance (PsychPV), which is still in force until the end of the year, with significantly better staffing levels.

            Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator
            source: https://www.dielinke-nrw.de/start/aktuell/detail/news/beschaeftigte-in-der-psychiatrie-am-limit/
            (left party Nordrhein-Westfalen)

    • The word “psychiatry” is one of the most misleading and unnecessary words that has ever been invented. Think of it for a moment. Just pause to think. What is psychiatry? Etymologically, the word psychiatry means the medical treatment of the soul. Yes. Let me repeat that to see if anyone else is paying attention. The medical treatment of the soul.

      Now pause to think of the implications of such a ridiculous word. First of all, a person would have to know what a soul is, and psychiatrists are the most ill equipped of all people to understand such a thing. Second of all, how on earth can medical treatment be applied to the soul? What utter nonsense. Religious believers understand that the healing of the soul is something only God can accomplish, and yet the word “psychiatry” has been invented to signify that somehow a doctor, or at least a person who aspires to be a doctor, can take the place of God and “treat” the soul medically. What complete and utter nonsense.

      Yet, here we are, debating with psychiatrists and hoards of other people who actually believe that such a thing as “psychiatry” is somehow necessary and useful, instead of what it actually is, namely, a pseudo-scientific system of slavery that is bent on destroying the lives of innocent people, including the elderly, the homeless, and helpless little children. Thus the term “antipsychiatry” is the most necessary and useful term because it is synonymous with truth, common sense, and justice.

  5. Oldhead, how odd it is that you and I had that tiff that we did earlier this year, over that article about MLK Jr. I am so enamored of almost all of your politics, (of which your post above is an exemplary jewel,) that I can’t help but to have the utmost in high regard for you. Perhaps it’s been me who’s been absent from MIA for a while; I haven’t seen you posting. But if you really have been in retirement, even temporarily, this is to welcome you back with the requisite 21-gun salute.

  6. Oldhead is great, and he understands the inherent absurdity of psychiatry and so-called “mental illness.” Unfortunately, like Efrat and many others, he conflates antipsychiatry with the radical leftist notions that will ultimately undermine the cause of liberty that he genuinely aspires to promote. Bonnie Burstow and her group of antipsychiatrists also fall into this trap. It is very unfortunate because they are absolutely right about psychiatry. Thomas Szasz must be rolling over in his grave because of the ideological and utopian fantasies that threaten to obscure the cause of abolition for which he so valiantly contended.

    • No use responding DS, as you still haven’t defined “leftist” in any consistent or meaningful way. Both Bonnie, Richard Lewis and myself would identify as “leftists” of one sort or another, but if you can’t see the divergence in the way we view politics and the world in general it would be hard to engage you on any of this, as we aren’t speaking the same language.

    • Yes.

      Psychiatry flourished behind the Iron Curtain as a useful tool to punish those who hadn’t committed serious crimes. “Sluggish schizophrenia.”

      A big problem with the psychiatric profession’s unquestioned authority is they are not economically accountable to the people they claim to serve. Their services effectively remove them from the economic system, allowing the “doctors” to bill Medicaid for as many “treatments” as they find feasible.

      If psychiatrists were forced to rely on payments directly from the “consumers” they might think twice before drugging them out of the job market. And it would basically end involuntary psychiatry since no one would pay for “treatments” that made them too sick to function.

      As far as “soft” diagnoses like “clinical depression” (this differs from ordinary depression in that it’s marketable) at least people with it lead halfway decent lives and endure little or no discrimination. Shrinks are forced to listen to them if they complain of shakes and other problems since they know they can be fired at any time. AND if the “clinically depressed” wise up there are no legal repercussions to leaving their dealer and “just saying no” to his mind altering drugs.

      • I don’t think this is true. The Christian conservatism of my childhood taught that Jesus eschewed the moneylenders and stood up for the poor, for sex workers and otherwise marginalized populations. The church has traditionally provided the services that now fall upon the (supposedly, but not really) secular state. As Rachel has pointed out repeatedly, the church has been corrupted over the last 30 years into accepting psychiatry (specifically, psychiatric drugs).

        I am not religious (I am Buddhist-oriented but do not embrace the idea of anthropomorphic gods) and I am further Left politically than just about anyone I know, but I have been Left Libertarian since the early aughts – long before I embraced antipsychiatry. I still think that salvation has more to offer people in terms of hope and community support than psychiatry does. The trick would be finding a church family willing to tolerate the discomfort of being labeled anti-science. How convoluted it has all become, eh?

    • Slaying the Dragon, the political left has nothing to do with utopia.

      Utopia is the name of a work by Thomas More.

      But the idea probably comes from Plato’s Republic. I though don’t think even Plato ever though that his Republic idea could or should be implemented. It was just a rhetorical device, something to get people to think about human societies.

      Ray Bradbury called Plato’s Republic the first work of Science Fiction.

      And this is more where you find writing about utopias, but these tend to be critical works, like Brave New World. They are critical of the utopia, making it into a dystopia. They want us to look at what is already true of the world we live in.

      As far as the political left suggests a utopia. In the Manifesto, it just calls upon us to continue the French Revolution. And that is hardly a utopia, more a bloody struggle. They critique the present bourgeoisies order and do a very good job of explaining what the problems are.

      • There is nothing of utopia in the thinking of the Left.

        It is really simple, if you want to maintain a middle class, and if you want things to get better instead of worse, then you vote for the Left.

        If you want our society to divide into the very rich and the very poor, and to have bogus sciences like mental health used to support this, then you vote for the Right.

        If we can more to the left by rational arguments and the ballot box, this will be very easy.

        If we cannot, if people listen to right wing disinformation news, then we will have a Civil War, and then eventually a government which appropriates some of the ideas of the left, but which still maintains power by the gun barrel.

        • What is being put forth as utopia is Neoliberalism, and that is a movement of the Right.

          Democratic Socialism comes in stages, and it is always mitigated by what people will vote for.

          You only get Gun Barrel Socialism in places which have never known of Democracy, or when the democratic processes completely break down. These are places like USSR, China, Cuba, Venezuela.

          But with decades of Right Wing media and racism being used to fan the flames of hate, democratic processes are now being strained to the breaking point in both the US and the UK.

  7. As for some of the specifics here which should also be examined:

    what I mean by ‘mental health’ is a person’s ability to cope within their context — a socially constructed definition, not a biological one.

    We shouldn’t “mean” anything by “mental health”; the concept should not be validated at all. It is just as impossible to be “mentally healthy” as it is to be “mentally ill.” The mind is an abstraction and cannot have physical attributes such as texture, color, or illness. This is basic Szasz.

    Also, while I would not equate this with being “leftist” (a term Dragonslayer still uses far too casually) I do get a distinct sense of an agenda here that forays beyond the boundaries of anti-psychiatry into the area of neoliberal identity politics, and I think this is what DS means by that.

  8. Congratulations Efrat soon-to-be Dr. Gold.

    I don’t see anti-psychiatry as a field in itself so much as a theme to incorporate with other academic disciplines. Philosophy, political science, sociology, neuro-chemistry (studying psychiatric damage), history, etc. Also literature from the 18th century on such as “The Yellow Wall-Paper.”

    What you propose sounds a lot like something called “Mad Studies.” I believe Lauren Tenney teaches a course by this name.

    Many of us anti psychiatry people don’t refer ourselves as “mad” but psychiatric survivors.

    • Yeah, it’s a shame, this “mad pride” stuff. Lauren is a good person though, hopefully we’ll get to discuss this sometime.

      Meanwhile I still love KS’s comment after the Mad Pride In Mexico article:

      I resent the idea that being distressed in response to adversity is something to celebrate. It’s not special, it’s evidence of harm.

      • The “adversity” I was “distressed in response to” was the “adversity” of having “civil commitment” proceedings launched against me, of being locked up. Released back into the world at large, all I can say is, now I have a cause to celebrate. I do genealogical research, and I know of a number of ancestral connections who died in what is referred to today as the state hospital, but what was referred to back then as the state asylum. In other words, there was a time when incarceration in a loony bin was for life. I am relieved that we, as a society, are not so alarmed about all the mad people running loose as we used to be. I would hate to see more people doing life imprisonment in a state hospital. It just isn’t as likely to happen today as it was back then. I guess because we’ve had a new and more tolerant take on madness. On the up side, the state is not as likely to lock what were once referred to as lunatics up for life. On the down side, it’s treatment for “mental illness” is more likely to prematurely kill those who have come into contact with the “hospital” system. Were we a little more tolerant, perhaps it wouldn’t need to “treat” people for being “different”. What a boring world it would be, after all, if we were all the same. I think those differences give us a cause to celebrate whereas there are others who think those differences give us a cause to “hospitalize” and “treat” to death as the case may be. I’m glad to be out in the world. I really didn’t like confinement at all. I think our differences belong out in the world rather than being objects of shame, shunted off to a quiet secluded and shaded recess to brood, silenced, and hidden. I call the celebrating of those differences Mad Pride.

  9. Effrat, I have spoken on all of these topics here in the comments; it is clear to me that you have a solid understanding of the issues people are facing and the environmental factors driving psychic distress in western (US) culture.

    This was an extraordinarily well-written and organized article that I was very pleased to read. I think there is a desperate need for people with your knowledge set in psych academia. You have clearly studied well and were a perfect choice for the first antipsychiatry scholarship award. I’m sure you’ve made Dr. Burstow very proud!

    • Well, it always helps to have “plants” inside the system. Very hard for them to avoid eventually being sucked in and becoming apologists for the system. Maybe Efrat will succeed where most fail, no reason not to hope for the best in any case. But (her) acceptance of the concept of “mental health” by any definition is disturbing.

      • I think you’ve got a point, although I’m not sure which system Efrat is supposed to be a “plant” (your word) in. “mental health” or higher education? Except for any condition that is proven to be neurological, and. therefore, has a physical basis, we’re talking medicalization – the provision of treatment for figurative, non-existent, diseases. The other side of that coin is that you wind up with a lot physical damage, and thus a need for medical treatment, due to the harmful treatment provided for fictitious disease. Not compounding the problem here, can be very difficult, within the medicalization system itself.

        • Well, I notice that she talks about “mental health” without using quotes, which has to be problematic if one considers “mental health” to be the mirror term of “mental illness.”

          A “plant” as I use the term here would be someone who uses her or his credentialed status to undermine and expose the institution they are ostensibly promoting, sort of like Szasz teaching Psych 101.

  10. The point of antipsychiatry is not, and has never been, to do away with science; it is actually a call for greater scientific integrity, accountability, and honesty.

    Certainly not what I would consider the point of anti-psychiatry; that would be simply to eliminate psychiatry. It has little to do with science really, it involves exposing psychiatry as a police force disguised by the trappings of medicine, then organizing to defeat it. Sort of like many people in the U.S. are demanding the elimination of ICE, not demanding that it be more “scientific” in its persecution of immigrants.

    What also isn’t mentioned here is the issue of professionalism. Some people want to eliminate psychiatry because they are in competition with it. Scientology comes to mind most immediately, but so do numerous “alternative therapies.”