Eulogy for Abraham Leighton McNeill

The failure of the New Zealand mental health system and how drug-centred treatment contributed directly to the suicide of Abraham Leighton McNeill.

Malcolm McNeill
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A friend said to me recently, “Oh, he suffered such a lot. That’s over for him.”

I know their words were intended to comfort me over my son’s suicide. Our fine, excellent son, Abraham, had committed suicide a month before Christmas 2019. Nevertheless, I bridled inwardly at the suggestion, not wanting to remember Abraham as merely the sum of his sufferings—he was so much more than that.

Those times he suffered mental distress were less the mainstay of his life than the exceptions. He suffered a lot, it’s true; depression, terrible anxiety, an unforgiving low opinion of himself and—particularly during the past two years—unusual aches and pains, feeling cold much of the time and needing to be scarfed-up even on the warmest of days. (I didn’t know then that the aches and pains, akathisia, and Abe’s perpetual hypothermia were side effects of the antipsychotic drugs he had been taking for too many years.)

New Zealand’s Primary Treatment: Antipsychotics

Looking back, it is clear to me that Abraham’s mental suffering intensified after his encounters with the New Zealand mental health system. Combined with the damaging effects of the neurotoxins he was on, what exacerbated his mental distress was his fear of, and sense of betrayal by, the very psychiatric establishment he went to for help. With legitimate reason, he became terrified of the mental health system’s unlimited power to remove his autonomy and agency—how it reached into so many avenues of his life under the guise of “care” but manifesting more as “social management”—a watchful eye that could obliterate his civil rights in a blink, and annihilate his sense of self. The primary management tool is antipsychotic drugs.

“The authority to coerce is fundamental to psychiatry’s authority in society.” Dr. David Cohen, interview, Mad in America.

In spite of his considerable gifts as a musician, in spite of how much he was loved by his family and friends for his caring, compassionate nature and his sly, observant wit, finding himself unable to alleviate an intense episode of mental distress, Abraham chose an exit route that we all ardently wish he hadn’t taken. In the weeks and months following his death, the tendency is to run alternative scenarios in the mind; ways that it might have played out differently. Anything, to avoid facing the terrible loss. All these scenarios begin with the same “What if?” but never end with an answer—only more questions.

One question remains uppermost: to what extent did long-term antipsychotic drugs contribute to Abraham’s physical and mental distress? Did the drugs that were meant to help him ultimately contribute to his suicide? The simple answer is, yes.

Rather than enhancing his well-being and quality of life, neuroleptic drugs irrevocably damaged Abraham’s physical and mental health over the long term. He hated being on them; hated how they made him feel; how they dulled him down; how they robbed him of the “essence” of himself. He believed they were killing him.

We will never know what Abraham’s life might have been like if he hadn’t been given antipsychotic drugs in the first place. Might he have recovered spontaneously without having another psychotic episode? Increasing evidence suggests so. Statistics show rates of recovery are higher where antipsychotics have not been prescribed for first episode psychosis. The Open Dialogue model demonstrates that alternative treatment for psychosis is both possible and successful (and makes economic sense too).

Regrettably, nothing comparable is available in New Zealand. In 2016, when Abe took himself to Hillmorton psychiatric hospital in Christchurch, he was seeking a sanctuary, a safe place to recover from his dark night of the soul. The primary treatment option on offer in our mental health system is antipsychotic drugs. Psychotherapy has been largely phased out, perhaps because it’s seen as too expensive?

Antipsychotics may work for some. But as author David Cohen, of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, suggests in an interview on MIA radio, the key factor is who gets to define what works. What works for the provider may not be seen that way for the recipient.

In spite of being heralded in the 1960s as a solution for mental distress in its myriad forms, antipsychotics have not been the success that was hyped (though they have been a windfall for the pharmaceutical companies). The psychiatric establishment has made no significant progress in the 60 years since they sought to lobotomise one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed writers, Janet Frame. (She was saved at the eleventh hour by psychiatrist John Money, who discovered she had won a literary prize.)

The psychiatric establishment, anxious to maintain its legitimacy, still clings to the coat-tails of scientific/biological medicine in the hope that, someday, a bio-medical marker will emerge to support “brain disease” as the cause of mental illness. In the meantime, it continues to promote the hypothesis that anti-psychotic drugs remedy a chemical imbalance in the brain—a hypothesis without scientific foundation. As the British psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff suggests in her erudite YouTube lecture for UNE Centre for Global Humanities, psychoactive drugs may be “useful” in the short term for an acute psychotic episode. The “mind-altered” state they induce may be preferable to the psychosis the person is experiencing, but they do not “remedy” a chemical imbalance in the brain, as no bio-marker has been successfully identified.

The First Prescription: Roaccutane

Abraham grew up in a warm and loving family environment. He was a cheerful, active child and made friends easily. At secondary school he was a talented actor and musician.

Around 17 Abraham developed severe acne. He was prescribed Roaccutane. We noticed a significant change in his behaviour; he became withdrawn and “moody,” which is not untypical behaviour for a teenager. We were concerned, but thought it would pass.

Roche pharmaceuticals—the company that patented and manufactures Roaccutane—has for over 20 years strenuously denied any causal link between this drug and mental health problems, including psychosis. However, a recent article in The Guardian has reopened the question, linking a spike in suicides in the UK to this drug.

Obviously, nothing concrete can be drawn from this except to conjecture that Roaccutane could have precipitated psychosis for Abraham. Clearly questions are re-emerging about the drug’s link to mental health problems. The fact that 8000 people are questioning it is significant.

2001: First Psychotic Episode

At age 20, Abraham went to live in Sydney with the intention of applying for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Sydney is a big, tough city for anyone at first, and it was a difficult time for him. He was not a heavy user of marijuana—it was a part of the culture of young musicians he was mixing in. He was drinking quite heavily and smoking the odd joint. The combination of alcohol and marijuana may have been sufficient to flip him into psychosis (not uncommon for young men of that age). He was terrified of the experience and it manifested as paranoia (not uncommon with marijuana).

Abraham, now aged 21, was seen by a psychiatrist who prescribed antipsychotics.

After that first episode Abraham wanted to get out of Sydney. He enrolled at the University of Central Queensland in Mackay for a BA in music. He struggled with parts of the course but, a naturally gifted musician of above-average ability, he completed his degree.

In the subsequent years, like many young men, he floundered a bit. But he was “compliant” in taking medication. He believed, as we all did back then, that antipsychotics—as their name implied—might resolve his mental distress just as antibiotics fought infections. But all they did was cloud his mind, making it harder to study, robbing him of vitality and motivation.

At that time, he was still using alcohol. He quit drinking four years before he died. Though it should be said that some of our best times together, the long conversations into the night—father and son, good friends—were not drunken affairs but had the convivial ease that alcohol can sometimes bring. At such times, he seemed more “himself.” Lighter.

2011: Return to New Zealand

After getting his music degree in Australia, Abraham returned to New Zealand. He didn’t want to teach secondary school, so he did a postgraduate course in early childhood teaching by correspondence with Massey University. When he qualified he began teaching in Motueka and then in Christchurch. He taught kindergarten for a year or so, but the stresses began to build up and eventually became too much to continue. He was developing new, unrelated symptoms—obsessive-compulsive thoughts. They were unusual, oddly inconsistent with his prior anxieties. It seemed to me at the time that these uncharacteristic symptoms might be related to the effects of the antipsychotics.

I had been diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer just before the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011. The cancer became aggressive, and I had surgery in Sydney in 2013. I asked Abraham to come and look after me while I recuperated at the home of friends. I can never repay the compassionate kindness with which he took care of me. He emptied my catheter, helped me into the shower, helped me dress, walked with me. Whatever personal struggles he might have been having at the time never interfered with the way he attended to me so lovingly. It speaks clearly of a man who, maybe fighting demons of his own, could nevertheless find the clarity of mind to be fully present.

Over the years that followed, I watched Abe battle with mind-numbing antipsychotic drugs. The drugs dulled things down—everything, non-selectively, indiscriminately. For Abraham, they cast a veil over his feelings. He sometimes felt so sedated that the smallest tasks became a huge effort. He lost touch with his inner feelings, which became unavailable to him. The drugs closed off access to his own psyche—to the pathway that might have allowed natural healing to occur over time.

The psychiatric establishment would have us believe that long-term maintenance on antipsychotic drugs is the best way to avoid psychotic relapse. However, evidence is lacking in support of this. Joanna Moncreiff also points out that there is no consensus within psychiatry on what “relapse” actually means.

April 2016: Second Psychotic Episode/Hillmorton Hospital

By 2016, Abraham had become depressed and extremely anxious. Feeling he needed help, he took himself to Hillmorton Hospital. There he was prescribed a cocktail of antipsychotics (possibly Olazapine/Zyprexa/Risperidone).

About this time, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The label was tantamount to a curse that we, as a family, did our best to disregard. The drugs caused an alarming, rapid weight gain (about 10kg) and he hated how it made him feel. Fat, lethargic and dull-witted. He and I began reading Peter Breggin, Joanna Moncrieff, Robert Whitaker, who variously question the efficacy of psychoactive drugs.

Absence of evidence hasn’t put the brakes on psychiatry’s widespread practice of polypharmacy (prescribing multiple different neuroleptics at once).

2016-2017: Reducing the Medication

Abraham wanted to get off antipsychotics. But in New Zealand little or no assistance (or research) is available for safe withdrawal. We tried unsuccessfully for years to find an open-minded psychiatrist to help.

I once asked Abe what prompted him to try to get off his medication. Was it the anti-drug literature he’d been reading? “No, I just hated how they made me feel … they were killing me,” he replied.

He began tapering his antipsychotics carefully, gradually, with the approval of his psychiatrist at that time. Unfortunately, psychiatrists here seem to come and go, so an ongoing relationship was not possible.

As Abraham decreased the drug dosage, he lost the excess weight and began to feel more alive, more himself. He was living with his mother at the time. But soon a new rent-assisted flat became available. This was one of the better periods of his adult life. He had already quit alcohol, and he became physically fit, joined a tramping club, formed a loving relationship with a nice lady, made forward plans for his life, and generally became more engaged in the world. He began playing his guitar again.

Abraham McNeill

What happened next is key to the trajectory leading to Abraham’s increasing mental distress over the next two or three years, and his eventual suicide.

The Political Context

In the mid-1980s, neo-liberal reforms changed our society irrevocably. The New Zealand Labour Party, particularly finance minister Roger Douglas, and a right-wing think-tank called the Business Round Table, were the chief architects of Milton Friedman-style deregulation, known as Rogernomics. A pervasive climate of blame developed for those on welfare—an attitude that persists to this day (although perhaps the coronavirus pandemic may change things in previously unimagined ways). Poverty was increasingly viewed as a personal responsibility.

By the time Abraham was receiving the unemployment benefit, the centre-right National government was known for a tougher stance on law and order, and social welfare. The Minister of Social Development (2011-2014), Paula Bennett, was herself an ex-beneficiary and, with the zealousness of a recent convert, her punitive restructuring of the benefit system was clearly intended to send a message to dole-bludgers, benefit fraudsters, and most of all, voters.

New Zealand now had one of the highest suicide rates in the world, child poverty was at an unprecedented high, and surprisingly, for a country that believed itself egalitarian, it had one of the fastest growing inequality gaps in the OECD.

The New Zealand psychiatric establishment’s view of “mental illness” as a purely pathological brain disease became a way of distancing itself from the social context of its times. In the disease-centred model, the “mental illness” is seen to abide with, and in, the patient. It is a perfect fit for neo-liberal ideology emphasising personal responsibility, whereby the state can disown responsibility for its more vulnerable citizens and leave that role to market forces where wealth then, supposedly, “trickles down.”

But Abraham’s mental distress never occurred in isolation—no-one’s does. All mental distress occurs within a social context, whether it be the family, the village, the hospital or the prison.

2017-2019: Pressure to Return to Work

With Abraham looking and feeling better and getting on in the world, increasing pressure came from the Ministry of Social Development and psych-services for him to return to the workforce.

The social welfare benefit Abe was on is called “Jobseeker benefit” (even the name should ring alarm bells). It was seen purely as a temporary gap-filler until a person was able to find work. His case worker was no doubt herself under pressure to show successful “outcomes.” They had a box to tick off. Abraham—on his meds—well enough to return to the workforce.

Increasingly Abraham felt marginalised, not only by the diagnostic label psychiatry gave him, but by his economic circumstances. Holding down steady employment was difficult for him—that he could rarely earn a living wage disadvantaged him immensely, adding psychological burdens to an already stressful life. At the time of his death, he was on a disability benefit. He lived for many years on, or near, the poverty line. He felt deeply embarrassed by his circumstances—though he knew that somehow, he’d become “collateral damage” of neo-liberal reforms and our risk-averse mental health system. At a time when other young men were establishing themselves with careers, or families, he felt he could never get ahead no matter how hard he tried. The social and economic context of Abraham’s mental distress is central to any consideration of causality for suicide.

Abraham felt he wasn’t ready. He knew better than anyone how well he was doing. An intellectually able, well qualified man, suffering mental distress from time to time, but mostly able to return, by himself, to equanimity of mind, he grew afraid of ending up in low paid, dead-end work if he was forced too soon back into the workforce. To deflect this pressure—and to increase his options and potential earnings—he enrolled in a computer course. Initially he got  excellent grades for his assignments. But the demands of the course proved too much. He began to spiral into paranoia. Fearing he was being surveilled by his computer or his smart phone, he arranged a deferment with the intention of returning to the course after a break. (Was this delusional? Isn’t that a matter of degree? Why does Mark Zuckerberg cover the camera lens on his lap-top?) Abraham enjoyed the study very much, and he was determined to better his chances of employment. Withdrawing from the computer course nevertheless left him with a dreadful sense of failure.

February 2019: Hillmorton Hospital

By early 2019, Abraham had become mentally very distressed. However, he had always retained a certain level of self-awareness—”insight,” psychiatry calls it—although this tended to fluctuate, along with the delusions that sometimes surfaced. It is likely he knew he was becoming psychotic, and he was sufficiently self-aware to take himself to Hillmorton Hospital for help. He still trusted the system at this point.

Feeling scared, he had admitted himself voluntarily, but his fear was hugely intensified when he learned he had been placed under the Mental Health Act.

I visited, and found him terribly distressed and agitated. He kept saying, “I don’t feel safe here.” He was outraged, and fearful, not to have been informed that his civil rights were totally suspended. He rightly saw as barbaric the threat—given verbally at Hillmorton—that if he did not comply, he could, under the Act, be forcibly held down and injected with antipsychotic medication. An already terrified man, in severe mental distress, threatened by the system he sought help from, grew even more terrified. I saw him getting worse in hospital.

Initial Meeting With the Psychiatrist

The initial meeting Abraham and I had with his consultant psychiatrist soon after he admitted himself to Hillmorton Hospital was extremely distressing.

What can possibly be gained by bringing an already terrified man—desperate to affirm his sanity, knowing his human rights have been denied him—into a room of eight or nine people, all armed with laptops and serious expressions? It resembled a kind of medieval inquisition—the two of us lined up against their greater numbers—the experts sitting in judgement on a very frightened man. Abraham felt humiliated. He was shattered by the experience.

Can anything truly meaningful be gleaned about a person, a patient, an individual, from this kind of purported assessment?

And what of its ethics: This can only be about power, surely?

Changes to Abraham’s Drugs

Following the meeting Abraham’s dose of risperidone was increased from 1mg to 3mg, then about ten days later to 6mg. A huge jump. Recent studies show that any alteration in antipsychotic medication, either up or down, can trigger akathisia. But the young consultant psychiatrist expressed the conviction that Abraham was suffering a relapse relating only to existing symptoms, unrelated to the side-effects of long term medication (such as dopamine sensitivity) or any changes to medication since Abraham had come to hospital.

The intention from this point, was to move forward with clozapine, the drug of last resort for what psychiatry labels treatment resistant schizophrenia. The consultant psychiatrist actively shut down any further discussion, nor did he acknowledge my letter requesting it. For Abraham, clozapine held the ultimate terror: the drug from which, he believed, there could be no return.

Abraham’s fear of forced drug treatment intensified. He became increasingly agitated and his paranoia only grew worse. I pressed for a family meeting in the hope that Abraham might be given some choice, or at least clear information, in his treatment options.

For unexplained reasons Abraham’s consultant psychiatrist was not present at the meeting ten days later; it was chaired by a different consultant with a much more conciliatory approach. Abraham eloquently outlined his fears of the hospital’s drug treatment approach and the violation of his human rights under the New Zealand Mental Health Act.

The new psychiatrist came to a very different conclusion of the situation. She removed Abraham from the Mental Health Act discharging him from the hospital the same afternoon. It is interesting that two psychiatrists, both relatively newly qualified, came to quite different assessments of Abraham.

Abraham was neither a danger to others nor to himself at this time. This made placing him under the draconian Mental Health Act all the more barbaric. The question that needs to be asked is: Should society chemically restrain people simply because they harbour unusual thoughts? Or is this merely a risk-averse procedure designed to protect the under-resourced institution unable to provide alternative treatment options, with antipsychotic drugs used as a tool to “manage” potential aggression, (even though the nurse admitted Abraham had shown no aggression at all)?

“Current mental health policies have been affected to a large extent by the asymmetry of power and biases because of the dominance of the biomedical model and biomedical interventions. This model has led not only to the overuse of coercion in case of psychosocial, intellectual and cognitive disabilities, but also to the medicalization of normal reactions to life’s many pressures, including moderate forms of social anxiety, sadness, shyness, truancy and antisocial behaviour.” Prof. Dainius Pūras, UN special rapporteur for Mental Health, 2019.

Consequences of Abraham’s Hospital Treatment

After his final encounter with Hillmorton Hospital Abraham grew frustrated and angry with the mainstream psychiatric establishment and their drug-centred treatment model. Years of frustration and anger began to surface. He requested and received a copy of his diagnostic records. These not only contained a number of factual inaccuracies, but the medicalised approach (framing his condition purely as a pathology) upset him deeply. Seemingly quite “normal” behaviour or things he may have said were taken out of context and “pathologised” to fit the psychiatric diagnostic paradigm.

Abraham felt this did not remotely reflect him as a human being. Where in the past he had been open and trusting towards doctors and counsellors, and essentially optimistic about his future, he now felt betrayed by the system that he himself had sought help from. From then on, whatever trust he had previously possessed, was obliterated.

Abraham’s final encounter with Hillmorton made him too fearful of accessing the only publicly available medical help again. It is my belief that Hillmorton Hospital in particular, and the psychiatric system in general, failed in their duty of care.

Not long after Abraham’s funeral, a request came from the coroner for more background information that could provide a fuller picture of why Abe committed suicide. The way these questions were framed (e.g. state of mind; mental health history; medications he was on; general demeanour; unusual behavior) seemed designed primarily to reinforce the psychiatric establishment’s hegemonic narrative: people take their own lives because they are mentally ill/schizophrenic/bipolar/depressed/have come off their meds. The answers to these questions were somehow expected to establish the irrevocable link to an existing pathology, or “mental illness.” It is as if other factors are deemed peripheral, such as social, economic, and more importantly in Abraham’s case, his frustration with the drug-centred model as the primary treatment option, and his consequent determination to never again seek help from anyone involved with Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch.

While the New Zealand mental health system would prefer to view Abraham’s suicide as the result of a clinical pathology what they need to examine is:

  • The iatrogenic consequences of the treatment Abraham received from Hillmorton Hospital and how this inevitably led to his suicide
  • The relationship of the Mental Health Act and coercive drug treatment in exacerbating Abraham’s mental state that led to his suicide.

Abraham became so deeply afraid of involuntary incarceration and potential forced drug treatment at Hillmorton Hospital that he chose never to return. He had genuine cause to be afraid. The basis of his fear was not delusional. He saw any return to Hillmorton Hospital as a fate worse than death.

In the months since Abraham’s death, the world has changed in unprecedented ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has linked us all, invisibly, while at the same time needing to keep us apart. Over these weeks I have often asked myself what would this situation be like for Abraham? I believe his compassionate nature would have come to the fore and he could have found a place of kindness and understanding toward others—laying aside his own distress—just as he cared for me after my surgery. He might have been valued for who he is, rather than who the psychiatric establishment wanted him to be.

And, if things could change in the New Zealand mental health system, what changes would Abe want?

  • He would want compassion to be the fundamental principal in treating mental distress.
  • He would want his human rights respected; a recognition of the value and autonomy of him as an individual, rather than just seeing the “pathology.”
  • He would want an alternative to antipsychotic drugs as a treatment option.
  • He would want truthful and open information on the side effects of drugs, including the adverse effects.
  • He would want an alternative to being in a locked hospital ward to recover in—a relaxed comfortable environment—a safe sanctuary that felt less like a prison and more like a home.
  • He would want the right to agree to or decline treatment offered.
  • He would want support in withdrawing safely from antipsychotic drugs.

Currently there is a review of the guidelines to the draconian 1992 New Zealand mental Health Act. Rather than repealing the act itself (years away I am told) the submissions to change the guidelines are intended to give legal structure to how the act is applied. Many of the suggested changes look excellent. It is to be hoped they will be implemented. However, the hegemony of the psychiatric establishment to decide who is mad and who is sane remains fundamentally unchallenged. That is the real change Abraham would want.

39 COMMENTS

  1. Malcolm

    Sorry for your loss, and I, too, share your very powerful critique of the oppressive forces in society that were directly involved in leading your beautiful son to his untimely demise. Thanks for sharing such a well written and emotional tribute to his life.

    I wrote this song ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmpfq0b7tLA ) after working 22 years in community health in the U.S., and I witnessed all the damaged done by psychiatry and their Medical Model. I hope my song provides some level of beauty and emotional catharsis to your loss.

    All the best, Richard

  2. Wow Mr McNeill, Not often a hard case like me finds myself in tears. I will say sorry for your loss, but know those words must feel empty for you.

    I don’t know that anyone who has not been subjected to the vile conduct they call ‘treatment’ in these places can truly be understood by someone who hasn’t been subjected to it. The lack of insight by the abusers in these places is positively astounding. They deliberately create fear and then call the response to that an illness. Their ‘verballing’ of documents stands as proof of their misconduct and knowledge that what they are doing needs to be justified by misrepresentation and fraud.

    If they commit offences against you they will conceal the evidence and then call you paranoid for complaining, which then justifies further dugging. See my commments elsewhere regarding the removal of documents provided to my ‘advocates’, proving I was ‘spiked’ with benzos and then slandered as a ‘paranoid delusional’ for making the claim I had been ‘spiked’. The absolute abuse of these people who receive the support of our Chief Psychiatrist and Minister in this misconduct is appauling. Though I note not a soul prepared to even examine the documented proof I have, preferring the false narrative that suits the organised criminals operating in our hospitals. It seems so much easier to slander me as ill as a result of the ‘gaslighting’ I have been subjected to than actually deal with the ugly truth that these people are criminals and nothing more. The rigged game that they can never loose as a result of the negligence of those with a duty to act, and the authority to ‘fuking destroy’ anyone with a legitimate complaint.

    I find myself also very angry reading what you have written, knowing that the hospital staff would have been conspiring behind your backs to conceal any of their involvement in what occurred. Pouring over the documents to find ways of concealing anything that might even suggest they did anything wrong. And then releasing the “edited” version to legal represenatives and the Coroner. They actually call criminal fraud “editing” where I live, or at least the Clinical Director of the hospital does. Not that it changes the outcomes, it merely enables abusive practitioners to continue their abuse against others.

    I sometime find myself thinking that the best way to get these ‘practitioners’ to understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of thiis ‘treatment’ would be to hand them over to Islamic State and tell them they are infidel. Terrorism being a highly effective means of behavioural control, but totally ineffective when it comes to ‘healing the mind’.

    I don’t know how to resolve the sadness and anger that I feel when I read so many stories like this, and know of the vile conduct that occurs with the knowledge of a few who chose to conceal the truth from the rest of our community. A Minister for Health who considers the ‘treatment’ for torture and kidnapping to be more torture and kidnapping. Hos delusional sense of self importance obvious for all to see, and my hope that he will be removed next election only spoiled by the fact that the next one is exactly the same.

    I’m sorry.

  3. My condolences, Malcolm, on the loss of your handsome son Abe. It’s amazing how many artists have been attacked by the “mental health” workers – on this website alone – it’s as if the “mental health” workers are specifically targeting the artists. And I know it is hard to read the ungodly disrespectful lies, with which the psychiatrists fill their medical records.

    Reading the psychiatric lies about oneself does make one justifiably angry. Then researching into all the fraud and lies of the psychiatric industry, it’s a rabbit hole filled with massive in scale deceit and intentional betrayal, for profit, of their clients. I’m so very sorry your son couldn’t handle it, but the psychiatrists’ systemic and enormous in scale crimes against humanity are truly appalling, so I totally understand. And I, like your son, lived through the horrendous medical betrayal.

    Thank you so much for sharing your son’s story. God bless, and I’m so sorry for what happened to your beloved child, so very sorry.

  4. Mr. McNeill,

    I would like to thank you for writing such a clear cut and poignant article. It crushed, ripped, and destroyed my heart to read it. I am so sorry for the loss of your son and the circumstances he had to endure.

    The fact is that I identify with every detail of the story and your son and yourself are not unreasonable in any way or account. His thoughts and feelings about society are exact, clear and correct. About quite some time ago I had a break down from an incredible amount of stress i was receiving from poor leadership at work, and the response to the mortgage bubble popping here in the us and how the company was handling it. The fact is that it was a perfectly normal reaction to terrible and cruel treatment. After meeting with my doctor he took me out of work as an attempt to help me, however it was the insurance company that was funding my leave that made the next move. They called me and told me i could only be on a paid leave if I was a psychiatrist and furthermore, my leave could not be more than 30 days if i was not on a psych med. At the time i complied even though I knew it was an in human thing to ask. So began my own story of trying to get better while trusting doctors that were only insisting i take neurotoxins to get better, all the while they knew i would not get better but would deteriorate until i needed another prescription. Your son and myself were forced into a broken corrupted system just for simply wanting to survive in a community that we were raised in. I have talked to many, many people and have not heard of a single one who was made better by psychiatry, I believed the lie that there was at least someone being helped for many many years, at this point i have no evidence of it, and an overwhelming amount showing otherwise.

    I think people are turning their backs on us because what they see is unpleasant and they would have to acknowledge that your son was a perfectly normal person whos life was ended by a rational reaction to a system our communities have chosen to create. Think about that for a second, we have created an institution that furthers human death just by existing. There is much we can do to change our mistakes. This article in the motivation and the truth that is needed to do so. Thank you so much for deciding to share it.

    Furthermore, your son sounds like a truly terrific human being who did nothing but try and live up to the expectations of his tribe and believe in himself and his people. I miss him and I did not even meet him. I hope you find peace even though our psychiatric system seems to deter it.

  5. Richard, Malcolm and Readers:

    First, in reading your story about being from New Zealand, I have to recall and share with you the time I would receive a postcard from New Zealand by my former mentor at Waterloo University. The card was typical of the way we would communicate, years after I had come totally undone after being forced to go back on the medications by my Uncle Dr. who was doing the best he could with a mind, just short of the 6 month period for better healing withdrawing. I have to literally be “persona non gratis” and upon return would challenge the operations to experience the full access to campus, that is housing.

    First, To honor your son’s request I think will require constant learning and how to engage on and off the posted ways we have to know.

    To try to enrich the healing space in which anyone can function better requires some adjustments to the nature of our economies. Pharma being big plays a funny dance. To be truthful as much as we could, when medicated is difficult for the complexities of conscious and unconsciousness thoughts in play is an incredible space to guide while being more aware. Hence, the very aggregating of being “the mentally ill”, like Rae Unzicker would voice, would be a word she would wish banished. Instead, what happens to frequently, is the experience of being meds or not, the social discrimination at the level of the mind operating is and will be a bizarre experience.

    Secondly, to honor your son’s request will require a different language than what is actually being spoken now as attached to thoughts and misplaced words spewing from leadership that has no clue. Period.

    This challenge is extraordinarily difficult to type and find words, that may or may not resonate with people who have been there, are doing “that” but yet still trying to figure out how to “pivot” as some might suggest. But I think when you mention prison, having even helped to audit our state prison section that housed citizens mental illness and also through prison ministry, I still question to what I am learning or can do. Or not, when many times I would ask for assistance with attempting to realize a business and/or run for political office. There are so many ways to vest time, energy and go beyond recovery, a lasting state of mind.

    Thus, to honor your son’s request, I will continue to advocate and from time to time, try to write a letter, give a call, share an idea while honoring those whose shoulders I stand on. This past Fall, I would finish my MFA program at the School of Art In Chicago. In attending I would challenge the Voc Rehab program for support which was a course in and of itself. And after the first two terms the surprise of having Prostate Cancer became another learning experience. Though right now, the way I coped with that issue you can see in an exhibit in the Bendix Building in LA https://www.takecare-la.com/medium. Through sharing testimony and learning, as I have experienced through our networks in Kentucky and beyond, there seems to be a way forward.

    I thank you and Richard for the sharing of story.

    But the more fascinating aspect of the movement through and out of medicalized existence began to occur when I attempted to apply to Union College in Cincinnati where I would meet Dr. Kevin Sharpe who served as the Chaplain at the University of Auckland. He would write a small book “From Science to an Adequate Mythology” having taught mathematics. And for awhile, he would edit the newspaper for John Templeton’s publication that attempted to address an integration of Science and Religion.

  6. Mr. McNeil. Thank you for sharing Abraham’s story. Big pharmaceutical and many but not all psychiatric’s are to blame for this. I had horrific physical and psychiatric side effects and withdrawal side effects. While on Cymbalta and when my psychiatrist failed to slowly wean my off Cymbalta that I was taking for Fibromyalgia and depression. I had suicide ideation, a suicide attempt, psychosis and paranoia. I finally found a board certified psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome. Stating these psychiatric side effects could last for months. I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital twice once after a suicide attempt and once with suicide ideation. I had an episode of my paranoia and ended up in a psychiatric hospital diagnosed with psychosis. Months later I had another paranoia/psychosis episode and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, this time diagnosed with Schizophoaffective disorder. I told the psychiatrist I was diagnosed with Cymbalta discontinuation syndrome and that the paranoia and psychosis was a side effect of Cymbalta. Unfortunately, I had moved to another state and didn’t have a hard copy of my diagnosis. And when I went back to find the psychiatrist who diagnosed me. She had moved out of state and I could not locate her. I refused to say I was schizophroaffective. So I had to have court ordered antipsychotic medication injections for a year. Then one year of oral antipsychotic medication. I finally found a new psychiatrist who weaned me off the antipsychotic medication. Said I am not schizophroaffective and wrote a letter stating that. It’s too late to sue for a misdiagnosis. What happened to me was an atrocity.

  7. “What can possibly be gained by bringing an already terrified man—desperate to affirm his sanity, knowing his human rights have been denied him—into a room of eight or nine people, all armed with laptops and serious expressions? It resembled a kind of medieval inquisition—the two of us lined up against their greater numbers—the experts sitting in judgement on a very frightened man. Abraham felt humiliated. He was shattered by the experience.”

    I am sorry. I am sorry that they killed your son. It is difficult to read this, and I am sorry for your pain. And I wonder, do any of the psychiatrists share your pain? Do any of them think it is normal to sit and stare at a distressed person?
    The absolute abnormal is within Psychiatry itself.

    Thank you for sharing and thereby educating. Educating those who still believe that psychiatry can be fixed, despite the huge numbers they killed, if not physically, then emotionally.

  8. I understand your son’s pain. Death would be a relief for me as well but the risk of forced psychiatry is too great, and that is this societies punishment for seeking to exit.

    Your eulogy to your son is beautiful and refreshing after the last several people I’ve known whose children have taken their own lives have said it was a relief they were gone. I know people grieve in their own ways but I can’t help but think my family would be very relieved by my final exit.

    Thank you for sharing this story and speaking out about the pain psychiatry inflicted on your son and how this kind of “treatment” is what is ultimately taking lives.

  9. So sad and sorry to read your story an absolute echo of my own as a parent I wept to hear of the loss of your beautiful boy and the breaking of your family much love sympathy and grief from Australia bravely written could not write our own story in the way you have done and for that I admire you

  10. Mr McNeill,

    I attended CQCM with Abe, he was not only a very fine musician, but a great friend to many. When we our little uni community learned of his passing it was a terrible shock and distressing for many to hear that a young life had been ended. Abe showed only kindness and compassion for the time we spent together at uni, nothing was ever a drama and he was only ever too happy to lend an ear, a helping hand or just to hang out and have fun with, yes we knew he was struggling with his mental health but as you mentioned, he thought at that time the meds would help…. if only we knew different and could have stopped this path he went on and could have changed the minds of the health system. There is such a culture of drs just wanting to shove pills down people’s throats in all aspects of medical practice. I do sincerely hope that some good comes of your article and thank you for writing it as a child who has watched her own parents bury their son I can somewhat feel just a small portion of your grief. We all miss Abe and his talents dearly…. NZ healthcare and healthcare all around the world please listen, good people are dying for no good reasons and we can help!

    There is some truth in that song “only
    The good die young”….. In your darkest hours Mr McNeill, please do not be sad he is gone but rejoice he ever was and know that your beautiful son touched the lives and hearts of so many in his short years…. sending all the love and courage your way x

  11. Dear Mr. McNeill:

    My heart goes out to you for the loss of your incredible son. Please accept my sincere condolences. I wanted to express my wonder and gratitude for your courage to go through your son’s medical records and piece together what happened. Doing this kind of post-mortem detective work must be painful, grueling work for loved ones. I personally know only two parents who did that. One gave a lecture on TedTalks, the other, an attorney who blogs on this site, started a non profit organization to help young adults avoid involuntary treatment or CTO’s as they call it where you are from.

    The shame, anger, sorry, and all of the other emotions that make it nearly impossible for parents and other loved ones to look at the failed drug model and name the institutional betrayal and corruption, and downright evil that it represents canmake it very tempting to simply stick one’s head in the sand and suffer in silence for the remainder of your years on this planet.

    I am grateful for your decision to be out of the closet as it concerns your grief and anger. I hope it gives you some semblance of peace knowing that your story may help another young adult avoid what your son experienced.

    I know other parents whose children (after death) continue to inspire them to seek justice and I hope you won’t stop speaking out. I believe Abraham is shining through you and your voice. I have a young adult ‘stuck’ in the mental health system after years of being forcibly drugged and institutionalized. If you ever need someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to write to me. My name is Sarah and my email is [email protected]

  12. Dea Mr. McNeill and Madmom,
    I’ve read this article twice now. I have wanted to thank Mr. McNeill in the way that Sarah has. Thanks to both of you for what you’ve acknowledged. To Mr. McNeill for your thoroughness, courage and respect for Abraham, and also to a fellow mother who recognizes the strengths of this letter and what has been done to our beloved children. I also thank Mad in America for this platform–a place where this story can be “heard” and known by those of us gathered to witness.

  13. Thank you, Mr. McNeill, for sharing this eulogy for your son. I am so sorry for your loss and for all that you and he went through for such an extended period of time.

    As I read this, I realized that at some point my hand had moved to cover my mouth as a subtle expression of sadness and concern as I continued to read each successive difficulty encountered and endured. Your son was so much stronger than most people could ever begin to understand.

  14. As so many have noted, this was truly a heart-breaking story to read. There are no words to convey my sadness and anger in knowing your kind, handsome, talented son’s death was brought about by psychiatry. There is much Abraham thought and voiced that resonates for me after my own encounter with psychiatry (for insomnia while in cancer treatment). You state it well in calling the psych labels “tantamount to a curse”. They definitely are a “curse” and even if a person chooses to disregard or ignore the label, all the healthcare personnel do not. The label is hung around your neck like an albatross, you are not allowed to forget it or disregard it. After a label is hung on you, a pervasive climate of blame follows and the person is blamed for every difficult circumstance in their life.

    “Seemingly quite “normal” behaviour or things he may have said were taken out of context and “pathologised” to fit the psychiatric diagnostic paradigm.”

    Yes, as most who obtain their psych records discover, they have ignored context, twist your words and write damaging, blatant lies, all in an effort to fit their labelling paradigm – and there is nothing you can do about it. People are led to believe they will get “help” or at least will be in a safe place, but instead what follows is institutional betrayal of the worst kind.

    Thank you for sharing Abraham’s painful and also very courageous story. Abraham’s story should be read by every practicing psychiatrist and every person out there who still has not yet realized how utterly destructive psychiatry is. Sending best wishes Malcolm, and I hope you take some comfort in knowing that in bravely sharing Abraham’s story you have helped others.

    • Agree seeing the records can break you I obtained them and could not bring myself to open them for a very long time
      When I did wish I had not bothered as it broke me all over again
      Why it broke me I do not know.. I am a very resilient woman and some typing on a page written by liars destroyed me … Does anyone know why ?? Advice please

      • I know that feeling.
        It is when someone spits on your integrity, rubs their feces stained shoes all over what you hold dear.
        And it is just because they can. The feeling of being violated, after being violated and knowing how far we never came from the days of henry the 8th, and in reality how backwards we have actually gone.

      • One word madmother13, betrayal.

        Those people who you sat with that were all nice and ‘there, there dear’ turned on you when you left the room. But keep in mind that those documents are proof of those who are guilty of the sin at the centre of the Inferno, and will be held to account, and suffer the contrapasso. Their slanders and fraud will see them advance quickly in their chosen career, and then they are going to get to meet ‘the boss’ who has some demands of them they are not going to enjoy fulfilling. You can recover from their conduct, they never will recover from their own conduct. Doing wrong to another is one thing, but when you wrong your own soul?

        I would pity the author of the fiction in the end, though believe me I understand how that doesn’t help the hurt you feel now.

      • In my opinion, the simple answer is because in your words, they are “liars” and at this point, they have gotten away with it. Seeing it in print on a page is different than hearing and having to deflect things that way.

        At a deeper level, it must retraumatize some areas of what you have worked on to overcome and move forward with your life. It has to. It has scratched at that trauma that you have worked so hard to put behind you.

        It is so easy for someone to say, “Don’t let it get to you.” Well it is just as easy to say (to a professional), “Try to understand this from my perspective and don’t throw labels at me that don’t help. Labels that actually make my life worse.”

        It seems that as a human right, a person should have the right to refute a diagnosis. That is, each person should be able to include in their report “I disagree with this.”, so that at least your refutation is also part of your record.

      • Since you asked: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE. That’s the painful “mindfeeling” you get when some other person’s perceived reality or facts conflicts with your own perception or facts. That’s just a start to understanding cognitive dissonance. In your case, the fabricated “reality” of the pseudoscience of psychiatry conflicts with your actual, lived REALITY. The answer, or “cure” if you will, is ACCEPTANCE. I don’t mean accept their reality as if it’s your reality too, but rather accept the simple fact that their “reality” is what it is, FOR THEM. You don’t have to like it, or agree with it, only accept that it is what it is. It’s stupid, it’s wrong, but it is THEIRS, not yours. It’s UNDERSTANDING you seek, even if your understanding is that you just don’t understand! There is much that i don’t understand, but i understand that i don’t understand, so i’m ok with it! I think the more you FACE, CONFRONT, PROCESS, AND ACCEPT, the more peace of mind you will experience. Remember to breathe, and some type of physical activity, such as stretching, yoga, walking, etc., will also help your process. We often forget that we are mind/mental/thought/feeling BEINGS, AND ALSO PHYSICAL…. This is SOME of what’s helped me, since i escaped the lies of the pseudoscience drug racket called “psychiatry” over 20 years ago. I really hope you find this helpful. That’s my intention here. You’re in the right place, anyway!

      • Actually, madmother13, I thought of this further. I think much of the problem is the transference from the mental health professionals who labeled you in such a way. You call them “liars” but from their model, they think they are speaking the truth — according to their eff-ed up models. That certainly seems like transference to me. They are totally disregarding your model and your version of describing whatever you endured.

        That of course is a guess on my part, but I recall years ago, it was jarring to see how I was labeled. I was fired from my job as a result of a severe stress breakdown (and there were four termination dates floating around). I filed for unemployment — and actually won, though I had to go through multiple rounds of appeals, which damn near killed me due to having to read through all the crap my former employer claimed about me. Then I had to clearly and rationally refute their claims. (And it was a large Fortune 100 company with hundreds of thousands of employees.)

        Be easy on yourself and try not to get mired in their model of things. Too often the psychiatric model is devoid of human compassion and empathy, which is so so tragic.

    • madmother13, I think anyone would feel the same when the reality and essence of who they are has been totally redefined by a judgemental psychiatrist who knows very little about who they are nor their life circumstances (and of course doesn’t want to know) and instead resorts to writing lies to fit with their agenda. It amounts to a very unjust character defamation and I hope the day comes when psychiatrists can be sued for character defamation.

      Up until maybe 10-15 years ago the record/lies would have remained in the paper files of the psychiatrist’s office and/or maybe faxed to your GP’s office. But nowadays (at least in Canada) the damaging lies of psychiatrists are posted onto widespread electronic records. Wherever you go for any type of medical services these records are regularly pulled up and reviewed before you receive any treatment. It totally changes what services you will be given and the manner you will be treated. Rather than “help” psychiatry does break people down.

  15. I like to keep my comments short to reduce stress. I very much appreciate your article. I think what you say Abe would have wanted is precisely the summary many of us believe. Thank you for giving voice to your son. I’m very sorry that you had to fulfill that role, but I’m very glad you did, for it speaks for me as well.

  16. So sorry about Abraham’s death, Mr. McNeill. Your son’s fears were rational and justified. He didn’t want to be slowly tortured to death. That’s what psychiatry was doing to him.

    I consider myself disabled. But not from any “mental illness.” I no longer exhibit any of the required traits after 30 months off my drugs. My disabilities are multiple autoimmune disorders and poor concentration/executive function. I blame these on the “cure” for the unprovable brain disease men cooked up and voted into existence to prove how they were Real Doctors. I didn’t know what pain was until they “helped” me.

    If I were going to be harmed again like your son I would want to do what he did too. Psychiatric treatments are a fate worse than death. They ruin your health, your ability to earn a living and all hope of having a family. They cut your years in half and destroy your bodily organs.

  17. Malcolm, i read the other 2 or 3 dozen comments here so far, and i generally agree with and endorse them. I see no need to echo them. What most strikes ME, is what i do NOT read in your story of your son. I see nothing about his MOTHER, his relationship with her, or about HIS relationship with YOU. Of course, your relationship with her, and the relationship between the 3 of you, and any OTHER family is also missing. Yes, i realize you’re still fairly recent in the grief process, so there’s plenty of time too root around in the whole mess that is ALL OF OUR LIVES! Your son will live on in our hearts and minds.
    I read Dr. Breggin’s “Toxic Psychiatry” in 1992, and it quite literally opened my mind, opened my eyes, and saved my life. I’m glad you also found Moncrief. There are many of us, more each day, and we’re glad you found us, too! I’m sorry we couldn’t help your son enough soon enough. That’s how life goes sometimes. Now, i need a good bicycle ride, a bite to eat, a shower, call my friend, run that errand, etc., etc., etc.,…i can get back on the computer later!….

  18. Malcolm, you have given Abe voice in a way that shows the deep respect and love you have for your son. What a huge amount of energy this situation has drained from yourself and your whole family. You are living the reality where there is no justice. That is the world of psychiatry. They take, you give – everything. This power stealing is reflected in the stories of so many. I personally would like to hear/read a psychiatrists perspective on this matter. Enforced helplessness is hard to experience, (that’s why we fall sick when we read medical notes and communications from psychiatry). We fool ourselves into believing psychiatry will change; the government will step in; if I protest enough; challenge in court, write letters, but …..
    Where do we put our hope?

    Somehow peace will be found beyond flesh, blood and human fear. Listen, is that peace in the wind? Or under the wing of an albatross, the fall of water, floating mist?
    Rest.
    I wish you and your whole whanau peace. I wish Abe peace. Kia Manawanui, (be of great heart) kia arohanui, (may your world expand with grace), kia wairua, (may the spirit of peace rest in you).

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