Editor’s Note: Over the next several months, Mad in America is publishing a serialized version of Peter Gøtzsche’s book, Mental Health Survival Kit and Withdrawal from Psychiatric Drugs. In this blog, he focuses on how the psychiatric establishment blocks the dissemination of information about withdrawal. Each Monday, a new section of the book is published, and all chapters are archived here.
MIND Denmark doesn’t want to help patients withdraw
In June 2017, I held a full-day course about psychiatric drug withdrawal in Copenhagen. I had planned it for quite a while, but my initiative was too much for mainstream psychiatry, which tried to sabotage it.
The first pushback came when I tried to get an ad for the course in MIND, the member journal of the most important organisation for psychiatric patients in Denmark:
“How should you withdraw from psychiatric drugs and avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms? The course is for everyone, both patients, relatives and health professionals. It consists of lectures and discussions in small groups. Lecturers are professor Peter C. Gøtzsche, child and adolescent psychiatrist Lisbeth Kortegaard, pharmacist Birgit Toft, psychologist Olga Runciman, and pharmacist Bertel Rüdinger.”
On 6 February, I called MIND‘s journalist, Henrik Harring Jørgensen, who is also responsible for the MIND magazine, to ask if they would be interested in telling their members about our course. When this wasn’t possible, I asked if I could place an ad in the magazine. Jørgensen became considerably uncomfortable and said that, being an official, he shouldn’t get involved in the debate about psychiatric drugs. I explained that he didn’t need to, because whatever one might think about psychiatric drugs, it was a fact that many patients wanted to quit, but couldn’t get help, and this was exactly why we wanted to offer our course, which was for everyone, both patients and doctors.
I couldn’t get any commitment from Jørgensen to get my ad in the magazine. I was convinced that he couldn’t make this decision himself, but needed a green light higher up, and that they probably wouldn’t take my ad.
I knew very well that MIND’s National Chairman, Knud Kristensen, disliked me, which he has told others about, and that he is very fond of psychiatric drugs, which he always praises in the media when I criticise them. When I lectured for MIND in Copenhagen in May 2016, Kristensen travelled from the other end of the country to chair the meeting and to ask critical questions after my speech. His questions were unfriendly, and he was very critical of me as a person. But the participants repeatedly challenged him and said that what I had told them was true, for example about withdrawal symptoms and how difficult it is to stop psychiatric drugs, which they had experienced themselves.
I sent my ad to Jørgensen the day after I had talked to him on the phone. Total silence. I called several times and was switched to Jørgensen by the secretary who said he was in his office, but he didn’t pick up the phone when it was me calling. I sent a message that he should call, which he didn’t do.
I got increasingly nervous because the MIND magazine only comes out every two months and the deadline for the ad was 2 March. It was my only opportunity to advertise in the magazine.
On 17 February, I wrote to Jørgensen, noting that he didn’t pick up the phone when I called him. I told him that many of MIND‘s members write to me and ask who they should go to for help with psychiatric drug withdrawal. I also wrote to the general email address of the association, but still no reply.
On 22 February, I went to MIND‘s headquarters to get an answer. I met with three people outside who were making documentaries about psychiatry and who joined me into the building.
It became clear immediately that MIND did not want to announce our course. MIND‘s director, Ole Riisgaard, treated me incredibly rudely and condescendingly, as when a school master reprimanded a naughty student in the 1950s. Apparently, Riisgaard was also unable to make a decision about my ad without Kristensen’s approval; he said he would come back “within a few days.”
We all concluded that the director was fully informed about my case before he knew we showed up at our unannounced visit and that MIND had planned to prevent my ad from being placed in the MIND magazine. When I told him that this was my impression, also when I talked to Jørgensen on the phone two weeks earlier, Jørgensen became highly aggressive and asked if I had recorded the conversation.
The next day, Riisgaard wrote that they would bring my announcement, adding: “In continuation of your very bad and totally unacceptable behaviour yesterday where you showed up without agreement or permission, and with cameras turned on filming MIND‘s staff, several of whom are mentally vulnerable and employed under special provisions, the condition for bringing the advertisement is that you, before the deadline, will send me a written (signed) guarantee that none of MIND‘s employees will participate in any kind of broadcast without written consent from each of them.”
The cameras were not turned on, and the three of us who were in the room had all been very calm. The only people displaying bad behaviour were Riisgaard and Jørgensen, which we recorded with a hidden microphone because it is important to document bullying and other abuses of power.
One of the filmmakers wrote to Riisgaard that his people had followed me for some time and therefore also followed me to MIND, and that he had asked for permission to film, which an employee of MIND had granted him. As soon as this was rejected on another floor, the film work stopped. The only one who had been filmed was me.
I wrote to Riisgaard that our perception of the events was different. We had complied with all the rules, but as Jørgensen never answered the phone, we had no other option but to visit MIND‘s headquarters to find out if MIND would bring our ad.
“You explained that MIND is a small association and that you have a lot to do, which was why I had heard nothing. Allow me to point out that there was plenty of time when I called Henrik to inquire about a possible ad. And that it would only have taken him a few seconds to respond OK when I sent him the ad the next day. It is not more difficult than that.
“It would have been natural for you, when we met, to say that I would of course get the ad in the MIND magazine, because it so obviously is a helping hand to the many MIND members who want to stop psychiatric drugs but have been unable to get help from their doctor, among other things because very few doctors know how to do it.
“Other doctors have the misconception that you need to take your drugs for the rest of your life, which is scientifically proven to be very harmful. Instead, you said I would get a response in a few days’ time. Do you think this is a good way to treat a customer who pays you to get an ad in your magazine that, on top of this, is very relevant for your members?”
The day before we visited MIND, Riisgaard received an email from a local branch explaining that they had discussed at a board meeting a correspondence I had had with Jørgensen about an advertisement for a withdrawal course. “Based on this, it looks as if some form of censorship is being applied. It is our impression that many of our members are interested in Peter Gøtzsche’s work. We do not understand this attitude.”
Riisgaard replied to the local branch, after we had met with him and had corresponded with him: “With regard to advertisements we certainly have censorship (editing), for example we do not accept advertising from the pharmaceutical industry. But Gøtske [sic] has not been denied the opportunity to advertise. If he gives another impression, it is just to make himself interesting.”
Riisgaard lied and continued being arrogant. I wrote to the local branch that someone at the top of MIND believes that psychiatric drugs can only be good for people and that no one should get help with stopping.
MIND’s National Chairman, Knud Kristensen, has too much power and nurtures his own interests, not those of his members.
The psychiatric guild doesn’t want to help patients withdraw
The second pushback came when I informed Psychiatry in the Capital Region in January 2017 about our course. I wrote that I collaborated with skilled psychiatrists, psychologists and pharmacists in several countries, and with many users with extensive experience in withdrawal; that we were 11 people from 7 countries who met in Göteborg in October 2016 and decided to establish the International Institute for Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal; that one of us was a Norwegian psychiatrist who had just opened the first drug-free ward in Norway; that I had a PhD student who studied how to withdraw psychiatric drugs safely; and that we would do our best to meet the needs and interests of the participants.
Three days later, psychiatrist professor Poul Videbech complained to the Patient Safety Authority: “A Peter Gøtzsche, who is a specialist in internal medicine, has announced the course below for patients and others. Of course, it is my view that he takes on a tremendous responsibility, which he has no knowledge at all to bear. Can doctors just do that kind of thing without having the necessary professional knowledge? It is also a private enterprise that abuses the Cochrane Centre’s name.”
Videbech’s arrogance cannot be overlooked. “A Peter Gøtzsche” is a phrase you use about unknown persons, and I was very well known, both by Videbech and by the people at the Authority.
The Authority didn’t take Videbech’s complaint seriously. It took them four months to ask me for an opinion indicating to which extent individual health professional advice would be provided to the course participants. I informed the Authority on 19 May that there was nothing in the course description about giving individual advice. A withdrawal process takes time, and we obviously didn’t intend to start withdrawing participants during the course.
I was also asked about which qualifications or experiences I had with individual withdrawal of neuroleptic medication. I replied that this was not relevant because the purpose of the course was that we should learn from each other, including hearing about current and past patients’ experiences. I added that there would be psychiatrists as well as other health professionals in the room.
Finally, the Authority asked me to state what role the Nordic Cochrane Centre had in organising the course since I had used this affiliation in my email to the Capital Region. As there was no mention of the Centre in the announcement of the course, I didn’t reply to this question, which was irrelevant and beyond the Authority’s control tasks.
On 1 June, the Authority asked me for the information I had already sent to them, which they had overlooked. Four days after we had held our course, the Authority announced it did not intend to take any action.
I uploaded videos of our lectures and other information on my homepage, deadlymedicines.dk. We also held several meetings for the public and I gave many lectures in several countries. We always explained that withdrawal needed to be much slower than official guidelines recommended. Hence, the Patient Safety Authority should have taken an interest in the guidelines, which were unsafe, and not in us!
We considered the pushbacks bumps on the road and in our growing international network, we felt we were moving forward. In October 2017, there was world premiere in Copenhagen on Anahi Testa Pedersen’s film, Diagnosing Psychiatry (see Chapter 2). She asked me if I had any suggestions for a title, so I suggested that one because the film shows that psychiatry is a sick patient that infects other patients as well. I could have chosen the same title for this book, but I did not want to use the word psychiatry but rather the positive term, mental health.
In November 2017, psychiatrist Jan Vestergaard tried to get a two-hour symposium about benzodiazepines on the programme for the annual meeting of the Danish Psychiatric Association four months later. Even though the meeting lasted four days, with parallel sessions, the board declared there wasn’t room for the symposium. It was about dependence and withdrawal, and I was scheduled to talk about withdrawal in general, not limited to benzodiazepines.
As the conference hotel is huge, I called to see if there were any free rooms. I booked one and held a two-hour symposium for the psychiatrists in the morning, which we repeated in the afternoon. I gave them the opportunity to learn something about dependence and withdrawal, even though the board had little interest in the subject.
Then came another bump in the road, which was professor of clinical microbiology, Niels Høiby, elected for a conservative political party in the Capital Region. I wondered why he felt compelled to interfere with our altruistic initiative (we took no entrance fee), as bacteria do not have much to do with psychiatric drug withdrawal. He raised a so-called political question and mentioned that I had written a book on the use of psychiatric drugs and conducted courses to get patients to reduce their use of psychiatric drugs.
Høiby asked if the National Hospital’s Executive Board and the Capital Region, possibly in collaboration with the Health Council for Psychiatry, had informed the region’s psychiatrists, psychiatrists in specialist practice, and general practitioners whether they supported or distanced themselves from the activities of the Cochrane Centre’s director regarding the use of psychiatric drugs.
The answer is as interesting as Høiby’s silly and malignant question. Psychiatry in the Capital Region declared that they had informed all their centres about the activities Høiby mentioned and were critical of my offer and had requested that attention be given to patients that might accept the offer. Moreover, they noted that several department heads and professors had publicly expressed their disagreement with me and my activities, e.g. at the event “The art of discontinuing a drug” organised by the Capital Region and at a public debate about psychiatric drugs organised by Psychiatry in the Capital Region. “At both events, Peter Gøtzsche himself participated.”
Oh dear, oh dear, the man “himself” showed up at our precious events and even dared ask questions! So, it is wrong when someone does this and when some eminences—which I call “silverbacks,” as this is how they behave6—disagree with him? These are bleak perspectives. Obviously, it is unacceptable for the establishment that I try to meet the needs of the patients when the psychiatrists don’t want to, even though the establishment constantly talks about putting the patient at the centre of their activities.
I advertised the symposia in the Journal of the Danish Medical Association and my PhD student Anders Sørensen also lectured. Later, when we strolled around in the corridors, we learned that the young psychiatrists had been scared away from attending because their bosses would see them as heretics and might retaliate. This bullying behaviour is also seen in a pride of lions—if a lion leaves the pack and comes back later, the lion is punished. It explained why most of the 60 participants were nurses, social workers, patients and relatives. Only seven identified themselves as psychiatrists, but there were likely eight more, as these omitted giving their background despite being asked to do so when they entered the room.
On other occasions, psychologists, social workers and nurses who wished to attend my lectures or courses have told me similar stories about receiving dire warnings from their superiors that if they showed up, it would not be well received at their department. This is frightening and also diagnostic for a sick specialty. It tells a story of a guild that behaves more like a religious sect than a scientific discipline because in science, we are always keen to listen to new research results and other points of view, which make us all wiser.
We had two lectures in our programme: “Why should by far most people who receive psychiatric drugs be withdrawn?” and “How should it be done in practice?” We mentioned in the ad that several psychiatrists had urged us to hold a course on withdrawal of psychiatric drugs at the same time as their annual meeting.
The symposia were successful. The most experienced psychiatrist in the room later told one of his junior colleagues that I dwarfed leading psychiatrists. That is why they didn’t want their junior doctors to listen to me. It might become too difficult for themselves when they came back and asked questions. They also appreciated Anders’s lecture. He has a lot of experience in withdrawal and is a very good speaker.
In June 2018, we held an afternoon research seminar in Copenhagen. As guest speakers we had Laura Delano, a psychiatric survivor from USA, who presented risk-reducing taper protocols based on an overview of methods that had yielded the best outcomes in the layperson withdrawal community, and pharmacist Bertel Rüdinger from Copenhagen, also a psychiatric survivor.6 Psychiatry stole 14 and 10 years, respectively, of their lives and caused both of them to come very close to suicide.
To read the footnotes for this chapter and others, click here.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.