It’s All About Rights—or Should We Say “Unequal Privileges”


Successful comics can be particularly good at recognizing what hovers below the illusions that most of us accept as unchallenged reality. The late George Carlin exposes one of the myths that many of us accept. He riffs that it is comforting to believe that we have rights, but what we really have are privileges and privileges can be taken away.

Maybe it is an impossible task to create equal rights/privileges for all. Those without power, those who are differently endowed, those who may look differently, act differently, or see, hear, and feel differently, can passively assume that they are entitled to exercise their rights, but soon their lack of power becomes evident.

Many of us have painfully learned that once you are perceived as not adhering to the actions and roles associated with being normal, you are a prime candidate to be captured by a purportedly benevolent mental illness system. Too quickly we learn that it can cost us the loss of our personal agency, along with a stigma (diagnosis) that will have significant impact on the rest of our lives. Our futures will be tethered to a reversal of a hallowed principle of our imperfect court system—you are guilty (mentally ill) until you can prove your innocence beyond a shadow of doubt (sanity).

Because of my own past diagnosis of schizophrenia and my treatments with insulin comas, electroshock, and massive doses of Thorazine and Stelazine, I have spent much of my life trying to understand troubled and untroubled altered states, many of which are called madness. I have wondered how we can support the disempowered marginalized among us who must deal with ableism, sanism, and various misconceptions about disability.

The questions about the loss of our rights speaks best to me in the writing of John Stuart Mills.  In his classic essay On Liberty, written in 1859, he weighed in on the conflict between safety, security, and liberty. In his essay he speaks to a key question of personal freedom: In a democratic state, how can the individual be protected from the tyranny of the majority?  Mills based his essay on one simple principle:

. . . . that the sole end for which mankind is warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

I am currently reading the book Breaking the Code by Walter Isaacson, which describes the new discoveries and possibilities that accompany breakthroughs in gene editing along with its moral and ethical dilemmas. Questions about the benefits and values of diversity are some examples that come to the fore.

An example discussed: If we had a vaccine that would have eliminated polio years earlier, what would Franklin Delano Roosevelt have been like as president of the United States? Would he have even been involved in politics? I think of one of my heroes, Justin Dart, and wonder if he would have become the dogged fighter for disability rights and acknowledged father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had he not been stricken with polio.

What would be the unintended consequences of using gene editing to create designer babies? Would we diminish and maybe even lose our capacity for empathy? As it is, there is not an equal playing field, but at least our genetic endowments are determined by nature’s lottery, rather than purchased by the wealthy.

I believe the major sins perpetrated by western mental health treatments are forced confinement, forced psychiatric drugs, and other too quickly celebrated somatic treatments that soon disappoint and are tossed into history’s trash bin. We have a system that treats by containment and drugging 95% of the people labelled with serious mental illness, whereas only 5% so identified may actually require short term containment (the numbers are my subjective estimate).

Hurting emotionally, being confused about life, and feeling trapped and alone do not warrant being locked up and drugged.  Listening with curiosity, empathy, and compassion may be the essential feature of successful alternatives.

Throughout human history, oppressed people and their allies have joined together for common cause. MindFreedom International (MFI) adheres to the principle that each person has the right to make informed choices to the best of their ability and to consult with trusted others for aid in making such choices.

At MFI, we have been using an initiative called Shield to address complaints about forced mental health treatments and harmful acts of control allowed by psychiatric hegemony. Shield is designed to counter the power inequities that confront those who want to challenge decisions that are made for them—those who often find that their input and complaints are ignored.

Those in authority too often operate under the assumption that “for your own good” should be the unassailable guiding force in the lives of those that they treat. However, the opportunity to choose what works best for oneself is instrumental in the possibility of living a life of quality—whether it is choosing what foods we eat or the medicines we must take.

We must not accept that the freedom to choose will continue to be unavailable for some of us.  Of course, we must have genuine information to make good choices, but we also must have the freedom to make bad choices. Knowledge, whether it is about food or drugs, is not stagnant; witness the ever-changing proclamations of what substances are good or bad for you.

The late pioneer activist and author Judi Chamberlin often spoke of the so-called normal person’s unimpeded choice to refuse possibly life-saving cancer medicine, while force is an accepted principle for administering psychiatric drugs to unwilling recipients.

For decades, MFI has sent out human rights alerts to support people who have been harmed by human rights violations in the mental health system. The numerous pleas for help that MFI receives by email and telephone are usually about forced confinement, outpatient drugging, and guardianships. Shield campaigns may be as small as a volunteer initiating an inquiry with an institution, or much larger; the level of activity varies according to the needs of the individual.

Our responses to complaints are discussed during regular meetings of the Shield committee. We may guide someone to a local Protection & Advocacy office to find a lawyer for representation at a hearing.  Others might be directed to one of our affiliates to engage with a potential advocate locally. Generally, there will be a discussion to find out what is needed and to decide what is our best advice and support for gaining a successful resolution.

It has been enlightening for me to see how often we find that complaints are resolved when the psychiatric facility learns that a person has outside allies. It seems that when aversive treatments are no longer taking place behind closed doors, when outside light with its potential threat of exposure hangs in the air, there may be a reconsideration of the objection to treatment.

Yet there are those instances where the professional in charge asserts the power inequality of the doctor-patient relationship and is unwilling to re-consider treatment decisions. In those instances where there is no accommodation, we launch a full-scale alert. The alert goes out to all who have signed on to be Shield members, as well as being posted on social media to attract a wider response. The plan is to get as many people as we can to write or call the facility doctors, administrators, news outlets, media, and local advocates.

In our most recent alert, Charles, a 22-year-old man, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and ordered to receive electroshock treatments and a high dose of psychiatric drugs. While we were working with him, he developed involuntary ocular deviations, which commonly occur in acute dystonic reactions to dopamine receptor-blocking drugs.

A psychiatrist ally of MFI generously wrote a free-of-charge affidavit challenging Charles’ schizophrenia diagnosis and the benefits of electroshock, and noting that he did not present a threat to others or himself. In that Shield alert campaign, we had nearly 400 people making phone calls and writing. The shock treatments were stopped, but we are still working on getting him out of a group home and back to living at home with his mother (which is what they both want).

MFI is now in the beginning stages of partnering across disability to create regional Shield networks grounded in informed choice as the bedrock of social justice for people who have been labelled and dismissed. Along with the support of various state Independent Living Centers and the National Council of Independent Living Centers, MFI will be collaborating with Protection & Advocacy organizations and other interested lawyers with the hope of serving more people.

MFI fights for genuine change to occur and believes that it is the experiences of psychiatric survivors that can best raise public awareness. It is the survivors who have lived through the forced interventions and witnessed how coercion gives cover to the inadequacy and false claims of the current medical treatment paradigm.

At MFI we challenge the overly simplistic notion that a diagnosis of mental illness or disability justifies the incarceration of people in psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, and other congregate living centers where they are segregated from the community at large.

Currently, MFI is striving to expand the frequency and effectiveness of Shield by creating new alliances throughout the United States. We encourage you to look at information about Shield and past actions at and to find out how you can get involved. It puts a face on psychiatric harm and abuse, while offering real support to individuals who are being threatened with forced treatments.

This Wednesday, May 26, at 6:00 PM EST, MindFreedom will partner with “I Love You, Lead On” to host the fifth in an educational series to create cross-disability understanding of common themes and initiatives. This month’s meeting is dedicated to MFI’s plan to expand the reach of Shield.

MindFreedom International is determined to grow into a formidable force that will challenge the too-frequent indiscriminate violations of one’s personal rights.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. It does seem that too many of the psychologists and psychiatrists are both systemic, child abuse covering up criminals.

    And all this “mental health professional” child abuse covering up is by DSM design.

    And their “partnership” (“conspiracy”) with the mainstream religion, in which I grew up; turned my childhood religion into an apparent satanic, systemic child abuse covering up, DSM “bible” thumping religion.

    And due to the mainstream religions’ “partnership,” and “conspiracy” with, these scientifically “invalid” “mental health professions.”

    I have no doubt that “The numerous pleas for help that MFI receives by email and telephone are usually about forced confinement, outpatient drugging, and guardianships.”

    Since the “mental health professions'” systemic covering up of the medical evidence of the abuse of my child, first started with medically unneeded, outpatient druggings. Then I was illegal forced confined, by a formerly ELCA employed, but now FBI convicted doctor.

    Then, to further attempt to cover up the prior illegal “mental health professional” behavior. I was handed over a guardianship contract, under the guise of an “artist manager” contract, by an idiot Lutheran psychologist.

    Thankfully, I knew enough to not sign that bogus contract, and have already medically explained to a decent doctor how the prior druggings made me sick. So he took the original non-medically trained, Lutheran, Holy Spirit blaspheming, psychologist’s misdiagnosis off my medical records.

    But do the “conspiring” “mental health professionals” have a “plan 4,” for attempting to murder and/or steal from, the innocent and legitimately concerned mothers of innocent child abuse survivors?

    And I do wonder exactly how long it will take for the Lutheran psychologists, pastors, and bishops I had to work with to garner insight into the fact that Jesus’ theology was about repenting, and turning from one’s evil ways? Thus, I wonder how long will it take for them to end their systemic, “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions,” multibillion dollar, primarily child abuse covering up “partnership.”

    And since I’m not going to shut up about their systemic crimes, and I’d like to see an end to this multibillion dollar, primarily child abuse covering up, paternalistic, medical/religious “partnership.” I am, no doubt, still in danger.

    Although, the good news is I met with a group of female literary artists recently, and synopsized my medical research findings and story for them. I was met with a “Wow! that’s a book proposal” critique. So I was succinctly able to convince a small group of women writers, that we should not perpetuate the paternalist, systemic child abuse covering up, “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions’,” unjust “mental health” industries forever.

    I have not yet gotten involved with the MFI Shield program, but likely should. Thanks, Ron, and all others at MFI, for all that you do. Forgive me for being somewhat new, and ignorant of all going on within the movement.

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  2. When evaluating the value and effectiveness of programs and campaigns to liberate people from the evil of psychiatry it is necessary to look at the results. Given the miserable track record over the past 50 years of efforts to secure “rights for mental patients” it’s probably a good time to ask what has actually been accomplished and to what degree and how much longer people are content to pat themselves on the head and say, “well we tried” — rather than take a hard look at WHAT WENT WRONG?

    Are we going to continue to accept psychiatry as inevitable and be content to settle for fancier handcuffs or are we ready to finally make a united demand to DEFEAT and DEFUND PSYCHIATRY?
    [email protected]

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  3. Thanks very much Ron for your ongoing resolve and effort to keep people safer.

    It seems pointless to talk about rights OR privilege.

    When I look at the deaths and harms caused by those who pretend to be people’s caretakers, it is obvious one is just born to have rights and privilege over others.

    I think if we were to see the bodies piled up, those that have passed away from oppressive powers, we would not want to look. But if we did, the next day, t would be business as usual.

    Every day the media tells us of the crime that happened down the street. Usually done by some poor sap, but the crimes of our systems are usually only talked about some 500 years past. The oppressions are absolutely here to stay. They just morph…Part of society.
    Because we are not that smart.

    The very best we can do is to get better at getting information out. To those who are not seasoned, and are vulnerable.

    To get the harms of psychiatry, medicine and legal systems and how they manipulate the poorest, out to the poorest.
    There is no point in educating the zombie society. They really do not care, but perhaps young parents and teenagers are more willing to pay mind to the possibilities.

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  4. First, we so easily forget that our rights actually come not from government, other institutions or even other humans, but only from God Our Creator. God is the Only One who has given us our Free Will or Right to Be Free. Even, I, as abused as I have been by the psychiatric system, know it is my right not to walked through any of these psychiatric, etc. offices in the first place. I abused my right as a human being endowed by my Creator with the right to Freedom and Free Will. But, first, that does not nor ever will excuse the evils these psychiatrists, etc. did to me. Luckily, I was able to wake up in time and two years after my near-death experience from the years of psychiatric drugs, I finally had to courage to walk away, but, in a way I had no choice. Since, I already had one near-death experience, what could happen if I continue down this road. I don’t ever want to know.
    As far as contemplating things like if there was a vaccine for polio, how would that affect FDR’s presidency or maybe Candy Lightner’s daughter had not been killed by a drunk driver, would we now have stiffer DWI laws in every state and a 21 year old age limit for alcohol use in every state. These things and other such things are imponderables. We will never know.
    But, here a few things to consider. Are there really diseases that we could call mental illnesses? I would say probably not. In fact, I would consider this as part of the reason so many become subject to being diagnosed as something as really doesn’t exist? I have thought that many find themselves in the mentally ill quagmire because of something as simple as “strengths and weaknesses.” Depending on a million and one variables, people are shamed for both their strengths and weaknesses. People are shamed because their strengths may not seem to be the acceptable income producing strengths of the moment. People are shamed because they are those who are more “one or two strength” people whether than a person who has many strengths. At present, it is better to be that “jack or jean of all trades.” Those of us who do not fit that description can suffer and if that strength is not in seemingly economically approved area, the suffering is greatly compounded. Sometimes, people shy away or hide from these strengths for fear of criticism about those strengths or fear that having that strength will cause them to economically disadvantaged. Economics are not the only way we shun and shame. But, as being someone who has walked that road and despite my walk away from psychiatry, etc. I know how this can cause someone to be vulnerable and gullible to the psychiatry, etc. ‘s message. Tragically, that message is evil and further erodes the identity of the person even further and causes even greater damage and harm. Is this systemic or systematic? Some would say yes. I don’t know. What I do know is “rights for the mentally ill” is only “rights to continue evil for the sake of the most vulnerable.” Oldhead is correct. We need to abolish any system that takes advantage of those at their most vulnerable and gullible. We do not need all this mentally ill hogwash. We need places that people can go to that are DRUG AND THERAPY FREE where people can affirm their rights without shame or shunning or creating guilt to be who they have been created to be. Each person has a God-Given Right to feel good about both their strengths and weaknesses. And, as far as “weaknesses” each person should be given the okay that it’s alright to ask for help if needed and to negotiate the parameters of that help. And, it starts in elementary school or before, to those teachers who were so pleased in finding all my math, spelling, grammar and other errors, I forgive you, but, please don’t to it to me or anyone else again. Thank you.

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  5. There is, at the present time, a market demand for psychiatry. Boycott psychiatry, and that demand might shrivel and die, i.e. be defunded and defeated. (Seems like a reasonable goal to me.)

    “Suffer fools” rather than “correct” “treat” or institutionalize them. Tolerate them. Folly is human, and intolerance, particularly of folly, is an extension of the folly it would outlaw.

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