The Psychiatric Hospital Is an Institution of Social Control

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The psychiatric hospital of today has an appeal to our human curiosity, just as it always has. After all, weird things do happen there. But it also provides a certain sense of certainty to those who manage to remain outside of its premises. It gives reassurance of one’s sanity, and plays a role of a reverse compass: my life might be miserable, but at least I am not one of these mad people.

It is for a reason that asylums served as centres of entertainment in the past centuries, where one could go and look at the mad, in exchange for some payment. Couples would stroll the city and then, due to boredom and lack of sensationalism in their daily lives, would decide to visit a psychiatric hospital, to satisfy their desire for some ‘fun’, but also to reassure themselves that life wasn’t that bad, in comparison.

Michel Foucault dedicated many pages to the phenomenon, specifying that madness as ‘abnormality’ came into force only from the seventeenth century, when all undesirable elements of the society had to be confined in one place, to regulate wages and unemployment.

The mad, drunkards, and vagabonds were all assigned a category of those who can cause potential trouble, and should, therefore, be delegated to a specific place (the hospital) in order to clear the streets, and to give a very specific signal to society: You have to be like everyone else to succeed, you have to be normal, well-behaved and following the rules.

The visits to the hospitals, in order to get a glimpse of abnormality, were, therefore, also conducted in the spirit of deep curiosity of everything which had become forbidden by the government, which, reinforced the notion that the mad, the forbidden, were different, that they should be isolated from society.

Of course, this served to make it easier to regulate the population as a whole. These people behave differently! Look, they are so weird! Oh, my god, she is insane! It served the purpose of re-establishing one’s place in a society, mitigating one’s feeling of inadequacy and low self-worth, and at the same time provided entertainment.

It might sound grotesque to the modern ear, but overall, nothing has changed. The desire for the sensational, for watching other humans, usually in some deep distress, is satisfied by reality TV, online social networks, and cheap tabloid press.

The insane still have a special place, as well, since they are referred to as one single category under the umbrella of ‘mental illness’, which leaves little room for any compassion, understanding, or kindness. They are described as dangerous and unpredictable, and act as a guidance to the society of what serves as the lowest denominator of human life.

Become insane, even once, and that’s it, you can call your fate as lost. There is something wrong with you, if you dared to be mad. The society of reason has firmly moved into the society of extra-reason, where sanity has become an absolute virtue, a necessary quality on one’s life CV.

All the current anti-stigma campaigns serve nothing, as what one is supposed to think when a person, who openly describes himself as ‘mentally-ill’, cries for some kindness and compassion, in self-pitying and rather sad tweets? How one is supposed to deal with something which is really beyond any comprehension? Especially when mental illness encompasses nowadays not only everything that is bizarre, but also traits of character that are simply undesirable?

What is hiding indeed behind the term ‘mental illness’? What does it involve precisely? Well, no one knows, and therefore, people have the right to remain frightened and on guard.

The modern psychiatric hospital is, of course, not really a hospital, but a place of confinement for those elements of our society, that either demonstrated some weird behaviour, or dared to exhibit the extremes of human emotions, be it sadness or euphoria.

No one offers any brain test, or presents you with a proof of disease, it is all based on words of usually one single psychiatrist, who might not be a bad person, but operates from a certain belief system. Not many psychiatrists are aware that they are conduits of a certain ideology, where psychiatry is an institution of power, hiding behind the profit machine of pharmaceutical companies, operating within medical capitalism.

It is a society based on ‘medicalisation’ where we are rushed to the doctor from an early age because we terrify over-zealous parents with too many tantrums, or are terribly sad when the same parents abandon us, or pay little attention to our emotional needs. In the United States, presenting young children with pills has become a widespread epidemic, and if you start with these pills, you are usually addicted for life.

It is a regime of control, because it is easier to keep the population in check when each trait of behaviour can be delegated to some pathology, and where no one will dare to really confront the government and its policies, because in some time, in quite already visible future, almost everyone will be under the spell of some sedatives, leaving little room for imagination, creativity, and well, revolt.

We can witness the progress of society and the fate of psychiatric patients in the current pandemic of Covid. Everything is becoming medicalized and voices of mad people are no longer heard, understood or treated with any compassion. From the start of the pandemic, mad people have become even more marginalized. Society tells us: obey, obey, obey again, and all forms of critical outcry are delegated to the domain of madness.

Everyone is supposed to be complacent and quiet, where any act of deep human emotion is looked upon as some nuisance, because we are dealing with a ‘bigger crisis’ on our hands. All those who dare to express an extra level of human emotion are deemed as not fit and unable to show any resilience. They are pitied and looked down upon, because the bravest withstand the crisis and can move along with their lives, in a society where the accumulation of the celebrity status, one’s wealth and a big house or car, are judged as the biggest achievement.

All those who continue to search for true meaning in life are simply not fit for a bigger capitalistic machine, where medicine is hiding behind the profit-machine, and where science has become a logo for all those who simply want to make money.

In a society where medical capitalism rules, the psychiatric hospital has become just a hospital. Gone are the days when they served as entertainment, but gone are also the days where one could properly recover and rediscover one’s ‘sanity’ and a deeper meaning in life if finding oneself in there.

All those who come under the radar of psychiatry are put on the pills without any alternatives, and are thrown back into the capitalistic machine, because the society can’t and doesn’t want to deal anymore with those who dare to be different. We are supposed to show a robot-like behaviour, be normal, and obey whatever they tell us. All ‘abnormal’ emotions and feelings are delegated to the domain of shame.

The psychiatric hospital can be found on Twitter, where two opposite camps argue themselves to absolute madness, without leaving any room for those who can be pro-science, and yet question the things that are advanced in its name. The critical thinkers are nutters, shamed publicly for questioning the medical narrative and constant, confusing new rules.

Not becoming insane in the current society is indeed an act of bravery, but what is being sane? Has sanity become a total complacency and only thinking about one’s own profit-accumulation, a good presence online, and a next show to watch on TV? What happened to critical thinking?

The psychiatric hospital of today, if you find yourself inside its premises, is rather a sad viewing. In it you can meet all those who are dealing with distressing issues in life, such as a loss in the family, a trauma from one’s childhood, or extreme hardship in life (among others!), but the patients are also shamed nowadays (probably intentionally) for daring to exhibit weakness when we are supposed to deal exclusively with the pandemic.

During this time, patients are shamed for being a drag on the resources of the already struggling medical machine. Look at those who manage to cope, they say. One’s own malaise (or madness) is experienced as a burden for the system that doesn’t see anymore any narrative beyond what the ‘doctors’ will say.

The psychiatric hospital of today is yet another layer in the advance of medical capitalism, where the discourse on mental health hides the desperation of the human race as a whole. We are extremely tired of what is deemed normal: a presence on online social networks, a certain status, and being like everyone else, without any room any longer for out-of-the-box thinking, critical reflection, or daring to simply be not like everyone else.

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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.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. Thank you.

    While reading, I was reminded of a few experiences I had on tik tok (before I realized tik tok is not the place for middle aged white women who are psychiatric survivors and hold antipsychiatry views). There is a trend of putting up videos of abandoned places. Abandoned psychiatric hospitals seem to hold special cache. The person making and posting the video talks with reverence about respecting the ground where so many people suffered and died. And without a doubt there will be several comments along the lines of, “I can feel the pain and suffering there. I am an empath. I can feel it through the screen. The souls of the former inmates are communicating to me through my phone screen.”
    And there will be a handful of, “at least things are different now, not like back in the old days with these asylums that were so abusive. Look how far we’ve come!”
    And then I would pipe up and try to say something like, it’s not that different now. People and psychiatric hospitals are still treated badly, exploited, isolated, drained of Hope. And then they become outcasts among their friends and family and neighbors who are all aware that they were taken away in an ambulance by the police.
    Mostly my comments were ignored. I think I was taking away from the fun of it. Because even though the people who lived in those abandoned asylums are dead, their lives are still serving as a kind of entertainment for the masses — now it’s Tik Tok users instead. But it’s not entertaining when someone points out that the mental health system is really no different from what it ever was, that we have not advanced as a society as far as how we treat those who are suffering.

  2. At the conclusion of our senior civics class, we toured a psychiatric facility. The most obvious thing were the silent and immobile inmates. They were kept in an enormous hall seated on wicker furniture. We knew so little about them. We thought that appearing catatonic was a feature of their illnesses.
    Later, I read in the local paper that new drugs were being used there as an experiment. I questioned the lawfulness of allowing us to view these inmates in any condition. I felt somewhat ashamed to have witnessed this. My questioning was met with: “Well what else would you suggest we do with them?”. It was clear that these drugs were administered to make the recipients almost comatose and unquestioning. They didn’t move; they stared straight ahead. The drugs did nothing to cure people

    Now, what would prevent any one of us being treated that way if we were inconvenient people? Were we ever a decent society?

  3. “We are extremely tired of what is deemed normal: a presence on online social networks, a certain status, and being like everyone else, without any room any longer for out-of-the-box thinking, critical reflection, or daring to simply be not like everyone else.”

    And how dare one be a critical thinker, who does her homework, is an out-of-the-box thinker – and “too truthful” recorder – of the “desperation of” today’s “human race;” including the reality that life’s a journey, not a race … and that the truth matters more, than the lies we’re being sold.

    • And I guess, when it comes to the psychiatric and psychological industries’ lies … they’re so staggeringly large and evil, the governments and big Pharma knew they had to force those lies onto society. Because the psychiatrists’ and psychologists’ lies – their systemic child abuse covering up and iatrogenic illness creating crimes – are so large, and disgusting, they couldn’t even be sold. They needed to be forced upon humanity … thus why our society has legalized forced psychiatric “treatment.”

      But if evil people were not in control of our world, none of this would exist. Follow the money ….

  4. What is hiding indeed behind the term ‘mental illness’? What does it involve precisely? Well, no one knows, and therefore, people have the right to remain frightened and on guard.

    How can you make the statement, “Well, no one knows….” for there is an individual writing this response to an individual who wrote the essay for MadinAmerica. How and why does one begin to be authorized to speak for the “We”?

    Are you a musician, too? Would be reminded of Pablo Casals, then pulled out the Karsh Portofolio, where the image and story of the photo session conveyed something special that transcends a situation. From a reading of what was Brain Pickins https://www.themarginalian.org/2021/10/22/brain-pickings-becoming-the-marginalian/?mc_cid=ce14b328be&mc_eid=9e7d5ef3ee the writer renamed her site to the marginalian conveys a scan into thinking.

    To create a different framework, am reminded of the time the concept of Gesamtkuntswerk may not be lost though rather a visit with new eyes such as ours?

    To search out while realizing the creative moment, particularly heightened from a reading of Pablo Casals Joys and Sorrows in a simple narrative conveys his experience also along with his response to the oppressive nature of some governments and their institutions.

    Thank you for the insightful essay. I hope to read your book.

    • Sorry, for I erred in attempting to post a wonderful article about Casals. See: https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/12/03/pablo-casals-work-age/?mc_cid=ce14b328be&mc_eid=9e7d5ef3ee

      There is also a classic article about the Brelands who operated the IQ Zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They were students of Skinner, that suggests Behaviorism would be answer if one thinks of human as a machine to be conditioned. In the inhumanity of institutionalized behaviorism, the maltreatment and mistreatment that occurs will at some point address the concerns we are sharing. Would like to learn more of the interest in music? For your book and title seem to explore your extraordinary creativity.

  5. “No one offers any brain test, or presents you with a proof of disease, it is all based on words of usually one single psychiatrist, who might not be a bad person, but operates from a certain belief system. Not many psychiatrists are aware that they are conduits of a certain ideology, where psychiatry is an institution of power, hiding behind the profit machine of pharmaceutical companies, operating within medical capitalism.”

    So many worthwhile quotes to highlight.

    Many psychiatrists don’t acknowledge/recognize the evil they perpertrate, so it’s even worse when emergency room doctors and first year interns commit crimes knowingly and have the power to cover their own tracks.

  6. I can say that Yes, they are a bad psychiatrist because they know full well what they do and what they are part of.

    The people least likely to “change and grow” are those who are in power to destroy lives. Why give up power and indeed a person will give up power once they acknowledge their part in causing harm.

  7. Thank you for space to scream into the void. My physical health is very poor due to ten years psychiatric abuse and I really think I could drop dead any time, so I appreciate this place to testify.

    Now 58, this week I was diagnosed with mital heart value issues and the need for a replacement hip, which I can’t afford. I have been slammed this fall/winter with gastrointestinal issues. Can’t swallow, keep food down, eat much. I may be having side effects from new asthma medication that may be worsening the heart situation.

    I have been here in my body with my mind in tact though in a state of mental torture since April 13, 2012 and especially February 22-28, 2013. I have fought to win and save my life but have not been allowed to correct the record and do so. Instead, for speaking out, I have endured serious and widespread retaliation.

    My heart is literally broken.

    I have said I am being ripped apart slowly, and I meant it.

    But the system, government, Oakland Community College, St Mary Merciless human trafficking ward, the criminal Catholics who raised and violated me, my estranged Catholic family, and the state of Michigan do not care.

  8. I just found a nutcase psychiatrist’s essay on line in my google feed.

    “These days, the whole world feels like the psych ward. Everyone is discouraged by past harms and present fears. The people who need meds the most are the most reluctant to take them. Most everyone wants out, but many worry they will never leave, and everyone wonders how things will be on the other side.” Abraham Nussbaum

    https://www.statnews.com/2021/12/23/i-work-in-a-locked-psychiatric-ward-these-days-you-do-too/

  9. Mental illness is extraordinary.

    I was getting the dreams again, always the same dreams. Something specific to do with climate change. The sky.
    So in those uprooted days I visited my town library to borrow the use of their computer. I typed in to various social media hubs to pose a question to the ethers…
    “Is anyone also getting my specific climate change sky dreams?”.
    Well I went back to the library computer week after week after week, like you do when you are in a house and cannot find the partner to a sock. This was no longer about marrying up similar dreams. It was about the treasure hunt.
    After two months I grew sullen but just before logging off I noticed a woman responded to my question. She said she had been having those same dreams for years and had even put a stack of them on the internet to see if anyone else got them. She sent the stack of dreams to read through. I was astonished as I found them to be eerily similar to mine. She gave her name as Barbara.
    She lived in another continent. Thousands of miles away.
    We chatted online over the next weeks but soon she became a bit snarky and keen to convert me to Catholicism. I have no aversion to beliefs, it just was not mine. I politely declined her offer to educate me. But this may have been why she scolded me and dropped me.
    I was very down about that rebuttal.
    However, I always got given impressions from my angel about such quirky goings on. So one evening, whilst moping on my bed after sulking and grumping at the unseen beings. I felt the angel tell me rather crossly to go back to the library and give Barbara a message about her watercolour paintings. I told the angel that I did not know if Barbara did such paintings, and besides, since Barbara had sort of binned the computer link I had no way of finding her elsewhere online. I never knew Barbaras surname as she was too internet savvy to part with it.
    That was when the angel said…

    “Tell Barbara Mirror you hope her painting brings her delight”.

    “Mirror”, I chucked in the general direction of the angel, “why do you say that to me?”

    I laughed at the preposterousness of going back to the library one more time to search idiotically for a “Barbara Mirror”.

    But I did…

    I found no such name anywhere online at that time.

    All I did find was a woman called “Barbara Mirron”. I jotted her email address and sent that stranger a small note of introduction and asked her if she had been speaking recently to someone (me) about climate change dreams.

    “Yes”

    That was her bewildered answer. She asked how I knew her surname. I told her.

    “It comes from an angel”.

    I chatted a bit then bid a fond farewell, wishing her well with her paintings. How did I know about those?

    “It comes from an angel”.

  10. I will say another thing. Which is, the definition of mental illness and psychological maladies are skewed to favor and privilege those cultures which dwell in mainstream academia and the professional world.

    Which is like — well, ok, when I was young I used to read about King Arthur and his knights. I also read about Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves too.

    Let us just say academia has overcome “toxic masculinity” in that regard.

    Only to replace it with a completely different kind of bullying. A whole different culture of bullying and back stabbing which is, in many ways, perhaps colder and more brutal even if subtle and understated.

    Actually, academics tend to be sneaky and leave the dirty work up to the mafia — I kid you not. I was personally a victim of that sort of thing.

    They tend, also, not to be motivated by pride but by greed. They will not leave something up to the mafia because you humiliated them or violated their “honor” or “pride.” They will leave something up to the mafia because you were raped on their campus and that could interfere with their reputation. Or because they got money from some company and agreed to do some scientific fraud on their behalf, and you threatened to whistleblow.

    In that sense, there is a Uriah Heep type of “‘umble” obsession with greed that is a bit shameful and self abasing, yet is also very violent at the same time.

    And then there is a culture of back stabbing, spreading of false rumors, social ostracism, all of which is quite pernicious but nobody guilty of that is ever really turned into the psychiatric system for that kind of bullying. Because it’s sneaky enough to leave no legalistic “smoking gun” that would allow for law enforcement to easily declare someone “a danger to themselves or others” because of some simply and easy CLEARLY DOCUMENTABLE thing they said.

    In that sense, it’s interesting how, in an ultra legalistic society dominated by lawyers, the American Psychological Association bashes “toxic masculinity” which is always something that can be described in a way so it’s EASY to describe it in a newspaper article or even in a short sound bite.

    But what does that mean? That means the structural practical realities of the jobs of lawyers and law enforcement and journalists is dominating our discourse of what should be regarded as “bad behavior.” And I question whether this also does not influence the whole field of mental health?

    Where you have a society of professionals each trying to make their own jobs easy, and choosing to cut corners here and there.

    Except it’s a problem where our whole definition of health ends up being dictated by the occupational structural needs of the “helping” professions.

  11. Back in 1999 I spent some time in a mental hospital. The people who worked there were more interested in getting me to go by Bill instead of William than they were in helping me with my problems. There is nothing wrong with the name Bill, of course. I just prefer William. I eventually realized that they would never let me out of the hospital until I started going by Bill. So, I told the nurses that I wanted to go by Bill now. They were so happy! I was discharged soon afterwards and was still as sick as I was as when I entered the hospital. They did not help me at all. They were only interested in getting me to conform to society.

    One of my fellow patients there insisted on going by the name Pandora. I think she had been there for a long time. They probably weren’t going to let her out until she started going by whatever name they wanted her to go by.

    One of the nurses asked me if I liked comic books. I said yes, because I do. He then said, “What’s your favorite comic, the X-Men?” I said, “No. Spider-Man.” Wrong answer. He was very displeased with me because the correct answer was X-Men. He also asked me what kind of music I liked. I said, “I like classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and the Eagles.” Once again, wrong answer. If it were up to this nurse I probably never would have been discharged because I liked Spider-Man instead of the X-Men and Led Zeppelin and the Eagles instead of whatever kind of music I was supposed to like.

    Mental hospitals only care about getting people to act “normal.” They have no interest in helping us become well.

  12. Now that I think about it there may be other reasons that Pandora was in the hospital. Like her namesake she always carried around a little box with her. She once showed me what was in it. It contained her pens and pencils. So, for her writing was like opening Pandora’s box.

    She also believed that God controlled the outcomes of sporting events in order to give us secret messages. We would watch sports on TV and try to guess what God was trying to tell us.

    In general she acted a lot like Jamie Foxx’s character in the movie The Soloist. Society doesn’t like it when “crazy” people like Pandora wander the streets, so they lock them up in mental hospitals until they can act more “normal.” Whatever that means.

    My former priest, who recently retired, once told me that I was the most normal person he had ever known. He thought that was strange because he knew that I was given the diagnoses of schizophrenia.

    Having been put in three different mental hospitals over the years I learned that in order to get out and stay out you need to be excessively “normal.” So, Spider-Man is no longer my favorite comic. Batman is. And the Eagles and Led Zeppelin are no longer my favorite bands. Imagine Dragons and Coldplay are. But I still go by William instead of Bill because I am stubborn.

  13. Terrific article. “Mental health care” so-called is about intolerance. The institution is about social control. The “care”, as a general rule, is not “care” in reality. The best “cure” usually amounts to a vacation from such “care”, and the longer that vacation lasts, the better.

    My last institutionalization resembled punishment, and as punishment it must have worked pretty well because I haven’t been back since. I have to wonder a little bit about the people who are still hams for such punishment.

    Sure, it was a learning experience. I still don’t act as normal as I might. I’ve just learned how better to avoid capture. “Acting”, yeah, I think that is the key word. There are times when authenticity, coupled with confession, can lead to absolute disaster.

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