Susan Inman Is at It Again


Anyone who is part of, or even aware of, the psychiatric survivor movement in British Columbia will likely have heard of Susan Inman. Ms. Inman writes for the Tyee and the Huffington Post, among other publications. She writes prolifically about the struggles of her schizophrenic adult daughter within BC’s mental health system (the subject of her “After Her Brain Broke”). Here is her latest article.

In it, she sets out several problems she sees with British Columbia’s mental health system. For starters:

“The public isn’t learning about early warning signs of illnesses like schizophrenia, the steps to take when they see these signs, or the kinds of treatments that are evidence-based. This ignorance also contributes to stigma, since people can easily assume that the disturbing behavior they have witnessed from someone in psychosis is freely chosen.”

No. Both the science and our experience show clearly that the opposite is true: When people are taught that psychotic disorders are neurological illnesses, stigma against the mentally ill gets even worse. Also, anti-stigma campaigns that focus on brain-based understandings of psychiatric diagnoses are quite prevalent, so the idea that “the public isn’t learning” is incorrect.

Photo depicting blocks falling over until they reach a block labeled "STOP"

“In seeking to eliminate involuntary treatment, they [the Council of Canadians with Disabilities] argue that the current Mental Health Act is unjust…”

Again, no. The CCD is being represented by the Community Legal Assistance Society and neither CLAS nor its sister organization, Health Justice, are seeking an end to involuntary treatment. This is just fear-mongering on Ms. Inman’s part and reveals her lack of understanding of the issues.

“The CCD never seeks to educate people about or even acknowledges that people in the midst of psychotic episodes are not able to make rational decisions…”

Here Ms. Inman asserts that every person experiencing psychosis lacks the capacity to make treatment decisions. This is highly offensive and, more to the point, is patently false. In 2009, I was psychotic, running around in winter in bare feet. Again and again, I sought treatment but was turned away from Psychiatric Emergency Services at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. A psychiatrist at PES told my mother to stop “enabling” me by bringing me to the hospital for help. I deteriorated even further and ended up in the criminal justice system. One of the terms of my probation was that I receive involuntary psychiatric care. The practice of forcing people into the very treatment they had already been seeking is just one of the reasons why an increasing number of us have become critical of psychiatry and are demanding reform.

“While we do not have adequate public mental illness literacy campaigns, we do have high profile and very public communication promoting the notion that all mental health problems arise from adverse social factors.”

“The president of the American Psychiatric Association recently published this kind of article in Newsweek. It fails to give the public any idea that, for example, genetic research continues to make progress in searching for causes of schizophrenia.”

Continues to make progress? What progress has it made so far? Studies have
found that genetic factors explain less than 3% of why someone gets a diagnosis of schizophrenia, while social, environmental, and childhood factors have a much higher explanatory power, about 17%.

“At family support groups, it is clear that a central problem is that too many people do not stay on anti-psychotic medications that they need.”

And the usual explanation given for this is that patients don’t understand that they need these drugs. I don’t know that anybody needs these drugs over the long term but, even if they do, where is the mention of side effects and strategies to mitigate them? Rapid and alarming weight gain, fatigue, emotional dulling, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, tremors, seizures, tardive dyskinesia, and brain shrinkage are all too common and are either ignored or minimized by psychiatrists.

“This is a link to the study group in Vancouver connected to [the Hearing Voices Network]; too often, this group focuses on leaders in the anti-psychiatry movement. In this instance, the group was exploring the beliefs of Will Hall, a frequent writer for Mad in America. He is especially known for his book encouraging people to “safely” get off their anti-psychotic medications.”

So where, exactly, are we supposed to turn? It’s a rare psychiatrist who will help someone taper off psychiatric drugs. That leaves people quitting the drugs on their own, often too quickly, and experiencing rebound psychosis. And then, inevitably, “symptoms” directly caused by psychiatric drug withdrawal are labeled a recurrence of disease. The phenomenon of rebound psychosis is well documented, and needs to be taken seriously and explored further.

“Disability rights organizations and their allies in academia have made important gains for people with particular disabilities. At the same time, psychiatric survivors have succeeded in supplying the voice of people with severe mental illnesses within these organizations. These are people who usually have had very negative experiences with psychiatry and with medications that they did not need for their mental health problems. As they have been taught, they generalize from their own experiences.”

No. Our growing movement is not limited to those who have had a “negative experience with psychiatry and with medications that [we] did not need.” Many of us have serious mental illnesses and have needed psych drugs from time to time; some of us have been rightfully hospitalized. What many of us are complaining about is not involuntary treatment per se, but rather its cavalier application and attendant abuses, both within psychiatric hospitals and in “assisted” community care. Ms. Inman misses the irony in accusing us of generalizing from our own experiences when that is exactly what she does, here and elsewhere.

“I have not yet seen any disability rights organization acknowledge the existence of anosognosia [here Inman includes yet another link to the Treatment Advocacy Center], the brain based inability of many people in psychosis to understand that they are ill.”

Enough already with the (forced) Treatment Advocacy Center! On a spectrum with Foucault and Szasz at one extreme, we have Fuller Torrey at the other. Torrey’s TAC aggressively promotes forced treatment, striking fear into psych survivors’ hearts. TAC’s fear-mongering and tortured statistics betray an agenda which appears to be having everybody diagnosed with a serious mental illness forced into treatment immediately and forever upon diagnosis.

This is problematic for several reasons, the most important being that psychiatric labels are fluid and the existence of any particular disorder can neither be proved nor disproved. My diagnoses include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder. I find it hard to believe that one person could be suffering from all of these conditions but that’s probably just my anosognosia acting up

Further, TAC fuels stigma by stoking the public’s fear and loathing of the deranged and violent lunatic, a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. This offensive stereotype is both wrong and unfair. Not only are the mentally ill less likely to be violent than the general population but they also are more likely to be victimized. Nevertheless, Torrey assumes that any violence from a mentally ill person must necessarily be a result of that mental illness. In order to further his agenda, Torrey demonizes the mentally ill in a manner which borders on hate speech. Imagine the outcry if Torrey’s message, rather than discriminating on the basis of cognitive status, were instead applied to disparate racial groups!

Vigorous lobbying from TAC was instrumental in enacting Kendra’s Law in New York in 1999. Kendra Webdale was pushed to her death in front of a subway train. Webdale’s killer, Andrew Goldstein, had sought psychiatric care but was turned away prior to this tragedy. Reportedly, after Goldstein had shoved Ms. Webdale onto the subway track, he turned to a bystander and said “Now I’ll get the help that I need.” The lesson we should have learned from this tragedy is that we need more voluntary psychiatric services; instead, we got a law that forces even more people permanently into the mental health system.

And there are rumblings of expanding the scope of this legislation even further. The New York Post recently published an opinion piece on this very subject. One of the things that is being suggested in the article is to have judges be able to order Assisted Outpatient Treatment directly, without the pesky interference of psychiatry. They’re not even pretending that these are medical issues! It’s just proof, not that more was needed, that AOT is a form of social control.

While claiming to want to prevent violence, Torrey fails to consider that involuntary treatment itself often involves violence. Survivors describe awful conditions on psych wards: being thrown into isolation rooms, being assaulted by security guards, being drugged into oblivion.

“Disability rights organizations have had a lot of success in their efforts to abolish access to involuntary psychiatric treatment. Access to involuntary treatment has become almost impossible in Ontario.”

I can’t speak to Ontario’s mental health system because I haven’t experienced it; I can say, though, that the situation in British Columbia is dire. Disability rights organizations have had no success protecting our rights, at least not in BC. The province continues to be aggressively pro-force and some clients are forced to flee the jurisdiction. At a time when I was mired in the mental health system with no end in sight, I myself considered moving to Ontario.

“Some core ideas in the now widespread recovery model in delivering mental health services are very appealing. The beliefs that mental health systems should foster hope, treat patients with greater respect, and help people be all they can be are admirable. In my experience, good clinicians already were guided by these basic values in their practice.”

Well, that’s Ms. Inman’s experience as a family member; mine, as a patient, has been very different. With the exception of my current psychiatrist and maybe one or two others, I have been treated poorly, often gaslit, bullied, and silenced.

In hospital, I have been put into an isolation room for hours, simply for being rude to the staff. I have been coerced into withdrawing an application for a Review Panel in exchange for release from hospital. I have been denied phone “privileges,” isolating me from my loved ones. The power-tripping and mind games from some of the nurses was difficult to endure, as was being talked down to and belittled by psychiatrists.

After identifying above what she sees as these problems, Ms. Inman moves on to share her proposed solutions:

“Improve mental illness literacy campaigns.”

I agree. We could start by teaching the public that psychiatric diagnoses are entirely subjective; there is no blood test or brain scan or any other objective measure. It is not possible to know the level of various neurotransmitters in the brain; the chemical imbalance theory is exactly that – a theory, and not a very compelling one. Even well-known mainstream psychiatrists argue that the theory was never scientific. We could also let the public know that, although anti-psychotics can be invaluable in a crisis, longer range studies show diminishing returns.

“Provide professionally facilitated psycho-education for clients.”

I agree. We could start by teaching clients that their conditions need not be permanent and that many people recover and are able to walk away from psychiatry forever. Unmedicated people can go months, years, or even a lifetime without symptoms. We have to stop training people to be permanently disabled. We have to give them hope.

“Eliminate the dissemination of anti-psychiatry messages in the delivery of publicly funded mental health services. Lots of people believe in a variety of alternative health care philosophies, like, for instance, the idea that vaccines don’t work. The public healthcare system doesn’t appease these people by publicizing these beliefs or subsidizing the alternative practices they prefer.”

I disagree. We are nothing like the anti-vaxxers and our voices deserve to be heard. There is an abundance of respectable research on our side (e.g. Wunderink, Harrow, Andreason); anti-vaxxers have nothing. Not being vaccinated poses a significant risk to the public; declining anti-psychotics does not.

“Support the laws that protect people with severe mental illnesses and work to reform legislation that leaves too many people left in untreated psychosis.”

I disagree. British Columbia’s Mental Health Act is the most regressive such legislation in North America; it is absurdly easy to have someone involuntarily hospitalized in BC. We don’t have space for willing, voluntary patients desperately seeking help—because beds are mostly reserved for patients who don’t want them.

These are the things BC’s mental health system desperately needs to do:

Expand voluntary psychiatric services.

More voluntary psychiatric beds need to be available. The situation at Victoria’s Psychiatric Emergency Services is ludicrous. We have people sleeping in chairs, waiting days and days to be admitted to hospital.

Psychiatric hospitals need to be welcoming, healing places, asylums in the original and true sense of the word. We need nutritious food, meaningful activities, access to the outside world and, above all, kind and respectful treatment from the staff.

If there were no threat of force and if hospitals offered a safe place to heal, distressed people would be lining up for help. Currently, veterans of our mental health system know that seeking voluntary care is dangerous.

Raise the bar for involuntary treatment.

The current criteria for forced treatment under BC’s Mental Health Act are vague enough to be applicable to almost anybody diagnosed with a mental disorder. A more suitable standard would be danger to self/others and/or gravely disabled.

When someone has been involuntarily admitted to hospital, he or she needs to be immediately provided an advocate at no cost. This is analogous to a criminal defendant being assigned a defense attorney; it’s a basic civil right.

Involuntary treatment should only be used when the above criteria are being met. When they no longer apply, care must proceed on a voluntary basis. The current practice of continuing to force treatment even when someone is stable is obscene.

Abolish forced community treatment (“Assisted Outpatient Treatment” or “Assertive Community Treatment”).

If you’re ill enough to require involuntary treatment, you are entitled to a hospital bed. Currently, people are stabilized and thrown out of hospital way too early and then languish in involuntary community treatment indefinitely.

AOT is insidious because it’s invisible. People are coerced into community treatment for years when they are not meeting even the lax criteria of current legislation. The whole system is based on a false binary: AOT vs. hospital, but those are not our only choices. We need to get rid of forced community treatment altogether; there is simply too much room for abuse.

Ms. Inman has written elsewhere that serious mental illnesses can’t be prevented, but this is often untrue. We need to make people (especially young people) aware that when they smoke marijuana they significantly raise the danger of experiencing first-episode psychosis. Pot is not the benign substance that the marijuana lobby makes it out to be. Likewise, many cases of bipolar disorder could be prevented by doctors not handing out antidepressants like Tic-Tacs. The tragic cycle often entails a bout of depression, followed by treatment, which brings on mania, resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and then—boom!—you’re well on your way to becoming a career mental patient.

People used to be able to have nervous breakdowns, take some time out, make some changes, recover, and get on with our lives. This is no longer true; any sort of emotional distress is now pathologized and the patient is taught that he or she is suffering a brain disorder that will require life-long drug treatment. This flies in the face of the experience of the many who recover and get on with their lives, without the benefit of psychiatry to guide them.

It’s worth noting, too, that as more and more psychiatric drugs become available, the number of people chronically disabled has skyrocketed. Something is terribly wrong with the status quo.

We don’t need to abolish involuntary treatment, but we can make it increasingly obsolete. We need to foster a humane and effective way to help people in distress. Our movement continues to grow as we organize and find our voice. People like Ms. Inman need to get out of our way.


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. Anosognosia, the inability to recognize (deny) particular realities, occurs widely in minds.

    It is what permitted generations of minds to support segregation, gigantic mental institutions, the pretense of separate but “equal.” It permitted minds to perform lobotomies.

    Harold A Maio

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  2. Susan BTFO. Total micdrop of an article.

    I think possibly the biggest obstacle in furthering the human rights initiative in B.C. re: psychiatric abuse is that “family members” of persons who have suffered maltreatment, violence, coercive “care,” etc. have more influence than those who are actually being harmed. Susan is an example of this.

    Thank-you, Ms. Simpson!

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  3. So-called mental illness is entirely too complicated to be adequately understood. However, what often happens, such as with Ms. Inman is that a convenient story of “progress” and “success” is promoted that oversimplifies the situation. This fiction is easy to digest and fits well with sound bites and quotes that the media needs. However, this story of “progress” toward understanding mental illness is the same story that my parents were told by mental health professionals. It is the same story said professionals told my grandparents, my great grandparents, my great-great grandparents, and so on since the dawn of medicalized interpretations of so-called mental illness (which incidentally is about as long as the concept of race has been around).
    The simple wisdom of history should serve as a guide for people like Inman and Fuller and that is, “If we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.” For hundreds of years doctors have told patients and their loved ones that they have specialized knowledge about what is wrong with the afflicted individual. They have also subjected them to various methods of so-called treatment which at best result in mediocre outcomes and may come with severe iatrogenic damage.
    From our historical vantage point, we can see how fictional these convenient medicalized stories were; however, the challenge of our current generation will be to recognize this easily identifiable historical pattern and change it in a meaningful manner. Fuller and Inman seem to cling to the convenience of this fiction. However, it takes real courage to confront a phenomenon about which we know almost nothing. It takes so much courage that we may have to learn to stop imposing our ideologies upon those afflicted with so-called mental illness and instead help them learn to give meaning to their unique subjective experiences.

    Really, if the United Nations makes an official declaration that the standard of care in the western world amounts to human rights abuses and torture and that the foundation of such egregious abuses is the medical model of so-called mental illness, then it is our responsibility to respond appropriately. If we do not respond responsibly, then we can expect this fiction and its corollarial abuses to continue.

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  4. Francesca,

    Thank you for writing this incredibly important critique of a powerful but misguided advocate in Canada who manage to put some very harmful things into print!! That article was a wake up call!

    As a parent of a psychiatric survivor, I am ashamed of the influence of a uniquely American hate group known as the ‘Treatment Advocacy Organization’ which has seeped so far to the North that a Canadian citizen would use it as a rational basis for making it easier for Canadians to subject their children to forced psychiatry!

    While I am horrified that American continues to exports its failed institutions and practices abroad, through the DSM, the APA, and its misinformation pulpits via so-called consumer advocacy organizations like National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), Moms of the Mentally Ill (MOMI) and Mental Health America (MHA), please know that there are other organizations such as MindFreedom International headquartered in Eugene, Oregon (USA) which are doing the exact opposite: trying to amplify the voices of people with lived experience so that policy/lawmakers are informed of what really works and what will utterly FAIL.

    Force and coercion ALWAYS fails. In fact, it often maims and kills.

    my email is [email protected]. If you email me, let us privately communicate on how to take away the bullhorn away from this so-called mental health advocate who clearly is intent on weakening the already weak protections in Canada and give it to the people that count, people with lived experiences.

    As family members we really need to overcome our fear of standing up to these lunatic psychiatrists and their unchecked power. We need to demand that our loved ones have access to choices and alternatives, including the right to choose non-drug options, which logically extends to the right to receive support while de-toxing from powerful, harmful psychiatric drugs.

    We need to learn how to truly support our loved ones.

    Obviously, this mother, Susan has one thing going for her. She knows how to get the attention of the mainstream, corporate media in your country. Let us take a play from her playbook and get equal attention in the media for all of our children’s sake!!

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    • I seen this pro-psychiatry advocate spread her pro-psychiatry pseudoscience propaganda all over BC newspapers trying to feverishly stop changes to the BC mental health act that would protect the rights of people. I agree with you people should have choices than neurotoxic psychiatric drugs that cause permanent brain damage.

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  5. Francesca, I MOSTLY agree with MOST of what you say above. As an ironic & appropriate aside, the ONLY person quoted in the “Time” magazine obituary of Dr. Thomas Szasz was E. Fuller Torrey. The “E” stands for “EVIL”, doncha know!?….

    You’re spot on in your critique of Susan Inman, as far as I can see. In my experience, the “family” of a “mental patient” is often BOTH the WORST & BEST factor in that person’s life.

    So, thanks for your well-written piece. Keep up the good work!
    Well, OK, one final absolute disagreement. NOTHING is “treatment”, if it is FORCED. Anything forced is TORTURE. Like ECT – Electro-Cution Torture…..
    WE NEED TO ABOLISH ALL FORCED OR COERCED so-called “treatment”….

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  6. “A more suitable standard would be danger to self/others and/or gravely disabled.”

    That would change nothing as psychiatrists can just make up the conditions needed for coercion.

    Involuntary hospitalization and treatment just need to stop.

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  7. I am an attorney, now retired, who has represented thousands of people to fight their proposed commitment to psychiatric incarceration. Here in California, the legal standard for commitment is that the person be a danger to others or themselves, or “gravely disabled”, defined as not able to meet their needs for food, clothing, and/or shelter. I am curious what the legal standards for commitment are in British Columbia. If peoples’ human rights are to be protected, there needs to be a clear cut and rational legal standard. It’s not a panacea, but without such a standard, the horrible abuses of institutional psychiatry will continue to hurt huge numbers of innocent people.

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    • Hi, Ted!

      Have you ever made the legal argument that a person DOES meet the criteria for civil commitment (danger to self or others), but that this does NOT entitle the “doctors” to force “treatment” on them? It is very much taken for granted that civil commitment automatically confers this right on doctors and removes the “patient” (AKA inmate)’s right to informed consent. But why is this legally valid? It makes sense to get someone off the street if they’re walking in front of cars, but why does that confer anything more than the need to clothe and feed them and keep them warm until the crisis passes?

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    • “the legal standard for commitment is that the person be a danger to others or themselves, or “gravely disabled”, defined as not able to meet their needs for food, clothing, and/or shelter”

      It isn’t.

      The actual standad is that a psychiatrist judges a person to be that way. This is completely arbitrary and at least for suicides the current state of knowledge is that psychiatrists are wrong 97% of the times they judge someone to be suicidal.

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  8. Good article thanks for posting Francesca. My opinion is involuntary commitment needs to be abolished. Forcing people harmful treatments that have no scientific basis is not going to make them better it will make them worse. Psychiatrists make money violating peoples rights and taking away their freedoms with involuntary commitment and forced treatments. This is a business not healthcare.

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  9. True story: Years after the fact, when I finally got my medical records, I discovered that an actual Doctor had made a serious note in my medical records. He lied. He falsely claimed that I had attempted suicide. It was a fabrication on his part. It was used against me, in ways that I was unaware of. My apartment was literally surrounded at gunpoint by the police. The cops broke in, and I was dragged out almost naked, and in handcuffs, to the local ER, where I was forced to meet with some clueless idiot who worked for some “agency”. Because I refused to lie, and say I was suicidal, when I was NOT, the cops arrested me, and I was held under $500. CASH bail. Only months later were the FALSE charges dropped before trial by a hack public defender. At NO TIME was I suicidal, but this quack shrink lied & said that I was. He was believed. I was NOT believed, or even listened to. The “Doctor” was a PSYCHIATRIST for the local CMHC. He later COMMITTED SUICIDE by fatal Rx pill overdose. So, a crooked quack psychiatrist LIED about me being suicidal, then committed suicide himself. Hey, I’m Buddhist, I don’t *NEED* to be suicidal! How stupid are you people, anyway? Psychiatry is a pseudoscience, and should have no place anywhere but HISTORY….

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  10. Susan Inman is a fascist. She’s willing to immediately defund ALL care, if the person seeking care does not submit to psychiatry’s most outrageous and lethal abuses of power. In short, she’s telling Mad people to rot in a psychiatrized “life” or did.

    No one should be listening to that Munchausen maniac!

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  11. Does Mad in America not see the people living on the streets who are talking to themselves and eating out of garbage bins? Is this a logical choice? Is this a career plan? When you were six years old did you aspire to live on the streets and eat out of garbage bins? Answer this question !!

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    • You are confusing an observable problem and a workable solution.

      Of course, no one here denies that people live on the street and talk to themselves. Believe it or not, A LOT of those people are “taking their meds” and still doing that, or have tried the “psychiatric treatment” path and it has failed miserably for them. Did you realize that the likelihood of recovering from “schizophrenia” is now a LOT WORSE than it was in the 1950s, before the “drug era” began? Did you realize that the likelihood of recovering is MUCH HIGHER in countries like Nigeria, Columbia, and other “developing countries” where “medication” is used far less frequently? Were you aware of the fact that a lot of people having first episode psychosis don’t have another, but that the likelihood of spontaneous improvement has REDUCED since psychiatric drugs are in regular use? Have you learned yet that the average “seriously mentally ill” person dies an average of 20-25 years YOUNGER than the rest of the population, and that the drugs used to “treat” these “illnesses” are largely responsible for many of these early deaths?

      The social myth is that there are magic drugs that make everyone all better, and if only the “homeless” and the “mentally ill” would follow their doctors’ instructions, they’d be “normal” people working jobs and going to college and raising families, just like on the ads on TV or the movies and TV shows where someone goes “off their meds” and crashes and burns, but as soon as they’re back “on their meds,” they’re totally fine again. The industries have worked hard to create this impression, but if you can put this myth aside for a moment and actually READ some of the stories presented below, you might start to realize that it’s not such a pretty picture.

      Psych drugs do seem to be helpful to a certain percentage of the population without serious damage to their quality of life, and more power to them. But the idea that doctors have some great “treatments” that make MOST people “normal” again if only they do as they’re told is completely false. The bulk of “seriously mentally ill” people who are in “compliance” with their treatment plans are poor, unemployed (on disability), and living lives that most of us would consider extremely low in quality. Those who do better often do so despite their “treatment plans” and “providers” rather than because of them, or at least have little to no support for improving their life quality from those supposedly “treating” them besides the drugs they are prescribed. Considering the massive adverse effects most experience, ranging from involuntary movements to severely blunted emotions and motivation to loss of sexual function to enormous weight gain to diabetes and heart disease, it might seem that living on the streets is hardly any worse to some recipients. And that’s not even mentioning the tremendous loss of autonomy most experience, being constantly monitored and told what to do and threatened with incarceration, framed as “hospitalization,” if they step out of line or their “symptoms” increase.

      It is very easy to judge if you’re not someone who has had these experiences yourself. Why don’t you suspend the judgment for a while and try reading some of the many stories here about what has happened to people here who “complied” with their “treatment plans” and ended up devastated? There’s a LOT more to the story than you seem to have heard to this point!

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