New York’s Mayor: We’re out of Ideas, so It’s “Back to the Cuckoo’s Nest” for You!

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In November 2022, Mayor Eric Adams of New York announced that even when the unhoused population pose no threat to others in the city, officials can sweep them up and deliver them to hospitals. New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board already receives hundreds of complaints against the police each year from individuals brought to hospitals against their will. The directive’s impact on civil liberties, particularly for already vulnerable unhoused people, promises to be even more dire. Who is behind this fiasco?

I ask this question as someone who spent years investigating a little-known aspect of the history of psychiatry—the rise and fall of the homeopathic asylums and sanitariums. That history provides a portrait of the “insane”—or the “seriously mentally ill”—much at odds with the societal picture today of unhoused people with schizophrenia who are assumed to universally be a threat to public safety.

Buffalo State Hospital. Photo by Shannon O’Toole on Flickr.

In the pre-psycho-pharm era, “mental illness” signified a loss of wherewithal in the face of life challenges. Rather than an inborn problem, insanity was a pitiable condition caused by a combination of factors such as exhaustion, inebriation, improper thinking, and bad habits. Given rest, decent nutrition, homeopathy, instruction in moral hygiene, engagement in fruitful activity, and a dose of humor (the nurses offered “giggle” classes), these could be dealt with. An asylum superintendent in Middletown New York noticed that watching baseball benefitted sanity, so he created a powerhouse team to represent his hospital. On days when patients watched their asylum team’s games against other institutions or visiting major league squads, it was documented that the patients’ distress was markedly better.

A farce to be reckoned with

Getting back to the new plan for New York City: The doctor who, having gained Mayor Adams’s ear, promotes this regressive agenda garnering front-page attention is E. Fuller Torrey.

A psychiatrist obsessed with violence among the mentally ill, Torrey is dedicated to promoting involuntary hospitalization. The apparent reason for his crusade is that, once upon a time, psychoanalysis failed to cure his sister, Rhoda, of schizophrenia. He might have sought other horses to flog. After all, a multitude of theories, models, cultural vantage points and treatments other than psychoanalysis have their own perspectives on what we call schizophrenia.

With the 1984 publication of his book, Delusions, The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secret of St. Elizabeth’s, the public was introduced to an E. Fuller Torrey having little in common with today’s version. A psychiatrist on staff at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where the fascist poet Ezra Pound was held, Torrey joined forces with the renowned anti-psychiatrists of his day—Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing, and Robert Coles—to oppose a view, held by the literary establishment and by his own psychiatric colleagues, that Pound was mentally ill.

O brave new world! Among those with whom Torrey butted heads was Winfred Overholser, a homeopathic physician and superintendent of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., the most prestigious of the psychiatrists who declared Pound insane. A former president of the New England Society of Psychiatrists and the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, Overholser, in 1947, became president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Torrey emerged from St. Elizabeth’s as the victor. Once popular, psychoanalysis was now on its way out. Having settled the hash of psychoanalysis, an updated edition of Torrey set about beating the drum for what, in his mind, remained head-shrinking’s sole rival: the notion that a biological basis for psychosis and schizophrenia exists—a notion promulgated by the psycho-pharmaceutical complex.

The nonexistence of such a link is convincingly shown by evidence drawn directly from psycho-pharmacological research. For having brought the information to light we have to thank Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America, and Anatomy of an Epidemic, as well as Eliot Valenstein, author of Blaming the Brain. Granted, few look into this, but my own random samplings of the case histories of violent individuals more often than not implicate psycho-pharmacological medication as a primary factor. A perusal of some of the many onerous “side effects” of psychiatric drugs shows that agitation, aggression, and delusional thinking are effects of the drugs, so this should come as no surprise.

Those with psychiatric diagnoses comprise a complex population in which the challenges of poverty, familial dysfunction, domestic abuse, social injustice, cognitive impairment, and racism overlap. They are far more likely to be the victims of violence than its perpetrators. For being tone deaf to the issues, over-simplifying and exaggerating mental illness’ relation to violence, Torrey is reviled by patient advocacy groups. He has also been called out for denying the connection between psychological trauma and mental disturbance. Because Torrey insists that the “mentally ill” are too dangerous not to be hospitalized, practitioners of conventional psychiatry devoted to outpatient treatment and deinstitutionalization disdain him as well.

In 1989, Torrey founded the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI). There, searching for signs of the viral connection Dr. Torrey insists causes schizophrenia, dozens of his researchers slice, dice and pore over the brains of deceased, mentally ill individuals. The largest brain bank in the world, SMRI did not always have the scruples to obtain permission from the newly deceased’s family prior to harvesting the brains of their late relative. Following its settlement with an aggrieved family, SMRI was compelled to desist from its ghoulish efforts to corner the market on brains. In doing so, the organization smugly asserted that, no matter, the Institute had by then already acquired sufficient cerebral tissue.

Torrey oversaw his sister’s psychiatric hospitalization during long stretches when she languished in Marcy State Hospital and Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Hospital. While there, despite not receiving any further psychoanalytic treatment, her schizophrenia stubbornly resisted cure.

Torrey, who has written 21 books and 200 papers, is lionized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a group that, despite heavy funding—at least in the past—from the pharmaceutical industry, promotes itself as a “grass roots” organization.

Paging Nurse Ratched

Mayor Adams’ embrace of Torrey, and his concession that de-institutionalization for the mentally ill is a disaster, suggests that a return to the bad old days of psychiatric “cuckoo’s nests” beckons. Though New York City has 60,000 people living in shelters, it is the media’s focus on the unfortunate, rare violent street and subway encounters that is frightening New Yorkers. Feeling empowered to authorize sweeps of homeless encampments, Adams has deputized teams of clinicians and police officers to provide “outreach” to subway vagabonds. Ostensibly this is to offer services. The outreach’s actual intent, to move the emotionally disturbed somewhere out of sight, brings to mind a supposedly bygone practice: putting the unwelcome into carts and riding them out of town, the euphemism for which is “passing on.”

Especially when it’s involuntary, the process of being admitted to a hospital and remaining in a psych unit is traumatic. Already unstable patients must endure long waits in a chaotic emergency room environment. Upon admission, they must relinquish their clothes, phones, and other belongings. If disturbed by their sequestration, they are subdued with sedatives and/or physical restraints.

New York City has experienced a decrease in its number of psychiatric hospital beds over the years. Some 425 of the beds removed to make room for COVID-19 patients remain unavailable. A public health hospital in Harlem attributes increasing levels of patient violence to insufficient support staff. Mental health care staffing, patient capacity, and quality of care are in desperate need of an upgrade.

The short and long-term goals are reasonable: stabilize people and then connect them with mental health care and support to meet such basic needs as housing. Since community programs have waiting lists, this is not always possible. As of November 2022, special outreach teams, known as assertive community treatment (ACT) teams, had an 800-person waiting list. The Jewish Board, a nonprofit that operates outpatient mental health clinics across the city, reports that there is currently a 1,500-person waitlist for a therapist.

A recourse hiding in plain sight

Though funding additional social workers, therapists, and housing for the oppressed will help, throwing money in the general direction of conventional psychiatry will only worsen matters, as it has always done in the past. Mayor Adams, Torrey, and others are convinced that something other than this losing proposition does not exist. They are mistaken.

Whether in acute or long-term settings, a viable recourse for the mentally ill is there for the taking. Through my research into the homeopathic asylums—a standard approach in history that is still relied upon by at least 300 million people the world over, and a mainstay of care throughout Europe, South America, and India—I have become convinced that the solution is hiding in plain sight. Despite relentless and baseless denigration by the pharmaceutical industry, powerful, safe, and cost-effective homeopathic treatment remains the answer.

For at least half a century, compassionate, safe, and effective homeopathic psychiatric hospitals proliferated in America. The care was provided in utopian, often self-sustaining, and popular settings, asylums of the post-Civil War and early nineteenth century eras. Our collective ignorance of their history of success stems from the psycho-pharmaceutical industry’s fear of disruption of its economic hegemony. To protect the bottom line, it has endeavored to and succeeded in eradicating almost all mention of it. It has filled the resulting vacuum with a fictitious narrative.

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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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The question I have is: what are the major underlying causes that create so many people to become severely compromised emotionally and psychologically? It starts with bad parenting but surely our cultural, socio-economic, and political environment also has adverse effects to our emotional well being and as traumatic as abusive parents. And what about chronic crony capitalism that keeps the working and middle class with ongoing economic insecurities (that contribute to ill mental heath) as we mindlessly prostrate ourselves to the dictates of Capitalism -without question- as if it’s the measure of all things? How can we develop higher states of emotional and psychological development if we mindlessly subject ourselves to a sick society that impairs it in so many ways known and unknown to us? In Dr. Dennis, Kingsley’s book, “The Struggle for Your Mind: Conscious Evolution and the Battle to Control How We Think” He says

    “Throughout our lives we are subjected to indoctrination by a systemic structure of processes and institutions. Within this conditioning environment beliefs almost “grow” into us. And once they are a part of our socially constructed selves they are sustained, reinforced, and protected, often unconsciously, by psychological processes of perception. With few rare exceptions, all people are brought up within specific culturally defined environments (or templates). A person’s dominant social milieu then attempts to offer a variety of accepted sociocultural norms of thought and behavior. These may operate through various forms, such as personal faith, religion, science, language and emotions, denial and doubt, happiness and fear, safety and security (identity and belonging), well-being and materialism. Once ingrained, a person is liable to perpetuate such traits, believing them to have been obtained through “free thought.” In the end, we reinforce beliefs that have grown into us, accepting and defending them as our own. So when we say, “I don’t believe,” what we often in fact mean to say is, “I automatically reject everything my brain is not wired to receive.” The end result is that for most of us we only believe those things we want to believe or that fit within our perceptual paradigms and/or experiences. And because we have committed ourselves to such beliefs we then feel it imperative that we support the investment we have made. After all, who likes to be proved wrong?

    While the crisis in mental health continues unabated, it’s only one of many pieces of the proverbial puzzle in our society that’s causing problems. Placing the mentally challenged in asylums is a desperate hence retrograde solution to a problem that will never end unless we face the cold hard truth that the sick society in which we live is making us ALL sick and some more than others.

  2. I want to know whether Torrey takes ADHD medications just to keep himself fixated on stuff that doesn’t have to have anything to do with reality beyond that to certain people it “sounds” good.

    That homelessness comes from a chemical imbalance, in a city which entertains Wall-street, and all of the hedge-funds and the rest, that’s majorly delusional. Let alone that the chemical imbalance theory hasn’t panned out statistically or scientifically since it was forced on the populace, how much does it serve to suppress the stories, the reality, the experience, the suffering, the disregard, the dismissal, the disenfranchisement the abuse and the suppression of voices that truly have something to say about society and what would need attention if it cared about everyone, and not just those having sold their humanity to dehumanizing rewards.

  3. Thinking through the plan, I can’t help but see the way in which Police are going to be forcing these people into a corner, and someone with the stomach for what needs to be done, will eventually come across the solution preferred by the people causing the block.

    What do we do with the ones that are worth nothing to us? Well, not for me to suggest but ….. no one is watching.

    In fact our Chief Psychiatrist considers every single person in our State to be an “Outpatient”, and this saves having to worry about the laws protecting “civil liberties”, and people can simply be drugged without their knowledge with date rape drugs (concealed with forged documents) snatched out of their beds and delivered by police to ‘facilities’ for ‘treatment’ (for the injuries sustained during the struggle to ‘coerce ‘ them into ‘treatment’)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ9UQKBUrsg

    You Americans should be ashamed, when we in Australia have found means of getting people the ‘help’ they require.

    Of course the letter I have from the Chief Psychiatrist was actually forged and uttered with by the Law Centre which provides the smoke screen for the States human rights abuses. They work with their ‘clients’ until the legal narrative has been appropriately “edited”, and then throw them under the bus. By denying “Outpatients” access to legal representation, nothing can ever be done about the types of ‘care’ provided by our Police or ‘mental health professionals’.

    You see, by ensuring that the narrative is “edited”, even when the Chief Psychiatrist is presented with a copy of the letter forged by the Law Centre with his name on it, he can’t even admit the truth then. He must ‘play along’ with the forged documents because to not do so would expose his colleagues to accountability….. something which is a definite no no. The system is set up to ensure only one outcome, nothing to see here…. and the forging of documents to ensure those outcomes can and will be retrieved by police, once they are identified by ‘your’ ‘legal representative’. I mean what better example of forge and utter than this prescription I have here for date rape drugs administered without my knowledge, which became my “Regular Medications” after the fact when a doctor I had never met forged a prescription to conceal the offending? Conspiring to pervert the course of justice is a serious offense, unless Police will get back the proof of the crime for you by viciously attacking your victim, and then referring them back to you for ‘treatment’?

    So the problem in my instance was that I could demonstrate the arbitrary detention and torture, and the State thought they had retrieved the documents demonstrating what I am alleging before handing me the forged letter of response from the Chief Psychiatrist…., so now I had the forged prescription for the ‘spiking’ with date rape drugs, the proof that I was NOT an “Outpatient” of the hospital that called police for ‘assistance’ in causing an “acute stress reaction”, AND the documented proof that the Law Centre had forged a letter purporting to be from the Chief Psychiatrist after pretending to provide me with ‘legal representation’ until they were sure I no longer had the documented proof of the original offending.

    At that point my ‘legal representatives’ could hand me the forged letter of response, claim they no longer had the ‘resources’ to assist me, and that they had not read the bizarre letter from the Chief Psychiatrist…….The Minister conspiring with the Law Centre to pervert the course of justice could intercept any complaint, and feel quite comfortable in the fact she was aware I no longer had the documented proof………

    But what if………? SPLAT. Faeces meet oscillating rotational device used for causing air movement. And police desperate to retrieve the documents after I had been circulating them for nearly two years……..threatening peoples families, stealing my laptop to find out who I had been communicating with………

    Didn’t the National Socialists appropriate the Police in some such manner? Use them as their own personal thugs, rather than upholders of the law? I was most certainly ‘flagged’ on the system for immediate referral should I try and make a complaint to police.

    That fact was tested, and they failed to effect the referral, and were forced to not accept the documented proof from me, while they arranged an ‘alternative solution’. They also needed to silence the two witnesses to that attempt to refer as a result of trying to access the protection of the law (using forged documents to maintain a preferred lie quite effective with the slander distributed by the Operations Manager), given they were concerned about who else had viewed the documents showing their corrupt misconduct. And it wasn’t just me watching as police went about working with organised criminals to conceal torture and kidnapping….. and the other little bit of nasty that failed in the E.D. Having the ‘throw’ it over to the Corruption watchdog as a means to ensure their ‘integrity’. Nothing like doing your duty, when doing your duty doesn’t matter anymore….

    Absolutely disgraceful that lawyers are acting against their clients to conceal human rights abuses whilst conspiring with the State ‘authorities’. I don’t know how many people have died, and been physically and psychologically harmed as a result of this conduct, but I have no doubt that it has occurred. Though I admit, they need ‘work arounds’ because not being able to arbitrarily detain and torture people makes the job difficult (They will take their oaths as a cover……. and sign agreements such as the Convention against the use of Torture KNOWING they will exploit the trust that comes with such agreements).

    To the Chief Psychiatrist whose ‘letter’ has been circulated far and wide…… I’m sorry that these people used your name to conceal their offending from public view. You and I are both victims of these criminals….. and yet you remain silent about their crimes because it might mean holding people who torture, kidnap and attempt to murder accountable? I suppose when you think about it, our prisons are full of aboriginals who committed such serious offences as shoplifting a packet of coloring pencils from Piggly Wiggly (mandatory sentencing laws). Holding these career criminals operating in the ‘public service’ accountable really would create some problems for the State huh Mein Fuhrer?

    What has intrigued me has been the lack of interest from lawyers about not only how the “editing” has been done with documents forged for the specific purpose of concealing human rights abuse, but the escalation of the matters to the Minister engaging in such criminal conspiring to ensure that the preferred outcome of me dead and the hospital claiming they tried so hard to help me was the story coming out of their filthy corrupt mouths. Maybe it’s so rampant they don’t even need to look? And no one even bothered to check what I was alleging because ………. just following orders.

    • Good news though.

      Now that COVID has set our hospitals up for dealing with a lot of bodies, would it really matter what the cause of the bodies being presented to the hospital was? I think the timing of the Mayor of New York could be considered ‘impeccable’….. how many are we talking about ‘treating’? 60, 000? Lets get them ‘processed’ and take the flak from those bleeding heart small l liberals………. always room for a few more with a bit of document “editing”. Especially now we are aware that the public will make little if any noise about their rights being violated. Covid has certainly shown our ‘elected representatives’ how far they can go in their use of force. The sheep are ready to be taken to the ‘combing facility’.

      Our Chief Psychiatrist claims that any reasons provided for “observed behaviours” are simply “justifiable explanations”. Consider that with the video of police ‘helping’ the man in my above comment (mental health professionals euphemistically call this police ‘assistance’ with an “acute stress reaction”. It ensures the continuing compliance of the “Outpatients”) .

      I’m sure the documents can be forged and the legal narrative “edited” while he is in an induced coma for his “observed behaviours” which constitute a mental illness. He wasn’t an “Outpatient”, but as with my documents, he can be made into one who has been their “outpatient” for more than ten years with “editing”, and police aren’t exactly going to assist a ‘verballed’ mental patient with access to the law. And nor is their lawyer if they value the safety of their family.

      These ‘political police’ aren’t seen at the desk of your local police station though. They try and remain invisible, as did the Shutzstaffel, only issuing orders through the system, such as ‘flagging’ political problems on the police system to have the victims referred immediately to mental health for ‘treatment’ (and human rights removal) should they turn up in a Police Station….. Hi Superintendent.

      The Minister suggesting there are “some concerning aspects to the arrest”, though not enough to justify the mans “observed behaviours”?

  4. Torrey apparently forgot what he was taught in med school. The “schizophrenia treatments” can create the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via anticholinergic toxidrome. And the antipsychotics / neuroleptics can also create the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome.

    So, just as Robert Whitaker pointed out about “bipolar,” “schizophrenia” is also an iatrogenic illness, created with the psychiatric drugs.

    • Torrey has “forgotten” nothing…..
      The more so-called “mental illness” we have, the more apparent “need” for psychiatry & psych drugs….
      But the more psychiatry & psych drugs we have, the more apparent “mental illness” we have….
      And the more apparent “mental illness” we have, the more we SEEM TO need more psychiatry & psych drugs….enter Torrey & his bogus “solutions”…..
      Literally, Torrey & his ilk have created our current “mental health crisis” through gross over-use of psychiatry & psych drugs….
      Torrey is evil, but he is neither stupid nor forgetful….
      What you describe, “Someone Else”, is exactly HOW Torrey&Co. have CREATED the “mental health crisis” they now pretend to “treat”, with even more forced drugging & incarceration….
      Which is what created such a large problem to begin with!…..

  5. IMHO, the “E” in “E. Fuller Torrey” MUST STAND for EVIL…..
    Certainly, he’s an evil little man….
    And, in the “Time” magazine obituary for Dr. Thomas Szasz, the ONLY quote was from Dr. EVIL Fuller Torrey himself….
    Truly, E. Fuller Torrey is my enemy….um, with all due respect. Which ain’t much, really….