Essays by a diverse group of writers, in the United States and abroad, engaged in rethinking psychiatry. (The directory of personal stories can be found here, and initiatives here).

A screenshot from Dr. Strangelove depicting Major Kong riding a bomb and waving his cowboy hat

How to Explain Top Psychiatrists’ “Dr. Strangelove Exuberance” Unchecked by Reality

Leading psychiatrists appear unfazed that their theories and treatments are repeatedly proven to be scientifically invalid and discarded.

Dorothea Buck’s Memoir Tells of the Horrors of Twentieth Century Psychiatry: A “Hell Amidst...

Sterilized under Nazi law, Dorothea Buck fought throughout her life for psychiatric reform.
Illustration of a plant growing through a maze of darkness to emerge into sunlight

Reframing Mental and Emotional Pain from a Buddhist Psychology Perspective

The Five Hindrances perspective encourages exploring the underlying causes of suffering and developing strategies for coping and resilience.

The Vatican, Ritalin, and a Canadian Study of Long-term ADHD Outcomes

The Vatican conference on “The Child as a Person and as a Patient: Therapeutic Approaches Compared,” which took place on June 14 and 15 in Rome, was not really focused—as I had thought it would be—on the merits of medicating children for psychiatric disorders. The two Americans who had tirelessly campaigned for this conference, Marcia Barbacki and Barry Duncan, had hoped that it would serve that purpose, but the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, as it invited speakers, decided on a broader, more diffuse agenda.

We Have a Dream: Getting Engaged to a Doctor

Patient engagement is one of the mantras of current healthcare improvement efforts. Medical students and junior doctors likely think they are doing it better than their elders ever did. They are after all taught communication skills, where an earlier generation wasn’t. In fact, they are taught that they are being taught communication skills. They are taught how to communicate bad news. They are not taught how to hear awkward or bad news. The younger generation are almost certainly worse than former generations of doctors at listening for or actually hearing “the treatment you put me on, doctor, has made me worse.”

Talk Therapy Can Cause Harm, Too

The Association for Psychological Science (APS) was founded twenty years ago by psychologists and neuroscientists who were dismayed by trends in the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA had lost its old single-minded focus on the search for empirically based answers to psychological questions. This may have followed from the fact that the APA’s membership encompassed an ever-larger percentage of practicing psychologists with many immediate, practical concerns. Yet it is these very clinicians who are in such dire need of empirically validated procedures. It might be time to summarize newer empirical literature that challenges the assumption that the mere expression of emotion is helpful.

Psychiatry’s Oppression of Young Anarchists — and the Underground Resistance

My experience as a clinical psychologist for almost three decades is that many young people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses are essentially anarchists in spirit who are pained, anxious, depressed, and angered by coercion, unnecessary rules, and illegitimate authority. In American history, there have been several shameful periods where groups—including Native Americans, homosexuals, and assertive women—have been pathologized, dehumanized, and meted out oppressive treatments by mental health professionals in an attempt to alter their basic being. Today’s psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors would do well to recognize that historians do not look kindly on those professionals who participated in institutional dehumanization and oppression.

How I Overcame an Episode of SSRI-Induced Suicidal Depression

My journey into the dark night of the soul was launched by an adverse reaction to the drug Effexor. Taking this medication triggered a maddening condition called Akathisia--a syndrome characterized by inner restlessness and agitation. My body was possessed by a chaotic, demonic force which led to my shaking, twitching and pacing back and forth across the room. The force of my symptoms was so great that I considered the possibility that I might be possessed by some malevolent demon. What made the situation even worse was that my experience was discounted by the psychiatric community.

Remembering a Restraint

It's been fourteen and a half years since the moment that first set me on my path to becoming an activist - a moment that overwhelmed me, cowed me even, but did not, in the end, destroy me. It was the day I was physically broken because I had tried to assert what I felt was an absolute right to some meaningful hearing on my detention. It was the day I learned about torture.

Antipsychotics and Brain Shrinkage: An Update

Evidence that antipsychotics cause brain shrinkage has been accumulating over the last few years, but the psychiatric research establishment is finding its own results difficult to swallow. A new paper by a group of American researchers once again tries to ‘blame the disease,’ a time-honoured tactic for diverting attention from the nasty and dangerous effects of some psychiatric treatments. People need to know about this research because it indicates that antipsychotics are not the innocuous substances that they have frequently been portrayed as. We still have no conclusive evidence that the disorders labeled as schizophrenia or psychosis are associated with any underlying abnormalities of the brain, but we do have strong evidence that the drugs we use to treat these conditions cause brain changes.

Withdrawing From Psychiatric Drugs: What Psychiatrists Don’t Learn

“What I’d really like to do is stop everything,” I say. The reality is that psychiatrists are not the experts when it comes to getting people off psychiatric drugs.

MIA’s New Directory of Providers For Psych Drug Withdrawal

One of the first things I heard from Bob Whitaker when I joined Mad In America was this, "I get emails every single day from people asking if I know where they can get help coming off their medication, and I don't know what to tell them. We need to do something about this."Since then, I've received many messages with the same question myself, and rarely have I been able to offer concrete advice. Thankfully, that has changed! Today, we are pleased to announce the Mad In America directory of service providers featuring practitioners and programs who support withdrawal from psychiatric drugs, as well as other alternatives to the mainstream paradigm of care.

Tapering Off Medications When “Symptoms Have Remitted”: Does That Make Sense?

While a 2-year outcome study by Wunderink, et al. has been cited as evidence that guided discontinuation of antipsychotics for people whose psychosis has remitted results in twice as much “relapse,” a not-yet-published followup of that study, extending it to 7 years using a naturalistic followup, finds that the guided discontinuation group had twice the recovery rates, and no greater overall relapse rate (with a trend toward the medication group having more relapse.)

Seclusion & Restraint in Ohio

The use of seclusion and restraint in mental health care in Ohio is legitimately subject to the assessment, criticisms and recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

What is Mental Illness Today? Five Hard Questions

Subscribers to Mad in America might be interested in a Keynote Lecture given by Professor Nikolas Rose in Nottingham on May 15th 2013. In this lecture Professor Rose very thoughtfully challenges a number of the assumptions which underpin conventional and contemporary psychiatric practice. He asks five hard questions:
  • Is there (really) an epidemic of mental illness?
  • Does the path to understanding mental disorder lie through the brain?
  • What is the role of diagnosis and of diagnostic manuals?
  • Should we seek early identification of those at risk of future mental pathology?
  • What is the place of patients, users, survivors, & consumers of mental health systems?

Avatar Therapy: A New Battle for the Tree of Life

In the film Avatar, scientists are keen to exploit the moon planet Pandora which is inhabited by 10-foot-tall blue humanoids called Na'vi.  To do so they create Na'vi human hybrids called “Avatars” which are controlled from afar by genetically matched humans. When the scientists decide to destroy the eco-system of the planet to gain access to valuable minerals, war breaks out between the humans and the Na'vi. At this point the main character, Jake, who operates an Avatar, has to choose whose side he is on.  Eventually Jake's life is saved and transformed by the Tree of Souls, which the humans are trying to destroy. Why are Avatars in the news again? The latest innovation from psychiatric research is using computer-generated avatars to help people who hear aggressive voices.

Can Psychosis be Treated With Nutrition?

We are immersed these days in the erroneous idea that only randomized placebo-controlled studies (RCTs) constitute scientific data. We will discuss the origins of the over-reliance on RCTs in a future column. For now, we shall simply assume that many of our readers understand that a well-documented case study can provide information relevant to many. And so, we would like to tell you about a Calgary-based child who we refer to as ‘Andrew’.

Medication and Spirituality

In 2007 I returned to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I remember being confused by the over-emphasis on biological treatments for suffering which seemed to me much more spiritual and relational in nature. A few years earlier, my misgivings had been stirred as I sat on a California beach listening to a friend tell me about what it was like to be on Prozac. She told me that she couldn’t really cry anymore, or connect to her deeper feelings. She couldn’t orgasm. I recall my throat closing up, my thoughts running panicky and confused. I was so disturbed by the power of this drug to rob her of her tears and climaxes, experiences I associated with the more private, sacred parts of being human.

Failures of the Medical Model

Saying we do not like the medical model will not make that model go away. I do not think we resolve these problems simply by declaring that emotional distress is not a medical concern.

Dispatches from a Reluctant Guide on the Path to Disability

I graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. The attitude of my professors in the Psych Department was that the science of Psychology was coming to an end. The mysteries of the mind had been unraveled through the new neuroscience, and all that was left was some mopping up. It all seemed very convincing, and I believed it myself for many years.

Shaken But Unstirred – Can Nutrients Assist With Recovery From Earthquakes?

There is a class of “naturalistic” research that can only be conducted if the researcher happens to be in the “right” place at the “right” time. Julia Rucklidge was running clinical trials using micronutrients to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults when major earthquakes hit New Zealand. She and her research team contacted all current and past participants to establish whether they were taking micronutrients and for how long, and then they assessed how anxious, depressed and stressed people were one and two weeks post-quake. The results were revealing.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

When you take a woman who has been eating processed food, taking The Pill, antibiotics, and maybe even a PPI, exposed to xenoestrogens, endocrine disruptors, and friendly-bacteria-slaughtering pesticides and you grow a baby in that womb, there is a good chance you have created a time-bomb. Throw in 70 doses of 16 neurotoxic and immunosuppressive vaccines by age 18, some formula, and genetically modified and processed baby food, 4 years of plastic diapers, and Johnson’s 1,4-dioxane babywash and… Houston, we have a problem.

I Am Also Mad

Today I read Psychiatric News, the newspaper of the American Psychiatric Association, and I was drawn to an article about the new APA President, Jeffrey Lieberman, because the front page teaser announced that "he is 'mad as hell'".

Reflections on the New Mad in America Withdrawal Directory and the “Mental Health” Vanguard

Earlier today, Matthew Cohen announced the launch of Mad in America’s directory of providers who support psychiatric drug withdrawal.  Many thanks to him for...

Rethinking Mental Health, Part 1: From Positivism to a Holistic/Organismic Paradigm

We find ourselves in very interesting times with regard to our understanding of mental health. We find ever more heated, passionate and polarized discussions taking place with regard to the so-called mental disorders — how or even whether to try to classify them, which factors are generally helpful in recovery vs. which factors are generally harmful, what does “mental disorder” or “mental illness” even mean, and what does “recovery” even mean. Given the way my own mind works, I find it helpful, when such conundrums appear, to try to take the issues all the way down to the most fundamental assumptions and experiences that give rise to them, and then try to reconstruct an understanding that is more conducive to meeting our needs. This discussion, then, is an attempt to do just that.