When psychiatrists conduct "diagnostic" assessments on public figures, they are drawing attention to the fact that psychiatry's "diagnostic" system is more like a children's matching test than a genuine medical nosology. They are drawing attention to the fact that the Emperor has no clothes. And we all know where that leads.
As Burning Man nears its 30th anniversary, USA Today has published an article attempting to explain how this still somewhat freakish event came into existence. I enjoyed the article, but as someone involved in the origin story it tells, I believe that an important piece is being left out. This relates to how misguided “mental health treatment” came close to disabling a key organizer of the early Burning Man. This piece is a fascinating tale in itself, but more fascinating when considered as just one example of how a flawed approach to mental health treatment forms a barrier to many forms of cultural evolution and renewal, with oppressive consequences for society as a whole.
I believe now that fifteen years is more than a fair try. Fifteen years of getting treatment without returning to function is actually insanity. I should have given up after year two. Instead of trusting my intuition and insight, I pushed it down and down... until it finally fought its way back to the surface.
The Boston Globe paints a picture (in the vivid way that they so love to do) that pins the system’s decline primarily on budgetary issues, but there is more than one way for a system to be ‘broken.’ In fact, where the Globe goes most wrong in their latest piece, ‘Community Care,’ is in their failure to adequately recognize that the system has always been broken in one way or another in this country.
I can spout off the most amazing strategies for optimizing children’s mental health, such as feeding them real food, making sure they get lots of unstructured playtime in natural spaces, loving them unconditionally, and guiding them to the intersection of their skills and passions. But if a parent doesn’t have the financial/emotional/physical/mental means to act on these strategies, it is for naught.
Every story is unique. But the path always leads back to one’s Authentic Being. Love is the sustenance, and authenticity is the fountain of our aliveness. Yes we are talking about psychiatry here. All of psychiatry flows from damage to our plays of consciousness. This damage comes from trauma, abuse and deprivation, in our formative years. Additional trauma can rewrite and darken our plays at any time for the rest of our lives. The interplay between our temperaments and problematic experience generates psychiatric struggle. This encompasses all of psychiatry, period.
Alan Schwarz aligns himself with the current mental health paradigm by opening his new book ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma and the Making of an American Epidemic with this statement: “Attention deficit hyperactivity is real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” However, later on in the book he captures the fallacy of this disease model when he quotes a clinician: “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
Is "co-production" public service citizen involvement? Is it individual, ‘responsibilised’ health and social care consumerism? Is it power shifting to communities through participatory governance? Perhaps it’s the ultimate post-modern policy concept. But can it work for mental health?
I am a person labeled with “severe and persistent mental illness,” and so I have been trying to break the cycle of oppression that comes with a label like that. At the same time, I am trying to find ways to heal and to accept things about myself that are different from others, while also seeking to raise up my brothers and sisters in this desolate and dark place. This morning, I had an epiphany upon awakening. While it's hard to put into words, it feel's vital, and I want to try and get it down.
Throughout the ages, convulsions, contortions of the body and face, including the tongue, super-human strength, catatonic periods, long periods of wakefulness or sleep, insensitivity to pain, speaking in tongues, and a predilection for self-injurious behaviours have all been offered as physical evidence of possession. The modern day interpretation, however, comes with a plot twist befitting a media spectacle. There is growing consensus in the medical community that many prior accounts of “demonic possession” may have represented original accounts of what is now broadly known as autoimmune encephalitis.
Organized psychiatry, committed irrevocably and wholeheartedly to drug pushing and to their corrupt and corrupting relationship with pharma, simply will not countenance the fact that their primary product is fundamentally flawed and destructive. So they hire a PR company; they fund and lobby politicians; they parrot slogans; and they encourage one another to ever-increasing heights of self-congratulation. But they will not commission a definitive study to clarify and assess the scale of this problem once and for all. And the reason for this inaction is because they know that it would be bad for business. It would "cause a lot of people to stop taking their medications."
It is the deadly cocktail of benzodiazepines and opiates that is most responsible for the rising rate of opiate overdose deaths... and benzos may actually be THE decisive deadly component in the lethal drug combination. Yes, fentanyl and propofol can be dangerous drugs, but to focus the main attention in this crisis on these rarely used drugs is deliberately misleading...This minimizes the critical role of benzos and rather conveniently lets certain institutions and their leaders off the hook as the main suspects in such a vast number of cases that should be labeled as crimes of negligent homicide.
Nine months after the birth of my first daughter, I felt off. Flatness, forgetfulness, cold, and tired. If I hadn’t discovered my formal diagnosis of an autoimmune thyroid condition, I could easily have been offered an antidepressant. Instead, I delved into the complex physiology of the immune system and its relationship to seemingly unrelated areas like the gut and brain. I learned pathways and the role of nutrients in their optimization. I changed my lifestyle, and my life changed as a result.
In 2010, my 25-year old son was prescribed Prozac for depression. After a psychiatrist doubled his dose, my son became acutely psychotic and had to be admitted to the hospital. Over the next twelve months, during which time he was treated with antidepressants and neuroleptics, my son had five further psychotic experiences. I thought it might be that my son was having difficulty metabolising the drugs.
Dr. Raymond Armstrong and I are currently working together to push Texas lawmakers to adopt restrictions on the prescription of benzodiazepines and sleep drugs. We feel fortunate to be able to draw from the experience of the benzo movement in Massachusetts, and we are grateful for the information that long time advocates like Geraldine Burns have provided us.
My first real introduction to the world of madness and “mental illness” was when I was 21 years old and I left home to start my mental health nurse training. Reflecting on my own experiences has led me to consider how the trauma of participating in the psychiatric system can affect the way we care for others.
Most of us know ourselves so much better than our doctors do. We’re smart and we know what’s wrong. We don’t need some dude in an office to tell us. If you are totally convinced that the chemical route will cure you, why not go out and buy drugs directly? Why bother with the appointment, doctor, diagnosis, prescription, insurance, approval, and pharmacy method when it’s so costly, time-consuming, and you so often end up on the wrong drugs, or even incarcerated in a hospital? Do we really need psychiatrists when a vending machine will do?
Mourning is the biological process that allows us to relinquish and deactivate the brain mappings that result from trauma. By facing the pain, we can truly put it behind us, where it no longer rules us. In so doing, one writes a new play that is infused with authenticity and love.
For five years, I and others worked to create a residential healing community in Brookline, Vermont, where people could recover from debilitating and traumatic life experiences, which often lead to addiction and mental health challenges, without the use of psychotropic medications. We welcomed our first six seekers to a yearlong, therapeutic and farm-based, day program last September, and we now can report on what we have learned during this time.
Six years ago a new neighbor moved into the house across the street. Paul Ellis was his name and we gradually moved from a nodding acquaintance to long conversations about philosophy and then to walking our dogs together. Then one autumn evening Paul told me that he had spent seven years in a forensic psychiatric hospital for killing his father in a substance-induced psychosis.
I have been here at Western State Hospital for almost five years. While I’ve been told that I’ve met all the criteria for a conditional release, the hospital won’t grant me this because I can’t prove that I won’t be dangerous in the future. Can anyone prove this? Even convicts don’t have to prove they’re ‘safe’ before they are freed.
There is an ever-narrowing bandwidth of behavior that supports the dominant narrative in our culture today. We all need to act a certain way to protect the foundational beliefs of our time – that “science” has it all figured out, that rules keep us safe, and that it’s us vs. them (insert germs, terrorists, pests, and other “enemies”). But what are the consequences of this? What is this sadness and where does it go if we bandage our consciousness with business, medication, substances, or general avoidance of our real human experience?
I have hopes for the field of psychiatry. I hope the field will redeem itself, and redeem its practitioners, because they do have clinical skill and the opportunity to learn more and grow. Many of them, I believe, were just taught bad science, influenced and infiltrated by Big Pharma.
What would it look like if national peer-run mental health organizations and other national leaders came out with statements in support of other movements' struggle for freedom from oppression? What would it look like if we were truly unified in solidarity? We would have community-based centers providing intentional support, open 24 hours a day, instead of crowded jail cells holding people in pain. It wouldn't be easy, but we have to do it.
If we look at stigma as arising from the fear of things perceived as unfamiliar and judged abnormal, then we must think of challenging stigma by making the characteristics associated with stigma more familiar and thus less fearful. For me, central to stigma is discrimination and exclusion. The antidote: working with someone as a colleague, knowing such a person as a neighbor and friend.