Anti-anti-psychiatry misses again

Whooee! It’s been a long time! It’s been since the PSYCHout 2010 conference in Toronto in fact. Here’s a commentator attacking the great bug-a-boo of modern psychiatry, “the anti-psychiatry movement”. The article, from columnist Jack Bragen, in The Berkley Daily Planet, bears the heading, On Mental Illness: Responding to the Anti-Psychiatry Movement.

What anti-psychiatry movement!? I’ve never liked the term anti-psychiatry myself precisely because it gives too much credit to psychiatry. The late departed David Cooper, rest his soul, a colleague of the also late departed RD Laing, revived a word that had fallen into neglect and disuse. RD Laing himself, being a psychiatrist, wasn’t entirely partial to the term. This makes it difficult to speak of a homogenous anti-psychiatry movement. There are therapists who term themselves critical psychiatrists in an effort to get away from the taint of guilt by association, only, there isn’t much of an association, not to mention, guilt involved. Mainstream psychiatry would have the anti-psychiatrist fully discredited. A fact that leaves me laughing and wondering who will manage to get the last laugh out of that joke. Anti-psychiatry starts off by discrediting mainstream psychiatry, and psychiatry would turn the tables on anti-psychiatry by having anti-psychiatry discredited in turn. You think? Delve a little deeper, thank you. Where is a religion without its devil?

I get the point that many people who have seen my column completely disagree with the practices and theories of psychiatry. I am not a psychiatrist. I have not always believed that I require medication. In my thirty years as a mental health consumer, I have seen some of the abuses perpetrated by the mental health treatment system.

Here we have the words of convert, not a recent convert, mind you, but a convert nonetheless. He tells us he was converted 30 years ago. He believes he needs what he thinks is medication. I’m not sure about the relationship of medication to medicine except I imagine it is supposed to have one. To the outsider, he sounds like a character from science fiction. What we used to call a “mental patient” has now been not so magically transformed into a “mental health consumer”. We’d have to write a history of our own to explain that one. This “mental health consumer” has seen “abuses perpetrated by the mental health treatment system”, or, as I like to call it, the mental health/illness system.

I am familiar with the abuse that happens to psychiatric patients. I would rather not describe my experiences in detail. I tolerate the mental health treatment system in spite of its many instances of unfairness because I have a disease that requires treatment; and I cannot afford to get this treatment on my terms—I am not a wealthy movie star. Many in the anti-psychiatry movement apparently believe that the human brain will automatically fix its own problems through the natural regulatory mechanisms that Mother Nature provided. They believe that intervening on an episode of mental illness with medication only prevents this restoration from naturally occurring, and actually worsens the problem. This argument seems to be the most important one in the anti psychiatry movement. Furthermore, there is the claim that in third world countries, where psychiatric treatment is unavailable, people don’t get mental illness.

I tend to see unfairness and abuse as mistreatment. Mistreatment is a human rights violation and issue. The problem with psychiatry is that a person in the psychiatric system is often presumed “sick”, without a trial, and “sick” for life at that. How is a person determined to be “sick” in the mental health/illness system? By a pronouncement of the psychiatrist, high priest of the “mental illness” religion, coupled with a legal proceeding. The criteria for this “sickness” in the legal system is “danger to oneself or others”, recently expanded into the soothsaying dimension of pre-crime, that is to say, at some time or other to come. The criminal justice system makes mistakes, but the mental health/illness system is perfect. The mental health/illness system NEVER makes mistakes, only misdiagnoses. People on the receiving end of the mental health/illness system are presumed to be “ill”. This “illness” they have has never been identified except through the behavior they exhibit. It is a theoretical construct of the literature on the subject. It is the substance of a religion. A person becomes “well” by betraying this religion, and abandoning it’s most sacred premises, for they certainly aren’t principles. When the folly of youth gives way to the wisdom that comes of experience the system is at a loss for words. It just can’t happen. We’re dealing with “disease” here, folks.

Asserting that mental illnesses don’t really exist is like saying that the Apollo Lunar Landings never took place. You can write as many books on the subject as you want, and you can argue the point until blue in the face. I will still believe the Lunar Landings took place, and mental illness exists. Everyone else is entitled to their own opinion.

Stating that pneumonia didn’t exist would be like saying that the Apollo Lunar Landing never took place, but we’re not dealing with bacteria, as far as we know anyway. Nobody has ever found any “mental illness” bacteria. From psychosis to anxiety attacks to bed wetting–“disease”, right? Whatever. If you can’t control it, it’s a “disease”. If you don’t learn to control it, it’s a “disease”. If you don’t want to control it, it’s a “disease”. A pill is expected to smooth over all the little bumps and potholes in life. Strange to think that discomfort should become a new comfortable belief, our new comfort zone, if you will, but it has done just that. Some of us, then, would find such a comfort zone limiting and, in the end, would forsake it. Doing so may be a little like going to the moon for you but, hey, look, the Apollo astronauts managed it. For some people who have survived the mental health/illness system, mental health is a new frontier. Being mentally healthy, for a person who has been labeled “mentally ill”, and who has endured the mental health/illness system, is a little like landing on the moon. All it takes is abandoning the chemical straitjacket, trying your own feet for a change, and using a less specialized and debilitating jargon. It can be done, and it doesn’t take 30 plus years to do so either. Of course, for others of us, there is always the “mental illness” excuse, uh, I mean faith.