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Mental Health Recovery And Civil Rights

If people can and do recover from serious “mental illnesses”, why would “stigma” be much of an issue? “Stigma” is mostly an issue with people who believe that complete recovery is rare to non-existent. Countering “stigma” is a matter for people who believe people in mental health treatment need some kind of special consideration, specifically because they are thought to be incapable of fully recovering their mental and emotional constitutional stability.

The notion of “stigma” involves a belief that people in mental health treatment are tainted, that they are broken, that they are damaged goods, that they are, as the word translates literally, marked for disgrace. In point of fact, there doesn’t tend to be any sort of skin rash that separates a person labeled “mentally ill” from the rest of humanity. This idea that one is engaged in an effort to erase “stigma” tends to have an effect opposite to the intention. What I am saying here is that this focus on “stigma” is usually a way of separating the ‘disturbed’ from society at large rather than of seeing him or her as a human being like all other human beings, and thus a member of that society.

The real issue for people who have experienced the mental health system, and particularly for people who have endured forced treatment, is a matter of prejudice and discrimination. Institutionalization disrupts the life process in almost all of its dimensions. People who are institutionalized lose precious time, jobs, friends, and property. They are not compensated one nickle for the time, jobs, friends, and property that institutionalization takes away from them. In fact, they are expected to pay for the disruption of institutionalization, often forced and entirely unwanted, that causes this loss. This in itself is indicative of the prejudice directed against this segment of the population. We may call this prejudice “stigma”, but it is not “stigma” , it is prejudice.

Discrimination, and this lack of compensation, are in fact among the reasons many people within the mental health system are seen as unrecoverable. The mental health system fosters dependence, and this dependence is, in large measure, seen as pathological on the recipient’s part. The problem is situational. People within the system have this ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ feeling. What were we saying about disgrace? People in treatment are still segregated from the community at large within what has been termed the mental health ghetto. This mental health ghetto, much like the inner city ghetto, much like the Warsaw ghetto, is where we’ve made life harder for the inhabitants than it is for everybody else.

People, especially unfortunate people, need chances. They don’t just need second chances. They need third, fourth, and fifth chances as well. In any land of opportunity there should be an abundance of chances, that is, there should be more rather than fewer of these chances. Chance is opportunity. Good fortunes are what unfortunate people lack. The “sickness”, if there is any, bears a social element. If the “sickness” is a matter of locking people out from the realm of fortune, then cure would be a matter of repossessing that key. It is this key to situational change, that is, to community re-integration, that is the real prognosticator, and this key as of yet still tends to be kept in stingy, or prejudicial, hands.

The erasing “stigma” notion comes from the idea that all you will need to do to get a better world is to change the hearts and minds of people. Pragmatists and realists know better. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” If the situation for people impacted by the mental health system has changed at all, it has changed because laws have changed. These changes have occurred because we are engaged in our own civil rights struggle, and this civil rights struggle is still far from over.

My ten-cents on the DSM-5 debate debacle, part 2

I was going to drop the DSM-5 discussion last week, but another article came to light, and I just couldn’t do it. Sorry. This time its an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Not Diseases But Categories of Suffering.

It’s not the current A.P.A.’s fault. The fault lies with its predecessors. The D.S.M. is the offspring of odd bedfellows: the medical industry, with its focus on germs and other biochemical causes of disease, and psychoanalysis, the now-largely-discredited discipline that attributes our psychological suffering to our individual and collective history.

Actually the delusion of the APA is that the DSM will resolve this conflict, it’s revisionist editors from the very beginning have been the very people behind ‘the discrediting’, mentioned in the above paragraph, of psychoanalysis.

The American Psychiatric Association has been trying to do just that ever since, mostly by leaving behind ideas about the meaning of our suffering in favor of observation and treatment of its symptoms. In 1980, it hit on the strategy of adopting a medical rhetoric, organizing those symptoms into neat disease categories and checklists of precisely described criteria and publishing them in the hefty — and, according to its chief author, “very scientific-looking” — D.S.M.-III.

The pathologizing of human suffering, and not suffering symptomatic of any known physical disease, but rather that suffering which can be said to have arisen from emoting and thinking. Types of suffering are seen as disease manifested through a variety of symptoms.

Previously I stated that this process was a matter of normalizing medicalization, and this is so, what we’ve got here is medicine’s incursion into areas that, strictly speaking, are specifically not medical, and specifically not science.

In this Op-Ed piece we read the following, “And as any psychiatrist involved in the making of the D.S.M. will freely tell you, the disorders listed in the book are not “real diseases,” at least not like measles or hepatitis. Instead, they are useful constructs that capture the ways that people commonly suffer.” I wonder why does so much of the mental health industry rhetoric and literature insist then on stating that “mental illnesses” are real, that they are real diseases, and not only that they are real diseases, but that they are diseases of the brain. We’re stuck with an either/or that would be a both/and, but…Hey, whatever stretch you can come up to resolve that one has got to break on close examination.

My feeling has always been that this clamor is going to fizzle to a uncomfortable grumble once the volume is released in 2013. If such is the case it will be unfortunate indeed. For years now we’ve been uncomfortably enduring the fruits of the DSM-IV. Those fruits are these growing epidemics of autism, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression. My feeling is that as the DSM usually works by division and addition rather than subtraction (starting with 28 mental disorders, now you’ve got something like 374) the 20 % USA labeled “mentally ill” rate is likely to go up rather than down.

The DSM has been referred to as the psychiatrists’ bible. The bible is the number 1 best selling book of all time. The DSM is doing none too poorly itself.

On the other hand, given that the current edition of the D.S.M. has earned the association — which holds and tightly guards its naming rights to our pain — more than $100 million, we might want to temper our sympathy. It may not be dancing at the ball, but once every mental health worker, psychology student and forensic lawyer in the country buys the new book, it will be laughing all the way to the bank.

‘Laughing all the way to the bank’ together with drug company executives riding piggyback on this volume of sheer non-sense. The mortality gap for people in treatment labeled with psychosis is widening, not narrowing. This mortality gap is the direct result of our societies over reliance on the quick and chemical fix. The quick and chemical fix is one of the results of using this balderdash to treat people who suffer. At one time we as a nation were a lot better off where our emotional stability was concerned, and at that time there was no DSM. We could be a lot better off again if we were to chuck the present volume into the trash heap now, and call off any future revisions. The internal national enemy of a rising “mental illness” rate is not going away anytime soon as long as this book is used to alienate, marginalize, and disempower an increasingly large segment of the American populace.

A Fighter For The Better Use Of Language

One of the voices most vehement in his opposition to the use of the word “stigma”, when it comes to dealing with people who have experienced the mental health system first hand, is that of Harold A. Maio. It was, therefore, refreshing to see his words in print featured in an opinion piece on the United Kingdom’s Guardian, headed aptly, We no longer talk about ‘the’ Jews. So why do we talk about ‘the’ mentally ill?

Presently popular worldwide is “the” mentally ill, a replica of “the” Jews. It is seldom recognised. In 2008 all nine US supreme court justices agreed “the” mentally ill existed. I shuddered; the US went silent. The entire country went dark and did not notice. An alley expression had reached the height of the US supreme court and journalism fell silent, neither seeing it, nor wanting to. Not just in the US, but worldwide. It is one of the prejudices I track worldwide on the net. I respond to each example.

If you follow stories in the media where the word “stigma” comes up in reference to people who have known mental health treatment, you will often find Harold Maio has written a sharply critical letter to the editor. It would certainly be helpful if more people took the time to chastise editors and journalists for their shortcomings in this fashion, and for this shortcoming in particular.

I trace one other prejudice on the net: “stigma”. It is closely related to the first. Once one has diminished a group to a “the”, one then claims for them a “stigma”, a “they”, a difference, eventually a deficiency. Establishing an “us” is one of the primary tools of prejudice, resulting in a “them”.

I’ve never liked the word “stigma” used in such instances either seeing it as a highly prejudicial word. As it means “a mark of disgrace” you start with a perceptual problem, you’ve identified the members of this set of individuals as set apart somehow from the rest of the population. In such instances, it becomes easier to ignore the common humanity that unites people, and it becomes harder to come to the conclusion that we are them, too, and they are us.

When I objected to the use of this word during a teleconference of psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers I was happy to find that most of those at the event were in agreement with my objection. They had a different reason for objecting though, and their reason was that it was a term they felt had been co-opted by people who didn’t share their aims and objectives. This word that might once have been their word at one time, was no longer seen as their word. It had become then, for these people who had been through the mental health system, a word that was used by a “them” against the “us” they represented.

The outcome of forced mental health treatment is usually not a very good one. The damage that is done to one is financial and social as well as possibly emotional. This socio-economic double whammy illustrates that the problem is systemic. While ex-slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule before the end of the American civil war, a promise the government renigged on, mental health patients are promised next to nothing on discharge from an institution.

Ignorance of the disruption that involuntary treatment entails is itself an example of prejudice in my view. Let us return to the example of propertyless ex-slaves, one thing they could count on was poverty. The predicament most recently discharged mental patients find themselves facing is similar. Add to this precarious state, just as with black people in this country, you have a group of people facing a great deal of prejudice. This prejudice contributes to making efforts to reenter the fold, so to speak, and move upward such a challenging, often self-defeating, undertaking.

I haven’t read it suggested that there is a “stigma” attached to mental health. People labeled “mentally ill” have recovered from the label. This word “stigma” is often used to refer to the way people treat people for whom recovery is thought to be beyond reach. This presumption, in itself, is an example of prejudice. There is a great deal of fatalism at work in this perspective. It is my feeling that when a person has received a psychiatric label, improvement should be the expectation. Resignation is, all too often, the tact encouraged by professionals who have failed their clientelle, and by a system that is too often based on managing symptoms rather than recovering stability.

Critics of the DSM-5 Revision Process Draft Petition

The farsical DSM 5 revision debacle continues. The situation has grown even more comical than previously as members of the American Psychological Association have drafted a petition expressing alarm about some of the current prospective disease categories and calling for changes.

MedScape Medical News, repeating the need for tempering the blunders of the recent past, published a news piece on the matter bearing the heading, Petition Calls for Critical Changes to Upcoming DSM-5.

The disease making process behind the DSM was always very unscientific. This is what neither the American public nor the American Psychological Association seems to understand.

Allen Frances, one of the drafters of the DSM-IV, has become one of the most vocal critics, not opponents, of the process involved in the drafting of the DSM-5. What position he will take when the DSM-6 is being formulated is anyone’s guess.

Divisions of the American Psychological Association have created an online petition addressing “serious reservations” about the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Launched October 22, the petition has already garnered more than 3000 signatures from mental health professionals, students, and organizations.

I, having serious reservations about the DSM-I, the DSM-II, the DSM-III, the DSM-IV, and the current revisions under review, am not one of the signatories.

One of the issues, although by no means the only issue, for the petitioners is the matter of attenuated psychosis syndrome, the linguistic loophole by which what was formerly referred to as psychosis risk syndrome gets back off the chopping block.

“There’s this idea that if you identify people early, somehow you’ll be able to prevent a full-blown psychosis or full-blown schizophrenia. But research has shown that only up to 20% to 30% of identified people actually went on to develop psychosis, meaning up to 70% or 80% of these people received treatment for a disorder they never ended up developing,” said [Fordham University doctorial candidate] Ms. [Sarah R.] Kamens.

This is not the only proposal these psychiatrists have made for increasing business, and for pushing pharmaceutical products. They also want to reduce the criteria needed to make a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, and they want to reduce criteria needed to make a diagnoss of generalized anxiety disorder as well.

“We believe we have tapped into a growing frustration with the DSM-5 process. And the groundswell has been quite overwhelming. It’s important to realize, this is not some fringe group that is anti-DSM-5 or antipsychiatry in any way. It’s a group of all kinds of professionals.”

Minor objections to this document are okay, professionals make them; major objections, on the other hand, are made by members of fringe groups. Maybe we need to ship a few more people off to Guantanamo Bay, huh? Assuming they are amateurs, of course.

Unfortunately, once this DSM-5 becomes psychiatric gospel in 2013, the debate will probably die down until we reach the debate on the revisions for the DSM-6. These dead sea scrolls we leave to some archeologist from the post-psychiatric distant future. “Why post-psychiatric”, you may ask? Well, for starters, our very survival is at stake. As you may have noticed, the creeping medicalization of society is now beginning to creep at a cheetah’s pace.

Light Shed On The History Of Psychiatric Abuse In Ireland

An article in The Irish Times concerns an upcoming documentary, Behind the Walls, about the history of the atrocious maltreatment of people in psychiatric institutions in that country, Revealing the horrific past of psychiatric hospitals.

In one report from the documentary, concerning year 1958, you get the following…

It was a revealing year in the context of Irish mental institutions. The patient population was close to an all-time high of more than 21,000. For many years, Ireland had led the world in locking up its people in psychiatric hospitals – on a per capita basis, it was even ahead of the old Soviet Union.

The article attributes this figure to social causes more than anything else. This number of people might not seem so startling until you begin comparing it to the numbers of people held in prisons at the same time in Ireland.

In addition to his international comparisons, Dr Brennan looked at figures closer to home, in particular comparing numbers locked up in psychiatric hospitals with those in prisons. This presents a truly remarkable picture of Irish society in the mid-decades of the 20th century, where the number of prisoners rarely exceeded 600. In 1958, the year of Dr Ramsey’s Clonmel report, this number was 369.

This is the kind of statistic that screams over-diagnosis and over-treatment. On top of this sort of over-kill, those maltreatments involved included the now mostly defunct and damaging practices of insulin shock therapy and lobotomy.

Another fascinating revelation is about how artifacts from the lives of some of the prisoners held at one of these institutions were preserved in an attic, much as were such artifacts discovered in an attic at Willard State Hospital in New York State in the United States, the recent subject of a successful museum exhibit and book, The Lives They Left Behind – Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic.

When patients died (to be buried, unnamed, in mass graves in Glasnevin cemetery), their modest few belongings ended up in the attics of the many buildings that make up the complex of Grangegorman.

These were rescued recently by a group of dedicated retired psychiatric nurses who have begun the process of cataloguing them. It is an immense job, with thousands of personal possessions – holy pictures, packets of cigarettes, lipsticks, letters, shoes, rosary beads, photographs, handbags, spectacles.

This is the kind of a history that returns the lives of people who endured much prejudice and discrimination, and who were doubly abused by neglect and cruelty, back to us. Those of us who have known psychiatric imprisonment and oppression first hand are keenly aware of the importance of this kind of a historical documentation. Psychiatric hospitals are not to be confused with amusement park fun houses despite the use to which some abandoned asylums have been put in the USA recently. In the interests of decency and humanity, not to mention accurate accounting, we need much more of this sort of research and historical preservation.

While we’ve seen films on the history of mental health maltreatment in Great Britian, and now in Ireland, I’ve yet to see any such major undertaking attempted in the USA. I know that, accompanying preservation efforts, much destruction of evidense is going on all the time. This makes the urgency and importance all that greater for preservation efforts to be made. I would also like to see one or two of these abandoned asylums made into a museum of archaic maltreatment devices and practices. Hopefully, this present neglect means we have something of the sort to look forward to in the future.

Make news, not silence

There is something blatantly and unabashedly exhibitionistic about all success. If you don’t make the news, you make the silence. This is all the more true given the equation “mental illness” = dysfunction = failure = wrongness = obscurity. If you let them, they will bury you under a load of rubbish and lies. I do not buy the myth that “adult ‘children” should be seen and not heard’ any more than I buy the myth that infant ‘children should be seen and not heard’. Success is often a matter of digging your way out of the trash and falsehoods. The fashion of the runway isn’t the only fashion in the world when you can make the fashion yourself.

I recently participated in 2 demonstrations connected with the psychOUT 2011 conference in New York City. The first was an anniversary demonstration and vigil at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn over the death of Mrs. Esmin Green, and the second was an impromptu march on the New York Office of Mental Health against forced mental health treatment. Psychiatric survivor activist Lauren Tenney, an organizer of psychOUT 2011, did get a moment of glory on local television in the first action. The second came and went with hardly a murmur of mention. There was a reason for this silence. The first psychOUT conference in Toronto last year was covered atrociously by the press. The press couldn’t cover the event without trying to drown it out. The views of people opposing the conference were seen, by the local press, as more important than the conference itself. You get what I’m saying, don’t you? We don’t have a receptive or a friendly ear in the mainstream press as a rule.

This is one of the reasons why I want to bring Mad Pride to Florida. Mad Pride was just celebrated successfully in Toronto Canada. Mad Pride has been celebrated in Toronto since about 1993 when Mad Pride celebrations were first launched. Toronto devotes a whole week to celebrating Mad Pride. Now Mad Pride is celebrated in places as diverse as Ireland, Great Britain, South America, Africa, and Australia. There are annual Mad Pride celebrations in many locations throughout the USA as well. Mad Pride is one way of telling the world we may be crazy, but we are not wrong, we are not bad, and we are not “mentally ill”. We are, in fact, alright. Mad Pride is a way of celebrating difference. It may be easy to lock up one different person alone, but just try locking up 10, 20, or 1,000 different people who have banded together to help one another. That’s not such an easy prospect, is it? Not so long as there are laws to protect people. It’s easy to forget 1 person alone is a human being; it’s not so easy to forget that a thousand people standing together are human beings.

The world has been slow to learn about Mad Pride, but the more we get the word out there, the more the world will know of us. This is why we must become the producers of our own media. This is why we have to tell the world that we exist. We must explain that there are bigger causes for celebration than Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton, or even Glenn West, and that we are one of those bigger causes. There is numero uno when numero uno is numero infinitismal to the world at large. This is the same world that is quick to recognize that madness in the street, it is slow to recognize in the mirror. If we are vocal and flamboyant enough about the matter, perhaps that realization might begin to dawn upon this world after all. If we do nothing, we will be devoured by obscurity and silence, and we will leave that task to another people at another time. I say it is better to take up the banner that belongs to us, and to make Mad Pride a cause for our era, than it is to leave this task to some future generation. I hope that future generation feels the same way I do.

Ways In Which the Human Rights of Mental Patients Are Violated

    1. They are silenced while strangers presume to speak for them
    2. They are lied to and about
    3. They are given inadequate legal counsel
    4. They are harassed by the police and locked up for piddling offenses
    5. They are subjected to kangaroo hearings and rigged court proceedings
    6. They are prevented from voting or holding elected office
    7. They are removed from environments they are familiar with
    8. They are expected to fail at every task they take on
    9. They are treated like children beyond the age of consent
    10. They are harmed by people who claim to be helping them
    11. They are mistaken for the symptoms of “disease”
    12. They are expected to work for nothing and this slavery is called rehab
    13. They are officially stigmatized through the records kept of their hospital stays
    14. They are the victims of violent crime more often than they are the perpetuators
    15. They are not allowed weapons with which to defend themselves
    16. They are discriminated against by employers, educators, and the general public
    17. They are stereotyped in the media
    18. They are humiliated and disrespected as a rule
    19. They are criticized for showing any pride or self-respect, and for telling the truth
    20. They are rewarded for lying, for betrayal, and for parroting the words and deeds of their oppressors
    21. They are deprived of opportunities most people take for granted
    22. They are ostracized, segregated and isolated
    23. They are imprisoned in state hospitals
    24. They are restrained to beds and chairs by leather straps
    25. They are placed in solitary confinement (seclusion or quiet rooms)
    26. They are sexually and physically abused, and the perpetuators of this abuse get off with little more than a knuckle rap
    27. They are shocked
    28. They are drugged
    29. They are injured by shock, drugging, restraint, and physical abuse
    30. They are killed

My rant about suicide, unhappiness, and government policy

People kill themselves because they are unhappy. People don’t kill themselves because they are “ill”.

I’m not saying that having a terminal illness might not serve as an excuse for a person to commit suicide; I’m just saying that such an excuse is not the reason for the act.

Unhappiness may be listed as a “mental illness” in biological psychiatry’s gospel, the DSM, but unhappiness is not a “mental illness”. The DSM, with all it’s pathologizing of every emotional state imaginable, for all practical purposes, is a very dispensable, as opposed to indispensable, manual.

The poor outcomes that come of psychiatric drugging indicate that although we may be feeding people to the drug companies’ profit margins, this drugging has not increased their zest for life, their happiness, or their contentment levels one iota. If anything, it has done the reverse.

The “pursuit of happiness” is a term our forefathers wrote into that document declaring our nation’s independence from the British Empire. This “pursuit of happiness” becomes more and more elusive with time when practical guarantees for the possibility of attaining that happiness are not in place.

The suicide rate climbs because the numbers of unhappy and discontented people climbs. Both these currents of increase point to fundamental failures, misguidance, and lapses of judgment at work in the policies and decisions our government officials have arrived at.

Obviously, if social discontent and unhappiness are increasing, and if our politicians are behind this increase, something is amiss.

Suicide is more popular than homicide. This situation relinquishes the need for any idle chatter about survival instinct, or “mental illness”, for that matter. These people offing themselves are not the only lemming-like personalities involved in contemporary trends. We’re killing our natural environment, and we’re expanding our wastelands at an ever quickening pace. Now tell me that makes sense!

Social insecurity has been increasing for decades. Pensions, employee benefits, and even jobs have been dissolving like smoke on the breeze.

Reaganomics has given way to Barackonomics, both of which equal a growing population of people without adequate housing. Curious, when you consider that the earlier homeless population boom was called the Great American Depression.

Community doesn’t matter anymore when we have TV. Rich celebrities can do all our living for us, and keep us entertained throughout. I like to call the entertainment industry the opium of the impoverished.

Casinos are more popular than ever. In casinos, I’m including state lotteries and the stock market.

Welcome to America! Although we don’t provide guns at the door, I can see that the time may be rapidly approaching when we may do so.

Losing The Label

The first problem I have with the anti-“stigma” campaign formula as applied to mental patients and ex-patients is the assumption that “mental illness” even exists. People have problems, certainly, and some of these problems affect their thought processes, yes, again, and their social relationships, definitely, but no “mental illness” has ever been found to exist in a tangible sense. Look for it! Neither virus nor bacterial culture exist we can call “mental illness”, and brain injury proper belongs specifically to the neurological department, not the psychiatric department. People annoy people, and people have “break downs”, but just what is really going on in these instances gets lost behind the dismissive categorization of the term “mental illness”. Unreason does not necessarily equal “illness”, the basic presumption being made here.

“Mental illness” as a term came to exist because it was felt that mad people would get better treatment if their conditions were thought of as medical conditions rather than as possession, the result of grief, confusion, poor morals, bad breeding, whatever…being the unknown x that it is. It did not come into existence because any “mental illness” was ever discovered. It came into being because it was felt people would be treated better if it was used, and if bereaved, demented and agitated people were thought of as “ill” people.

When I took Consumer Leadership Training in Virginia I read that prejudice and discrimination were perhaps better words to use than “stigma” because these words were words that had been used in the context of the civil rights struggle, and these words were words that even politicians could understand. The word “stigma” is much more problematic. A “stigma” is a mark of disgrace. If the mark is the disgrace, that’s one thing, if the disgrace is the disgrace, that’s another. This is advice I took to heart.

The issue I’m dealing with here concerns whether people can overcome those shortcomings that got them sent to the loony bin, or whether people are stuck with those shortcomings for life. These shortcomings don’t actually have to be real if they exist in other people’s minds. There is also the disruption of life and the setbacks that institutionalization represents that they must recover from as well. People have managed to fully recover from what are characterized as “serious mental illnesses”. The fact that significant recovery is not seen in a larger percentage than it is seen in is a relative matter. This is certainly not a reason, good or otherwise, for throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Prejudice is about leaping to judgment before all the facts are in. Discrimination is about denying people those opportunities that are open to other people. Such discrimination is often and usually based upon prejudice. When we discriminate based on prejudice we are denying chances to people. It is my fervent belief that a person could fail at many initial chances only to find themselves a smashing success after taking a certain chance that mattered. I don’t want to deny this opportunity for success to people. Because I don’t want to deny this opportunity to people I prefer to see the struggle as one of battling prejudice and discrimination directed against people who have received mental health treatment rather than as a battle against any “stigma” attached to people labeled with “mental illness”. It’s harder to lose a label attached to a body when that label is a tattoo (or a brand) than it is too lose such a label if that label is only attached by a thread. In the second instance, given a good snip from a pair of scissors, who would ever know?

Human Rights And Psychiatry 101

What are human rights?

Once again we need to define our terms. Human characterizes members of the genus homo, the only surviving species of which is homo sapiens, or a species of human identified with its wisdom or sensibility. Rights are defined, at the Yale University Library online in Definitions of Words and Phrases Commonly Found in Licensing Agreements, as:

Rights: Powers or privileges granted by an agreement or law.

Human beings then, by agreement or by law have agreed that these powers and previleges belong to them as a species. Disrespecting these rights, therefore, is a matter of not treating a human being as a human being should be treated.

According to Wikipedia:

Human rights are “rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled.”

According to the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy:

Human rights are international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Definition of HUMAN RIGHTS

: rights (as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons.

According to Amnesty International:

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language, or other status.

Human rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression; and social, cultural and economic rights including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, and the right to work and receive an education. Human rights are protected and upheld by international and national laws and treaties.

I particularly like the wiktionary definition because it defines human rights as rights we should have, not rights we necessarily have now. Enforcing laws enacted to ensure that human rights are protected was what the civil rights struggle was, and still is, all about.

The basic rights and freedoms that all humans should be guaranteed, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.

Civil rights according to the Free Dictionary Online are:

Personal liberties that belong to an individual, owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community.

Obviously citizenship rights are related to, and have to do with a recognition of, human rights.

This idea of human rights grew out of the eighteenth century enlightenment idea of natural rights. Natural rights held that the law of the cat was not the law of the bear, and thus it would be unfair to treat cats like bears. According to the rules of natural order, it would be tyranny to treat human beings in the same fashion that other species lower on the evolutionary scale might be treated.

What does this have to do with mental health treatment?

Much mental health treatment historically and today involves violating the human rights of people in treatment. One glaring example of this violation is seen in the delineation of a patient’s right to treatment that ignores that patient’s human right to refuse such often harmful and invasive treatment. Treatment that is, in point of fact, often maltreatment.

Mental health law itself represents a gross violation of human rights in that it is seen as a civil matter insuring that mental patients don’t have the same rights to due process that are accorded suspects in criminal justice proceedings. People in mental health facilities then end up being imprisoned through kangaroo hearings on the basis of the word of psychiatrists while suspects in criminal cases are held to be innocent until proven guilty in a trial by a jury of peers.

Civil commitment is imprisonment. Imprisonment is a violation of the human right to liberty. The rationale behind this imprisonment is that it has something to do with medical treatment. No other branch of medicine imprisons people. Any medical value imputed to imprisonment is very questionable at best.

If a person under civil commitment order refuses to take psychiatric drugs, sometimes the facility has its own hired goons who physically restrain the person. These hired goons then will inject the restrained person with a psychiatric drug in that person’s buttocks. This physical restraint is assault, a criminal offense, and it is a violation of that person’s human rights to security of person and liberty.

A person’s human right to security of person, or safety, is routinely being violated in mental health treatment through the standard use of psychiatric drugs that destroy physical health. One’s right to life is also being violated through the effects of these psychiatric drugs where, according to recent studies, people in mental health treatment are dying on average as much as 25 years earlier than the general population.

One human right we speak of is a person’s right to informed consent. Consent is seldom informed when the information being provided on a drug’s effects are usually a drug manufacturing companies glossing over of the facts of the matter. Nobody, as a matter of fact, usually explains the potential for damage that exists in using the drugs typically used in psychiatric treatment. Consent then is seldom truly informed, and iatrogenic disease is epidemic, in some measure, because of this human rights violating failure to inform.

People who have had their rights violated by having alleged mental health issues used as a pretext for imprisonment often then have to deal with a continuing set of human rights violations that have a lasting impact on their quality of life. This imprisonment endured constitutes a disruption of whatever life the person had going before imprisonment, and rather than being compensated for this imprisonment, usually the person who has had his or her human rights so violated is then billed for the abuse.

Companies and schools screen for mental health issues, and employment opportunities are often minimal following psychiatric imprisonment. Housing is also restricted, sometimes to what amounts to an extension of the institution where one was initially imprisoned. This prejudicial mistreatment constitutes further violations of one’s human rights to property, freedom, equality, and/or pursuit of happiness that must be considered when we look at effective counteractive and corrective remedial measures.

We use human rights to seek redress from human wrongs. If power corrupts, checks are needed against abuses of power that come of this corruption. Forces within democratic societies often seek to expose human rights violations perpetuated under totalitarian regimes while downplaying those human rights abuses that might occur within their own countries boundaries. As psychiatric institutions are where we hide our unwanted citizens, psychiatric institutions aren’t always open to the kind of exposure and scrutiny they should be receiving. Social justice has been slow to arrive where such abuses have taken place, and human rights violations continue to be commonplace in the practice of psychiatry.