Psychiatry in a Nutshell

The following is the text of an e-mail sent to Ralph Nader in July 2000 by the American broadcaster Rich Winkel, reproduced here with the author's permission. Thanks to Michael McCubbin for bringing it to my attention.

While I certainly sympathize with people who use the "mental health" system in their rejection of TAC's* self-serving authoritarian agenda, forced psychiatry involves larger issues that should concern EVERYONE, not just the "mentally ill": institutional and individual conflicts of interest, fraud, life-altering brain damage and traumatic violence, largely directed at a pool of children, women and old people who have an extremely high rate of domestic violence victimization (by psychiatry's own studies, between 50 and 80% of psych inmates are victims of domestic violence), and rationalized with notoriously poorly reasoned and researched pseudo-scientific "medical" arguments which (as shrinks will cheerfully admit) pay no heed to basic principles of human rights or self determination, but just happen to be expedient rationales for effectively blaming the victim. Unfortunately it seems even leftists have bought into the "medical model" of human emotion. But what exactly does this model entail?

Whatever your beliefs regarding the origins of "mental illness, "it should be obvious that psychiatry's control-oriented and reductionist approach to this fantastically complex social/psychological/biochemical phenomenon could be and frequently has been a human rights nightmare for anyone unlucky enough to be caught up in the system. There is no criminal prison in the US which has the license to invade and control the bodies and minds of its wards with the unquestioned impunity which has been granted psychiatry. In view of its unbridled power over the lives of its "patients", (a cross section of the most vulnerable and voiceless people in society) progressive activists would be negligent if they accepted the industry's PR at face value without asking the same questions they would direct at any other quasi-governmental/industrial complex: What are its institutional interests? What is its historical behavior? Where does the money come from and where does it go? How does it fit into the overall power structure? And most importantly: WHO IS THE DOCTOR WORKING FOR?

Psychiatry is a profit- making enterprise who's success vastly enhances the profitability of the pharmaceutical industry which, in return, heavily subsidizes its conferences, publications and research, and supplies it with its primary tools (drugs). It has unparalleled "revolving door" access to both its industrial partners and the governmental agencies which purport to regulate it. It has essentially no community or human rights oversight. It effectively writes its own job description via the ever-thickening "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual", whose inclusion of homosexuality and PMS as "mental illnesses" was as arbitrary and culturally driven as their later removal. There is no scientifically objective measure of either its diagnoses or the efficacy of its treatments. Much of the research which has been used to justify its biochemical/"brain disease" model of emotional distress has been shown to be shoddy and/or fraudulent. And most crucially, it is free to use coercive, punitive and irreversibly life-altering "treatments" without regard to the desires of its "patients". It has parlayed its largely self-endowed credentials, claims to scientific impartiality, industry and governmental connections into an extraordinarily powerful economic, social and political institution, insinuating itself into judicial proceedings, child care and public policy realms with an astonishing lack of public debate. In the face of all this, the progressive movement has displayed a level of naivete and complacency which seems indistinguishable from blind faith. It seems, to adapt a quote from Richard Nixon, "If a doctor does it, that means it's medicine." But a review of psychiatry's checkered history demonstrates otherwise.

Psychiatry has a long and ignoble track record of blaming social and economic dysfunction on its primary victims. During the industrial revolution, it found its calling in the pathologization, imprisonment and torturous experimentation on the unemployed poor, the newly expendable "surplus" of humanity. In the 1800's psychiatry pathologized the tendency of slaves to run away and called it "drapetomania", a "disease" which no doubt called for heroic and horrific "therapies". In the early 1900s psychiatry was openly allied with the eugenics movement, finding all manner of "scientific" rationales for the sterilization of the "inferior races" as well as its own "patients." This reached its climax in nazi Germany, where psychiatrists built the first industrial-scale murder facilities for "mental patients", the precursors to the nazi death camps, and showed Hitler how it could be done cheaply and efficiently. In Stalinist Russia psychiatrists found enormous opportunities in the pathologization of political dissidents, who were often "disappeared" into psychiatric dungeons and never heard from again. In the '50sand '60s the head of the world psychiatric association and many of his colleagues were paid researchers in the CIA's mind control program MKULTRA, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of "patients" and their loved ones in pursuit of the secret of scientific human enslavement. Not one of these human rights abusers was ever charged with a crime.

Throughout its history psychiatry has targeted women for their special brand of "medicine":

"In the nineteenth century women were the primary victims of the asylums of the day and the primary models for madness as studied by psychiatrists. Husbands often dumped unwanted wives into these wretched lockups. In 1860, for example, Elizabeth Packard's husband incarcerated her in a mental hospital because she engaged in "free religious inquiry." She had insisted on teaching in Bible class that human beings are born good, not evil. Deprived of her inheritance, her clothes, and all personal belongings, including writing paper, Packard nonetheless kept a record and kept her wits. She graphically depicted the brutality of the doctors and staff and was the first to compare asylum psychiatry to the Inquisition."

--- Toxic Psychiatry, Peter Breggin (1991 St. Martin's Press pp. 322)

As late as the 1970s shrinks openly discussed the use of brain-damaging electric shock treatment as a means of erasing the memories and personalities of dissatisfied house wives so they could be reprogrammed into docile servants of their husbands. This is of course functionally equivalent to both murder and enslavement. (see, for instance "Frontiers in Psychiatry" Nov 1 and Nov 15, 1972. This is a Roche Laboratories free handout sent to all psychiatrists in the USA)

Black people have also received special treatment:

"Blacks are nearly three times more likely than whites to be locked up against their will in southern mental hospitals ... blacks are also more severely diagnosed and treated with heavier drug doses and lengthier hospitals stays."

-- "Over committed" Southern Exposure Magazine Fall 1989

"African-Caribbean people are six times more likely than whites to be diagnosed as schizophrenic, but research shows this is nothing to do with biology. A study by the [UK] Institute of Psychiatry has found that poor social conditions are causing black people to develop the symptoms of mental illness."

-- See 'UK Study: Social Pathology, not Medical Pathology to Blame in "Mental Illness"' on misc. activism progressive Date: 07/18/2000, From: Circare veracare@erols.com

So we have evidence that adverse social conditions multiply the likelihood of "mental illness" (shrinks are careful to say "symptoms of mental illness" though they clearly can't distinguish between the two, assuming there is a distinction to be made) by a factor of at least 6. We also know that people who are imprisoned in psychiatric wards are domestically abused at a rate of between 50and 80%. If we assume a nation-wide average rate of domestic abuse victimization of 10%, it can be readily shown that domestic abuse victims are between 9 and 36 TIMES more likely to be imprisoned in mental wards than non-abused people!

A reasonable conclusion would be that domestic abuse and adverse social conditions are major factors in the creation of "mental illness", yet psychiatry continues to preach the genetic/biochemical paradigm and prescribe drugs for "unbalanced brains." A very convenient paradigm for shrinks, governments and domestic abusers alike. Abusers can maintain the myth of their own innocence, governments can continue to ignore social justice issues, and shrinks get long term return customers, since the cause of the "disease" is never addressed. Psychiatry has thus found powerful allies in both governmental circles and also among the dysfunctional families which hire them, and which serve their PR agenda well. The latter is epitomized by the pharmo-corporate funded "National Alliance for the Mentally Ill" (NAMI) which, it should be carefully noted, is composed not of "patients", but rather family members who claim to speak for them. Genuine voices for the psychiatrically labeled, such as Support Coalition, (sci@efn.org) are relegated to the NGO "attic."

Blaming and oppressing the victim thus continues to be enormously profitable for psychiatry. Add in the fact that psychiatric schools are magnets for emotionally troubled people, as evidenced by psychiatrists' high suicide rate (4 times national average) and you have a recipe for a self-rationalizing and self-financing institutional human rights abuser. Psychiatry has never systematically addressed these obvious institutional and individual conflicts of interest, nor do they require any psychological screening of psychiatrists.

Apologists for psychiatry will no doubt fall back on the excuses of other powerful and corrupt institutions such as the CIA: "those were the bad old days, we didn't have X (fill in the blank: knowledge, technology, spontaneous self-enlightenment) like we do now. Trust us, we've cleaned up our act." But forced psychiatry's abusiveness has never been about inadequate knowledge or technology, it's always been about its economic and power relationships with its clients (governments and dominant personalities in families), and its raw material ("patients").

Psychiatry is not about medicine in the commonly understood sense. Real medicine is guided by the maxim "First, do no harm", and values the integrity and self-determination of the individual above all else. Instead, psychiatry is about the one thing that shrinks never mention: power. Power imbalances and powerlessness are quite obviously the primary preventable causes of emotional suffering in humanity. Indeed, many if not most cases of "depression" could be more aptly described as "internalized oppression". Power over one's own life is a bare minimum requirement for happiness and mental health. Yet psychiatry's first step is to take away power, to infantilize and objectify the patient and pathologize a hypothetical "disease" which is functionally indistinguishable from the patient itself.

By implicitly and automatically accepting the power status quo and, in effect, enforcing it, psychiatry is a major source of human misery and oppression among the powerless, and a costly and often traumatic detour from emotional healing and "mental health." Furthermore, despite its supposed campaign against the stigmatization of the "mentally ill," psychiatry itself is the source of most of that stigma: the "medicalization" of injustice necessarily results in the dehumanization and marginalization of its victims, who are seen as incompetent and without legitimate grievances in the public eye. This process of marginalization has the added benefit of alienating public compassion, which allows shrinks to run their punitive, profitable fiefdoms without outside interference.

Thus the analogy between forced psychiatry and the Catholic Inquisition goes deeper than human rights abuse. In many ways, psychiatry could be said to be the Church of the Status Quo, the medical face of fascism. It's a powerful and violent tool of social control in a deeply unjust and dysfunctional society.

Rich Winkel
rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu

* Treatment Advocacy Center. It's a psych industry group which is pushing for involuntary drugging of people in their homes (Involuntary Outpatient Commitment) and increasing shrink's legal powers and financial returns. Their web site is http://www.psychlaws.org

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