As I sit down to draft the first of what will hopefully be a long series of articles for Rabble.ca, I am aware that I am carving out a very new type of space; and so an introduction of sorts is in order. So what is this new space about? The clue is in the title.
All words in the title of the blog site are pointers, signaling what to expect. On a relatively simple level, The Bonnie Burstow Blog is antipsychiatry. At the same time, the positioning of the phrase "Toward a World with Commons" announces that the blog is concerned with piecing together a vision of a better society that we might jointly build together—one based on such values as sharing, mutuality, equality, participatory governance, freedom. Does the society being envisioning include services for those with emotional difficulties (people currently deemed "mentally ill")? Absolutely, and an abundance thereof but not services "managed" by "experts" -- for rule by experts, however benign individual experts may be, is part of what has landed us in the current morass.
So what kind of articles might you find? Articles that demonstrate psychiatry’s invalidity and the harm it does, which makes visible the ideological circularity and how psychiatry functions as a regime of ruling, that illustrate the tie-in with other forms of oppression (e.g., sexism and racism). Articles that explore non-psychiatric community-oriented approaches to helping people, which, for example, delve into participatory ways of resolving conflict, while attending to the well being and safety of everyone. Articles on how to create a society where people can thrive, where there is greater acceptance of difference, which is less alienated/alienating. In this regard, the "commoning" of services are likely to figure particularly prominently, for it is precisely what we create together as opposed to what is bestowed upon us where I would suggest that the promise lies.
That said, my suspicion is that at that this point, most readers are to varying degrees in agreement with expanding the social commons. I suspect as well that many are uneasy about the enormous power of psychiatry, also by its relentless pursuit of ever more markets. This withstanding, I suspect as well that most are convinced that even though it ought to be reined in, that psychiatry has a legitimate place in the scheme of things, for however important the social is, it is believed, we are, after all, talking about bone fide illnesses for which some measure of "medical treatment" is in order. That is, there are "diseases" here for which substances like psychiatric drugs are necessary. Such are the beliefs of most people. And for the most part, such are what people are socialized to believe.
In the interests of helping readers begin grappling with this common set of beliefs right from the start (and please excuse the objectivizing language) let me introduce some relevant "myths" and "facts":
Minds can be ill, hence the validity of the concept "mental" illness.
Minds are activities of bodies and can no more be ill than other activities like "running" can be -- also an activity of the body. Only an organ (the brain, for example), can be the site of an illness.
It has been proven that "mental illnesses" are bone fide brain diseases.
While claims about proof are repeatedly made, none of the phenomena framed as "mental illnesses" have been shown to be a "brain illness." Not even "schizophrenia" (see in this regard, Burstow, 2015 and Robert Whitaker, 2002).
Chemical imbalances have been established for most "mental illnesses."
Not a single chemical imbalance has ever been found for a single "mental illness."
Even if there are no chemical imbalances, there are other physical indicators of "mental illnesses."
FACT: Not a single physical abnormality has been found for a single "mental illness."
Psychiatric drugs correct chemical imbalances.
Not only is there no proof of this, there is incontrovertible proof that psychiatric drugs, rather, routinely create chemical imbalances. In the process brain damage commonly occurs, much of it irreversible (see Peter Breggin, 1991).
Psychiatry, like other branches of medicine, proceeds via a painstaking process of scientific discovery.
Psychiatry does not "discover" "illnesses" but proclaims them, sometimes via the mechanism of a vote, much like one votes for a candidate in an election (itself an indicator of the inherently political nature of what is transpiring -- for note, no one votes on whether or not tuberculosis is a disease). For a window onto how this disease-making process actually works, see Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins (1992).
MYTH/ CLAIM: The "mentally ill" are dangerous, hence need to be controlled.
FACT: What evidence shows is that people deemed mentally ill are no more dangerous than the average person. Correspondingly, despite the panic that is whipped up whenever harm is done by someone deemed mentally ill, people so deemed are typically far less dangerous to others than others are to "them", with state-authorized "helpers" posing a special problem (see Burstow, 2015).
Horrific developments like the mass school shootings would have been prevented had only these shooters been on psychiatric drugs.
A "side effect" of the drugs (the antidepressants and the stimulants especially) is that they can badly impair judgment and give rise to a kind of intoxication named "intoxication anosognosia." That said, while each major school shooting has culminated in a call for youth to be systematically screened for "mental illnesses," then put on psychiatric drugs as "needed," the frightening reality is that the vast majority of the school shooters were on a therapeutic dosage of either antidepressants or stimulants at the time of the shooting -- a factor which would appear to be causal (see Breggin, 2000 and 2008). What is being taken as the solution, that is, is actually one of the causes.
New modified ECT (electroshock) minimally is safe and effective.
FACT: There is nothing new about modified shock, for it has been with us since the 1950s. Correspondingly, as researchers like Collin Ross (2006) and Howard Sackeim et al. (2007) respectively demonstrate, after six weeks no form of ECT outperforms placebo, and all result in substantial, often overwhelming cognitive impairment.
MYTH/ CLAIM: Psychiatry serves the public good.
-- Ah, but that is precisely the crux of the matter.
The point is, it is transparently the case that psychiatry permeates every facet of society, fashions how we think about things, how we deal with one another--and the contention of this blog is that is that besides that it is void of foundation, it is highly deleterious. We have a historically unprecedented number of people hooked on mind-altering drugs and brain-damaged. We have a veritable epidemic of iatrogenic (doctor-caused) diseases. We have childhood itself treated like a disease. And we have a regime that in its own way threatens the freedom of everyone.
That noted, the purpose of this blog is to help us move beyond the hegemony that has bit by bit been build up around this institution. It is about unmasking psychiatry, as it were, and promoting an "turn-about." It is about finding ways that we as members of communities can take back our power to govern ourselves and begin grappling with societal problems in a benign, participatory, caring, egalitarian, and non-coercive way. Ultimately, it is about finding ways to value and incorporate the unique wisdom and gifts of everyone.
For those intrigued, please continue to check out this blog. Correspondingly, in preparation for the challenging journey ahead -- and it will be challenging -- I would end this article by inviting readers to do three things: Whatever your beliefs about psychiatry:
1) Try using everyday terms for the distress you see around you, including your own, that is, letting go of institutional terms and getting back to what you actually see, hear, feel (examples of institutional terms are "mental illness," "schizophrenia," "hallucination," "medication," "symptoms").
2) Think of people that you know that are alienated or distressed and ask yourself -- and them: What changes in society might help them feel less distraught, less alienated, more part of the social fabric?
3) Dare to imagine a more benign, egalitarian, respectful, and participatory world.
Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic Psychiatry. New York: St. Martins Press.
Breggin, P. (2008). Medication madness. New York: St. Martins.
Breggin, P. (2000). Reclaiming our children. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kirk, S. and Kutchins, H. (1997). Making us crazy: The myth of the reliability of the DSM. New York: The Free Press.
Ross, R (2006). The sham ECT literature and what it tells us. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 17-28.
Sackeim H. et. al (2007). The cognitive effects of electroconvulsive therapy in community settings, Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 244-255.
Whitaker, R. (2002). Mad in America. New York: Perseus Books.
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