What is the BizOMadness Blog?

This blog is devoted to raising critical awareness of psychiatry generally. It is likewise devoted to the antipsychiatry research projects, publications, and related activities of Dr. Bonnie Burstow. Especially foregrounded are The Psychiatry Project, The Madness Project, and "Psychiatry and the Business of Madness". Related to one another, The Psychiatry Project and The Madness Project involve hundreds of interviews, a dozen focus groups, analysis of several hundred documents and their activation, and dedicated periods of institutional observation. The culmination of both as well as of decades of related interviews and activities is "Psychiatry and the Business of Madness" (timely updates on its publication will be provided)--a cutting edge book in which psychiatry is investigated from multiple angles and which begins to tackle the inevitable question: So if we get rid of psychiatry, where do we go from there?

For the Events page to find events related to this research or this book, see

To check out reviews of Psychiatry and the Business of Madness and related publications, see http://bizomadnessreviews.blogspot.ca/

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Starting the New Year with a Bang: A Medley of Antipsychiatry Resolutions

Every year at this time, from Canada to Ireland, from Turkey to South Africa both determined and not-so-determined folk make a very unusual list, known traditionally as New Year's resolutions. They make resolutions about how to assert themselves at work. They make resolutions about how they will treat others, about doing something about their ever growing heroine use, about returning to school, about standing up to the class bully, about spending quality time with their loved ones. All good. This notwithstanding, although there are now a fair number of folk with a high degree of antipsychiatry knowledge and commitment, only but rarely do such factors figure in anyone’s New Year’s resolutions.

Aimed precisely at this population, this article is intended to help remedy that oversight. What follows, accordingly, are antipsychiatry resolutions  -- ones that people may borrow from at will.

More specifically, below are three sets -- 1) a general set for everyone with a critique; 2) a set for survivors and “users” of psychiatry; and 3) a set for “mental health professionals”. Of course, everyone's situation is unique (one size does not fit all). Accordingly, this is a pick-and-choose situation.  If there are any that you find yourself wanting to include in your own Resolution List, with or without modification, just feel free.

A caveat: It is hardly a secret that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are never kept -- or even seriously adopted. This is probably because they are vague inclinations to which people have no special relationship, with the making of them primarily a feel-good custom that people are following. I am hoping that we can do better with the antipsychiatry ones. My invitation, accordingly, is to thumb through the list and, insofar as you pick any, pick only ones that fit you, that are timely for you, that so resonate with your sense of yourself and your trajectory that you genuinely will be “resolved”.

That said, read, enjoy, and use at will.

General Antipsychiatry New Year’s Resolutions for All Critics of Psychiatry

I will worry less about damaging my credibility by endorsing an abolitionist position.  Rather I will aim at mustering up the courage to say what I know.

This year, I will stop just yakking about antipsychiatry activism and start putting it into practice (translation: “walk the walk”).

I will familiarize myself with social movement theory and become more strategic as an activist.

For every hour I spend responding to posts on the Internet, I will spend a comparable amount of time “doing antipsychiatry” in the material world. More specifically, I will do at least one of: a) spearhead a demonstration; b) respond to problematic legislation; c) create a new antipsychiatry organization; d) join Tina Minkowitz’s campaign for the absolute prohibition on nonconsensual psychiatry.

I will stop using “mental health” language entirely -- will not use words like “medication”, or even ones like “symptoms” and “mental health” --for as Audre Lorde (1984) so astutely put it years ago, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

I will work with others at rewriting the woefully inadequate description of antipsychiatry found on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Anti-psychiatry). Minimally, I will correct the conflation between the mad and the antipsychiatry movements, and I will ensure that the entry is far less American-centric (oh yes, that is a problem).

I will do my homework, and by September, I will be able to distinguish effortlessly  between “antipsychiatry” and “critical psychiatry”, between Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing. I will likewise familiarize myself with the attrition model of psychiatry abolition (see Burstow, 2014), get a feel for how it works.

Whenever faced with a new initiative, I will automatically ask: 1) if successful, will the actions or campaigns that we are contemplating move us closer to the long range goal of psychiatry abolition?; 2) Are they likely to avoid improving or giving added legitimacy to psychiatry?; and 3) Do they avoid “widening” psychiatry’s net?

I will adopt at least one of the book activism strategies outlined in “Getting Our Anti/Critical Psychiatry Authors Read: A Case for Book Activism” (https://www.madinamerica.com/2015/04/getting-anticritical-psychiatry-authors-read-case-book-activism/).  The point is, we need our authors to be read.

I will stop holding my peace when people mention that a loved one is considering starting a psychiatric “treatment”. 

I will demonstrate for a total ban on ECT -- I mean, shooting electricity through a person’s skull -- like, what the fuck?

When asked for my advice regarding a psychiatric “treatment” that someone is considering, I will do everything possible to avoid falling into either of these common errors: a) soft-peddling what I know and b) being insensitive or disrespectful.

I will pay more attention to the plight of families.

I will be conscientious in my attempt to integrate feminism, antiracism, anti-ageism, etc. into my antipsychiatry work.

I will stop treating critics of psychiatry whose analysis differs from mine as THE ENEMY. 

If I find myself acting like a troll on an anti/critical psychiatry site, I will cease and desist  -- then send myself to bed without supper.

I will prioritize infusing kindness into the antipsychiatry and mad community -- for when “push comes to shove”, besides that infighting is counterproductive, it matters how we treat one another.

At least once a month, I will tell antipsychiatry warriors like Lauren Tenney, Don Weitz, Celia Brown, and Mary Maddock what wonderful work they do.

I will inject far more fun into my antipsychiatry activism, for to quote Emma Goldman, “If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.” (see https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman).

Early in the year, I will form an antipsychiatry think tank which examines each situation for political leverage, for what pressure can be brought to bear.

If I happen upon a “mental health” professional snickering at the tenets of antipsychiatry. I will chime in with what I know, scrupulously remaining factual, clear, and logical, irrespective of how he comports himself. Though in extremis, under my breath, I just might mutter, “May you laugh so hard that your anus turns inside out.” Oh what a joy it is to curse now and then!

I will critique Bonnie Burstow a whole lot less -- I duly swear it!

I will critique Bonnie Burstow a whole lot more -- I duly swear it!

If at any time I see an opinionated shrink coming my way, I will spit three times, throw salt over my shoulder, hightail it out of there -- then treat myself to the yummiest schnitzel in town.

Antipsychiatry Resolutions for Survivors and/or “Users” of Psychiatry

If taking on antipsychiatry in its fullness feels like more than I can do, I will figure out one baby step -- then act on it.

I will remind myself regularly that I deserve a full life, whether or not that means being “psychiatry-free”, which I suspect that it might.

I will stop waiting for recognized leaders in the movement to initiate action.  Where I feel strongly about an issue, I will myself assume a leadership role.

I will continue to tell the story of my psychiatrization, as helpful -- and personal stories are without doubt vital to our movement and to me. At the same time, should at any point such sharing leave me feeling in a rut, I will give myself permission “not to go there” or to contribute in a different way. 

If like last year, I again find myself wondering whether I have a mental illness after all, I will reach out to fellow survivors who are likewise antipsychiatry. Who better than my brothers and sisters who have also “been there”?

Antipsychiatry Resolutions for “Mental Health” Professionals

Instead of dismissing them as impractical, I will make an effort to learn from the various survivors and critical/antipsychiatry professionals who venture further than me, for deep down I know that here is where hope lay.

Bit by bit, I will sever my connection with institutional psychiatry.

I will stop pretending that the “system” can be “fixed”.

For every year in which I was silent about what I knew about psychiatry, I will donate $100.00 to a worthy antipsychiatry project -- and which of them aren’t worthy?

Whatever the personal cost -- and I am well aware that the cost will be high -- I will publically declare myself antipsychiatry -- and explain why.

I will use the credibility bestowed upon me as a professional to add to the credibility of survivor knowledge.

I will stop charging when I contribute to the antipsychiatry cause. If others give of their labour freely, why not me?

I will add institutional ethnography to my repertoire and start mining the everyday “work” with which I  was once associated for entries into critical understanding.

I will forgive myself for the mistake of ever buying into psychiatry, realizing that I too am a product of socialization.

Counterintuitive though this is for me, I will stop trying to increase the number of professionals – even empathic ones.

Enough is enough!: I will become a “whistle-blower”.

I will take as one of my primary responsibilities transferring my skills to the community, in essence, doing myself out of a job.

More and more, I will challenge my colleagues -- doctors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists especially -- to face what they know about psychiatry, indeed, what on some level, the whole world knows -- then to act accordingly.

Closing Remarks

Hopefully, a few of the resolutions in the medley above speak to you. If not, by all means, invent your own set from scratch. What is important here is having a plan and going about the work of antipsychiatry strategically, reflectively.

In ending, wishing one Donald Trump Esquire a new calling -- perhaps used car salesman. Wishing “zei gezunt” (be well) to those who “walk the walk”, whether your social movement be antipsychiatry, feminism, or environmentalism. Wishing for an end to racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, etc. Wishing that psychiatry starts being widely seen for what it is -- a “pseudo-science” on a par with blood-letting. Wishing for peace in the world. Wishing for love, kindness, wisdom, community, and revolution.

And wishing everyone everywhere, whatever your lot in life, a good and “psychiatry-free” year.


Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic Psychiatry. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Breggin, P. and Cohen D. (2007). Your Drug May be the Problem: How and Why to Stop Psychiatric Medication. New York: DeCapo Press.

Burstow, B. (2014). The withering of psychiatry: An attrition model for antipsychiatry. In Bonnie Burstow, Brenda LeFrançois, & Shaindl Diamond (Eds.), Psychiatry Disrupted: Theorizing Resistance and Crafting the (R)evolution (pp. 34-51). Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Lorde, A. (1984). Sister Outsider. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Szasz, T. (1970). The Manufacture of Madness. New York: Harper and Row.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Learnings from Earthworms: The Ecstasy of an Antipsychiatry Breakthrough

Approximately two years ago, I penned an article contending that the tide is beginning to turn against psychiatry (see https://www.madinamerica.com/2015/09/yes-the-tide-is-turning-against-psychiatry/), listing as examples of telling indicators thereof the ever growing critiques of DSM-5, the abundance of devastating exposés exposing the systematic “cooking” of psychiatric drug trials, and the emergence of a special issue of Activa Scandinavica precisely on what has been euphemistically termed psychiatry’s “image problem” (see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.2014.131.issue-1/issuetoc). Likewise an indicator, but on a far far more modest scale, is the huge success of an educational event last week. This minor example is the focus of this article.
Exactly what was the event? A two hour public library talk complete with Q&A occurred on December 6. And what makes this even a tiny indicator? Besides that this was as a totally antipsychiatry talk, and besides the fact that never before had a public library sought out an antipsychiatry scholar/activist to deliver a speech of this ilk, what is significant here is the enormity of the turnout, together with the highly positive reception.
So how did this event materialize? And what exactly happened?
The brainchild of Toronto librarian Masha Darkor, the event was kickstarted almost a year ago when Masha took the unprecedented move of turning up at the book launch of a new antipsychiatry book of mine called Psychiatry and the Business of Madness with the intent of persuading me as author to give a book talk on the subject in the Beeton Auditorium of the Toronto Reference Library. For those unfamiliar with this library, it is by far the largest public library in Toronto, located in the centre of the city. The significance of this invitation is that for the first time in history an antipsychiatry address would be happening in a totally mainstream venue. Discussions took place about accommodation needs, and in the fullness of time the date of December 6 2016 was agreed on.
As the big day came, the prognosis for even a fair-to-middling turnout was poor, for it was raining mercilessly. Nonetheless, against all odds, in unprecedented numbers, people turned up, most from Toronto, some schlepping in this highly inclement weather all the way from neighbouring cities like Milton. According to the estimate provided by Toronto library official Richard MacCallum, the turnout was “212 people” -- a figure never remotely garnered before by an antipsychiatry talk. Correspondingly, hailing the event as a total success, in his correspondence the following day, MacCallum correctly pointed out that not only was the auditorium packed, just outside all three exits stood folk, listening intently, despite not being able to get in or even sit down.
Even a year ago, who would have thought such interest and determination possible?

If the number of people present and the staying power were impressive, so was the response. We began with a minute of silence in commemoration of the women killed in the Montreal Massacre for this was indeed the anniversary of that misogynous horror. Later in the talk, I problematized the standard psychiatric claim that the various school shootings in general would not have happened had only the perpetrators been on psychiatric drugs. In response, I pointed out that the vast majority of the school shooters in North America had in fact been on a therapeutic dose of psychiatric drugs at the time of the shooting (see Burstow, 2015: http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137503831).  The point and the horrific irony here is that these drugs, while being one of the causal factors, are being erroneously configured by psychiatry as the solution.

As the talk proceeded, with the problematizing of the concept mental illness, the exploration of the quality of psychiatric research, and the etching out of different and more communal and respectful approaches to individual and social problems, not a soul in the auditorium budged.  Come question period, correspondingly, it was clear that people had been listening intently, moreover, that the audience was not just comprised of what might be called “the usual suspects” but were a highly diverse group that hailed from all walks of life:  Some were transparently students, some psychiatric survivors, some family members of survivors, some academics, some former police officers, some taxi drivers, some social service providers, some activists (including from feminist and antiracist movements), some health professionals (e.g., medical doctors, social workers, psychologists, naturopaths).

What likewise suggested to me that an appreciable shift had occurred, the questions asked were both transparently informed and “onside”.  “Can you tell me what to do when someone is struggling with addictions?” asked one person. “What is the number one thing we should be doing as activists?” asked another. “Even if they knew nothing about how compromised the research is that underpins the treatments, how can doctors bring themselves to just impose drugs on their patients?” poignantly exclaimed still another, peering about with incredulity. Hands of people eager to ask questions kept rising, and we could have easily continued with the Q&A for another couple of hours. Adding to the triumph of the day, when the event was ostensibly over, people lined up in large number to connect with me, some professionals who wanted to discuss more about what concretely could be done, some survivors eager to relay their story.

What adds further to my sense of the significance of the event, I received an avalanche of enthusiastic emails from attendees the following day. Of these, one story especially touched my heart.

Despite the incessant rain, all the way from Milton the woman drove. Why? Because, according to her, she had the uncanny feeling that coming to this lecture would be a life-changing event. She added that as she headed back home that evening she indeed saw proof that it was. Irrespective of whether or not she is correct in her evaluation, what  happened? As she departed the auditorium, she attempted to buy one of the antipsychiatry books being sold. Unfortunately, the machine refused her credit card. Prior to attending this lecture, she informed me, she would have responded to an outcome like this by becoming instantly downcast. Instead, inspired with a new confidence and hope, she laughed off what had happened as a minor inconvenience and headed home.

Now I am well aware that folk who are totally or even partially positive about psychiatry will to various degrees be unhappy, perhaps even livid, about what happened on that rainy evening, may well see the enormity of the interest and enthusiasm sparked as dangerous, and several will immediately jump to critiquing both antipsychiatry and its advocates -- which is surely their right. Such inevitably and understandably transpires when a central paradigm of any sort is under attack, though especially when: a) people are convinced (indeed, such is hegemony that they have been taught to be convinced) that the well being of the vulnerable and society in general is dependent on said paradigm and the practices associated with it, and b) when they see a paradigm in which they and/or their loved ones have vested their trust beginning to crumble. Now to be clear, I am in no way questioning the experiences of such folk for I totally respect that people are experts on their own experience -- I am questioning only the interpretation of that experience, as framed by psychiatry. And to be clear, of course, I feel for the fear and the pain involved. At the same time, like the larger indicators touched on at the beginning of this article, the avid interest displayed signals to me something very very different -- that ever more people, including professionals, are at long last seeing though the psychiatric pretense, are tired of false claims, recognize the inherent human rights violations, are disgusted by the vested interests at play, and are hungering for a radically different, more human, more communal, and more egalitarian approach to human distress and human conflict.

The hunger that evening was visible, was palpable, with a wholesale rejection of psychiatry unapologetically asserting itself. Not a single person, for instance, asked if there just might be chemical imbalances after all or indeed posed any objection to the general direction being articulated.

Now I am well aware that strenuous objections and deeply felt outrage will continue to emerge at future venues, for again, such is psychiatric hegemony. The point is, nonetheless, that evening “happened”. That is, what would have once seemed impossible “happened”.

And herein, in however minor a way, let me suggest, we witness “the turning of the tide”.

One final thought that not only antipsychiatry activists but also activists in other movements might want to take away with them: As an activist, you work for a long long time seeing no signs of change and perhaps you are tempted to throw up your hands in despair. However, very very often something utterly profound is shifting beneath the surface. In this regard, as peace activist Ursula Franklin always reminded us, change comes slowly, with work beneath the surface first preparing the way. To quote Ursula in reference to her earthworm theory of social activism “From earthworms we learn that before anything grows, there has to be prepared soil” (see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ursula-franklin-canadian-scientist-and-activist-had-a-passion-for-peace/article31123033/). 

For the longest while you see no change at all, as you doggedly go about your work of writing briefs, penning blogs, gathering statistics, mounting demos, including ones that not a single media covers. That is, like the earthworm, you do the work of preparing the ground, albeit seemingly to no avail. Then as if from out of nowhere, you start to see evidence that incredible changes have been happening all along.

Such is precisely what those of us who squeezed into that auditorium had the privilege of witnessing that evening. And such is the ecstasy of it all.

[For my speech that night, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqY9r4TZxBQ&t=366s].