When I first started posting on this blog back in 2007 or whenever it was, in my first post I tried to distance myself from antipsychiatry. And for good reason. These days ‘antipsychiatry’ has become an epithet, an insult, an accusation hurled at someone to label them a fringe member, a nut job, a psychiatric ‘denier’. Often said in the same sentence with another increasingly common insult: “Scientologist!” to be used whenever someone in the promeds, biologic psychiatry camp wants to write off someone with dissenting opinions and conflicting experiences to their own.
‘Anti’ is a powerful word. When I think of the word ‘anti’ I sometimes think of antimatter. Most of us probably learned in school that matter and antimatter can not coexist in the same place without a disastrous reaction. The older I get the more I try to sound moderate and more inclusive as opposed to strident and exclusive which was a hallmark of my earliest writing. And to be ‘anti’ is to not be balanced, moderate or in the middle, but to be unipolar and firmly on one end of a spectrum regardless of what it may be.
I consider the question of my psychiatry views to be political because it is ultimately about self-care and self-determination which involves our rights as civilized human beings. I have often been accused of being antipsychiatry or having antipsychiatry views and had complete strangers assert to me that I ‘must be’ antipsychiatry because I don’t say warm glowing things about psych meds.
I’ve always felt that calling myself ‘antipsychiatry’ would lead to an interesting conundrum if psychiatry ever underwent significant reform. Mainly, when I think of psychiatry I think of their primary offering, their mainstay treatment. Which as most of us probably know, is a plethora of psychotropic drugs made by Big Pharma. And I do not conceal my dislike and to a certain extent outrage, at how toxic these drugs are and the great lies that are spun about them in order to get them into your body so you can get your brain hooked on them for life.
But what if, let’s say, psychiatry started recommending a new class of drug which simply took away your problems without leaving you damaged? Could a drug that does not damage your brain, glands, sex drive and CNS and that also fixes your mental issues be worth fighting against? It’s worth thinking about because should that day ever come, I would think that I would be hard pressed to defend being antipsychiatry at that point. But psychiatry is not just about handing out drugs. It would be much simpler if it was. While I was visiting some pages on my friend Marian’s blog, I found something very much worth considering. Marian writes:
As for the concept of “anti-psychiatry”, I can’t and won’t distance myself completely from this, unfortunately, rather controversial term. Psychiatry in practise is five things: drugs, electroshock, restraints/seclusion, lobotomy, and, in context with each and every one of these, coercion. I regard all five of them as violations against human rights, that need to be abolished.
Drugs, electroshock, restraints, seclusion and lobotomy.
In my hypothetical future where Big Pharma finally makes medicine instead of sickness in a pill form, it would be difficult to stay ‘anti’ psych meds for very long. But what about the other four traits?
Electroshock is basically a cattleprod placed alongside your cranium which surges electricity across your delicate brain cells super-heating and boiling some of them, breaking the blood-brain barrier, inducing seizures and memory loss. It’s medical brain damage via a crap shoot. To call it barbaric insults some of the more complex operations that primitive peoples did—like trepanning.
Restraints. There is all kinds of restraints. The most common type you probably hear about is the ubiquitous four-point restraints. They still have and use straitjackets although they work a little different, appear to be more ‘stylish’ and are now called safety shirts or safety smocks. There are manual restraints were people just hold you down physically and then there is another kind of restraint that is kind of like being put in a coffin with only your head sticking out—called a safety blanket. I was put in one of those for awhile and I talk about that harrowing experience in my book.
Seclusion. Been there too. Sucks when you have no window to look out of and nothing to read. Makes you go deeper into your own mind to find stimulation. Can really affect people in weird ways. Didn’t bother me as much as it might others because I am overstimulated easily and I liked being left alone. Still, some people panic when they are alone and can’t interact with others and find seclusion to be torturous. And I don’t care if you do like being in solitude a lot, being alone in a cell when you don’t want to be or were not planning on it sucks big time.
Lobotomy. Lobotomies actually do still happen. Mass General reportedly did seventeen lobotomies in 2001 and it was reported that over a hundred were performed through Europe the same year. Instead of stabbing your brain with an icepick like they used to, now they paint little lesions across your lobes with what amounts to a tiny soldering iron. It’s like art. Burn-scarring the mental illness out of people by hurting their brain.
Can I be pro-electroshock? No.
Can I be pro-restraints? No.
Can I be pro-seclusion? No.
Can I be pro-lobotomy? No.
So you see, even if I did become pro-meds someday, I know that as long as psychiatry continues to resort to medical harm and spiritual oppression as a form of treatment, I can not be for or ‘pro’ psychiatry. Not ever. Not so long as those five aspects continue to remain the primary tools of psychiatry.
Is there room for a middle ground? What of us that don’t want to be ‘anti’ psychiatry, nor ‘pro’ psychiatry. Can we be in the center of the mental health treatment seesaw? I am having trouble seeing how we can realistically pull that off. Maybe someone more finely tuned to political correctness or political sensitivity can explain to me a moderate, in-between, optimal middle-ground between two polar opposites, (anti vs pro) position.
For now, let’s explore this hypothetical middle-ground on our own. How would it work? Well let’s see:
“I’m okay with lobotomies for about half the people they are recommended to.” No, I can’t agree with that.
“I think restraints, forced electroshock and being drugged to a stupor is okay for some people, some of the time.” No, that’s not going to work either.
If there is a middle path between being pro and anti psychiatry, I am having trouble seeing it here. Is this truly one of those situations where you are either with us or against us? It almost seems so. How can you be for inhumane and dehumanizing treatment, sometimes, or for when circumstance supposedly warrant, and also respect a person/patient’s right to self-determination, their right of informed consent and right to refuse? Their right to be not have medical (and psychological) damage forced upon them?
As for myself, although I too wish for the complete abolition of these practices I just can’t see calling myself ‘antipsychiatry’. It’s a label with radical connotations to it. I don’t really gain anything by doing so. I truly wish I could come up with a better defense than: I just don’t want the impression that is given to some people when you declare yourself to be antipsychiatry. I don’t want the baggage and the extremism that comes with the label. What I don’t want is an easy excuse for my detractors and those who disagree with me to grab and use in order to belittle, insult or marginalize me, by slinging this one word as both an accusation and as a reason to not listen to what I have to say.