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Psychiatry magazine skews our rights movement history

An American Psychiatric Association official magazine published an odd article June 2006 on the history of the movement to challenge psychiatric human rights violations, especially the part of that movement led by psychiatric survivors. MindFreedom director analyzes bias in the article, and the text of the article is included at the end.

News Analysis by David Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International

An American Psychiatric Association official magazine, Psychiatric Services, has published an odd article [to read the essay click here] in the June 2006 issue attempting to probe the origins and history of the movement to challenge psychiatric human rights violations, especially the part of that movement led by psychiatric survivors.

The authors of the essay mention MindFreedom International, and at least spell our group's name correctly.

The essay, entitled "Evolution of the Antipsychiatry Movement Into Mental Health Consumerism," fails in many strange and curious ways. Their perspective and facts just do not match reality.


MindFreedom launched a campaign to encourage people to write letters to the editor. In the August 2006 issue of Psychiatric Services (cover is shown on the right) the American Psychiatric Association published ten letters, nine of which were critical of the essay. The tenth was from the writers of the essay itself, attempting to defend what they had written. [To read the letters click here.]


These letters to the editor were not able to cover all the authors' most outrageous errors and bias, so here you will find....

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Top 15 Examples of Bizarre Bias in Psychiatric Services Article About Us


1. LABELING: The authors repeatedly impose their own labels on many individuals and groups who work for human rights, such as the loaded and undefined term "antipsychiatry." Most of the individuals and groups involved do not apply that that term to themselves.

The authors continue a long-standing psychiatric tradition by refusing to ask us how we define ourselves, and make up their own labels instead. This is the same magazine that ran an angry essay by E. Fuller Torrey claiming we cannot call ourselves "psychiatric survivors."

2. ORIGINS: The authors try to place the origin of our social change movement solely in the books of a few campus intellectuals and theoreticians, while many of us actually credit the civil rights movement and other grassroots movements as inspiration for grassroots psychiatric survivor and mental health consumer organizing. Believe it or not, we can and do start our own organizations.

3. BIOPSYCHIATRY PROVEN? The authors claim that studies now prove that "schizophrenia [is] at least biologically based." That is editorializing. Of course the authors' footnotes omit any citation to sources or scientific studies on this point for a simple reason: There are none.

4. LESS NEUROLEPTICS? The authors outrageously claim that psychiatry has "defused grievances" such as, "psychiatrists markedly reduced dosages of neuroleptics prescribed." As just one example that refutes this from this week's headlines, 6/6/06, the _NY Times_ revealed that neuroleptic prescriptions have gone up more than five-fold on youth. That's not a "reduction" for those youth. More neuroleptics are being given to more people than ever, along with polypharmacy where five or even ten psychiatric drugs are prescribed at the same time.

5. SHOCK AND PSYCHOSURGERY INCREASING! The authors also claim psychiatry has "defused grievances" because "electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery became marginalized." Marginalized? He means "gone undergrouund," because shock and psychosurgery have both experienced a huge resurgence in popularity within the profession, without adequate media scrutiny.

6. COMMITMENT STANDARDS ARE LOOSENING! The authors claim "compulsory commitments came under close judicial scrutiny," whatever that means. The reality is that countless US states have loosened and expanded commitment to such an extent, that disagreeing with one's psychiatrist is practically grounds for commitment today (such as "likelihood to deteriorate in the future without treatment," i.e., drugging).

7. DON'T PIGEON-HOLE PSYCHIATRIC CRITICS. The authors try to equate psychiatric survivor human rights with the "radical left." Then how do the authors explain the historic role of conservatives and libertarians in fighting psychiatric abuse, psychosurgery, commitment and institutions?

For example, today conservatives and libertarians lead the way in fighting the rise of "mental health screening" in the schools. The fact is that psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers and others critical of psychiatry come from a wide variety of political perspectives. In fact, fighting psychiatric tyranny is one of the great red-blue unifiers between all political perspectives... and the general public is slowly catching on.

8. WHY LEAVE OUT TODAY'S ALLIES? The authors try to force a narrative in which academic and intellectual critics of the psychiatric profession started our movement and then disappeared. Actually, there are more psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health professionals criticizing their profession, writing books, starting alternatives and speaking out than ever before.

These critics work in cooperation with psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers, and don't dominate us. See the huge number of practical books criticizing the mainstream psychiatric profession and promoting alternatives. These books don't fit into the stereotype of being purely "theoretical." Attend a conference of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), which continues to work closely with and support psychiatric surviviors.

And what about the countless family members, advocates and general public who are part of the movement to challenge psychiatric human rights violations? MindFreedom is majority psychiatric survivors, but open to all.

9. FACTUAL ERROR: LEONARD ROY FRANK. The authors imply that the amazing activist Leonard Roy Frank was the founder of Support Coalition International and then went on to became an electroshock critic. While Leonard has been a wonderful activist in our group, neither he nor the founders of the coalition consider him as "the founder." And of course Leonard has been a main critic of electroshock for decades before the founding of the coalition.

10. FACTUAL ERROR: CONFERENCE NAME. The authors give the wrong name of the conference that was actually called "International Conference on Human Rights and Against Psychiatric Oppression."

11. FACTUAL ERROR: MINDFREEDOM. Thanks for the double listing, but if the authors had talked with any of us they'd find out that Support Coalition International changed its name to MindFreedom International in 2005. Instead the authors list these as two separate groups.

12. MYTH OF "OUTSIDE AGITATORS": The authors try to portray a tiny group of antipsychiatrists as somehow subverting mental health consumers. It's the old divide-and-conquer trick of claiming there are "outside agitators." The reality is that the vast majority of the mental health systems' own clients, and all the organizations that truly represent them, speak out against human rights viololations on their own, and oppose practices like expanded outpatient commitment.

The authors claim that the National Council on Disability report somehow came out of the mouths of "antipsychiatrists," when actually dozens upon dozens of grassroots people who had experienced the mental health system testified to the NCD at a meeting of the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy. Note how the authors change "advocacy" to "antipsychiatry" as a way to marginalize us.

13. APA CLOSED TO DIALOGUE: The authors claim that the American Psychiatric Association has found it difficult to dialogue with psychiatric survivor and mental health consumer critics. The reality is that the APA and similar groups have refused countless efforts to dialogue. A number of us even did a several-week hunger strike mainly asking for real dialogue. It's not as if the American Psychiatric Association can't find our office phone numbers. Difficult to dialogue with us? How about being _closed_ to dialogue?

14. CLEAR BIAS: The authors brazenly give away their political bias with this sentence, "Psychiatry continues to fight antipsychiatry disinformation on the use of involuntary commitment, electroconvulsive therapy, stimulants and antidepressants among children, and neuroleptics among adults." Notice how our "human rights concerns" have now become "antipsychiatry disinformation." Why, one would almost think this magazine and its publishers were heavily funded by millions of dollars from the drug industry.

15. LET US TELL OUR OWN STORY: And finally, in the big pictture, the authors essentially try to impose a story, narrative, world view and paradigm upon us... without asking us what we think about our own lives. This explains the petty factual errors.

In the authors' view a few antipsychiatry intellectuals gave birth to antipsychiatry psychiatric survivor groups, and then faded away. Now these subversive antipsychiatry psychiatric survivors are supposedly manipulating mental health consumers to fight psychiatric power. It is almost as if the authors got their bizarre perspective on this point from extremist American Enterprise Institute psychiatrist Sally Satel... and there indeed Sally sits in the authors' footnotes.

Psychiatry falsely labeled many of us as clients... and now tries to falsely label us when we organize to speak out about inherent, rampant, severe and deadly human rights violations within their profession. How about honest dialogue, discussion, listening and communication... isn't that supposed to be mentally healthy, for everyone?


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ACTIONS:

* You may e-mail a civil letter to the editor of _Psychiatric Services_ at psjournal@psych.org.


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Jay Mahler

Jay is a survivor of forced electroshock who spent ten years in the mental health system. He is now a widely respected leader in California, where he founded Mental Health Consumer Concerns and the California Network of Mental Health Clients. Jay is pictured here at a MindFreedom strategy conference at Highlander. (Photo by Tom Olin.)
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