Psychiatry is What Psychiatry Does. The Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry at the University of Toronto

I was more than a little pleased when I saw a piece on the news last night about a new scholarship offered by the University of Toronto. It had the word “antipsychiatry” in it. Yes! Finally someone has had the guts to put their money where their mouth is. Not a lot of money but it’s a start.

As a token tip of the hat to “fair and unbiased” reporting, a piece on well-known music producer Bob Ezrin was also aired. He said he has a “brain issue” that he’s “treated” and now feels “much, much better.” Good news. The problem is, he’s now just become another poster boy for the psychiatric bandwagon that has “medicalized everything” and wants people to “own their illness.” Here’s the issue.

Ever since the Brave New World of medical psychiatric treatment was ushered in, in the late 1950's, we’ve been indoctrinated in the idea of “mental illness”. Everyone now “knows” that “diseases” such as “schizophrenia” are a “brain disease”, “like diabetes” — and other illnesses such as “bipolar disorder”, “obsessive compulsive disorder” and, the most prevalent , ”depression” are a result of “chemical imbalances” in the brain. People now talk about dopamine and serotonin as if they were mouthwash.

Antipsychotics, antidepressants and their ilk serve as “evidence-based” treatments that “address” so-called imbalances. The problem is, no imbalances have ever been measured, much less any real evidence shown that the treatments work (and, no, questionable statistics are not evidence). There are no biological markers for these “diseases” and “illnesses.” Indeed, it is very well understood that the so-called “medications” cause more problems than they solve. They create a chemical imbalance. And, the longer you take them, the more permanent that imbalance becomes.

The antipsychiatry movement arose out of a recognition of this issue. Ironically, the most well-known of them, Thomas Szasz did not even associate himself with antipsychiatry. That aside, he fought tirelessly against what he termed “the myth of mental illness.” One of the most misunderstood and maligned terms to come out of the twentieth century.

Szasz never said psychological problems or mental distress did not exist. What he tried, time and time again, to get across was that the concept of “mental illness” was a myth. When backed against the wall, Psychiatry even relented somewhat and said that “mental illness” was merely a convenient “metaphor”, an umbrella term to capture the varying manifestations of mental distress.

The history of psychiatry over the last sixty years is one of protecting that party line while throwing millions upon millions of good dollars after bad in hopes of uncovering one shred of evidence to back up questionable claims of biological causes. Meanwhile losing all ability to psychoanalyze “consumers”, opting for more lucrative fifteen-minute, bi-weekly med checks over more meaningful but less lucrative one-hour, weakly therapy sessions. Of course, it’s not entirely their fault. Medical insurance rarely, if ever, covers any type of meaningful therapy. So meds it is.

Finally, and possibly the most important issues, are of basic human rights and stigma. The stigma of “mental illness” has been given a lot of attention lately in the media. Unfortunately, the attention given avoids the very source of stigma — the diagnosis. Once a person is branded with a mental illness, they carry it with them for the rest of their lives. It affects every aspect of their lives. Even if the public miraculously opened their arms to the mentally distressed, the health system (mental or otherwise) would continue to use that diagnosis against the person. Such that any ache, feeling or pain is seen as an imagined, manifestation of their “disease”. Or worse, a side effect of their “medication” and they will be given yet more pills to combat those symptoms. Can you spell “cash cow”?

Probably the least-understood feature of “mental illness” branding is the loss of freedom. Freedom to choose which treatment one receives — or no treatment at all. I’ve had many conversations with people over the years, including one psychology professor, who feign disbelief that anyone is ever “forced” to take treatment. It’s hard to hit home, especially with people who receive prescriptions through their family physicians and say that no one ever forced them to take anything. A wonderful, legal-speak phrase, “danger to self and others” drives forcible treatment. It can, will, has and will continue to be used against people and against their will. When has anyone ever been forced to take talk therapy? I often wonder if the danger posed is one of losing a prescription-based commission.

There doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. But I congratulate Bonnie Burstow on her important first-step in providing funding for research into the baseless and harmful treatments provided by psychiatry. But — and this is a big but — more research is required into better, non-medical treatments, and prevention. For, ultimately, people are the cause of mental distress. How we treat one another, from early childhood to adulthood, is the stuff that dreams and nightmares are made of.

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