Professional Mental Health Leaders: Experts in Humanity or in Marketing?
By Caroline Colwill
The mental health professionals who make it as experts in mental health in mainstream media typically seem like kind, empathic, wise, insightful, good people. The kind of people who seem as though they might be able to really help you, and offer good life guidance. They sometimes encourage people to get “help” when they are experiencing difficulties in life. This, in my experience, is deceptive advertising. It’s the kind of promotion that can easily lure an unsuspecting public into an industry that has actually done and continues to do a lot of harm to some people. What was done to me by the mental health industry entailed human rights abuses and flat out torture. I am well aware that I am not the only one.
There is the potential for reward for the “mentally ill” who speak to the marketing agendas of the industry. We must accept our inferior status, and praise rather than criticize “treatments.” You can become a low-wage peer counselor. You can bring the authenticity of your experience to your professional mental health work, as Kay Redfield Jamison and Elyn Saks have done. You can work for NAMI.
Professional mental health groups often co-opt the lives, stories, and perspectives of people who have come into contact with the mental health industry in order to serve their various agendas. I once watched a video, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, of a woman who had been psychotic and did some things she shouldn’t have done. She was rescued from jail by psychiatry and psychiatric drugs. She was firmly convinced of all the benefits of the mental health industry, so much so that she wanted to start a mental health business. I believe her video had over a million views.
While I appreciate that some people find mental health interventions helpful, the picture of a happy mentally ill person taking psychiatric drugs and getting loving, kind therapy doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. There is no room for critical voices within the industry. When I started seeing a student psychologist and a psychiatrist who prescribed Zoloft for my “depression” in 2002, I felt the industry was helping, despite what it actually did to me. This is how effective advertising campaigns have been. While mental health professionals don’t take criticism, the “mentally ill” do virtually nothing but take criticism from our mental health “caregivers.”
Anyone can cite anyone’s published work to support their marketing purposes. I discovered that one of my articles had been cited by this website. It seems to be a counseling center based in the UK. At first, I was very happy that they found my work worthy of citation. My general knowledge of non-psychiatric mental health practitioners in the UK is that they are distancing themselves from psychiatry, psychiatric drugs, and the DSM. So, I was still happy. But then I became suspicious. My experiences with the US mental health industry have been so horrific, and I’ve never had a good therapist, and I so disagree with the fundamental premise of the US mental health industry that I don’t generally trust it or anyone who works in it. Is my impression that mental health care in the UK is generally a lot better than it is here accurate, or just a very successful advertising campaign, like it mostly is in the US? Does the average therapist in the UK help, rather than hurt people? Have I been co-opted by an industry I despise?
Anyone can cite any published work, but you can choose who you publish with. I would never write for the drug-funded NAMI, which insists that some people are mentally ill while others are normal, according to the standards of the US mental health industry. I cannot see myself ever again agreeing with their point of view, or mission. I plan on remaining an independent voice.
My current psychiatrist has been helping me come off psychiatric drugs. When I told him who I was writing for and what I was writing about, he practically accused me of being delusional, because I don’t buy into all that the mental health industry requires of patients, and he refused to further reduce my antipsychotic at that time. He strongly encouraged me to become heavily involved with NAMI, and to write for them. I guess doing so would prove my relative sanity, as much as a mentally ill person can claim to have.
It has been my experience that once you have experienced extreme states of mind, have come into contact with the mental health industry, been labeled with serious mental illness, and have been heavily medicated with psychiatric drugs, the industry never wants to let you go. It’s an excellent business paradigm. But if mental health services actually helped people, would you need to be forever dependent on them? Sins can be forgiven, but too often, both in the eyes of the industry and the public, mental illness can never be forgiven. It is a label that you are bound to for life. How does this lead to the personal growth and self-direction that the industry says we lack?
Pretty much anyone could benefit from a little love and attention sometimes in order to deal with their problems. This is the essential promise of the mental health industry. At least in my own experience, this was a deeply empty and deceitful promise. Once I am through with psychiatric drugs, I hope to permanently cut all ties to the industry as a patient, unless I am legally, forcibly made to do otherwise. I much prefer the role of independent critic and analyst. It is an industry that desperately needs such people. Who is analyzing the analysts, after all? It is an industry that is essentially self-regulating and holds enormous power. When they occasionally lose civil suits after having completely destroyed one or more lives, they consider that the cost of doing business. As long as they continue making so much more money than they lose, they will continue with their paradigm of “care.”
Psychiatry is today generally considered a noble field of medicine in the US. They care for the very worst of humanity — people no one else would touch. This is an image that they have carefully cultivated over the years. They have both propped themselves up with bad science and seeming compassion, and torn down people they have marginalized as mentally ill. Patients have no right to a good reputation. We can all be lumped in together as criminals, idiots, a drain on a good society. If we weren’t already such people, psychiatric drugs and “treatments” may make it so.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults living in the US suffers from a mental illness. While still a minority of people who can be effectively marginalized and discredited, it’s a huge potential pool of new and long-term customers. Who hasn’t ever felt like they needed “help”? This is what the mental health industry, politicians, and other believers in the system say that it offers. Help is quite the opposite of what I received. “Normal” people who find someone in distress may casually refer her to mental health services, thinking that it can’t but help someone who seems distressing.
The dehumanization of the “mentally ill” serves a lot of socioeconomic and political agendas. It works sort of like racism. Poor White people can be more easily exploited and manipulated if they feel they are superior to, and blame Black people for all of their problems. In the same way, “normals” may not actually be well-served by current socioeconomic and political structures, or even by the way they are living their lives, but at least they aren’t crazy. They can rest assured knowing that they are safe, comfortable, good, superior, and that the mentally ill are being dealt with by authorities. This satisfies the “normals,” but if it weren’t for this, they might realize that their lives have even more potential. If we all recognized our common humanity, rather than scapegoating certain people and groups, we might create a world that better serves everyone’s well-being.
I find that I have to negotiate with my current clinic, and it’s a lot harder than negotiating a new contract with Verizon. I have to consistently prove to them that I am essentially sane and good, and not defend myself against their dehumanizing presumptions about me too much. It’s the only way I can ever hope that they will continue helping me off psychiatric drugs. If there is something that is deeply troubling to me about myself, I save it for confession or prayer. The mental health industry has trained me to intensely scrutinize myself for any fault or failing, even to the point of creating new inner faults and needing constant reassurance that I am not a bad person. My hope is that once I am disentangled from the industry, my own sense of self will be fully restored. Every breath and even your dreams, are suspect under the gaze of the mental health industry that I have experienced.
In order to deal with them mentally, I totally reject them in my mind, while being nice to them. It’s like how one person, when dealing with an armed home invader, “ordered pizza” for him when dialing 911. I save my criticisms for another time and place in order to deal with the significant problem of the fundamental hostility that the mental health industry that I have experienced has towards its patients, the “mentally ill.”
Unlike what the public has been led to believe, forced mental health care has virtually nothing to do with helping that person. It is a criminal and/or social judgment against that person. You thought or behaved strangely or badly, so you need to be reformed. Why not call it what it is, rather than pretending it’s “help”? It is punishment for socially unacceptable thoughts and/or behavior. I actually took my incarceration and forced drugging in a mental hospital as a sign that I did indeed need to better myself and my life however I could. This wasn’t the result of any therapeutic intervention, but being locked up and tortured that way made me know that I never wanted to go there again. It was my rock bottom. Going to jail for a few weeks would have had the same effect on me.
Just as being an ex-con may follow you forever, so too might being labeled mentally ill. More than others, you need to prove yourself and that you have value. Somehow, you have to do something to earn a better reputation, if such a thing is possible for the “mentally ill.” You almost need to become a saint. While I would be very happy to be a saint, that’s a lot of pressure in light of the human failings that can afflict anyone.
That psychiatric drugs and therapy can fix all of humanity’s problems is a message that people want to hear. A lot of people, perhaps especially Americans, like a quick fix. It’s so much easier for the public at large to think that everything from homelessness and suicide to violence and crime can easily be resolved with early enough psychiatric intervention. And when you’re actually in a position of needing help, no one wants to help you but the mental health industry-for a good profit, of course. Unfortunately, for those of us who get their “help,” the results can be disastrous.
Caroline was a co-host for a day when ABC’s “The View” did its “View Across America” tour. She appeared twice on Philadelphia’s 6-ABC’s “Philly After Midnight” and was a semi-finalist for “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher. Caroline’s first screenplay was a semi-finalist in Paramount’s Chesterfield screenwriting competition. She is currently working on a book titled Ethical Considerations for the Mental Health Industry: A Christian Perspective.
Originally published at https://www.madinamerica.com on July 19, 2020.