Thursday, September 27, 2007

Abuse of the Mentally Ill

Today many bloggers are posting on the subject of abuse -- whatever type of abuse the individual chooses -- so I will take this opportunity to put my comments on harmful psychiatric treatment here. This is among the worst abuse that occurs in our society because most people don't oppose it, and remain under the impression that what medical authorities do to the mentally ill actually "helps" them.

Some of the things in Stewards of the Flame were drawn from my imagination -- even some of those that have turned out to be closer to reality than I originally knew. This was not the case with my concept of psychiatric treatment. I have long been aware of the damaging nature of today's so-called therapy for mental illness, or alleged mental illness, and have always been strongly opposed to it. My portrayal of it in the story is, if anything, less horrifying than the reality, since there wasn't room to go into much detail. My only exaggeration was in having psychiatric drugs cause permanent brain damage faster than they do at present, simply for plot reasons. Today's drugs are just as bad and for victims who fail to escape the clutches of the orthodox psychiatric establishment, they cause more suffering over a longer period of time.

It may seem incredible that this terrible abuse of the members of society deemed weakest could continue into an era when we travel between the stars. This story is, of course, unrealistically close to today in many respects, because I intentionally write for today's readers in such a way that they will identify with the characters. But I think that given the fundamental premise of the novel -- the total control of society by a medical establishment that focuses wholly on the physical aspect of being human -- it really is inevitable that psychiatry would not have progressed. After all, to me and to many others it's incredible that such abuse goes on here and now. The public at large refuses to believe it. Most people assume, because they want to assume, that psychiatrists with medical degrees must know what's best for their patients, and that even the mentally ill who "don't know they're sick" will benefit from the medication they are usually reluctant to take. This is a prime example of the mentality that wants to impose unwanted care on the helpless "for their own good," and the reason why I fear that my fictional extension of the principle to all health matters is not at all unreasonable. Friends, open your eyes! Today it's the mentally ill who are victimized by well-meant coercion; tomorrow it may be all of us. . . .

There is no point in taking space here to say what's wrong with psychiatric treatment for the sake of readers who may not know, since the links and books listed at make it appallingly clear. Nor can I offer any hope that public awareness can alter today's psychiatric dogma. The public could, however, force abandonment of the worst elements of what currently exists. It could, and must, insist that electroshock -- ECT, or electroconvulsive "therapy" -- be outlawed; there is absolutely no justification for allowing this horrific practice to continue. The surest way of stopping it, short of laws that would take time to get passed, would be to ban the use of federal funds for it (are you really comfortable with the thought that your taxes are now being spent to intentionally inflict brain damage on innocent people?) That is the first priority; but beyond that, sufficient public protest could lead to the elimination of all force in psychiatric hospitalization and/or treatment, except in the case of violent patients who pose a danger to others.

Though on the other hand, perhaps willingness to tolerate unseemly behavior on the part of people who are "different" is too much to expect from the public. At the very least, let's not cling to the illusion that such persons are "better off" if drugged into compliance with society's norms. Let's recognize that forced treatment of the sick serves our convenience, not their welfare, and think very carefully about what precedent we are setting with respect to our own freedom of choice.


Alison Hymes said...

I believe we can not give up hope of changing public opinion on this issue. I look at it this way, every oppressed minority in this country that has won any equality has had to spend 100 to 300 years to obtain it--women, African Americans. People with psychiatric labels are probably about 100 years from winning any equality, but we need to lay the groundwork so that future activists can succeed.

Sylvia said...

Yes, I agree that we should certainly try, and I hope public opinion will shift eventually. But it's not quite like the situation with other minorities because "illness," whether mental or physical, is perceived as something apart from other characteristics, something that should be "treated" -- if not by a beneficial treatment, than by whatever other techniques are claimed to be "the only treatment we have." (It's the same with chemotherapy for cancer.) This a major theme of my novel, about a society where no distinction is made between illness and crime, and the only police force is composed of ambulance officers -- that is the logical conclusion of today's view of illness. Of course I don't really believe it's going to go that far! I think that like other social evils, this one will fade out as the human race matures. But I suspect the attitude toward all illness has to change before there can be any change in the widespread belief that mental "patients" are helped by the determination to "cure" them.

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