A Subjective Unscientific Analysis of Anti-Psychiatry Advocates

By Marvin Ross

Many of my Huffington Post Blogs attract some very nasty comments from the various anti-psychiatry adherents. The same applies to the blogs by my colleague Susan Inman and we get some on this blog. The Boston Globe award winning Spotlight Team featured in the film Spotlight, just did a series of articles on the sad state of mental health care in Massachusetts. Wanting to foster dialogue, they set up a Facebook Page for comments. And did they ever get comments!

I’ve been looking at more than my fair share of these comments over the years but decided to try to categorize them. So here goes.

1. I was badly treated, mistreated, misdiagnosed therefore all of psychiatry is evil. In some cases, this alleged mistreatment occurred over 50 years ago. I do believe that this happened in most cases and it should not have happened but it did. Personally, I’ve run into (or family members have) some very incompetent and inept treatment by doctors and/or hospitals. This has occurred in inpatient stays, visits to doctors or in emergency rooms. And some of these misadventures have been serious but I do not spend my time denouncing all hospitals, all doctors or all Emergency Rooms. What I have done is to complain to the appropriate authorities. And most of the time I’m successful.

As my English mom used to say, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”

  2. The other very common cry is that I got help and recovered therefore everyone can recover and if they can’t, it is because the docs are bad or are trying to keep people sick to make money and peddle drugs. I’m sure there is an error term in logic where you extrapolate your particular situation to everyone. That is what these critics are doing. It is like saying I survived prostate cancer which has a 5 year survival of 98.8% so that someone with pancreatic cancer can too. Pancreatic cancer only  has a 4% 5 year survival rate. It is not the same nor is say mild anxiety comparable to treatment resistant schizophrenia. Stop mixing apples and oranges.

3. Involuntary treatment for those who are so sick that they pose a danger to themselves, others, or will deteriorate further without involuntary committal means that the state will lock up, drug and keep everyone indefinitely. None of these fears are true so learn what is entailed and get over it. And when I post a video or an article by someone like Erin Hawkes who went through about a dozen involuntary treatments till a pharmaceutical agent was found that removed her delusions, stop insulting her as some have done by calling her a victim and that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

How will you learn if you refuse to listen to other opinions?

What I suspect that these involuntary opponents do not understand is that people are not locked up without just cause or forever. There are safeguards in place to ensure regular reviews and appeals. In Ontario a few years ago, a group of so called psychiatric survivors challenged the constitutionality of community treatment orders and supplied the courts with affidavits from people who found them to be bad. This is what I wrote about that in the Huffington Post:

Justice Belobaba only had to look at the affidavit that the plaintiffs filed as part of their attack on CTOs to get an idea of how well they can work. Amy Ness had, prior to being put on a CTO, been involuntarily committed for showing violent behaviour in 2004. In 2007, while hospitalized, Ms. Ness kicked her mother in the back and hit her repeatedly. Then, in 2009, Ms. Ness grabbed a large kitchen knife and marched upstairs toward her mother after discovering a magazine about schizophrenia. In another incident, Ms. Ness kicked and punched the emergency department psychiatrist. By the time she was given a CTO in 2009, she had five hospitalizations.

Since then, while on a CTO, the judge pointed out, she takes her medication and sees her case worker on a regular basis. She has not been hospitalized, she maintains her housing and she works as a volunteer, has a job and takes courses. She does think, however, that the CTO is an attack on her personal dignity.

Herschel Hardin, a civil libertarian once wrote that:

“The opposition to involuntary committal and treatment betrays a profound misunderstanding of the principle of civil liberties. Medication can free victims from their illness – free them from the Bastille of their psychoses – and restore their dignity, their free will and the meaningful exercise of their liberties.”

A psychiatrist I know who is a libertarian (someone who believes that people should be allowed to do and say what they want without any interference from the government) told me that when your brain is immersed in psychoses, you are not capable of doing or saying what you want. Therefore, he was fully supportive of involuntary treatment so that people could get to the position where they had the capacity to do what they want.

4. And then we come to what Dr Joe Schwarcz on his radio show, Dr Joe, calls scientific illiteracy. He used that in his July 10 interview with my colleague, Dr Terry Polevoy, in a discussion on EM Power + and the conviction of the Stephans for failing to provide the necessities of life for their child who died of bacterial meningitis. They refused all conventional medical care, gave him vitamins, herbal products and echinacea till the poor little toddler stopped breathing.

There was a case of scientific illiteracy in that the parents are totally opposed to vaccinations and work for a  company that encourages people with mental illnesses to go off meds in favour of their proprietary vitamins. They had no idea why they were convicted, lashed out at the jury who convicted them and then, at their sentencing hearing, the wife shocked even her own lawyer when she told the court that the Crown had used a phony autopsy report as evidence.

Other examples are that anti-depressants cause violence and suicide. Violence possibly in those under 24 according to a large Swedish study but not in adults. However, the authors state that these findings need validation. There is no definitive proof of this and no evidence of increased violence in adults.

As for anti-depressants causing suicide, a warning that this might be a concern was posted on the labels. Doctors were advised to be cautious when prescribing these for depressed young people.Consequently, this resulted in an increase in suicide attempts.

“Evidence now shows that antidepressant prescription rates dropped precipitously beginning with the public health advisory in March 2004, which preceded the black box warning in October 2004. Since the initial public health advisory, antidepressant prescriptions for children and adolescents decreased, with a consequent increase (14%) in incidence of suicide in these populations.”

On my to-read list is Ordinarily Well The Case for Antidepressants by psychiatrist Peter D Kramer. Kramer is the author of Listening to Prozac and, in this new book, he continues with proof that antidepressants do work and are not simply placebos. Not only do they work, but they are life savers.

In the New York Times review by Scott Stossel, the reviewer points out that when Kramer first began visiting psychiatric wards in the 1970’s, they were filled with people suffering what was then known as “end-state depression”. These were depressed patients in what appeared to be psychotic catatonic states.

Patients like that have not been seen for decades which he attributes to the aggressive use of antidepressants.

And, lest we forget, there is also the common view that the chronicity of psychiatric disorders are caused by the drugs that doctors force on their patients. People love to quote the work of Martin Harrow in Chicago but I suspect that many have not actually read his studies. Some people, he found,  did better after going off anti-psychotics over time than those who continued with their use but that is not surprising. It has always been known that some people improve while others have chronic problems and still others are not able to be helped with anything.

What they do not realize is that in Harrow’s study, 79 per cent and 64 per cent of the patients were on medication at 10- and 15-year follow ups. And that Harrow points out that not all schizophrenia patients are alike and that one treatment fits all is “not consonant with the current data or with clinical experience.” His data suggests that there are unique differences in those who can go off medications compared to those who cannot. And he points out that it is not possible to predict who may be able to go off medication and those who need the long term treatment. Intensified research is needed.

So stop with the reference to Harrow that no one needs meds. And stop also with promoting Open Dialogue when, first, it has never been empirically validated and second, many of their patients are on medication.

5. Regrettably, many of these people lack any civility whatsoever. People are entitled to offer their comments but they should not do so anonymously. And they should show some respect for those who have different views. I’m told that some have been banned from the Spotlight Facebook page and I’ve just banned one anonymous person who posts here for his/her personal attacks. I mentioned above that Erin has been called a willing victim and one who suffers with the Stockholm syndrome for her video and her article. Refute the points she makes but leave the insults aside.

And, one post that I removed from the After Her Brain Broke page on Susan Inman in response to he video What Families Need From the Mental Health System claimed that Susan keeps her daughter locked up and ill and that she likely suffers from Munchausen by proxy.


13 thoughts on “A Subjective Unscientific Analysis of Anti-Psychiatry Advocates

  1. The experience of mental illness is something which varies from person to person. If we are ever to find a way through the mess that we face today, then somehow we need to encompass this basic fact. While I have struggled for a very long time with the dissonance posed by the need for medication vs the basic adult right to sell-determinism it is not a problem I have the solution for. I do believe this one thing, however: perhaps it is not so much what we do as it is how we do it. The involuntary commitment experience is de-personalizing, traumatic, and is rarely carried out with any insight into how this is experienced by the person who is committed, or forced to take medication. If, perhaps, we want people to come together around how it is that we should go forward with this central experience of mental illness – perhaps we need to begin to incorporate what those who you so easily dismiss have to bring to the table. There are reasons why people may be anti-psychiatry other than agnosia – and if we fail to listen and learn from their experiences we compound the lack of respect which is so rampant on so many levels in this field. We need to find a space where the personal integrity and autonomy of the individual is respected, upheld, and honored while at the same time we are able to respond to mental health crises with compassion and an awareness of the person who is being treated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree with your sentiments. On the Spotlight Facebook page, I watched the anti-psychiatry commenters bully anyone with a different viewpoint until they stopped posting. When a link to one consumer’s pro-AOT op ed was posted, commenters jumped in to claim it hadn’t been written by a real person, and they would not be dissuaded from this no matter what. (How upsetting this must have been for her!) The fellowship extends only to those who share their viewpoints, it would seem.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I understand why certain people who have commented on the Spotlight Team FB page are upset. There are some who have had terrible side effects from medications and are, therefore against medications entirely. Unfortunately, it’s a reality with psychiatric medications – they can have quite terrible and permanent (as in TD) side-effects (as do many other medications which are life saving). That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken. It is also the case the internists prescribe antidepressants, sometimes without enough knowledge as to the side effects and contraindications. That shouldn’t be happening. And there are some less-than-diligent psychiatrists. But, we do need to pay attention to the complexity of trying to pass legislation and procure funding for comprehensive outpatient treatment. I have been sorely disappointed that, in the multiple times I have posted (as have others) asking for alternative solutions to the Murphy bill, I did not receive even one reply. Not one. It is not good enough to say that you don’t like a plan if you have no alternative proposal. At the moment, the alternative is either repeated involuntary commitment or incarceration. Some comments alluded to the false impression that prison might be a better option. I think not. But there’s even a bigger issue here; many of the people who posted did not believe that the public needs to be protected from those who would do them harm. That treatment should be solely “voluntary”. That doesn’t happen, now, nor will it ever. If a person is a threat, that threat needs to be addressed. And, I found myself being furious about the blatant bullying especially of one particular, very knowledgable, pro-AOT advocate. People fed off of each other’s anger. I was pretty up-front that I’m a social worker and therapist. I have a substantial amount of expertise in both mental health and medicine. There are a lot of things that were said about involving those being treated in their treatment plan which which I fully agree. Your piece reflects what I also observed. It is important for all of the people being affected by the current mental health care system to be able to communicate effectively. I didn’t see that happening, except in rare cases. I am disappointed. There were a few people who carried on very substantial discussions in the group, and I learned a lot from those.


    1. To Helene Mayer:

      “But there’s even a bigger issue here; many of the people who posted did not believe that the public needs to be protected from those who would do them harm. That treatment should be solely “voluntary”. That doesn’t happen, now, nor will it ever. If a person is a threat, that threat needs to be addressed.”

      How do you know the petitioners aren’t the people who may literally be throwing the first punch?

      Why should “scary” Mad people be treated any more punitively or preemptively than “scary” people who aren’t Mad?

      What are your odds of achieving ANY level of “treatment success” with your patient once you’ve taken calls from their family behind their back, put them on no-buy and no-fly lists, called the cops on them, chased them around the state, tackled them to the ground, cuffed them, locked them up, and sat on their backs while you shot them full of Risperdal?

      If you got your way on IOT (it’s involuntary, not “assisted”), you and the rest of your “profession” would soon come to find that you’ve, effectively, legislated psychiatry into extinction. Legalizing pro-force psychiatry will expose every psychiatric clinician and psychiatric lackey in this country to regulations that are even more stringent than HIPAA. Law-abiding disabled adults who are being “put away” in droves WILL fight for the right to receive their psychiatric Miranda rights. And they’ll win those. How many people do you think will EVER willingly see a psychiatric clinician, once you’re ordered BY LAW to tell ALL of your patients that their rights will soon be permanently revoked:

      “Patient X, this conversation is NOT protected. I can divulge anything you say to me to anyone at anytime and you have no recourse. Your abilities, accomplishments, knowledge, resources, and relationships will no longer protect you from my allegations that you are too incompetent to travel, vote, own any property, including a firearm, go to school, work, decide where to live, have any friends, marry, retain custody of your children, speak on your own behalf, or control the confines of your own flesh and bone. Should you ever escape my control over you, I will call up the feds and they will hunt you down, forcibly detain you, and deliver you back to my clinic. You don’t even have the right to remain silent, because I’ve already told the law enforcement agencies that silence is one tactic mentally ill people use to manipulate everybody who knows what’s good for them. Be a good patient, now, and you won’t get hurt.”

      You obviously don’t care a thing about your patient’s lives. But for the sake of your own job security, you MUST stop encouraging people to support pro-force psychiatry. After the would-be psychiatric inmates themselves, it’s “professionals like yourself who will lose the most with that injustice.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Helene Mayer,

      What you perceived as bullying of the pro AOT advocate was extreme frustration that this person keeps generalizing that all horrific crimes are due to a mental illness and that justifies involuntary commitment. Even a psychiatrist called her out on that in a respectful manner.

      You asked for ideas regarding alternatives to the Murphy bill. Let me give you a list of people to consult who would have expertise.

      1. Sera Davidow
      2. Will Hall – Spent nearly a year in the hospital due to a diagnosis of schizophrenia. http://willhall.net/
      3. Dr. Sandra Steingard – A psychiatrist who blogs for the Mad in America Site
      4. Hearing Voices Network – 11 groups in Massachusetts – http://www.hearingvoicesusa.org/hvn-usa-groups-list/list/1
      5. Gayle Hornstein -http://www.gailhornstein.com/ – Has found psychotherapy to work with the most disturbed patients and has focused on getting the patient perspective which she feels is great ignored in the mental health community.
      6. Ron Unger – A social worker who recovered from schizophrenia -http://recoveryfromschizophrenia.org/about-ron-unger/

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Subjective and unscientific” is right! Ms. Ness hated coercive psychiatry when she was Mad and free and she hated coercive psychiatry when she was Mad and unfree. Even AFTER she reached your watermarks of “health”, she STILL felt that her “treatment” was an “attack on her personal dignity”. And she’s right about that! What’s more, she KNOWS she’s right.

    Ms. Ness is being IOT’d (Involuntary Outpatient Treatment) and not not IIT’d (Involuntary Inpatient Treatment), which means that she’ll always be looking for her exit from a psychiatric system that is brutal, yet completely unable to prevent her from one day escaping it. Before long, she’ll be a free woman once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First off, Site665, I would appreciate if you would identify yourself. there is no information as to who Site665 is.

      As for Ms Ness, I have no idea what she thinks about he pre and post CTO requirements. However, before she was treated via a CTO, she attacked her mother, went after her with a knife and also assaulted a doctor in the ER. She had untreated psychosis and was hospitalized 5 times. Since being on a CTO as the judge pointed out, she is well enough to remain out of hospital, to volunteer, to work and to take courses. I would think all of that is preferable to what she was experiencing before



      1. Mr. Ross, you should care about how Ms. Ness experiences her subjugation in the psychiatric system. And, if you’re going to be using her as an informal case study on the virtues of IOT (involuntary, not “assisted” outpatient treatment), then you need to be telling us a whole lot more about how she became part of the TINY percentage of Mad people who make it into and all the way through our country’s pro-force psychiatric system. How do you expect us to believe that IOT was necessary for Ms. Ness, when you’ve deliberately withheld so many critical facts about her life. Did she work? Was she living with any GENUINELY supportive family members or friends? Could she access a mode of transportation which would have enabled her to run from the brutality of forced psychiatric treatment? Did she have any knowledge of her legal rights or know someone who would have shared that knowledge with her? Had Ms. Ness been abused by her mother BEFORE she beat her up? (That’s usually how it works.) Evasive tactics like yours are one of the reasons why the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” got watered down. Playing your readers with even more of those tactics WILL NOT help your cruel causes.

        Maybe I will tell you who I am, but only IF you tell ALL of your commenters that anonymous comments will no longer be approved for ANYBODY.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I *had* real all of 150+ pages of that document *before* I wrote my first comment. That document does not discuss ANY part of Ms. Ness’ LIFE. Whomever wrote this record of her life has shrewdly narrowed its scope to Ms. Ness’ “symptoms” of “mental illness”, and her “compliance” and “response” to her “treatment”. Furthermore, you’ve left out several parts of this document that discredit your exploitation of Ms. Ness’ years in Canada’s kangaroo mental health court system.


  5. Marvin can I put this blog post up on the Boston Globe site? I would remove your name with your permission. There are some nasty people on there and they won’t like it. But the Boston Globe needs to hear it.


  6. Mr or Ms Site 665. If you had clicked on the links in my post, you would have found the entire report on the attempt to have CTO’s declared unconstitutional at http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2013/2013onsc5392/2013onsc5392.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQAua2FybGVuZSB0aG9tcHNvbiB2IGF0dG9ybmV5IGdlbmVyYWwgb2Ygb250YXJpbwAAAAAB

    You will find a complete description of Ms Ness’s background and experiences with psychiatry. For a different view of involuntary treatment, please read http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/erin-l-hawkes-forced-medication-saved-my-life
    and http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/erin-hawkes/medicating-schizophrenia_b_3376185.html


  7. “Ms. Ness has been administered several neuroleptic medications on the basis of her mother’s consent as SDM. She has been physically restrained and has been held down and forcibly injected with medication. The first generation neuroleptic Modecate which was injected against her will every two weeks, rendered her barely able to speak or write and caused her to feel restlessness and constant pain such that minutes felt like hours. The second generation neuroleptic Risperidone caused painful constipation, difficulty sleeping and extreme restlessness. The second generation neuroleptic Olanzapine caused her to feel slow and sluggish, caused bowel problems and made her skin feel waxy. While it reduced bad feelings, it also eliminated feelings of pleasure and bliss. Ms. Ness was also fearful that the long-term administration of Olanzapine would cause her to develop diabetes, which, according to the applicants, is a well-known potential side effect of second generation neuroleptic drugs.”

    “During her psychiatric hospitalizations, Ms. Ness says she had observed insensitive nursing staff, patients screaming to be released from near-continuous seclusion, patients forcibly injected with medications against their will and even some subjected to unwanted electroshock therapy. She felt caught in a cycle of violence in which she had lashed out in reaction to or in an attempt to prevent psychiatric treatments. When told that she would not be released from hospital unless she agreed to be placed on a CTO, Ms. Ness acquiesced for fear of worse consequences if she remained in hospital.”

    “Ms. Ness considered the requirements of the CTO that she report regularly to her psychiatrist and her social worker to be punitive. If she failed to report, take her medications as prescribed or submit to blood and urine testing she was liable to be arrested. She was afraid of expressing her feelings or of disclosing any worsening of her mental health for fear of the consequences.”

    “Ms. Ness challenged her CTO before the CCB. She credited her wellness to housing, artistic expression, employment, meditation, yoga, talk therapy, supportive relationships and other supports in the community. She did not attribute her wellness to the daily low dose of Olanzapine that was forced upon her.”

    Mr. Ross, this is all MONSTROUS and it’s ALL the norm in psychiatry. Odds are, this depravity is just the tip of the iceberg. If the court system weren’t already swamped with the matters that ACTUALLY merit its attention, I’m sure it could have expanded the list of Ms. Ness’ perpetrators by leaps and bounds. Mama Ness probably would have been the first on that list.


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