Thomas Szasz Remarks at CCHR’s 35th Anniversary and Human Rights Award Dinner

Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, California
February 28, 2004

I want to thank Jan Eastgate, Bruce Wiseman, and everyone at the Citizens Commission on Human Rights for establishing an annual award in my name, “The Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Struggle Against the Therapeutic State.” It is a great honor and I deeply appreciate it.

It gives me great pleasure to salute Dr. Anatoly Prokopenko for his courageous opposition to psychiatric oppression in post-Communist Russia and to congratulate him as the inaugural recipient of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights’ Thomas Szasz Award.

“The trouble with people”—said Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1818-1885), the great nineteenth-century American humorist—”is not what they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.” That people “know so much that ain’t so” is precisely the trouble with respect to what Americans know about psychiatry. After a decades-long propaganda war, waged by an unholy alliance of psychiatry and the state, people now “know” that mental illness is like any other illness and that psychiatric practices are like other medical practices. This just ain’t so.

When I was a young doctor, most people knew better: They recognized that mental hospitals were prisons not medical hospitals and called them “snake pits.” They knew that psychiatrists were jailers, not healers.

Since then, the image of psychiatry has become transformed from the administration of snake pits to the prescription of psychiatric miracle drugs. It’s another con-game. Antipsychotic drugs resemble antibiotic drugs like mental hospitals resemble medical hospitals, that is, not at all. The name of the game is still coercion.

A few decades ago, mental patients could be confined only in mental hospitals. Now, they can be confined in drug-induced disability as well, a punishment called “outpatient commitment.”

Another lamentable development is the claim that millions of children suffer from a mental illness called “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” (ADHD) and that Ritalin—administered to the child often against the will of the parent — is a treatment for it. Of course, it is always administered against the will of the child. What child wants to be stigmatized as crazy?

When school authorities tell a mother that her son is sick and needs to be on drugs, how is she to know that that’s a lie? How is she to know that what experts call Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not a disease?

Bedazzled by psychiatric jargon, she does not realize that diagnoses are not diseases.

She is not expert in the history of psychiatry. She does not know that psychiatrists have always used diagnostic terms to stigmatize and control people—for example

  • black slaves who ran away to freedom suffered from drapetomania;
  • women who rebelled against being controlled by men suffered from hysteria;
  • until only a few years ago, men and women who engaged in sexual acts with members of their own sex suffered from the dread disease of homosexuality.

Of course, none of those behaviors was a disease. ADHD is not a disease.

Nor is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder a disease.

No behavior or misbehavior is a disease or can be a disease. There is no mental disease. Period.

Don’t forget that, not long ago, psychiatry’s two favorite mental illnesses were masturbatory insanity and homosexuality. They are no longer mental illnesses. Why not?

Because people stopped believing that “self-abuse” causes insanity and that homosexuality is a perversion that ought to be treated as a disease and also punished as a crime.

However, that did not end the horrors. On the contrary, it was the beginnings of worse horrors. No sooner do psychiatrists “declare” that a mental illness is not an illness than they “discover”—that is to say, invent—a host of new mental illnesses.

When I went to medical school, sixty years ago, there were only a handful of mental illnesses. Now there are more than three hundred, with new ones “discovered” every year.

George Washington warned: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is power. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Psychiatry is a part of the government.

This is what parents who are told that their child suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder must never forget. They must never forget that school personnel and child psychiatrists and psychologists are government agents. Their job is to control children, not to care for their health or well-being.

Caring for the health and well-being of children is the parents’ job. Government, as Washington said, is not reason. It is unreason.

Labeling a child as mentally ill is stigmatization, not diagnosis. Giving a child a psychiatric drug is poisoning, not treatment.

I have long maintained that the child psychiatrist is one of the most dangerous enemies not only of children, but also of adults who care for the two most precious and most vulnerable things in life—children and liberty.

Adults have physical and political power over children. This is why sexual relations between adults and children are outlawed and the act is called “statutory rape.” For the same reason, we ought to outlaw psychiatric relations between adults, children and call child psychiatry by its correct name, “psychiatric rape.”

Child psychiatry—like all of psychiatric slavery—cannot be reformed. It must be abolished.

How can parents protect their children from the therapeutic state, that is, from the alliance of government and psychiatry?

They can do so only by disabusing themselves of the idea that what ails an unhappy or misbehaving child is a mental illness, and that so-called psychiatric treatment can help him.

They can do so only if they recognize that bringing up children is no picnic—that, in fact, it is the hardest and least publicly rewarded job in the world, bar none. Raising children is tough. It has always been and always will be tough.

I agree with Josh Billings. It is not a good idea to know things that ain’t so. If we want to avoid such false knowledge, we must speak clearly and think clearly. Diseases are malfunctions of the human body, of the heart, the liver, the kidney, the brain.

Typhoid fever is a disease. Spring fever is not a disease; it is a figure of speech, a metaphoric disease. All mental diseases are metaphoric diseases, misrepresented as real diseases and mistaken for real diseases.

It is time to conclude. The task we set ourselves—to combat psychiatric coercion—is important.

It is a noble task in the pursuit of which we must, regardless of obstacles, persevere. Our conscience commands that we do no less.

Thank you very much.

Back to Main: CCHR Co-founder Dr. Thomas Szasz Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus