No mental illness has, or ever will be, diagnosed on the basis of medical signs, for a simple reason. If people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia are found to have a brain lesion, they are suffering from a brain illness, not a mental illness. The presence of a medical sign in people who have been labelled mentally ill proves that they are not suffering from a mental illness. Psychiatry is, therefore, that branch of medicine where diagnoses of ‘illnesses’ are made in the absence of objective evidence: they are based, not on what people have, but on what they do and say. And if they act in ways that annoy, upset or offend others, they may find themselves diagnosed as mentally ill and treated medically against their will.
Is America truly stricken with widespread mental illness? Do tens of millions need mind-altering drugs? A recent flurry of media articles lead readers to a realization that Big Pharma and the “mental health” industry have deceived Americans on a grand scale.
The “New York Review of Books” two-part article by Dr. Marcia Angell, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School and former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, summarizes it extremely well. She analyzes three books by authors Irving Kirsch, Robert Whitaker, and Daniel Carlat. Each deconstructs the apparent mental illness epidemic and theory that mental disorders stem from brain chemical imbalances which can be corrected by drugs.
Dr. Angell’s review has sparked a host of other journalists to applaud her and fuel the fire. An article in Forbes even concludes, “psychopharma is looking like an idea whose time has passed.”
I am sick of seeing friends who are seriously mentally distressed neglected and damaged by mainstream psychiatry. I am fed up hearing about people being detained, locked up and forced to take damaging medication before anyone has found out why they are distressed. I am angry about children being forced to take addictive psychoactive drugs by health professionals because no one could be bothered to work out why they are playing up. I met some others who wanted to change things and together we formed an organisation called Speak Out Against Psychiatry.
A recent story in Al Jazeera by James Ridgeway of Mother Jones illuminates the efforts by major pharmaceutical companies to get doctors prescribing medicines like Zyprexa, Seroquel, and Abilify to patients for whom the drugs were never intended. Focusing on psychiatrists because they rely on subjective diagnoses, the drug reps have been so successful that they’ve changed the criteria for mental illness and disability payments. Ridgeway quotes former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell.
“[T]he tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007 – from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling – a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children.” Under the tutelage of Big Pharma, we are “simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one.” Fugh-Berman agrees: In the age of aggressive drug marketing, she says, “Psychiatric diagnoses have expanded to include many perfectly normal people.”
The term “mental illness” is heavily charged, politicized, and ambiguous. I prefer to talk about “anomalous experiences,” “extreme emotions,” and “emotional distress.” The main reason I don’t use medical language is that people who are suffering often don’t find it very helpful. No one experiences “schizophrenia” — that’s just a technical name for a lot of complicated feelings.
People who have been taught that “mental illnesses are brain diseases” see psychiatric patients as dangerous and unlikely to recover. And those in crisis are often understandably reluctant to consult mental-health professionals, because the stigma of mental illness is so severe: it’s possible to lose your job, your home, and your family as a consequence of being diagnosed with a mental illness. In cultures that take a social view of emotional distress, by contrast, people more readily seek help because they aren’t as likely to be ostracized and are assumed to be capable of full recovery.