mental illness issues

Overcoming Bipolar Disorder at University

→ March 28, 2012 - 21 Comments

The Bipolar Burble welcomes guest author Daniel Bader, Ph.D of Bipolar Today for today’s post on dealing with bipolar disorder in university. Bader proves again that you can do anything you want to do with bipolar disorder, you may just need a bit of help.

I was a student for a very long time, having just finished up my doctorate after nine years of study, not counting my two years of parental and medical leaves. It was quite a challenge, and most of those challenges came not from the program, but from my bipolar disorder.

However, having gone through it, I wanted to discuss some of the challenges of being a student with bipolar disorder and some of the tricks that I picked up along the way. Hopefully, it can help others who might be presently in university or considering going there.

Challenges as a Bipolar University Student

There were a lot of challenges with being bipolar as a university student, but there were definitely three issues that dogged me through most of my program:

  • Isolation: Studying is an isolating experience. There’s endless research, reading and writing that is done entirely by myself. I found being alone with my moods was rarely a pleasant experience.
  • Fluctuating Self-Esteem: It’s hard at the best of times to evaluate the quality of our writing. With bipolar disorder, my work would often seem incredible or terrible, making it hard to do revisions.
  • Depression: Depression is awful, and it just crushed my ability to work efficiently. As a result, I often found myself falling behind.

My Strategies as a Bipolar University Student

Over time, however, I was better and better able to deal with these problems, ultimately finding my experience a satisfying one.

  • Finding Ways To Be Social: For my entire university experience, I never once lived alone. I lived in residences with shared meals, with a good friend, with my parents and ultimately with my wife and children. This kept me from slipping into the infinite regress of self-reflecting moods that isolation brings.
  • Finding Someone Whose Opinion I Trusted: I was able to develop a good rapport with my dissertation supervisor, who would help me see what was working and not working in what I was doing, when I wasn’t able to get the proper perspective. Before my dissertation, I would often show papers to friends to get their opinions.
  • Getting Help: It took me a while to get proper help as a student, in part because I kept being put on the wrong medications (long story). However, once I had a proper regime of medication and therapy, I found that my depression improved significantly, and I was able to zip through the last few years of my doctorate, even while teaching half-time and starting a family.

University Student BipolarFinal Thoughts on Overcoming Bipolar Disorder at University

Being a student with bipolar disorder, especially a graduate student, provides a lot of challenges. The isolation and fluctuating moods can wreak havoc. However, by figuring out what those challenges were and finding strategies to deal with them, I found I was able to complete and even often enjoy my experience.

Daniel Bader, Ph.D., is a recent graduate and works as a university instructor. He now runs his own website on bipolar disorder called Bipolar Today.

Why Natasha Tracy? Why a Nom de Plume?

→ March 17, 2012 - 72 Comments

Last week on HealthyPlace’s Breaking Bipolar I mentioned that I use a nom de plume. Yes, that’s right, Natasha Tracy is not my legal name. I don’t think this should come as a gigantic shock to anyone given as writers have been writing under pen names since the beginning of the written word.

But apparently it did come as a shock. And apparently people felt betrayed by this piece of information. And apparently some people felt like being rather nasty about it. And apparently some people felt like becoming ex-readers over it.

Well, OK, fine, that’s your prerogative. But I have my reasons for not using my real name. Here are a few.

I don’t want people knowing where I live. I don’t want stalkers.

Allow me to relay a short tale to you.

Writing and Death Threats

I have a good friend who is a writer. He writes on sensitive, emotionally-charged subjects similar to mental illness. And is the case with us online personalities, he got death threats. Horrible, but not something that isn’t expected in the world of the internet.

My friend was the kind of person who did share real details about his life and family and he did use his real name. So when it came time that a stalker really hated him, the stalker found out where his kids went to school and made threats against them.

Yes, that’s right, threats against his kids. Deplorable. Unthinkable. And illegal.

And if you think I’m going to facilitate that type of behavior where I’m involved you’re downright batty.

No, I’m not in the Book

The reason that I don’t use my real name and I don’t tell people exactly where I live is because I don’t want a real-life stalker. It’s because I don’t want someone to make death threats and easily have the capacity to follow them through. It’s because my privacy is important to me. It doesn’t mean I’m not open, or honest, or even make public appearances and videos, but it does mean that you don’t get to be able to easily find me. That is not your right.

I want to be hirable in fields other than mental health.

Again, a short story.

A Nom de Plume for Mental Illness WritingHealth Problems and Stigma

I was working for a very fancy software company. One that makes the software you’ve probably got on your computer right now. I worked among some of the smartest people you can imagine. Their big brains were barely contained in our building.

And while I was working there I had a vagul nerve stimulator implanted. The details aren’t important but suffice it to say that when it activates it cuts off my throat and makes it difficult to speak. So if I was in the middle of a conversation with a co-worker I would wave a magnet in front of the computer implanted in my chest to turn it off so I could continue speaking. I never told people what it was or why I did that, trying to make it as inconspicuous as possible.

However, my co-workers decided on their own that the device must have to do with my heart and that every time I waved something over that area of my body it must be because I was so stressed in the conversation that something was going wrong with my heart. My co-workers assumed that I couldn’t take the stress of the job due to something that had nothing to do with stress.

They just made a judgement without facts.

(I didn’t know this for a long time. Eventually one of my co-workers told me.)

And once I found this out I realized that’s why people had started treating me differently – not because there was anything wrong with me but simply because they perceived that something was.

Employees Judge You

And you can bet the judgements would have been worse if, heaven forbid, they thought I had a mental illness. People suggest that others don’t judge you for your differences when this blatantly isn’t true. I had a slight difference that produced no change in my behavior and yet it changed the way other people treated me. People can be biased and bigoted and small-minded. If nothing else, it’s a subconscious thing.

Employers Judge You

And even worse, in the same environment one of the employees was assumed to be bipolar. And he had to leave the country (and finally the company) to get a fresh start because of how it affected how people treated him.

These are not things I made up. These are things that I have witnessed, things that I have lived. If your experience has been different that is great, but I wouldn’t risk having that kind of experience again. I just wouldn’t.

(Keep in mind that I’ve work in very-corporate America where backstabbing and politics run extremely amok.)

Employers Google You

And let’s not forget that before any techie geek is hired the employer Googles the heck out of them and if they were to find my writings, judgements would run rampant.

Why I Use a Nom de Plume

So, quite frankly, death threats, stalkers, prejudice, hirability and other reasons are why I use a nom de plume.

And I will not apologize for that. You can judge me and feel it discredits me if you like, but I believe my work speaks for itself and your judgement speaks considerably more about you than it does about me.

Do Objective Diagnostic Criteria Matter in Psychiatry?

→ March 15, 2012 - 12 Comments

One of the criticisms antipsychiatry folks like to make of psychiatry is its lack of objective diagnostic criteria. In other words, there’s no blood test that says you have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

And this is true. While today we do have blood tests for biological markers indicative of mental illness diagnosis, there is no hard and fast test that can diagnose a psychiatric disorder (except Huntington’s, for which we have discovered a gene).

The fact of the matter is no matter what is written in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or what blood we draw or which scans we do nothing diagnoses a person properly except a trained psychiatric professional.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing objective or meaningful about it.

Blood Tests for Mental IllnessObjective Diagnostic Criteria and Psychiatric Illness

In fact, using the diagnostic criteria from the DSM or even from a clinician’s clinical experience allows two experienced clinicians to arrive at the same diagnosis for a patient. (Is this always true? No, of course not. But there are second opinions in all of medicine so this is hardly rare.)

Psychiatric Diagnosis and Treatment

However, even if two clinicians were to arrive at slightly different conclusions, for example, one says unipolar depressive and the other says bipolar not otherwise specified, I would argue that it hardly matters as alleviating suffering is the goal and the diagnosis is only a way of getting to that end.

As Dr. Joseph Pierre has brilliantly said,

. . . clinicians do not in general fret over what does or does not constitute a disease. . . . If, for example, a patient’s arm is broken in a car accident, a doctor doesn’t lose sleep pondering whether this represents ‘broken bone disorder’ or simply an expected response to an environmental stressor—the bone is set and the arm is casted . . . mental disorder or not, clinicians working in ‘mental health’ see it as their calling to try to improve the lives of whomever walks through their office door seeking help.

Similarly, it is objective as to whether a person is suffering or not and thus it is obvious the person needs help regardless as to what the ultimate diagnosis is.

Do Psychiatric Diagnoses Matter?

Yes, of course psychiatric diagnoses matter as they direct treatment, however, just because there is no hard and fast test governing that diagnosis doesn’t make it any less valid nor does it mean that psychiatry doesn’t have a place in its healing.

Lights, Camera, Bipolar in Action

→ March 8, 2012 - 6 Comments

As many people know from my last post on hypomania, last week I was filmed for a documentary by Andy Fiore. The documentary is about bipolar disorder and I was one of three people interviewed. Michael Schratter of Ride Don’t Hide, an international tour and movement to battle mental illness stigma, was also interviewed.

What’s It Like to be in a Documentary?

So, what was filming the documentary like? Well, there was some talking and some acting, but mostly acting like a version of me, a version of me that walks in girl shoes, that is.

I met Andy at the Vancouver Central Library and we enjoyed a latte in the gorgeous, cobblestone courtyard. He’s a bright enough filmmaker to know that being on film requires the energy of caffeine (although truthfully I’d probably had enough already).

What's it like to be in a mental health documentary?Then we began to shoot “b-roll” which is, “supplemental or alternate footage intercut with the main shot in an interview or documentary.” Alternate footage contains scenes of me walking on the stairs, walking across the courtyard, looking at flowers and so on. If you like watching Natasha Tracy walk up stairs, then this documentary is for you.

We then moved into one of the glass meeting rooms of the library where I checked my makeup before shooting, getting loose powder all over the table and floor (sorry janitorial staff). Andy then proceeded to ask me about two hours’ worth of questions. He asked and I answered while attempting to maintain good eye contact with the camera. A wandering gaze is bad in such scenarios.

Somewhere in the middle of the interview I found that all my happy energy from the hypomania had simply vanished. My brain slumped; I can only hope it wasn’t visible on film.

We then finished off with more coffee (thank-you Andy; thank-you caffeine) and a few more b-roll shots with me walking in downtown Vancouver.

Thoughts on the Bipolar Documentary

Overall I think the shoot was really positive and I hope Andy got everything he needs for his final cut. He’s deep into the editing of another film right now so I won’t be seeing a rough cut of the bipolar documentary for a couple of months.

While it’s nerve-wracking to have someone ask you questions for two hours while looking into the abyss of a camera lens, I will say it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a powerful way to get positive, real information about mental illness out and I’m honoured to be a part of Andy’s work.

Speaking out – it dispels fear and stigma.

PS: Pictures from the shoot are coming.

Emotional Overreactions and Depression

→ February 19, 2012 - 74 Comments

Emotional Overreactions and Depression

Yesterday I was having a good day. This doesn’t happen to me all that often but I was being all productive and downright cheery. Miracles. Every day.

But then something happened. It wasn’t an earth-shattering thing, it was just a thing. A life thing. A thing that your average person would feel bad about but not the end of the world.

Just the end of my world.

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Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder is a Process

→ February 7, 2012 - 38 Comments

Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder is a Process

I remember the day, or rather, the night, about 13 years ago when I discovered I had bipolar disorder. I did exactly what I tell people not to do: I went online and diagnosed myself. In my case, I happened to be right.

I remember the extreme pain, fear and shame I felt at realizing I had a mental illness. I remember the indignation I felt at the idea that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life. Mostly though, I remember the tears. I remember the candy apple-red face stained with hundreds of tears. That’s what I remember the most.

But that was 13 years ago and a lot has happened since. One thing I have learned though is that I didn’t accept my mental illness that night. Nor the next. I didn’t truly accept my mental illness for years.

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Reader Discretion is Not Advised

→ February 5, 2012 - 39 Comments

Recently a couple of my posts / links / images raised eyes with some of my readers. Some complained and others requested that I put content warnings in front of them.

Well, I don’t do content warnings.*

In this case, one post was about self-harm and had a picture of a cutter’s arm. Another post contained a link to the TV-promo for a Dr. Oz show on electroconvulsive therapy, in which a person gets ECT. Images of self-harm and ECT, it was argued, are very upsetting to some people.

Well, yes.

Nevertheless, in neither case did I think a warning was appropriate.

Here’s why: you’re an adult. Grow up.

Reader Warning on the Bipolar Burble

And just for the record, on the homepage there actually is a content warning for the whole blog. It warns that there may be graphic and disturbing subjects and elements to articles. And this is quite reasonable because if you haven’t been here before you should know what you’re in for – and it might be something you don’t like.

Why No Content Warnings?

There are no content warnings for a simple reason: I don’t think there should be any. There is no reason to warn people about an image of a cutter’s arm.

Self-harm content warningsWhy?

Because there is nothing shocking about seeing the evidence of a medical problem. I talked in the comments of that post about how people who self-harm should not be ashamed because what they are suffering from is an illness. By posting a warning about an image of their illness, I am suggesting there is something wrong with these people. I am doing a disservice to their reality, to something they live with every day. They don’t deserve a content warning thrust on them.

And as a writer I think it’s considerably more fitting and I refuse to post a picture of a person forelornly looking at a sunflower because it’s just so damn disingenuous.

And as for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), yup, it’s desturbing to some people, particularly images of ECT conducted in the past. And I rather think it’s tacky for a TV promo to feature images of a procedure that is no longer conducted in that manner. But you’re watching a promo for a TV show on ECT it’s hardly unreasonable to think you might see an image of ECT.

Here’s a Content Warning

You’re an adult. You are going to see and hear things you don’t like. You need to deal with that.

If You’re Feeling Sensitive

And to be fair, I understand sensitivity, I really do. I get sensitive sometimes. Sometimes there are subjects I’m sensitive about. Sometimes I not strong enough to read about things that I might find activating.

So I do this: I don’t read / watch that stuff.

I protect myself. Because it isn’t up to the rest of the world to devine what I might find upsetting and warn me of it. It’s up to me to make the right choices for myself and understand the risks I choose to take. There are lots of things I choose not to read. That’s my choice. That’s my responsibility.

Content Warning Proviso

* I will say that there is content I would warn people about, but that would be a fairly extrardinary circumstance and it certainly wouldn’t include an international TV promo or an image pulled from Wikipedia.

Update: I’m sorry for the flurry of strong feelings. I honestly didn’t think one picture out of the hundreds over the years here would cause such a stirring. While my feelings on the matter are my feelings on the matter, I am sorry it caused so much consternation for others.

Stopping Self-Harm Urges Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

→ February 1, 2012 - 25 Comments

Stopping Self-Harm Urges Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

If you feel you may harm yourself, get help now.

I talked about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in the last post. Dialectical behavior therapy is designed to work specifically with borderline personality disorder and part of this disorder is often self-harm so DBT uses specific techniques to try to stop self-harm urges and prevent self-harm.

What is Self-Harm?

Self-Injury and Cutting

Image provided by Wikipedia, author: Hendrike

Self-harm is a huge problem for many people. It is typically a sign of borderline personality disorder (BPD) but it can occur with any disorder (or no diagnosis at all). Self-harm, also known as self-mutilation or self-injury, can be any form of self-abuse including cutting, burning, hitting and statistics often include those with eating disorders as well. Millions of people in the US practice some form of self-harm.

Self-harm is often practiced by teens and is more common in women than in men, but make no mistake about it, many adults self-harm and men do as well. It is a behavior to be taken seriously. Here are some techniques to stop self-harm urges.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Self-Harm

A lot of DBT techniques are built on scientific principles. The idea is to work to change your own neurochemistry or autonomic nervous system in a crisis. This sounds complicated, but really it isn’t; the techniques are quite simple.

Dialectical behavior therapy uses many acronyms to help people remember techniques and this one is T.I.P. – Temperature, Intense exercise, Progressive relaxation.

Self-Harm Avoidance Techniques

T – Change your body temperature to change your autonomic nervous system (the part of your body that handles unconscious functions like breathing and heart rate)

  • Take advantage of your dive reflex, seen when you dive into cold water. Hold your breath and submerge your face into ice water or hold cold packs up to your face. It’s important that you get the eye socket area and under the eye cold.
  • Warm your body to relax. Soak in a warm bath or put your feet in hot water.

IIntensely exercise to calm down a body revved up by stress and emotions.

  • Engage in intense exercise even if only for a short time
  • Expend your body’s pent up energy and strength by running, walking fast, walking up stairs, playing basketball, weightlifting, etc.

PProgressively relax your muscles. (There are many relaxation and meditation techniques that work to do this.)

  • Starting with your hands and moving to your forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, forehead, eyes, cheeks and lips, tongue and teeth, chest, upper back, stomach, buttocks, thighs, calves, ankles and feet – tense for 10 seconds the relax each muscle and move onto the next.

Putting Self-Harm Avoidance Techniques into Practice

Only you can stop your own self-harm. You have to trust that some of these techniques are going to work for you but you have to actually do them for them to work. You have to want to stop your self-harm. You have to reach out to others. You have to get help. You can stop self-harming, but you have to do the work to make it happen.

Note: TIP self-harm avoidance techniques provided by local DBT practitioners.

Nominate a Superior Mental Health Advocate for $10,000

→ January 27, 2012 - Comments off

The National Council is an organization I recently become involved with as they have asked me to speak at their conference in Chicago this April.

The National Council

In their words, this organization,

… is the unifying voice of America’s behavioral health organizations. Together with our 1,950 member organizations, we serve our nation’s most vulnerable citizens — more than 6 million adults and children with mental illnesses and addiction disorders. We are committed to providing comprehensive, quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery and inclusion in all aspects of community life.

The National Council advocates for public policies in mental and behavioral health that ensure that people who are ill can access comprehensive healthcare services. And we offer state-of-the-science education and practice improvement resources so that services are efficient and effective.

Reintegration Awards by the National CouncilFrom what I can tell, this organization believes in community care over hospitalization, advocates for people with a mental illness and are just one quality organization.

And they’re giving away $10,000.

Amazing right? Well, I sure think so.

The Reintegration Awards

The awards are known as the Reintegration Awards and there are nine categories. The Reintegration awards have, for 15 years,

… celebrated the achievements of those in the community who dedicate themselves to improving the lives of individuals with serious mental illnesses, and the achievements of those living with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who battle tremendous odds to improve their own lives and the lives of their peers.

And, as fun as it would be, the $10,000 is actually granted to an organization of the individual’s choice, and not the individual themselves. Most of us, though, would be thrilled to give a $10,000 cheque to a deserving organization.

So, please nominate a spectacular mental health advocate or worker here. People who work hard for us deserve our support. And act fast because nominations close on the 31st of January.

Learn more about The National Council’s initiative here.

Why are People Antipsychiatry? Part 3/3

→ January 24, 2012 - 98 Comments

So, I’ve talked about what antipsychiatry is and the history of antipsychiatry a little, and in this third and final part in the series I look at why people are antipsychiatry.

Now, I understand that this is a theory and will only be true for a percentage of people. And I understand that no matter what I say, I will have a deluge of people disagreeing with me.

Nevertheless, I write:

Antipsychiatrists are Scared

Antipsychiatrists are scared of psychiatry, scared of what psychiatry does and scared of mental illness in general. I understand. These are scary things. I’m pretty sure I’m scared of all of them too but rationally, I live with them all.

Psychiatry is Powerful and Scary

Antipsychiatrists Are Angry from FearThere is no arguing that psychiatry is powerful. Doctors of all types are powerful but some might argue that psychiatrists are even more so as they have the right/duty of treating people without consent in very limited circumstances. (And, of course, any doctor can have a person held or treated without consent, not just a psychiatrist, but psychiatrists are likely the ones making the call.)

Moreover, a psychiatrist’s primary function is to treat serious mental illness and they primarily do this with drugs. Very powerful drugs. They’re not as powerful as, say, oncology (cancer) or HIV/AIDS medication, but they are powerful nonetheless.

So when I think of a person who has the power to wield these drugs and lock me up against my will, I can quite reasonably be scared of that person. I have been scared of that person. For many years I was scared that a doctor was going to throw me into a psych ward against my will.

However, no psychiatrist ever has or has even discussed it. And as one person who has had the experience said, “There’s no reason to be afraid of involuntary treatment.”

Our Past Makes us Scared of the Present

I understand fear based on the past. It’s something we all have in a variety of areas of our lives. Our experiences are how we learn. Our past tries to tell us how to avoid pain in the future. It may not do the best job of it, however.

And as the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy. If psychiatry has bitten you, you are likely going to be shy, scared, of it in the future. In my case I had a very bad experience when my vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) was turned on (doctor error) which resulted in immediate agony and terror; and yes, I have been scared of getting it adjusted ever since. Not scared enough not to do it, but certainly scared enough to have a butterfly farm in my stomach when it has to be done.

Mental Illness is Scary

And as is obvious to anyone who has a mental illness – mental illness is scary. It’s terrifying to have a brain that doesn’t work. It’s terrifying to have delusions and hallucinations. It’s terrifying thinking of the pain of depression or bipolar disorder.

Fear and Antipsychiatry – Fear is Easy

So it’s much easier to deny and decry what we fear than it is to face it head-on. It’s easier for me to rile against the evils of VNS than it is for me to simply say that it didn’t work for me, it caused me pain, but other people have had other, more positive experiences.

[push]It’s easier to believe that my experience is the only experience and that everyone should change based on that no matter whether I am the exception to the rule.[/push]

It’s easier to avoid psychiatry than accept the fact that one day one psychiatrist may decide I need involuntary treatment.  It’s easier to scream and holler against an evil conspiracy than simply to admit that sometimes Bad Things Happen to Good People and sometimes that person is me.

It’s always easier to act out of fear and anger than it is to stand up and deal with the complex intricacies of life-altering, stressful, painful decisions of treatment.

Hate and Anger Stem From Fear

So when it comes down to people who hate me, I get it. They fear what I represent. This comes out as anger and hate. No problem. It’s pretty natural.

But I don’t let fear rule my world. I don’t let the fear of becoming the exception stop me from trying to become the rule. And the rule is most people get better with treatment. The exceptions are bad. The exceptions are worth noting. The exceptions are worth keeping in mind. But it’s the rule on which I base my thoughts. It’s rationale and it’s hope on which I base my thoughts. And that’s just the kind of person I want to be.

What’s the Worst Mental Illness?

→ January 17, 2012 - 49 Comments

What’s the Worst Mental Illness?

I, as a good little webmistress, keep an eye on my web analytics. So yes, I know some things about my audience, and one of the things I know is what people are searching for when they find me. This sometimes influences what I write about, like today: What is the worst mental illness?

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Antipsychiatry History – How Did We End Up With Antipsychiatry?

→ January 15, 2012 - 32 Comments

Last week I discussed the antipsychiatry movement in general, including some of their critiques of psychiatry – in this piece I will look at why antipsychiatry exists at all. After all, there doesn’t seem to be an anti-cardiology or anti-oncology group – what makes psychiatry so special?

Again, Henry A. Nasrallah, MD’s article: The antipsychiatry movement: Who and why nicely encapsulates this topic, but for those of you wondering about the history of antipsychiatry, here goes.

History of Antipsychiatry – the 1960s

As I mentioned in my last article, I think historical critiques of psychiatry are next to useless as they simply show our lack of understanding and knowledge at the time and bear little resemblance to the issues psychiatry and psychiatric patients are dealing with today. Nevertheless, if you want to know where antipsychiatry came from, you have to look back.

Antipsychiatry and David Cooper

The term “antipsychiatry” was coined in 1967 (although the movement had been around a long time by then) by psychiatrist David Cooper who seems to me is no one to hold up an entire movement. Among other things, 

Cooper believed that madness and psychosis are the manifestation of a disparity between one’s own ‘true’ identity and our social identity (the identity others give us and we internalise). Cooper’s ultimate solution was through revolution.

And, my favorite, a quote from his writing in 1980,

Madness is permanent revolution in the life of a person…a deconstitution of oneself with the implicit promise of return to a more fully realized world.

Ah, so madness is good then. Tell that to everyone who’s been through a psychotic episode.

Antipsychiatry, Foucault and Szasz

How did antipsychiatry come to be?At this time, Foucault, one of the seed-sowers of antipsychiatry seemed to like the idea of prescribing, “travel, rest, walking, retirement and generally engaging with nature” as a treatment.

Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz was a big part of the creation of antipsychiatry too although he decried the moniker and its adherents, instead, collaborating with the Church of Scientology to create the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights in 1969. (I know that sounds like a good thing but all you have to do is wander around on their website for about 3 minutes to see why it’s not. They’re one of the most hate-spreading, propaganda-promoting groups I’ve ever seen.)

I suspect this is why many people right off all antipsychiatry groups as merely Scientologists (but they’re not).

According to Wikipedia:

It was later noted that the view that insanity was not in most or even in any instances a “medical” entity, but a moral issue, was also held by Christian Scientists and certain Protestant fundamentalists, as well as Szasz.

(And if someone were to tell me that my mental illness was because of my morals, well, it wouldn’t be pretty. My morals are fine, thanks.)

Also around this time:

  • The idea that psychiatry is just an agent of social control began becoming popular.
  • Psychiatry from the 1900s, 1930s and other eras was criticised (and rightfully so).
  • Psychiatry was tied to the Nazis and the holocaust.
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was also written and became a best-seller.

The History of Antipsychiatry – the 1970s

The “psychiatry survivors” began entering the antipsychiatry movement. These are people who claimed past abuses of psychiatry. (I rather despise the name, personally, because, of course, it makes it sound like psychiatry is something you “survive” rather than simply a medical specialty. It’s particularly insulting to me and those in psychiatry, I feel.) Of course, some of these people had, and have, genuine complaints about how psychiatry treated them, particularly before the proliferation of psychiatric medication when few options (pretty much all bad ones) were available.

Some would claim that antipsychiatry worked to successfully remove references to homosexuality as a mental illness, but I would suggest that the gay rights movement really lays claim to that particular gain.

Antipsychiatry Today

Today, antipsychiatry argues against the biomedical model of psychiatry (as it always has) and it decries the ties to the pharmaceutical industry (once much worse than it is today). They also fight the idea of psychiatric diagnoses altogether and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) in particular.

Antipsychiatry is still marginalized within psychiatry and within the mental illness community at large. Although an exception to this seems to be online where antipsychiatry people and ideals are absolutely everywhere.

Thoughts on the Antipsychiatry History

Antipsychiatry Balances PsychiatryThere is no doubt that there are things to fight against in psychiatry. I do it. Other people do it. It’s pretty common. A good example is the DSM-V discussions which hotly debate all sorts of mental illness topics.

I just don’t agree with most of what antipsychiatry fights. Their raison d’être seems to be getting people off medication en masse, and that’s something I could never support. Antipsychiatry started at a time (pre-1960s) where conditions for the treatment of the mentally ill were deplorable and inhuman and wrong but they have continued into times when that’s just not the case. If anything people need more access to psychiatry, not less.

Antipsychiatry Benefits

While I’m hard-pressed to argue for antipsychiatry I will say that antipsychiatry provides checks and balances to a very powerful system. I feel these checks and balances could be better handled, but nevertheless, they are of benefit. While I don’t think psychiatrists should have to defend their profession in general (as with any other doctor) it may be helpful for them to cast a critical eye over what they do as what they do is very important and affects people greatly.

In short, naysayers (on this blog as well) force us to look at ourselves which can be seen as a benefit, but you really have to want to see it.

Next time: Why Does Antipsychiatry Exist – Beyond the History

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