Friday, January 6, 2012

R.I.P. "Antipsychiatry," the Term

Following is a piece of a comment posted yesterday by KA on mcmanweb:

... No one is saying "anti-psychiatry is right" because anti-psychiatry isn't a belief system. It can't be right. It's an open-ended criticism. Skepticism is not a position; it's a process.

In my article, Stupid Advocacy Kills, based on blog pieces here, I attacked antipsychiatry for its obstinate denial, in complete defiance of the facts, that “mental illness exists in the first place, along with the possibility of finding treatments ...”

Trust me, notwithstanding KA, I view antipsychiatry as a rigid belief system that has nothing to do with open-ended enquiry, but if I have to explain myself every time I use the term, well, perhaps I should be looking around something better.

This came through loud and clear when Corinna West - a recovery advocate I hold in high regard - posted this two months earlier in response to a piece here on Knowledge is Necessity:

... I do ask, please, that you correctly identify those of us that are psychiatric survivors and leaders of our mental health recovery civil rights movement. Antipsychiatrists are completely different people with different agendas. Folks like to use the antipsychiatry insult to denigrate our work, and lumping us together is just about as inaccurate as trying to rebut Whitaker.

Ms West was referring to my attack on Robert Whitaker’s “mindlessly unqualified endorsements of the antipsychiatry movement and his ill-informed cheap shots against advocacy groups that actually get off their asses and help people ...”

The piece, Rebutting Whitaker: Not Such a Good Idea, was actually very supportive of Whitaker and highly critical of psychiatry’s response (and nonresponse) to his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic.

Do you see a problem here? Practically every person with a brain or someone who knows someone with a brain - myself included - has massive reservations concerning both the practice of psychiatry and what passes for its scientific underpinnings. But we hardly define ourselves according to our negative orientations, nor do we want to be mistaken for those who do. We ARE the 99 percent - the rigorously enquiring pro-recovery majority.

Yes, there is an anti-intellectual, anti-science nihilist fringe out there, but is there a better term for describing them than antipsychiatry? Yes there is - let’s call them the anti-intellectual, anti-science nihilist fringe.


Anonymous said...

Some people have a problem with a nuanced, thoughtful, dialectical approach to any topic and will only be satisfied with oversimplified, definite terms they can use to make oversimplified arguments about things which really are too complex to be reduced to sound-bite-like bickering. Many of us with mental illness (bipolar disorder in my case) are made aware daily that our disease is impossible to quantify, to make predictions about, to actually define. Giving it a name is just a helpful way to point at a moving target. It's very helpful, to be skeptical, faithful, hopeful, to refuse, to accept, to ponder, to argue, to discuss and to take into account any sincere or creditable thinking, research, etc. re mental illness. Rigidity is a problem. It is almost never useful for patients or providers to be rigid about the nature and definition of the disease, the disease versus personal weakness, the disease versus stupid thinking, etc., etc. It is completely useless (and shows a willful ignorance) to deny the existence of mental illness. Nonetheless, I will entertain, at least for as long as I find it useful or compelling, just about any argument on the subject. If you are mentally ill (and are not the over-suggestible type) it's good to hear out and consider a number of opinions and a range of thinking about your illness. You find insight. You may find help. You may find the thinking of someone who is clearly a horse's ass. All of this can be informative and helpful.

gina said...

But John, that's a mouthful.

I guess "cranks" is off table?

What about "kooks"?

John McManamy said...

Hey, Anonymous, your points about the utility of hearing a number of opinions made me realize I left out something very important in my piece, namely - there's a huge range for diversity of views in the 99 percent, especially when we all chasing a moving target, like you point out. On any range of issues, there will be a wide range of opposing views, part of the dialectic, as you state.

This is a basic theme here at Knowledge is Necessity. Essentially, where the enquiry is open and free-ranging, every argument is on the table.

But then we have a nihilist fringe. Alas!

Anyway, many thanks for your thoughtful post.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Gina. I was thinking more like "quotidian douchebags." :)

Smitty said...

Let us call them the "denialists." The anti psychiatry movement... don't they simply "deny" that mental illness is a measurable disease state?

Aren't they, too, partially right?

I know some good folk who feel that the mental illness which is psychosis, is often a spiritual crisis, in need of a better narrative than the story of "biochemical imbalance." Many believe the healing is in telling the correct story.

I am betting they too would not want to be called antipsychiatrysts, or be lumped into an anti psychiatry movement. Heck that is an oxymoron anyways.

Anti-psychiatry has no movement. It is seen as simply "oppositional." Which, to psychiatry, IS a disease state.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Smitty. Denialists - love the term.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding to my comment.

It's sad there is a nihilist fringe because, in the end, why should they want to bother? If they really are nihilists, then on the subject of mental illness all they really have to say is it doesn't exist, which (again, if they really are nihilists) they shouldn't NEED to say since, to them, nothing matters, objective knowledge isn't really attainable and nothing meaningful exists.

I think they aren't nihilists. I think they are denialists and need to spend some observation time in a psych ward. As a former patient (who is mentally ill, but not completely gone in the head) I can tell you that anyone in a psych ward will have some undeniable (and terrifying) experiences seeing people, who seemed fine one moment previous, in the throes of a sudden onset of full blown mania or schizophrenic illness, having to be restrained and drugged - these are not people who want this. These are not people who are trying to get attention or exaggerating. It's terrifying, heartbreaking and very real. Put some of our "nihilists" in the ward for a day and they'd be rushing for the safest corners in the room when these events occur. Then they could decide whether mental illness is real or not.

Moira said...

Sounds like us vs. them all over again to me.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Moira. I make no apologies about us vs them. I'm all for inclusion and honoring the views of others and learning from people whose view differ from mine, but then there comes a time for boundaries and personal choices.

I also do not countenance bigots and their ilk.

I've seen the nihilist fringe in action. I've been the recipient of their vicious hate-posts. Screw them.

Becky said...

The irony is the term 'antipsychiatry' is not even one that was chosen by the first people to whom it was applied; much in the manner a psychiatric diagnosis is. The real issue to me is Respect for the individual.

as for the owning of any label that someone else applies so carelessly, professional or peer---probably not a real good an idea for those who understand the meaning of self-determination.

One observation about what this post is about--classifying others--

Anonymous--I was given the diagnosis you have. I took the psych drugs to my physical detriment. Have physical damage I was not ever warned of--I did however have an awesome therapist--who helped me deal with my baggage and enabled me to move past clinging to some notion that I have a 'disease' which while this may some day be found to be true; there is no empirical evidence that any mental illness is the result of a disease process. If you wish to dispute that with some you anonymously have, Please Share. One of the reasons I was able to become functional is because considering my personal weaknesses, and purposely take steps to overcome them. Stupid is as stupid does, so that meant I had to change my thinking to, which means my stupid thinking also needs consistent effort to change. I have no doubt the first step for me was accepting that I am responsible for me--Me just me. Not me and my disease, me and my past, or me and my feelings. If I did not act differently, and make a conscious effort to change how I thought and functioned--I would never really get better. the thing is, I wish it were a disease and that taking psych meds were the answer to fix why I was so disordered and lost. It was those very things you do not think need to be discussed in relationship to mental illness. It is my experience, the people who are able to do just that, are the ones have recovered. or whatever you would like to call it. I haven't taken psych drugs every day for over six years, in that time there has been a handful of times where I took a sedative for a couple of days for sleep. I work at taking care of myself, because that is what is required to have a life worth living. What I do not have is a disease--and if you have any proof that bipolar is in fact a disease, chemical imbalance, or whatever term de jour you are using these days; please share.

The majority of people whom I have met who are adamant about wishing to abolish psychiatry, have experienced horribly inhumane treatment, at the hands of professionals, and/or family members. It seems to me that what some of us, like anonymous may want to consider, is their 'rigidity' is a survival mechanism? As in, they saw others die and almost died themselves--being "treated" without consent. Seems to me, when viewed from the perspective of a person who has survived experiences they know others didn't; such experiences certainly seems to me good damn reason to have the views they do.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Becky. I can very well understand why people would want to abolish psychiatry completely, especially after what a good many have been subjected to. Many of these individuals have turned to focusing on helping others in their own recovery. Their deeds identify them as pro rather than solely anti. They are part of the conversation. They are part of the mainstream, not a fringe.

And yes, you're right - our views are shaped by our experiences. Many thanks for your thoughtful post.

Smitty said...

OK, As a person with an interest in the schizophrenia diagnosis, I get email occasionally from SAARDA.

The latest was about a reintegration program, a scholarship opportunity for those with a schizophrenia diagnosis. They have to be medication compliant and seeing a psychiatrist. OK, So went to look more at Ely Lily's special programs and found this new stuff about real physical health.

A wellness crash-course for this taking medications.

See what they say about the medications and weight gain. Dare say they deny the medications play any role. Hmmm...

Noch Noch said...

anti psychiatry... very heavy for me to understand really... on a side note, i recently was challenged to not say "The stigma of depression" for in vocalizing it, i'm endorsing it... similar to RIP-ing the term "antipsychiarty"?