Friday, July 22, 2016

#11. Subverting Economic Justice With Psychiatric 'Welfare'

This is Day 11 of our 30-day blog on the Declaration of Principles adopted by the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression held in Toronto, May 14-18, 1982.  (More info here.)  Today we are talking about Principle 11.

Principle 11 reads in full as follows:

We oppose the psychiatric system because it invalidates the real needs of poor people by offering social welfare under the guise of psychiatric "care and treatment."

Basic Rationale

Ok, so let's begin to connect the dots on how sick and insidious the current 'healthcare' system is. The connection between poverty and so-called 'mental illness' is undeniable.  But, when you read the journal articles, it's like, among the 'experts', being dense is fashionable.  What should be a no-brainer is literally this big debate.  Professionals are actually asking, with all appearance of being serious, Which comes first, poverty or 'mental illness'?

Ok, even without a medical degree, I can still make a credible guess. Probably nothing is more basic to healthy brain functioning than meeting basic needs: food, shelter, a safe environment, protection from the elements and toxic chemicals, somewhere to get good nutrition, sleep and rest. 

These are accepted life necessities.  If you can't get them, you can't function.  They are the material building blocks of healthy living tissue.  Healthy tissue is needed for the health of organs and systems that support healthy brains and their healthy operation. Then and only then do we get the capacity to reliably notice, attend to and learn about 'reality' (both inside us and the outer world).

Without this learning, there is no social or economic functioning.  It is how we build the thoughts, feelings and actions that human beings use to relate and survive.  It is also how we learn to organize and pattern our responses to environmental demands.

In other words, asking whether poverty impacts mental functioning is like asking whether your car can function without gas or oil. Without attention to basic mechanics, you can and should predict that something will break down.  It's not a question of attitude, motivation or will.   The vehicle simply doesn't have what it needs to stay in good repair or operate as intended. This affects not only the vehicle or driver, but everyone who wants to get somewhere and has to share the road.

Expecting poverty to fix itself is like expecting your beater to fix itself while sitting on the lot. And, blaming your beater for breaking down is nothing short of ludicrous. Maybe you know nothing about cars.  Or maybe you just don't give a rip. But, if you don't attend to a few well-accepted basics, it isn't the dealer selling you a lemon.  It's not the low standards of assembly line workers.  There is just no way your vehicle is going to make it more than 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 miles, given how you are treating it.

There are entire professions that make their living off of servicing human beings.  You would think they would pay attention to the basic mechanics of being human.  What is happening with poverty is not that much different than cars.  There are a number of systems that have to work.  You don't know exactly what's going to give.  But if you totally screw them out of everything they need, you can be darn well sure that something - and probably a lot of things - aren't going to be right.

And, if you keep neglecting the basic mechanics, then progressively, the longer you neglect them, the worse it is going to get.   Eventually, from a structural standpoint, you'll be left with a piece of junk. Yeah, perhaps you can salvage a few parts.  But basically, it's a time-consuming task that will take a real master.  They will have to know what to look for and where to look.  They will have to put in a lot of energy into finding the remaining viability in order to rescue it from the rest of the heap.

This is what we are doing to entire communities of human beings.  It is not a mystery that people and relationships, entire families, neighborhoods, generations, break down in poverty.  This is not a 'mental illness.' It is not a 'clinical' disorder.  It is not a 'disease' in any healthcare sense of the term.

It is the outcome - reliable, predictable, consistent - of poverty and its effects.  Who wouldn't be anxious, depressed, go off, pop off, lose it, flip out, give up or out in such conditions?  

Think about living this way.  Think about it long and hard.

Think about having no way out.  Think about not being able to sleep at night because you are too uncomfortable and too scared.  Think about waking up, hungry, afraid, no heat, no AC, too hot, too cold, too tired, too broke.  Think about no one to ask for help and no one you know who cares.  Think about breathing dust, grease, asbestos, paint chips, insecticide, whatever got dumped in the alley or tracked up the stairs.  Think about rodents and roaches and flies all around you, a pestering reality that won't go away.  Think of no laundry, no way to afford it. Think of water you don't want to drink, toilets or plumbing you don't want to use.

Think about broken windows, broken locks, broken glass, holes in walls, gunshots, shouting, violence, rape, in the street, on the block, in your home, in your bed.... Think about waking up at the bottom of the ladder, low bird in pecking order, the dog everyone kicks on a bad day or just for fun.

Think about that happening not just once in a while, or for a couple of bad weeks, but every day of your life. Think about your entire known world looking down on you, seeing you as a burden, your life as a mistake.  Think of all of society, every teacher, social worker, cop, storekeeper you know sizing you up and selling you short.  Think of life with the constant message  you don't measure up, add up, make sense; you're too much trouble, you shouldn't exist.

Think about how you would face that, deal with that, keep on keeping on, on a steady diet of encounters like that.  Think about no hope, no money, no resources, no education, no encouragement, no awareness of anything else but the life like that that you know.  Think about how that would impact your life - the decisions you make, your sense of your self.  Think about how you'd think about others, human relationships, the world at large.

Ok, so, maybe not all of these things are there for you.  Maybe its only half of them, or maybe only a few.  Still pick a few.  Live with them.  Intimately, constantly, nagging you endlessly, year after year. No gas no oil, beater body breaking down, taking more hits every day.  Beater bodies all around you, breaking down, no gas, no oil, no shop no tools, no mechanics few and far between, hits mounting exponentially around you every day:

Here are some directions I see possible for me:

Anguish, hopelessness, helplessness, fear.  Agitation, activation, preoccupation, thinking nonstop, worrying nonstop, talking about it or nothing nonstop.  Drinking, sexing or drugging nonstop, anything to stop the stuff that won't stop. Bullying, bluffing, bragging, buffooning.  Terrorizing, egging on, goosing, gooning.  Gearing up, shooting up, getting up, going down, getting ready to gun down every goon who's gunning for me or might be. Attempts to space out, zone out, run away, fly away, fry away, die away, getting outrageously high away, blowing the reality of causality as far far far away as I can possibly to get way.  Raging up, roughing up, toughing up, bucking up, becoming the clown, going out on the town, going as high as the sky and never, ever coming back down... 

Any way I see it, the outcome is bad.  The continual stress and distress take their toll.  Body and mind, the systems break down, if they ever developed at all.  Shots will misfire, repairs will not happen.  Thoughts, feelings, actions will miss their mark.  None of us will know quite what was intended, over and over, again and again.

You would think the healthcare industry would actually make these connections.  You would think this industry would be waving its arms, jumping up and down, trying to get our attention. You would think they would be telling us our whole society:

Hey, we have to take on poverty.  We have to get people the building blocks of life.  No one can do well without safe housing, safe neighborhoods, good food, clean water, clear air, doors that lock, windows that close....  As a bare minimum, we have to create the conditions - material and social - where people feel safe enough to eat and sleep and self-repair. Without these basics, nothing else will work. Our top priority - for research, funding and spending must go into developing this essential infrastructure that human beings need for life.  

But instead this massive industry has created a massive junkyard system.  In effect, it gets paid to take cars off the road, and retire them to the lot.  Yeah, maybe there's a salvageable part or two. Maybe they'll get around to looking for it when they have time.  But mostly they just spend their days monitoring the wreckage, guarding the gate and making sure the damage is not seen from the road.

It is the major healthcare fraud of our time.   It should be clear to all America, that poverty is leaving an ugly mark.  But you'd never know from what the industry experts are saying.  To hear psychiatry speak, you would think that poverty plays zero role for the millions of impoverished Americans they ensnare.  To hear psychiatry speak, you'd think that Americans should endure crap like this, literally crap every day and never show a sign of it.  For psychiatry, that is what 'normal' means.  No signs, no symptoms, no effects.  Otherwise, drumroll ...  here's your diagnosis.  And, ta da  ... here's your 'treatment.' 

It is a very clever slight of hand.  Professional opinion is invoked not to cure - but rather to obscure the real needs of poor people and the dark under belly of economic injustice. In an instant, our attention is directed away from the distressing real life conditions that people have to endure. All we see next is the medical rebranding and associated wares that healthcare wants to sell us. As psychiatry works its dark magic, the economic causes of human suffering - and the underlying normal human needs - all vanish from public view.  Healthcare pathologies and treatment needs materialize in the blink of an eye, as does the need for treatment services. The end result is to divert billions of public dollars - taxpayer dollars that could be going to create real relief and social change - to psychiatry and the healthcare industry.

The upshot is that the needs of poor people are being appropriated by a predatory industry that is pathologizing their suffering to serve its own self interest.  It is a classic case of blaming the victim, with a whole new cabal of abusers laughing all the way to the bank.

On the other hand, there is much to be learned from this for all who care to see.  Poverty really is the great leveler.  We are all human beings.  We all have needs. We all have capacity to develop and grow.  We all do better when our basic needs are met.  None of us does very well for very long when they aren't.

As a case in point, suppose one day I'm a psychiatrist, making a decent income as a member of a respected profession.   The next day, society wakes up.  Psychiatry is seen for the fraud that it is, and my profession disappears overnight.  Oops, there goes my income.  There goes my reputation.  There goes my ability to support my family, my lifestyle.  There goes my justification for my social worth.

Supposing that happens...

Wouldn't it be nice if I found myself in a different world than the one that I'm creating?  

Wouldn't it be nice if, despite my upset and confusion, nobody labeled me, drugged me or pulled the plug on my future potential?   

Wouldn't it be nice if, despite my dearth of perceived social worth, people didn't denigrate me, roll their eyes, act as if I was a living germ for which there is no cure? 

Wouldn't it be nice if my community didn't make me grovel, call myself ill, or submit to 'treatment' to get my basic needs met  - regardless of how disappointed they were in what I had become? 

If I'm really fortunately, the community I live in is sincere.  They don't like the above dynamics and they don't see a role for them in our collective community life.  They recognize how much hurt and damage such attitudes cause.  They sincerely believe that no human being should treat another this way.  In that case, they will decide not to do to me what I and my profession routinely did to others like me before we were abolished.  Consider my good fortune! 

Questions for Reflection

We are building this work together.  Your lived experience is needed and valued.  It is essential to building our shared knowledge and expertise as a movement.  Please comment on any or all of these questions or in any way that speaks to you personally.

1. Have you ever had psychiatry pathology your poverty or its effects?   
2. What would you like others of conscience to know about this experience?
3. In what ways has economic injustice impacted your well-being - e.g., on physical, mental, social or other levels? 
4.How have the effects of economic injustice for you rippled out to others?  
5. When you picture yourself in the worst of it, what were your main needs and how could they have best been met?
6. What kind of help has been most helpful to you in times of financial distress & why? 
7. To alleviate the impact of economic injustice, what changes would you recommend?  
8.  If we were sincere in our effort to support people in financial crisis, how would our approach to these issues change?  

August 11, 2016:  Conference on Principle 11

We will talk about Principle 11, including your responses, on August 11 from 9-11  PM EST.  The conference will convene on

To join:

By Phone: (1)267-521-0167

By Internet:

We welcome your participation.  Simply press #1 on your phone to speak with the show hosts.

More details are available at

Post-Conference Reception

Those wishing to continue the discussion after the conference – or to talk informally with others who participated – may join us for the Post-Conference reception.  The reception will start immediately after the conference (11 PM EST) and continue til the wee hours or for as long as there is interest.

To join: 

By phone: (1)331-205-7196 (dial *67 for added privacy)

By internet:

International: Local access numbers available at


  1. "On the other hand, poverty really is the great leveler. Suppose one day I'm a psychiatrist, making a decent income as a member of a respected profession. The next day, society wakes up. Psychiatry is seen for the fraud that it is, and my profession disappears overnight. Oops, there goes my income. There goes my reputation. There goes my ability to support my family, my lifestyle. There goes my justification for my social worth."
    It happened to me. Not that society woke up to the fraud of my clinical work, but that I, myself, came to see it. And poverty came quickly into my life and it is, indeed, a great leveler. The income, the reputation, the ability to support myself, my lifestyle and my social worth, all gone in a few months, just as Sarah says. It wasn't too long before my former friends/clinical colleagues were suggesting that I might be able to get a "$500 beater" on craigslist. I wasn't sure if they were talking about a car or a life partner. One woman (to whom I had been very close) asked me to do care taking work for one of her family members while they were on vacation--for free--because I "wasn't doing anything else".
    I hesitate to talk about this part of my life as "walking through a fire"; it's such a cliche'. I have a hard time talking about it at all; and, it is not because I don't want to. I understand things now I could have never understood before--yet--this is NOT an inspirational story or, by any means, something that otherwise becomes a part of "recovery". I just don't have the focus and the words. I hate that, too. Because it is important.

    1. Good on you Sharon-- good you saw what you saw-and good on you for helping when you could, for free- you gave- people don't do that- I think your special- and so are these people here- who have worked so hard to put all this together- its all said to me that - care and force don't go together if they can help it- because, forcing care- really hurts- thanks hey,.


Please share your thoughts: