Wednesday, July 27, 2016

#16. Using 'Mental Illness' To Market Mood-Altering Medicine

This is Day 16 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 16.

Principle 16 reads in full as follows:

We oppose the medical model of "mental illness" because it justifies involuntary psychiatric intervention including forced drugging

Basic Rationale

The following is by Jeanne Smith.  She details the medical model, how it works and how it operates to control and oppress our People.  Jeanne's experience additionally highlights how the medical model is used to dupe people into treatment (Principle 17, tomorrows topic) and how vulnerability - especially poverty - is exploited by the medical model (Principles 11 and 12) for industry profit.

By Jeanne Smith

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association published The DSM lll which was created to standardize psychiatric diagnoses as the profession changed in response to the new behavior-control chemicals that were being invented by pharmaceutical companies. These drugs were effective at controlling the physical symptoms of distress. And since the profession now had “medicine” that could mask the symptoms they had been treating it was time to aggressively disseminate the concept to the public. Now, madness of every description was really a matter of chemicals in people’s brains which doctors could manage medically.

In 1984 psychiatrist and educator Nancy Andreasen published The Broken Brain and officially launched to era of “no-fault brain diseases” which were now considered to be the basis of all aberrant behavior that has been defined as psychiatric illness

In 1985 I was living in Vermont with my two toddlers, recently divorced, on welfare…and suing my father for having sexually assaulted me for 12 years as a child. One afternoon I brought my sick baby to Dr. John Matthew at The Plainfield Health Center. I was not in great shape due to poverty, lack of sleep and the stress of revealing my abuse history in this very public manner. Dr. John poked his finger in my back and I jumped. He said these fateful words to me:

“Aha! The tenderness of your trigger point proves that you have the disease “fibromyalgia” which is a symptom of depression. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain. We can fix that! You will have to take a chemical for the rest of your life, just like insulin for diabetes.”

When I asked if there was a test to show what the imbalance was he said that there was not one at present, but soon! (30 years later, still no objective tests to prove the presence or absence of any brain chemical imbalances) I also asked about the possibility of dependency on mood-altering chemicals and he insisted that the drugs were not addictive.

“My wife is an alcoholic and she swears by these drugs!” He said.

A biocracy is a political system that is based on dividing and controlling people based on physical, biological aspects such as sex or skin color or perceived disability. Psychiatry is a biocratic system of control that ascribes the effects of social injustice and cultural and personal trauma to the presence of biological, genetic brain diseases that can only be managed through psychiatric interventions such as behavior-control chemicals and electroshock to the brain.

I was a Brownie leader in Plainfield and also a member of a low-income tenants’ housing association. I talked to moms and kids and many of them were also patients of John Matthew who prescribed them ADHD drugs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Why would they ever question what he was doing, you trust your DOCTOR not to do something that could hurt you, right?

Medicaid was paying the bill for the general practitioner, John Matthew, to test these dangerous chemicals on the poor. And it was an experiment, as I came to realize as I became sicker and sicker on the drugs. I looked up the drug in the PDR each time I was given something new and the entry always said, “The mechanism of action for this drug is unknown.” As I was researching during my long and painful detox I read books such as Mad in America, which informed me that the drugs were only tested for 8 weeks before they were released to be tried out on the public. And Medicaid was giving carte blanche to drug the poor.

I was there at the beginning of the biopsychiatric revolution and I watched it develop. I was one of the victims, but sadly, I became one of the proponents as I worked as a peer within the mental illness system and served on various “mental health’ boards in the community.

I was part of a peer-run support group. Our group had a shrink who was “friendly” to our cause, who was willing to certify the people we served, mostly the homeless and the dirt poor, as mentally ill in order to qualify for SSI payments. At the time I really believed this was harmless and that we were beating the system in order to provide human services for the underclass.

In my defense I have to say that I was being prescribed a cocktail of psychiatric chemicals, but I was still able to advocate for those I considered to be my disadvantaged peers, i.e. those of us who had been labeled as “mentally ill.” In my role as a peer counselor I was often confided in and the most common tale I heard was that my peers had been victims of incest, rape, domestic violence and –always- crushing poverty.

The larger peer group in my community was active in lobbying the Vermont legislature to stop forced psychiatry. In the 1990’s we proposed legislation that would pressure the MH system to consider trauma as an aspect of receiving a psychiatric diagnosis. Our slogan was, “Let’s ask - What happened to you? instead of What is wrong with you.”

Finally, I wanted to speak to the terrible practice that is commonplace among doctors.  Once a person receives a psychiatric diagnosis doctors begin to disbelieve anything that they report about their physical condition. I suppose the reasoning behind this is that crazy people are by definition not in touch with reality (liars) and are not reliable reporters on the status of their own health.

This attitude led to unimaginable suffering and early, painful death to dozens of people I worked with in the peer community in Vermont. Instead of responding to complaints about the side effects of the behavior-control cocktails they prescribe to this population, doctors, were simply adding more chemicals to the mix in order to shut people up. My next door neighbor, who had started the peer group I worked at, suffered for weeks with chronic incontinence and confusion. His “care team” at the community mental health center did not respond to his distress and he died alone in his apartment of kidney failure from lithium kidney damage.

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. What is your experience with psychiatry as a system of medical corrections? 
2. What do wish people of conscience to understand about how you were medically abused by the psychiatric system?
3. What is your vision of an alternative for those who experience extreme mental states?
4. How can we move our culture to an understanding of how the effects of social injustice have been medicalized in order to blame and control victims?

August 16, 2016:  Conference on Principle 16

We will talk about Principle 16, including your responses, on August 16 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 comment:

  1. I appreciate your writing of the your journey Jeanne Smith. My heart goes out to as it gives me a better understanding of what you believe so strongly in.


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