There are many people in what are variously called the critical psychology, critical psychiatry, and anti-psychiatry movements, both service providers and service users, who rarely get to be heard in the mainstream media, where the dominant paradigm of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders” is entrenched and virtually unquestioned. Because I had gotten a bit of experience running virtual conferences, where I would interview experts on a variety of subjects (I’ve done conferences on emotional healing, life purpose, and so on) and because I am deeply involved in mental health reform (and am proposing a “future of mental health movement” in a forthcoming book of mine), it struck me that I ought to interview “experts in the critical psychology field.” I reached out and did just that (though the conference I put together is woefully short on interviews with service users—that will get rectified in a future conference). I video interviewed Joanna Moncrieff (The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs), Gary Greenberg (The Book Of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry), Anne Cooke (Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia), Will Hall (host of Madness Radio), Mad in America’s own Robert Whitaker, and ten others in the mental health reform world.
There was general agreement that most people held the following ten erroneous assumptions about “the state of mental health services.” None ought to be believed — and yet most people do believe them. It must be that they sound quite plausible; it is certainly the case that they are reinforced by drug ads and the mass media; and, unfortunately enough, it must be that they “meet people where they are at,” at a place of wishful thinking. It must be that people want these ten things to be true. But they aren’t. What are these ten assumptions? The following:
- That we have “come a long way” in our understanding of the human psyche and that, when it comes to mental health, we have clear ways of distinguishing between “normal” and “abnormal” and “well” and “ill.”
- That “mental disorders” exist in the same way that diseases like tuberculosis and cancer exist.
- That “mental disorders” are discerned as opposed to created. That is, professionals “see real outbreaks of ADHD” as opposed to inventing “ADHD” in a room, after which children are found to fit the label.
- That there is a professional class able to “diagnose and treat mental disorders.”
- That a mental health professional can tell you what is “causing” your “mental disorder” and that he then logically relates his “treatment” to that “cause.”
- That there is “medication” available to “treat mental disorders”; and that the existence of these “medications” is a kind of proof that “mental disorders” exist.
- That we possess adequate, appropriate language with which to talk about mental health.
- That it is plausible and proper not to take an individual’s goals, circumstances, history, or personality into account when it comes to thinking about his mental health. For example, that it is proper to think that if you hate your job, your mate and your life that has nothing whatsoever to do with your “depression.”
- That, while perhaps “depression” and “anxiety” aren’t actual medical illnesses, certainly “schizophrenia” and other “serious mental illnesses” must be.
- That because you feel emotionally terrible, because you feel immobilized, because the darkness in you is blacker than anything you’ve ever experienced before, that because you are in severe emotional pain or in a real panic—that because you are so disturbed, bleak, unhappy, or terrorized inside—that you must have a “mental disorder” or a “mental disease.”
We definitely had a lot to talk about!
This article first appeared in Mad in America, 22 February 2015.