On August 26, Shayla Love, senior staff writer, published a piece on VICE, an online magazine. The article is titled The Movement Against Psychiatry: The contentious debate of whether to fix—or completely overthrow—the way we treat mental illness.
In her article, Ms. Love provides abundant quotes from people on both sides of the issue, including Awais Aftab, MD, an American psychiatrist, currently Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and Attending Psychiatrist at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare. This agency is operated by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Ohio MHAS).
On August 27, Dr. Aftab wrote a piece on his own blog, A Myth in Creation. The article is titled The VICE story: Beyond Anti-psychiatry. In his first paragraph, Dr. Aftab tells us that his purpose in writing the article was to “offer more context and background” to the quoted material in Ms. Love’s article.
Here’s an interesting quote from Dr. Aftab’s article:
“Because Mad in America has emerged as the major platform in the US for critical and dissatisfied voices, it demonstrates the full yin-yang messy complexity of the bad mixed in with the good and the good mixed in with the bad. Some felt that my comments were targeted specifically at MIA’s research news team, but that is not correct. When I said things like I ‘shake my head with disappointment’, it is with regards to blogs and articles such as this one.”
The link in the above quote leads to an excellent and forthright post by Peter Breggin, MD, which he published on Mad in America on March 2, 2020. The post is titled The Most Dangerous Thing You Will Ever Do. The opening sentence states:
“The most dangerous thing you will ever do is see a psychiatrist”.[Italics in original]
The post is divided into sections with the following headings:
How Psychiatric Drugs Take Your Mind Prisoner
Withdrawal Symptoms Make Escape from the Drugs Extremely Difficult
Psychiatry Itself is a Prison of Sorts
Are Psychiatrists More Informed than Primary Care Physicians?
Psychiatrists Are Extremely ignorant About Life
How Shock Doctors Make Escape Totally Impossible
The Risk of Getting Physically Locked Up
Psychiatry Is an Alternative Reality
Comparing the Good and the Bad
Where and How to Get Help
Here are some quotes from Dr. Breggin’s piece:
“I am a psychiatrist and I have been watching my profession deteriorate for many decades. This is my most direct written statement about the dangers of stepping inside a modern psychiatrist’s office. My conclusions are the culmination of mountains of research authored by me and by an increasing number of other psychiatrists, scientists and journalists.” [Emphasis added]
“All psychiatric drugs are potent neurotoxins that so disrupt higher mental functioning and emotional regulation that people taking them almost never have adequate awareness of how much harm the drugs are doing to their body, brain and mind, their energy and will power, and their overall quality of life.”
“Meanwhile, psychiatrists will frequently cover up what is happening by telling their patients and their families that the drugs are needed and that the obvious symptoms of brain injury are instead products of the patient’s supposed mental illness.”
“As a group, psychiatrists are by far the most arrogant and cavalier prescribers in the field of medicine.”
“Most psychiatrists have not been adequately trained and have little interest in talking with people about their lives and how to live more effectively and happily.”
“Because they know so little and have so little to offer, psychiatrists must dumb down and misguide both themselves and their patients about what really makes people suffer and what really helps them recover and lead good lives. Instead of wisdom and understanding they rely on cookie-cutter diagnoses and drugs. The great majority of psychiatrists know no other way to make a living than to act as medication dispensing machines, cramming multiple patients into an hour for “med checks,” and collecting a steady stream of reimbursements from the insurance companies and government programs.”
“Even when the brains and minds of patients are being obliterated by continuous electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), usually along with multiple drugs, shock doctors regularly lie by saying that the massive memory loss and cognitive dysfunction is a result of their ‘mental illness.'”
“Psychiatry has created an alternative reality or extreme state for itself…based on drug company marketing slogans, false science, fake medicine, and fabricated claims of superior knowledge.”
“Even a good coach without professional credentials is likely to be safer and more helpful than a psychiatrist.”
“I believe that a good therapist should be so helpful on the first visit that you feel eager to return for the next session and that you should be drug-free enough to enjoy and benefit from the help.” [Italics in original]
So, just for the record, I wanted to state that unlike the very eminent Dr. Aftab, I, for one, do not find myself shaking my head with disappointment at Dr. Breggin’s article, but rather nodding my head in general agreement. I describe my agreement as “general” because there are some hyperbolic statements in the piece that are clearly not meant to be taken literally, e.g. the title. There are activities that are more dangerous than seeing a psychiatrist, e.g. playing “chicken” with trains at level crossings. I encourage my readers to take a look at Dr. Breggin’s article and to judge the matter for themselves.
Meanwhile, it seems to me that Dr. Aftab’s comment about shaking his head in disappointment is a bit like lobbing a hand grenade into the enemy camp and running away. This might be a good tactic in mortal combat, but has little to commend it in the search for truth and validity in matters like the one to hand.
In his August 27 post, Dr. Aftab wrote the following:
“I am wary of extreme criticisms of psychiatry – of which there is no shortage – that rely on mischaracterizations, vitriol, and propaganda, and seek to delegitimize psychiatry as a medical specialty. Such views are typically characterized as “anti-psychiatry” but that is an imperfect term, because the term is at times applied rather liberally, the “classic” figures considered to be anti-psychiatrists rejected the label, and very few these days self-identify their views as being anti-psychiatry. As imperfect as the term is, there doesn’t seem to be a more suitable alternative for extreme views that rely on dangerous disinformation.”
Note the opening of the quote – “I am wary of extreme criticisms of psychiatry – of which there is no shortage – that rely on mischaracterizations, vitriol, and propaganda, and seek to delegitimize psychiatry as a medical specialty.” There is an unspoken, but clearly implied, assertion here that “extreme” criticisms of psychiatry rely on “mischaracterization, vitriol, and propaganda”. But there is no mention of extreme criticisms that are based on rational, coherent, and valid assessments of psychiatry’s performance and value. Dr. Aftab seems to exclude such possibility from his analysis, which is the very definition of prejudice – a pre-conceived judgment or opinion.
The fact of the matter is that psychiatry has, for decades, ignored criticism of the more gentle kind and has promoted its deceptive concepts and harmful practices with no regard, and often with unconcealed contempt, for alternative perspectives. For instance, on April 26, 2015, the very eminent and venerable psychiatrist, and past president of the APA, Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, speaking to Michael Enright on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview, referred to Robert Whitaker as a “menace to society”. (starting at 0:50 of the provided audio link).
So I ask Dr. Aftab, what steps should a conscientious objector take in these kinds of circumstances? Should we go on being polite and cordial (e.g., “Well I do have some minor reservations about some of the newer diagnoses…” etc), or should we meet measure with measure (e.g. “Psychiatry is not something basically good that needs some minor tweeking; rather it is something fundamentally deceptive and rotten”.)? I have adopted the latter perspective, as I am sure is clear from my writings.
I have adopted this perspective, not because I wish to mischaracterize psychiatry. Indeed, I go to great pains to ensure that all my criticisms are founded. Nor do I have any interest in the spreading of vitriol or the promotion of propaganda. I have adopted my present position because, given the activities of psychiatry, the only appropriate response that is consistent with my conscience and with human decency is to call psychiatry out on their lies and harmful practices with all the vigor I am capable of mustering. I have seen too much of psychiatry’s works to mince my words.
As for seeking “to delegitimize psychiatry”, I think that psychiatrists did this to themselves a long time ago. We members of the anti-psychiatry movement are simply chronicling the process. So, while Dr. Aftab shakes his head in sanctimonious disappointment, we on this side of the issue shake our heads in disbelief at the level of self-centered cynicism in his chosen occupation that routinely prioritizes considerations of turf, income, and prestige over truth, validity, and client welfare.
And note particularly the final word in the quote: “disinformation”. Not misinformation, but disinformation, which is defined in my Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth“. [Emphasis added]
I suggest that the great sources of disinformation in the present debate are the psychiatrists. For instance:
- Psychiatrists’ definition of a mental disorder/mental illness is worded so as to embrace virtually every significant problem of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving, and psychiatrists have been using this definition to spuriously medicalize problems that are not medical in nature for at least the past five or six decades.
- Unlike real doctors, who discover “new” illnesses in nature, psychiatrists simply invent new illnesses by committee consensus or vote and then entering the fabricated label in the next edition of their “diagnostic” manual.
- Psychiatrists routinely present these labels as the causes of the specific problems, when in fact they are merely labels with no explanatory significance.
- Psychiatrists have routinely deceived, and continue to deceive, their customers, the public, government agencies, and the media that these loose collections of arbitrary and vaguely defined problems are in fact illnesses with known neural pathology – “real illnesses just like diabetes”.
- Psychiatrists have blatantly promoted drugs as corrective measures for these so-called illnesses, when in fact it is well-known in pharmacological circles that no psychiatric drug corrects any neural pathology. In fact, the opposite is the case. All psychiatric drugs exert their effect by distorting or suppressing normal functioning.
- Psychiatrists have conspired, and actively collaborated, with the pharmaceutical industry in the creation of a large body of fraudulent research, all designed to “prove” the efficacy and safety of pharma products.
- A great many psychiatrists have shamelessly accepted pharma money for very questionable activities. These activities include the widespread presentation of infomercials in the guise of CEUs; the ghost-writing of books and papers which were actually written by pharma employees; acceptance of payment from pharma to act as psychiatric “thought leaders” in the promotion of new drugs and diagnoses; etc., etc…
- Psychiatrists’ spurious diagnoses are inherently disempowering. To tell individuals, who in fact have no biological pathology, that they have incurable illnesses for which they must take psychiatric drugs for life is an intrinsically disempowering act which falsely robs people of hope, and encourages them to settle for a life of drug-impairment and drug-induced dependency.
- Psychiatrists’ “treatments”, whatever transient feelings of well-being they may induce, are always destructive and damaging in the long-term, and are frequently administered involuntarily, and/or without informed consent.
- Psychiatrists’ spurious and self-serving medicalization of virtually every significant problem of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving, effectively undermines human resilience, and fosters a culture of powerlessness, uncertainty, dependency, and lack of confidence. Deceptive relabeling as treatment-worthy illnesses, problems that previous generations accepted as matters to be addressed and worked on, and harnessing billions of pharma dollars to promote this false message, is morally repugnant.
- Psychiatrists neither recognize nor accept any limits on their expansionist agenda. For decades they have been getting bereaved people hooked on anxiolytics and antidepressants, and routinely prescribing neuroleptic drugs to nursing home residents for “behavior” problems. More recently they have even stooped to giving neuroleptic drugs to pre-school children for emotional and behavioral “disorders”.
- Psychiatrists routinely tell their customers that adverse effects of the drugs are, in fact, indications of previously latent “mental illnesses”, e.g., manic episodes that have been caused by antidepressants or high-voltage electric shocks to the brain are explained away as being caused by a previously latent “bipolar disorder” that has been “unmasked” by the “treatment”.
- Psychiatrists, with the exception of a very small number of courageous individuals, have never acknowledged the nature and extent of their profession’s venality and deception, and have never issued a general apology or even renounced the deceptive practices, which continue to the present day.
I think it would be much more helpful in the present context if Dr. Aftab would tell us precisely what statements in Dr. Breggin’s post he found so head-shakingly disappointing. In that way, we can get a clearer picture of where he stands on these issues that are central to the present debate. After all, Dr. Breggin has stated clearly and credibly that his conclusions are the culminations of “mountains of research”. If Dr. Aftab can refute any of Dr. Breggin’s positions, I think he should do so, on the record, rather than indulge himself in condescending and pilgarlic expressions of “disappointment”.
Dr. Aftab generally presents himself as, if I may use the term, a liberal psychiatrist. In particular, he distances himself from the chemical imbalance falsehood and similar biological deceptions that have dominated psychiatric practice for decades. For instance, here’s a quote from an interview that Dr. Aftab gave to Justin Karter, PhD (Science News Editor at Mad in America) on July 3, 2020:
“Right now, if you look at the public education that is being done with regards to psychiatry, the public is getting a very biomedical understanding of psychiatric disorders. There was all this talk of chemical imbalances, and there still is to some extent. There’s even talk of disorders being brain diseases.”
All of which is very interesting and enlightening, but the question arises: who’s doing this spurious biomedical education, and is it just talk, or is it being presented through the written word also? My contention, of course, is that it is still to be found, verbally and written, in virtually every corner and crevice of psychiatry.
For instance, on his Case Western Staff profile, Dr. Aftab notes that in addition to lecturing at CWU, he is also an “Attending Psychiatrist at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare (Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services).”
If one goes into the Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare Hospital website, the page that comes up is headed Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Beneath this there are five tabs:
“Families, Children and Adults”
“Schools and Communities”
“Researchers and Media”
If one clicks on the Research and Media tab, the first item is a short article (477 words) titled “About Brain Diseases”. The subtitle of the piece is “Mental illnesses and substance use disorders are biologically based brain diseases.” The article contains all the usual falsehoods and deceptions. I’ve reproduced the entire piece below. The contents will be very familiar to those of us on this side of the debate.
“About Brain Diseases
Mental illnesses and substance use disorders are biologically based brain disorders.
One out of five people in America has a mental illness (more than two million Ohioans), yet less than one-third of affected adults and one-half of children receive treatment. Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through willpower and are not related to a person’s character or intelligence. They are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, daily functioning and ability to relate to others. People affected can be of any age, race, religion or income.
In the U.S., there are approximately 65 million Americans with substance use disorders. Some of people have a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder than others due to genetics. substance use disorders can significantly interfere with the functioning of our brains and can cause difficulties in meeting major responsibilities at work, school or home.
The Global Burden of Disease study, conducted by the World Health Organization, the World Bank and Harvard University, reported that mental illness is second only to cardiovascular disease in regard to burden (i.e., years of life lost to premature death or disability). The cost of leaving mental illnesses untreated is immense.
When mental health services are inaccessible to those in need, the impact is felt in all areas of Ohio’s economy and society:
- Missed educational opportunities and failure in school(58 percent of children with mental illness do not graduate from high school.)
- Lost productivity and unemployment(Employees who are depressed are twice as likely to miss work and seven times more likely to be less productive on the job. Yet, treatment for clinical depression has a high success rate.)
- Increased crime and incarceration(More than half of Ohio’s inmates have some type of mental illness; 12 percent are diagnosed with a severe mental illness. Most youth in juvenile justice facilities have a diagnosable mental disorder.)
- Inappropriate use of hospital emergency departments(Comprehensive community-based mental health services can cut public hospital admissions and lengths of stay.)
- Premature death, including suicide (In Ohio, more than 1,300 lives are lost to suicide each year.)
Without treatment, the consequences of behavioral health disorders for the individual and society are staggering: disability, unemployment, elf-medication, homelessness, incarceration, suicide and other types of premature death.
The good news about mental illness and substance use disorder is that recovery is possible. Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. Recovery and resiliency enable adults and children with serious mental illness or substance use disorder to recover and live, work and participate fully in their communities. Most people diagnosed with a behavioral health disorders can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.
Society stands to gain from making the same commitment to behavioral health treatment that it makes to other medical conditions.”
It needs to be stressed that this article was posted on Northcoast’s website, obviously intended for a public audience. Ohio MHAS has six psych hospitals, each with its own website. There is also a site about suicide prevention, and several other sub-sites (licensure, peer support, etc.), and this article comes up on all of their sites that I have checked.
The critical questions are these:
Does Dr. Aftab realize that he’s working for an agency that is clearly and deeply committed to the bio-bio-bio deception?
Does he realize that many of his “patients” have probably read the piece, and have probably internalized its contents?
Is this the kind of message that he wishes his “patients” to receive?
Does he agree with the sentiments expressed?
What steps, if any, has Dr. Aftab taken to have the piece in question re-written or taken down?
How does Dr. Aftab feel about the fact that this material is being promoted from his own workplace?
Is he shaking his head in disappointment?
Does the entire matter give him any insights into the frustrations of those of us on this side of the debate who are confronted with this sort of nonsense on an almost daily basis?
Could he be persuaded from this that psychiatry is not the injured innocent in these matters, but rather the arch-deceiver?
Readers who are interested in documenting the history of psychiatry’s deception might want to open the Ohio MHAS site and take a screen shot, as it is my general experience that material of this kind often gets taken down soon after it’s outed.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Most of the great evils of human history have been perpetrated by individuals and groups who had managed to convince themselves that they were doing good.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why my post Is Psychiatry Dangerous? was removed from the Mad In America website.
I submitted the post to MIA in the normal way on September 21. It was put up, and received a few comments in the first day or two. One of these comments was from Sandra Steingard, MD, a psychiatrist who posts from time to time on MIA. Dr. Steingard’s comment was lost when the post was removed, and I do not have a copy. The gist of her comment, however, was:
- The graphic which MIA had attached to the post was offensive.
- The title of the post (Is Psychiatry Dangerous?) was inflammatory.
- An attending psychiatrist would have no influence over the contents of his/her workplace website.
- Dr. Aftab has had a positive influence by introducing “disparate” ideas into the mainstream of US psychiatry.
I had begun drafting responses to the various comments, including Dr. Steingard’s, when the post went down. I sent a note to the site editorial office expressing curiosity about this, and received a response from Robert Whitaker.
Robert pointed out that both the graphic, that MIA had put up, in addition to certain parts of the post were contrary to MIA editorial philosophy. In particular, he felt that parts of the post seemed more like personal attacks than pursuit of truth and validity. He offered to re-publish the post with a new graphic and some substantive textual changes/omissions.
I decided, for various reasons, to decline this offer.
I stressed to Robert that I have no hard feelings about any of this. I pointed out that I appreciate his dilemma and respect his editorial philosophy. But I also pointed out that I have a philosophy of countering the spurious claims of psychiatry’s “thought leaders” in a clear and unambiguous manner.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I think the critical points here are, firstly, to note that disagreements can and do occur, and secondly, to stay focused on:
– the spurious nature of “mental illness diagnoses”
– the harms done by psychiatric “treatment”