Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

Mental health: who can you trust?

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Conformity hazardBruce Levine works as a psychologist in Cincinnati, Ohio.  By the time he got his PhD, he told me, he felt so alienated from the profession’s dominant goals and practices that he hesitated to tell strangers how he made his living.  Eventually he encountered other dissidents, both within the profession and among people who have survived its abuses.  As a therapist, activist and writer, Bruce Levine strives to help people, especially adolescents, to find their own way through a society that packages conformity as freedom, and non-conformity as illness.

“Over and over,” he says, “we’re told that mental illness is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain, or it’s genetic.  I’ve learned to distrust claims like these, especially when it’s going to make someone a ton of money or be used to manipulate and control people.  The whole area of biochemical cause and cure is a giant money-maker for the drug companies.  And who decides these things?  Committees of psychiatrists basically decree what gets listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the diagnostic bible of the American Psychiatric Association.  If you have any common sense, it’s not hard to see how unscientific that is.

“For example, in the 1970s when I was a psychology undergrad, homosexuality was in the DSM as a mental disorder.  Gay activists finally managed to get rid of that, but now we have things in there like ADHD (‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’), and ODD (‘oppositional defiant disorder’).  If you look at the so-called symptoms, what you find are kids – huge numbers of them – who are bored, or who question, or argue, or refuse to cooperate with illegitimate authority.  So what do you do?  You call these kids sick and you drug them.  In the Soviet Union, the psychiatrist’s job was to ‘treat’ political dissidents as sick, to hospitalize and drug them.  Here we don’t even wait until they’re adults speaking out against injustice, instead we get ’em when they’re twelve and speaking out against some pointless school assignment.

“Given how often the mental health authorities have been wrong, and how much harm they’ve done, people like me have a clear responsibility to question their decisions, their power.  In a strange way, the fact that the abuses are so clear actually makes it easier to speak out.”

Bruce Levine speaks out in his blog.   And in his books.  And other places too, eg:

Why are Americans so easy to manipulate and control?  AlterNet, October 2012.

A clear voice for human rights in the mental health system is here: MindFreedom International.

On the other hand: 70% of DSM Psychiatrists Financially Tied to Drug Companies.  Natural Society, March 2012.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

One thought on “Mental health: who can you trust?

  1. Nature, Science & Power (NSP) is an important and excellent resource Michael. You have a keen sense of what current issues are relevant to caring/thinking people and which are naturally under-reported in corporate media if acknowledged at all. Your links are useful not just for the fleshing out of your articles but also as road maps to sources of others doing necessary work and dissemination. I look forward to more, knowledge being a crucial step towards power, solidarity and action. Thank you for spending valuable time this way and inspiring others.


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