Psychiatry is politics… and dollars and cents

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I had never been fully exposed to the downside of psychiatry until I visited this week the exposition “Pyschiatrie: la vérité sur ses abus” in Paris at the Hotel Castiglione, 40 rue deFaubourg St Honoré. Sponsored by Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights CCHR* (French or English, this exposition is based on the exhibit at the Los Angeles “Psychiatry, An Industry of Death” Museum (6616 Sunset Blvd).

Featuring a series of 14 films, with alarming statistics about the US and the world, this exposition definitely makes you think twice. (A psych mind game if you want). The presentation style of the films is too Hollywoodian for my taste, drawing on the excesses of Nazi psychiatry and tracing a morbid history of psychiatry as a medical field; but the underlying message is compelling. Whether or not you subscribe to psychiatry as a well founded practice, the exposition deserves a viewing.

Some facts that the films point out:

  • 20 million children worldwide — of which more than 6 million (out of 52 million in school) children in the US, up from 4 million in 1997 — are taking psychiatric drugs
  • More than 100,000 patients die each year in psychiatric institutions.
  • Annually, up to 10,000 people die from the use of electroshock treatment —460 volts of electricity through the brain. Three-quarters of all electroshock victims are women.
  • Psychiatrists and psychologists have raped 250,000 women. Studies show that 10 to 25 percent of psychiatrists sexually assault their patients; of every 20 of these victims one is likely to be a minor.

Between bio-chemical imbalances, bi-polar, ADD, ADHD or depression, psychiatrists have a flotilla of “diseases” which they can attribute to children and adults, and for which they can prescribe medication. I was struck by this modern day statistic: between 1950-1990, there have been more deaths of “patients” in US Federal psychiatric hospitals than of US soldiers in all the wars since the War of Independence (including the Wars of Secession, WWI, WWII, Vietnam and Korea). Needless to say, such a statistic seems completely inflammatory. At the very least, there should be a little more precision on the nature of the deaths (end of life Alzheimer, for example?). I note also that it has been 17 years since that statistic has been updated. Have the rate of deaths declined so much since? Are the statistics no longer available?

Many of statistics are about modern day USA. Of course, the cases of Soviet ‘psychiatric’ treatment are also quite contemporary, as exposed by various dissidents, including Boris Kovhar, Sergei Potylitsyn and Mikhail Kukobaka. Given the recent internment of the journalist Larissa Arap, there is still plenty to be worried about in Russia regarding their psychiatric practices.

Behind the exposition, there are a lot of dollars and cents… including the proposed sale of their own related books and DVDs, etc. But, there is also clearly an industry of psychiatry. Numbers put forward in the films at various stages:

  • $19B of US tax dollars since 1948 have been invested in psychiatric research.
  • US consumption of anti-depression, anti-psychotic drugs have sky rocketed from $9.7B in ’94 to $35B in ’04, with a corresponding hike in insurance payouts and, therefore, premiums. For comparison, in France, 543 million euros were spent in 2001 on psychiatric medication.

With the economics of psychiatry thrown into the equation, the field of psychiatry is more than ever political. US [not just Nazi German, or modern day Russia, China] politics have had ties with psychiatry, including involvement with the creation of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Troubles (DSM) which was first published in 1952 (see wiki listing). And with a quick trawling of the net, you will find that there are a number of activists out there against psychiatric abuse, (for example).

My overall opinion is that psychiatry continues to have its place as a field of practice. Grave psychiatric disorders exist and obviously need research and treatment. Perhaps, for everyday accompaniment in life, the role of the psychologist is more appropriate than psychiatrist. And, with my interest in literature, psychology is always near at heart. I have long admired the thought experiments that authors such as Turgenev initiated in the 19th century. Literature and psychology are a happier marriage than politics and psychiatry.

The exhibit in Paris closes August 12th.


* The CCHR is an international psychiatric watchdog group co-founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights.

4 Comments, RSS

  1. Sarah

    Damn, I would have liked to see that! Thanks, Minter for that review. It sounds like there was a lot of information to condense.

  2. Yendi

    The abuse of psychiatry reminded me of those coming from religions, specially when religion goes hand by hand with government to control people and eliminate the undesired elements of society.

  3. Paul S.

    I am bipolar II and deeply grateful for the several wonderful psychiatrists and medications that have helped me.
    I have also experienced inadequate psychiatrists, and learned that the margin for error is very narrow in this field.
    We should concentrate on putting more recources into improving mental health services. The field as a whole is under attack from many sides, which ultimately dimishes the people, expertise and resources available to those of us in need.
    Anybody who thinks mental illness is a conspiracy made up to enslave us is in the same category as those who think being gay is a choice. Walk a lifetime in my shoes, folks.
    The feds have made it so difficult to practice as a psychiatrist under Medicare that I have to to 50 miles to San Francisco or Sacramento to find one who accepts Medicare. How will we keep the best practitioners under such conditions?
    Just as the VA learned it had allocated too few mental health resources to returning Vets, our society has to face the fact that “mental health” is a broad category, and by default we are leaving treatment to general practitioners, teachers, parole officers, neighbors, and Oprah.
    There are always people to seek and assign blame, but people with redemptive solutions are what is needed now.

  4. Minter

    @Paul S – I totally hear you. I’d like to compare the need for lawyers and the way law is sometimes practiced. When the business of being a lawyer overtakes the purpose it was initially set out for, there are excesses that creep in and unseemly profiteers. Outrageous class action suits are an example. In the field of psychiatry, there is no doubt in my mind about the presence of mental illness (I hear you). My issue is more about the way that psychiatry (ex: diagnosing ADD for so many children) and, more specifically, medication has at times gotten out of control.

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