A Response to Calls for Mandatory Treatment in the Wake of Newtown
There are so many clamoring for forced treatment of the mentally disordered. Last week, Gabby Gifford’s husband testified about her assailant, that “he was never reported to mental health authorities.” It is sobering to think of the kind of “authorities” who would be appointed for this purpose, when the American Psychiatric Association is itself in such disarray. The New York Times has invited responses to its recent editorial about this issue, and this is my attempt at it:
To mandate psychiatric care in a system so manifestly broken seems a cruel and inhumane treatment for those suffering mental disorders. Those who argue that the system is not in crisis should be ignored, as they are not paying attention, or they are likely the ones who broke the system in the first place. Please listen instead to those with lived experience, who have issued a mandate for care. I someone who has learned the hard way that the system is so, so broken. The symptoms of Psychiatry’s dysfunction are overwhelming, and space constrains me to name only a few.
- The APA has not even a consensus on proper diagnoses in its newest diagnostic manual. “The gross incompetence of DSM-5 will likely return us to a Babel of many languages — different people using different methods of diagnoses” says Dr. Allen Frances, its leading critic, and he urges practitioners to ignore its ten worst changes. Some urge a boycott.
- It has no meaningful disciplinary system — the government recently settled against GlaxoSmithKline for 3 billion for their criminal marketing behavior, but the ghost writing authors of “Study 329” had no similar correction from the JAACP, and the Key Opinion Leaders GSK bought and paid to spread the word that the whole world could be “happy, horny and skinny” with Wellbutrin are still writing prescriptions.
- Perhaps its worst injury is that Psychiatry does its greatest harm to those who are most weak and marginalized
— to those who are young and those who are minorities. Dr. Frances in his scathing critique of the DSM-V I linked to above, rightly rebukes Child Psychiatry for expanding its diagnostic dragnet with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder rather than repenting of its “sorry track record” and calls the field to “engage itself now in the crucial task of educating practitioners and the public about the difficulty of accurately diagnosing children and the risks of over- medicating them.” And when persons of color are given a stigmatizing diagnosis like schizophrenia at a higher rate, and given harsher treatments for their mental disorders –it is what this author calls Psychiatry’s “darker side of cultural variance, as not only does it affect the diagnosis, but it can also negatively effect the patient’s treatment.” There is a reason it is people of color who are largely the ones housed in the nations largest mental health facilities, that is, our county jails.
I have loved ones who have been treated by the psychiatric system. Twice I have had to place involuntary psychiatric holds, so I know intimately the anguish of this decision, and the helplessness one feels when it seems little can be done to help a dear one spinning out of control. But I know equally well the futility of such mandated care — the bureaucratic nightmare Psychiatry’s inapt answers and broken delivery system forces upon the already suffering extended family. The crisis is especially acute in the care of adolescents at risk.
When my own loved ones began showing symptoms, we went through psychiatrist after psychiatrist. I found out again that the system is so, so broken. The meds prescribed off-label made things so much worse, adding paranoia, weight gain and tardive dyskinesia into the volatile mix of symptoms . These brave dear ones have defied the system and their psychiatric labels. They did the research, cheeked their meds and tapered themselves off psychotropics completely, and in the process they educated me. Their days are not without struggle, but they hold a narrative of hope and recovery now that emboldens them to persevere in the fight for a dignified life. They refuse the psychiatric establishment’s story that they have a crippling chemical imbalance in their brains that dooms them to a lifetime of substandard living.
I wish I had never gone bankrupt with that first 5150 years ago — it depleted our resources , financially and emotionally. I found out too late that forcing treatment does more harm than good. I wish I had never made use of these kinds of empty answers for those souls in distress so many years ago. I learned too late that I have something greater than Psychiatry’s bad ‘physic’. I have the Great Physician. I have the Gospel, and I have the helping community a healthy church demonstrates, and what the psychiatric system consistently fails to provide.
Until there are better proven outcomes from Psychiatry’s failed methodology, I think I will do better to stay in my own camp for now. On the edges of accepted society, among the marginalized, is where Jesus did his doctoring, and that place suits me just fine.