Fall 2001, Vol. 2, Issue 2.
PROPAGATING MENTAL HEALTH CONSUMERISM, AND OTHER MYTHS
By Don Weitz
A review of The last taboo: A survival guide to mental health care in Canada, by Scott Simmie and Julia Nunes. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001 (6 x 9 352 pages, 0-7710-8062-X, $34.99 (Canadian, cloth).
This book, aimed at the general public and concerned families confused or feeling besieged with their "mentally ill" relatives, is an attempt to popularize and demystify "mental illness" and treatment. Canadian psychiatric survivor Scott Simmie has been a journalist for over 20 years. He was a foreign corespondent for CBC-TV, won an Atkinson Award for his 2-part series "Out of Mind" (1997), and is currently a feature writer with the Toronto Star. His co-writer Julia Nunes is a journalist, a writer of children's art books, and former arts reporter with The Globe and Mail.
Coming from a survivor and journalists, one might expect a hard-hitting exposť against a coercive, disempowering mental health system. But given its medical model bias, the book really reads more like a promotional for mental health professionals, the Canadian Mental Health Association and family groups. As a psychiatric survivor and antipsychiatry activist, this book makes me angry, mainly because Simmie and Nunes are promoting feel-good mainstream psychiatric ideology and a pro-psychiatry bias, including the discredited medical model of "mental illness" they call "mental disorder". They trivialize alternative, non-medical explanations of personal crises (e.g., Bassman, 2001; Risser, 2001). They do not mention the growing resistance to forced treatment among many psychiatric survivor organizations in Canada, for example, by People Against Coercive Treatment. Nor do they mention the spearhead for such resistance internationally: Support Coalition International, representing 100 survivor-support groups in 14 countries.
The book's pro-psychiatry bias is clearly reflected on almost every page peppered with words like "mental disorder", "mental health" and "consumer". The appendix is also telling: the vast majority of documentary sources and "self-help" organizations listed (e.g., Canadian Mental Health Association, Mood Disorders Association, and Schizophrenia Society of Canada), are drenched with medical model/pro-psychiatry bias. Athough Simmie once publicly criticized "community treatment orders", a key section in the Ontario government's outpatient forced drugging-leash law ("Brian's Law"), he does not denounce them here. Only just over one page is devoted to electroshock, psychiatry's most controversial brain-damaging atrocity masquerading as a treatment for depression and other "mental disorders" (Breggin, 1997; Cameron, 1994; Frank, 1990), the only anti-shock statement is from shock survivor Wayne Lax. Established anti-shock websites like www.ect.org and www.mindfreedom.org aren't listed.
Equally disturbing is their uncritical routine use of biomedical language and paradigms; for example in their discussions of many "symptoms" of major "mental disorders"--as they are characterized in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM is biopsychiatry's bible of human frailties and disturbing and non-conformist behaviours fraudulently pathologized as "symptoms". For example, in chapter 5 ("Schizo-what? Getting Diagnosed") Simmie and Nunes describe the major "symptoms" of "mood disorders", "anxiety disorders", "substance abuse", "eating disorders", "personality disorders" and "schizophrenia". This is psychobabble masquerading as science and responsible journalism.
In chapter 8 on "Meds", Simmie and Nunes describe the extremely
dangerous and addicting antidepressants and neuroleptics as if they're necessary
and helpful, except for some "side effects", many of which they
list. While admitting that the experts don't know how the drugs work, Simmie
and Nunes claim that the "atypical" drugs like Zyprexa (olanzapine)
and Clozaril (clozapine) are somehow safer in causing fewer "side effects"
than the older ones like Thorazine, Stelazine or Mellaril. This is misleading
since the atypicals are just as dangerous and disabling as the older "antipsychotics";
they're just the latest editions of the old neurotoxins (Breggin
and Cohen, 1999, pp. 164-165).The close, self-serving partnership between
the multinational drug companies and psychiatric organizations like the
American Psychiatric Association and Canadian Psychiatric Association is
conspicuously omitted. The dangers of this partnership have been heavily
discussed not only in scientific journals and by journal editors but also
by the mainstream press and media. Nevertheless, these authors evaded what
felt was too sensitive a topic. If Simmie and Nunes had seriously read or interviewed psychiatric critics and researchers like Peter Breggin and David Cohen (e.g., Breggin and Cohen, 1999), they might have addressed this unethical relationship and taken a more critical stand against the drug companies whose "safe and therapeutic" drugs have already caused a worldwide epidemic of brain damage.
They might also have sounded a long overdue alarm regarding the ever-increasing use of the addictive stimulant Ritalin shamelessly prescribed to millions of children in Canada and the United States (McCubbin and Cohen, 1999). So far, neither the mainstream Canadian media nor this book have failed to expose this psychiatrically-sanctioned child abuse. The good news is that Novartis and the American Psychiatric Association are being sued in U.S. class action suits for creating and expanding the market for Ritalin on specious grounds, including by the invention of the ADHD diagnosis.
As a promotional vehicle for the psychiatric system and its supporters, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, and the corporate drug pushers, The Last taboo makes sense. As a "survival guide" which doesn't even have an index, this book should be thrown in the garbage.
Don Weitz is an antipsychiatry activist, journalist, and radio producer in Toronto. He is a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, People Against Coercive Treatment, and a board member of Support Coalition International. With Bonnie Burstow he published the seminal guide to antipsychiatry for survivor activists (Burstow and Weitz, 1988). Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bassman, R. (2001). Whose reality is it anyway? Consumers/survivors/ex-patients can speak for themselves. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41(4), 11-35.
Breggin, P. (1997). Brain-disabling treatments in psychiatry: Drugs, electroshock, and the role of the FDA. New York: Springer.
Breggin, P., and Cohen, D. (1999). Your drug may be your problem: How and why to stop taking psychiatric medications. Reading, MA: Perseus.
Burstow, B., and Weitz, D. (1988). Shrink resistant: The struggle against psychiatry in Canada. Vancouver: New Star.
Cameron, D.G. (1994). ECT: Sham statistics, the myth of convulsive therapy, and the case for consumer misinformation. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 15, 177-198.
Frank, L.R. (1990). Electroshock: Death, brain damage, memory loss, and brainwashing. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11, 489-512.
Risser, P. (2001). Battered and abused. Taken 21 Oct. 2001 from World Wide Web: http://home.att.net/~PatRisser/personalinfo/book/book.html