On the heels of my review of ‘Anatomy of an Epidemic’, here is a review of ‘Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill’ by medical journalist Robert Whitaker.
Mad in America by Robert Whitaker is the history of the failed science and enduring mistreatment of people with mental illness. This book, along with ‘Anatomy of an Epidemic’, helped me understand what happened to me when I made the tragic mistake one day of asking for help for my problems and I entered a mental hospital to get treatment.
We read about the earliest days of psychiatry when patients were chained to walls, starved, bled, beaten and it was genuinely believed to be good treatment for them. We are introduced to the Tranquilizer chair, ice baths and organ and gland surgeries performed to cure madness.
Then the war on the mentally ill kicks into high gear with the onslaught of eugenics, forced sterilizations, forced electroshock and on and on. It was the consensus from the early to mid 1900s that the mentally ill were basically defective and therefor unfit to breed. Thus involuntary treatments, brutal mishandling and torture were the name of the game. The right of consent to treatment did not exist.
The mentally ill were rounded up, packed into institutions resulting in gross over-crowding and the lack of funds meant they were neither looked after nor were their comfort needs addressed and they languished in these so-called hospitals for years.
During the worst of these times, when your number was up to be treated and the orderlies came for you, if you resisted you would be beaten and choked or otherwise knocked unconscious, whisked into the operating theater for some electroshock to ‘shake loose the pattern in the brain’ and then an icepick would be driven through your eye socket and wiggled around, shredding connections in your frontal lobes.
This was seen as perfectly acceptable and state-of-the-art medical care less than a hundred years ago. Psychiatrists wrote up scientific papers and congratulated themselves and each other on the thousands of people who had been subjected to this treatment unwillingly (for their own good of course) and they boasted of the amazing and permanent changes in personality these therapies created.
In part three Whitaker explains how the rise of modern chemistry offered psychiatrists a simple, comparatively inexpensive and more controllable form of brain damage that offered a similar relief of symptoms the insulin coma, beatings, electroshock and general abuse accomplished previously.
Under the effects of the chemical lobotomy patients became helpless, submissive, disoriented, forgetful and altogether much easier to handle then they were before treatment. Under the effects of chemical ‘restraints’ patients could be allowed out of or even released from mental hospitals and psychiatrists congratulated themselves again on making great strides in the care of the mentally ill.
Part four is short and sweet. Surprise, Big Pharma lied through its collective teeth about the atypical antipsychotics. Not only were the new ones just as bad as the old ones, but now you can get diabetes in addition to all the other wonderful debilitating side effects.
Scientists did some studies on the brains of macaques with a control group receiving a placebo and one group receiving haldol and the other group receiving zyprexa and not too surprisingly, six months later, the neuroleptic treated monkeys had brain damage. Pockets of interstitial fluid filled up spaces where healthy ganglion formerly existed.
Antipsychotics aka neuroleptics, are pesticides. Most neuroleptics are analogs of phenothiazines and may or may not have a piperazine in their chain. If you want to know how a bug feels when it is treated with antipsychotics, go to youtube, look up videos on Tardive Dyskinesia and imagine experiencing that 1000 times worse. What Big Pharma does, is dilute that industrial toxin and tweak the molecule around a little and sell it as a treatment for mental illness. Even the name ‘anti-psychotic’ is misleading since it sounds like the makers of the drug actually understand the process of psychosis and cleverly designed these drugs to address a specific imbalance.
I find it very telling that deep inside, far to the bottom of the full data sheets on some of the neuroleptics you will sometimes find a cautionary note: ‘Do not allow the liquid version of this drug to come into contact with clothing.’ Doesn’t say why, just says don’t. Phenothiazines had their very early origins as a component used in dyes. So why would liquid thorazine or trilafon be bad if it is spilled onto your clothes unless it would start messing with dye in the fibers? It’s an absolute deception that the phenothiazines used in dyes and de-worming agents are all that different from neuroleptics aka ‘nerve clamps’ served up to the mentally ill.
The story we are told is that neuroleptics are pretty much the best, most modern and humane treatment available for schizophrenics. When you try to make people understand that antipsychotics are poisons that cause brain damage and create chemical imbalances, they freak out because of the sheer cognitive dissonance. They know someone or they are someone who has used these chemicals to quell delusions or deal with psychosis and you are saying some really ugly things about their successful treatment.
The general consensus among the haters of this book is that without antipsychotics there really wouldn’t be any treatment for schizophrenia aside from mechanical or electrical brain damage. Thus, this book is bad for shaking up their faith in their own treatment and forcing them to really examine what it is they are doing to themselves over the long term. That is a deeply personal thing but it’s not a reason to hate or flunk or condemn this book. Getting mad at the messenger for carrying the message is, I think, a bit unreasonable. The people you should be mad at work in the pharmaceutical industry and made the drug that is even now making unnatural changes to your brain.
I was once involuntarily treated with a drug called Trilafon that quickly turned me into a befuddled, trembling, drooling, forgetful, situationally unaware, parch-mouthed obese vegetable and I was not allowed to say no. It was not until I turned fifteen and learned that I had just reached the age of refusal of consent to medical treatment when I finally got off that mindwipe in a bottle.
There are other treatments besides psychotropic drugs and no one ever told me about them or offered them to me. With Mosher’s Soteria House, people were allowed to be unmedicated and weird but they were left alone or encouraged to be social as they saw fit and this resulted in many lasting medication-free recoveries. Mosher’s concepts of humane, interpersonal care was not at all a new idea. Back in part one, Whitaker tells us about the Quaker-style retreats in the mid 1800s modeled after the York House.
The Quakers espoused the idea of ‘moral treatment’. They ignored the prevailing medical model of mental illness at the time in favor of treating a person as a person. They recognized that people with ‘nervous disorders’ were stressed and what they really needed was rest and a break from life. America also once sported these moral treatment asylums and not long before the specter of eugenics darkened psychiatry’s doorstep, they were boasting 50%, 60% even 80% recovery rates of previously disturbed patients in one years’ time. Sure, there was always some hard cases, people who never got better, but once upon a time people recognized that schizophrenics and manic depressives could and many did actually recover without drugs or other brain damaging processes.
Electroshock and lobotomies never went away. In fact, ever since Patty Duke came forward about her electroshock there has been something of a quiet renaissance in the treatment. Apparently the use of sedatives before the cattle prod is applied to the head makes the procedure more ‘humane’. Meanwhile, Mass General reportedly performed fifteen lobotomies in 2001 and there were another hundred or so that same year documented throughout Europe. In the case of the lobotomizers, they have since upgraded from stabbing your brain with an ice pick to painting lesions with a tiny soldering iron. High-tech stuff if you believe them.
To this day they are still mistreating those with mental illness or even suspected of being mentally ill. This is especially the case in places like Florida with their Baker Act that allows a cop to come to your home, forcibly seize and deliver you in handcuffs to a Baker Act receiving facility for processing and summary treatment. Simply because your mum, uncle or recently estranged boyfriend can call emergency services and makes up any story they want about your behavior and if they sound both concerned and convincing you can find your civil rights along with your ability to refuse consent to treatment suspended real fast.
In the final analysis, Mad in America shows that psychiatry is the emperor with no clothes. Psychiatrists don’t have any special insight into how the brain works. Right now, it’s all about genetics and their completely disproved chemical imbalance nonsense. It’s the dispensing of ‘anti-this’ and ‘anti-that’ drugs for mental ‘disease’ that makes psychiatry a ‘real’ medical science.
Bottom line: If you are not willing to lie down for some electroshock or submit to medication roulette, the truth is, there is nothing psychiatry can do for you. Nothing. And they don’t like to admit it. That they paid for med school and the extra pharmacy education and yet their services are not needed to achieve a real mental recovery and their treatments cause more problems and quality of life issues than they mitigate. The four-point restraints, quiet rooms and chemical lobotomies that we still use today demonstrate that very little in the way of real progress has actually been made in the understanding and humane treatment of, those with real (or even perceived) mental illness.
I highly recommend ‘Mad in America’. Read the macabre details of early psychiatry and today’s treatments and ask yourself, are we really treating the mentally ill all that much better now? What science do we have that explains what psychosis really is? How is using pesticide agents proven to reduce brain volume over time, a humane treatment? It’s a severe wake-up call and should be read by caregiver, counselor and consumer alike.