An open letter to liberals and feminists

As someone with liberal political views who also identifies as a feminist I am repeatedly frustrated, disappointed and angered by the left’s neglect of the human rights of those who have been psychiatrized. On this blog I tend not to emphasize my politics outside the political issues surrounding mental health because regardless of our political views outside of this issue, many of us come together here on this particular issue of human rights abuse and it would only divide us to concentrate on other political issues. That being said, I cannot remain silent today about what seems like a major form of unconscious hypocrisy on the part of liberals and feminists who in general claim to be concerned about the human rights of all individuals but have a massive blind spot when it comes to recognizing the psychiatrized as being victims of torture and blatant disregard by society of their human and civil rights.

Why today, might you ask? We’re all aware that this goes on—that is those of us who identify liberal and feminist and as mental health advocates—many of you are my readers, though I embrace all of you regardless of where you stand on that political spectrum. Human rights belong to all of us. The right to be treated like a human being is our birthright and it does not matter if we call ourselves liberal, conservative, Democrat or Rebublican. We should all have the right to say “no!” to coercive and forced “treatments” of all kinds. We also have the right to be told the truth by the media and other information outlets, including our doctors,  and that is that recovery rates among those left unmedicated and supported in other ways are HIGHER than for people who are given drugs, especially neuroleptics (antipsychotics.) The truth also is that these drugs are horrible neuro-toxins that cause serious, sometimes life-threatening, metabolic issues, cardiac arrest, stroke, homicidal and suicidal ideation and action, massive weight gain, sexual dysfunction and the killing of our spirits among many other things. They also often cause additional psychiatric symptoms that then get blamed on the “underlying” psychiatric disorder rather than the drug.

To be reminded or introduced of some of the facts surrounding these issues listen to Robert Whitaker on Madness Radio whose next book looks at this reality—people given psych meds on the whole deteriorate over time–they do not improve AND those who are given support in other ways without long-term use of psychotropics do most often, make complete recoveries.

For a quick primer listen here to Robert Whitaker:


Also read his first book on the topic if you want a history of the dehumanization that is psychiatry: Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.

(update — Whitaker’s new book is now available which documents exactly how psychiatric drugs harm: Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America)

May I also remind you of Dr. Loren Mosher’s work at Soteria, where we can bare witness to the astronomically high rates of recovery among the “seriously mentally ill,” when they are treated as the traumatized human beings that they are rather than as a biological brain disorder that relegates them to being sub-human.

For more of an in depth study of Soteria, read the book.

So I asked a bit ago, “why today?” am I making this statement.

I may be wrong in the conclusion I’ve come to, but I sent out my piece on fat and psychotropic drugs that I wrote 5 days ago to 5 liberal, feminist bloggers—including a couple in the “fatosphere.” The fatosphere being a place where feminists in general fight for the rights of fat women. I am a reader of all the blogs I sent this email to. I leave comments on their blogs and I’ve corresponded with all but one of these women regarding feminist issues or in some instances issues around blogging in the past, though I’ve never said anything explicitly about the topic of my blog and my political efforts as an activist opposed to the status quo in psychiatry. My signature in my email includes links to my blog so it’s possible some of them know what my activism is about, but not necessarily.

I have always heard back from these women within 24 hours. NOT A SINGLE ONE of these women responded to my piece on fat and weight loss as a result of taking and then withdrawing from psychotropic drugs. I basically fancied that what I was writing was in large part a feminist and fat acceptance piece. I know I do not have the nuanced views of a seasoned feminist, nor do I have the specific sophistication that a body/fat acceptance activist has. I did not expect links to my piece—I simply wanted to share my piece with women I admired whom I thought might find my personal journey interesting as other women concerned about women. I was disappointed to hear absolutely nothing back from any of them.

Did they think I wanted a link from their blogs when I did not expect one? Maybe that is why they didn’t answer me? Maybe it’s some other benign reason. Maybe they’ve been really busy as it’s a holiday weekend. I don’t really know. I’m in no position to make an accusation. I’m well aware of that—email correspondence is fraught with misunderstanding all the time. But being that I’m part of a population that is routinely ignored I cannot help but imagine some of the more ominous reasons I might be facing their silence.

I do know that in general liberals are still scared witless about us crazy folk and don’t think we deserve the same human and civil rights that everyone else shares and so that is where my mind has gone. These women I respect so much, whose writings I read almost daily have dismissed me as one of those crazies out there talked about in the media. A crazy woman off her meds.

These women, perhaps, like so many liberals, have swallowed the media’s fear-mongering about how dangerous we all are, how irretrievably beyond hope we are and how we must be medicated for our own good and, for god’s sake, for the good of society, since we pose a real menace. My god, don’t you know, crazy women are known to kill their own children!!

They perhaps do not know that in point of fact those with psychiatric labels are more often victims of crime rather than perpetrators. But it doesn’t take a fine analysis of how inaccurate the media often is to question this, does it? I mean if you’re a well educated woman who has studied the systematic abuse of women and how we are consistently misrepresented in the media in numerous ways—how the media keeps negative stereotypes of women alive all the time. It’s not that big of a stretch to consider that slanderous lies are being routinely told about those of us with psychiatric labels is it?

Here is a mainstream but politically correct view of the issues around violence and the “mentally ill.” The studies that those organizations like TAC that would have everyone in the country believing everyone with a psychiatric diagnosis should be on meds lest we go on a shooting spree is challenged here by John Grohol who is hardly a radical when it comes to human rights issues for those of us labeled with DSM fallacies. But he at least sees through the crap when it comes to painting us all as dangerous, murderous lunatics.

Do these women know that other women who are unlucky enough to fall into the hands of psychiatry are routinely subjected to forced ECT, yes electroconvulsive “therapy” much more often than men are. Women comprise 70% of forced ECT victims. Do they know that ECT is a form of torture? Here is the feminist Bonnie Burstow, therapist and advocate against ECT, describing what ECT does to our brains. I encourage everyone listen to it. This is a feminist issue!! One that feminists in general seem to be afraid to take on.

Writhe Safely quite a while back took on the issue of the feminist blogosphere not wanting to deal with Simone D’s story and psychiatric politics as they apply to women in general. Just some context to take a look at if you’re interested. It’s not the first time this issue has come up. And Writhe Safely looks at it with a different twist than I am here, because frankly it’s a complicated issue and the author at Writhe Safely takes on some of the difficulties I’m not entering into here.

So in the last couple of paragraphs I talk about ECT, but the fact is neuroleptics and other drugs, too, also cause brain damage and spiritual destruction. You know when Thorazine was first invented it was proudly and with no hesitation called a chemical lobotomy! And today the atypical antipsychotics, the new generations of drugs like Thorazine, are absolutely no different in that regard—they still chemically lobotomize but it’s no longer cool to be honest about it so psychiatrist lie instead. In fact we see here studies indicate New Antipsychotic Drugs No Better Than Old Ones. In other words they are just as bad!!

These drugs are often forced upon us, sometimes literally and other times through manipulative, coercive means.

Okay. I’ve gone on for over 1,600 words now. Enough. Unfortunately a book could and probably should be written on these issues. This may hopefully serve as a primer. It’s not hard to research any of the stuff I’m talking about if one is motivated.

I’m going to send this piece to the bloggers I sent the first piece to. Forgive me if I’ve jumped to conclusions. We are an oppressed group who are hardly ever heard or listened to. Most people don’t even realize we are being systematically abused and violated. And for those of us who otherwise identify as feminist and liberal the blatant disregard for us from both groups is painful.

I’m including a comment made by Will Hall in the body of the post now too:

It would be interesting to understand exactly why the left and progressives are so often at odds with our issues. I think that basic fears and stereotypes are part of the problem, but I think there is something deeper and more complicated at work here.

First, there is a tremendous urgency to defend public social services and health care spending. Progressives therefore play tug of war with conservatives on “more is better” versus “less is better.” In this context it is hard to get across a “yes we want more spending, but also different spending” message. Clinicians and service providers are faced with lack of services, shelters, and the prison system as the main issues with direct impact. Many people have zero access to any psychiatric care at all, and you are going to have a hard time convincing anyone this is best. People can’t get medications at all, or get their medications interrupted, because of the way health care is set up. When I go into service agencies or talk with homeless activists or case managers in criminal justice, I’m faced with problems with the whole person, not just force, meds, and labels. I only get anywhere discussing force, meds, and labels when I also talk about housing, insurance coverage, and funding for services.

Second, there is the difficulty of conveying a “pro-choice” message regarding medications while at the same time conveying a “tell the truth”message. The interpersonal level of the discussion — respecting choice — and the policy level of the discussion — be honest about drug dangers and take these drugs off the market if they are killing people — work at odds with each other.

Third, the “no forced treatment”point of view is largely dominated by a civil liberties logic. I largely agree with the logic, but it leaves out a central point:that people need help. Often they need lots of help. Providing help without force isn’t something that is easily conveyed; ‘no force’ tends to sound like ‘no help.’ Many service providers feel that anti-force points of view are part of the problem, because they have no other ways to intervene in people’s lives.

Fourth, there is a difficulty in creating a pressure constituency for our issues. For every anti-meds, anti-force survivor there is a pro-meds, pro-force consumer. The cooptation of the survivor movement and the rise of the consumer movement is at work here, but even that is not simple: consumer groups achieved tremendous victories and pressure for all kinds of values that we all share. When patients and ex-patients are interviewed, jobs and housing are the key issues they raise, not medications (partly because of the immediate impact and also the lack of accurate info on meds). The reality is that there is no “psych patient” experience unified in the degree that gay experience or Black experience is (though there are huge differences in those communities, they are not as fundamental as in the psych patient world). We are also a “disappearing identity”– people get better and bury their pasts, rather than get better and get more into who they are.

Finally I want to point to something I think is the problem of the survivor movement. We identify primarily as people harmed by drugs, diagnosis, and force. As a result we do not have a politics around homelessness, criminal justice issues, health care coverage, and employment. We contributed to our own isolation when we narrowed our agenda. The original survivor activists were part of broad popular movements for social justice. We’ve lost those alliances. One of the most wrongheaded directions I’ve seen recently is how the right wing family values movement has gone against screening as invading privacy, and the survivor movement has felt comfortable allying with them. That’s been a mistake. Our allies should be broader progressive disability movement, the prison reform / abolition movement, the homeless movement, and healthcare reform movements.

For more on the force, oppression and the routine human rights violations perpetrated by psychiatry see:

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