Looking at Psychiatry and Mental Illness from a Sociological Perspective

The ideas of psychiatric intervention being a form of social control is quite compelling to me. I intend to do some reading in the future by authors like the much maligned Thomas Szasz.

For now I’m going to take some excerpts as found on John Breeding’s website from his book, “The Necessity Madness and Unproductivity.” Just some ideas to get the juices flowing. I really need to look much further into this.

I’ve mostly made an argument that mental illness can be treated by natural means and one can heal through healthy lifestyle, diet and nutrition. All this is true. It is also true that many people, especially, it seems, those labeled with schizophrenia, sometimes heal completely by simply “working through” their madness, or spiritual/and or psychological emergency. Left to heal with the help of peer support and gentle and loving care, they overcome their illness without the use of medications. (I point again to the Soteria House Project) I now know of many stories of this nature as well as many stories of people needing lifestyle, diet and nutrition as healing agents as well. We are not all alike, but we all can heal.

For a more sociological approach to mental illness I present some passages from John Breedings book with my commentary. Beginning with the authors purpose:

My purpose in writing this is to educate people on psychiatric oppression: what it is, how it works, and how it came to be. I want to reveal the harm done by the practice of biopsychiatry, and to show that psychiatry suppresses and punishes experiences which are completely natural and, in fact, necessary to achieve spiritual maturity. Experiences of temporary “madness” and unproductivity, while violating society’s demand for continuous productivity, are essential if individuals are to grow and mature. Psychiatry enforces society’s demand to keep working and be happy, no matter what. I suggest a clear alternative, a view of human nature and personal transformation that offers real hope to individuals in need. My intention is to provide a model which resonates with the truth of human transformation and has reverence for our spiritual nature. I also take a deep dive into the question of why “good people” (mental health professionals) can do so much harm while being so convinced they are doing good. My hope is that readers will find information to help themselves and their families, that psychiatric survivors will be helped to understand their experiences and find guidance for the process of renewal, and that professionals will be stimulated to think in new ways about their work and about the system in which they play so vital a role.Now excerpts from the book:

Psychiatry is coercive. This must be acknowledged in order to have any hope of seeing clearly what’s going on. In every one of our 50 states, psychiatrists use involuntary commitment and threat of commitment. State laws protect and guarantee this practice, under the guise and rationale of “public safety” and “concern for troubled individuals.”…

…It may not be obvious to you that coercive psychiatry is necessarily a bad thing. What may be even less obvious, yet fundamental to understand, is that where there is coercive psychiatry and involuntary treatment there is no such thing as truly voluntary psychiatry and treatment. The threat is always there. Countless individuals end up in psychiatric treatment labeled as “voluntary,” coerced by overt and/or covert threat of forced treatment. All of us on some level and to some degree have to struggle with fear and confusion stemming from the way this process has filtered into the ubiquitous language of our everyday lives: “you’re losing your mind,” “you’re nuts” (loony, crazy, wacko, sick, etc.), “they’re gonna lock you up,” “the men in the white coats are going to come and get you.” Psychiatry is, at its root, coercive and absolutely could not function as it does without being so…

…The mindset of psychiatry is guided by a very specific set of assumptions which flow from the pseudomedical model of biopsychiatry. It has all the trappings of language that we associate with the scientific practice of medicine. In fact, the theory and practice of biopsychiatry, though modeled after the practice of medicine, is really about social control. The basic assumptions of biopsychiatry are as follows:

1) Adjustment to society is good.
2) Failure to adjust is the result of “mental illness.”
3) “Mental illness” is a medical disease.
4) “Mental illness” is the result of biological and/or genetic defects.
5) “Mental illness” is chronic, progressive, basically incurable.
6) “Mental illness” can (and must) be controlled primarily by drugs; secondarily, for really serious “mental illness,” by electroshock.
7) People with “mental illness” are irrational, often unable to make responsible decisions for themselves; therefore, coercion is necessary and justified….

…Whether you agree with it or not, this is crucial because psychiatry serves the dominant culture of mainstream society. Our education system is a principal agent of social control or conformity. We give psychiatry, by economic reward and legal power, a mandate to function on behalf of the social order where education fails to do the job, and where police action is either unwarranted or undesired. Religion often serves a similar function in our society; however, as science has usurped theology, so has involuntary psychiatry replaced involuntary religion (Inquisition) as primary agent to enforce social norms (see Chapter 3). No matter how one attributes the cause or etiology, the bottom line is that people react to Cindy not because she is ill (compare a reaction to cancer, for example), but because she challenges their external and internal social order. When this challenge is insufficient to justify criminal proceedings, or when aggrieved parties feel too much guilt in pressing criminal charges, psychiatry is readily available. In a free society, involvement in psychiatry and/or religion would be voluntary…

…According to biopsychiatry, failure to adjust says nothing about social issues, community issues, physical or emotional issues. The assumption is very simple. Problems are due to “mental illness,” and all are absolved of responsibility to think any further. The next assumption provides the rationale….

….This is based on the premise that there is this condition we call “mental illness,” and that it is a disease much like cancer or diabetes or some other physical, biologically-based medical condition. This is understandable because the concept of mental illness was created by medical doctors who are steeped in the burgeoning applications of the scientific method to the practice of medicine. They created the concept of mental illness as a metaphor for physical illness. Now psychiatry says that “mental illness” is physical illness; it is not.

All of the above suggests a social construct to mental illness and psychiatry. The one point he makes that I want to elucidate is that as part of the biomedical model as Breeding states “mental illness is chronic, progressive, basically incurable.” This is utter bullshit. This blog is now filled with stories of mental illness being not only something one can overcome, but it is often completely curable. See “Kim’s Story of Recovery,” for one compelling story. See this post for a completely different approach to recovery. Read the rest of the blog for many other examples including, as mentioned above the stories of the people at Soteria Project. True and lasting recovery is not easy. It is demanding work and it takes courage and dedication. What most people do because no other option is made clear to them–because psychiatry is truly coercive–is take the easy way out and that is to take a pill or as is the case most often, many pills. And the tragedy of this is that this leads to further deterioration and most often compounds symptoms, thus the end result of being on multiple meds. Yes, medications are a downward spiral and do nothing to heal the underlying condition, whether it is a spiritual/psychological emergency or a health issue that can be addressed through diet and nutrition. Usually–I would say most often–it is a combination of the two. Certainly, for me, I have found that both issues were at play when I was inappropriately diagnosed bipolar–not because I didn’t exhibit symptoms, but because the underlying cause was ignored and I was disrespectfully dismissed as uncurable.

As I pay attention to the psychological and spiritual dimensions of my experience and as I radically change my diet and lifestyle I find that I no longer have radical mood shifts and I am progressively getting off all my meds. I long for the day when I am free of my “chemical straitjacket” as I still feel blunted and dulled from the drugs I remain on. I am so grateful for the people who have gone before me, bravely shunning the world of psychiatry and healing themselves naturally. Without those people I would not be able to do what I am doing. Thank you all you radical folk out there–patients and doctors alike who bravely challenge and overcome the oppressive psychiatric paradigm we live in.

2 thoughts on “Looking at Psychiatry and Mental Illness from a Sociological Perspective

  1. your welcome kevin.
    I’m glad you’re finding stuff that makes sense to you! I’m still working it all out myself…but it’s nice to have a place to process…


  2. I figured this out along time ago. Or I should say it occured to me through bitter experience. I want to thank who ever it is who put this site together. It is such a relief to find words that put this stuff into perspective. Perhaps more hope for the world, or at least for people who suffer from mental/emotional stuff.


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