Coercion in Psychiatry

I have been blessed lately with multiple submissions. Today Mary Maddock of Ireland’s MindFreedom, author of Soul Survivor submits a piece.

maryBy Mary Maddock

Coercion in Psychiatry

You would think people who study medicine would see that a young woman who had a difficult pregnancy, a very long labour, deprived of sleep and who had received an excessive amount of nitrous oxide would enter an altered state of conscious as a NORMAL reaction.  You would also think they would ask some questions to find out why this happened before whisking this woman off in a ambulance to a psychiatric hospital at 80 or 90 miles an hour but that might be too much to ask from a profession who is not in the habit of asking questions!

You would think that having made this tragic mistake, having tried out neuroleptic treatment and following it with electroshock, this was admitting that psychotropic drugs do not work, as electroshock is only supposed to be given when drugs are a failure!

You would never believe then their next solution was that this same person received multi drug treatment for 20 years later but this was the way an unthinking medical professionals ‘ treated’ me!

Electroshock causes brain damage.   Electroshock causes brain seizures.  People who suffer from seizures know it causes memory loss and yet amazingly electroshock is on the increase worldwide today.  All research done to date backs this common sense up but still vulnerable, suffering people are  having electrodes attached to their delicate, precious brains while unthinking, greedy professionals are delusional enough to think they are helping them. The public are unaware that this is happening.  Most of them believe electroshock is a thing of the past.  How long more will people labeled ‘mentally ill’ and their families continue to be fed with lies and half truths?  How long more will people who may have psycho/social difficulties be treated as guinea pigs? How long will those who consider themselves ‘normal’ continue to turn their backs on their brothers and sisters who were unfortunate enough to be labelled and branded by professionals who think they know best?  This has to stop.

Are mad people irrational?

We live in a world where abuse of others is part of the status quo.  It is very acceptable to abuse others if you are rich ‘educated’ and powerful.  You are given permission to lie, cheat, steal, hurt and even kill in the name of ‘help’.  Governments and laws will support you and you will convince yourself you are good and never be aware of the harmful destructive path you leave behind. On the other hand, those who are labeled ‘mad’ often react to this unjust world. They find it emotionally disturbing and they try to escape.  They build a new world for themselves split from reality.  They feel they are victims and are often in the direct line of societal abuse. Is this a mad irrational thing to do?  It seems very rational to protect oneself.

Coercion or force has no place in healing or well-being in body, mind and spirit.  Human beings are different from all other forms of life in that they have the freedom to choose.   If this is not respected, then the so called ‘helpers’ are acting from a top/down position and perceive their fellow humans as animals who cannot think or evaluate themselves.

When a group of people are labelled ‘mentally ill’ by others who ‘know best’, then the result is that these branded people can be forced against their will to receive ‘treatments,’ often harmful, which other people, service providers and very often family, think they need.

‘Mental illness’, which has no scientific basis, is very cleverly used to deprive vulnerable people of their rights as citizens.  There is no medical test to prove ‘mental illness’ exists, yet psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers , the media etc. continue to act as if it were comparable to other illnesses e.g. diabetes.  Nobody ever looses their civil and human rights when they are diagnosed with other illnesses yet when a person is diagnosed with a ‘mental illness’ she/he can be forced into a ‘hospital’ and ‘treated’ with toxic psychiatric drugs against their will even though it is now common knowledge that most of these drugs have serious, even life threatening, adverse effects.

People who have very difficult psycho/social problems are diagnosed with medical ‘disorders’ such as  ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘bi-polar disorder’ etc. which do not exist.  The standard treatment is usually some form of a neuroleptic, often more than just one.  Most of the cheap forms e.g. largactil, haldol, etc. are not used today in favour of the much more expensive atypicals such as Zyprexa and Risperdal.   These neuroleptics are very successful in causing a chemical lobotomy which can deprive those who are unfortunate enough to use them of their humanity.  The happiest moments of our lives are when we experience our humanity to the full. Physical lobotomies were used on people who were referred to as ’mentally ill ‘ in the past but thankfully most psychiatrists today can see that surgical lobotomies should be outlawed.   How long will it take them to see the damage neuroleptics do to creative, worthwhile people?

What is a human being? To be human is to be different from being animal but she/he is more than an animal.  An animal cannot choose.  An animal follows its instincts.  A human being is capable of self determination.  She/ he can create something new.  Music is a good example.  It is made up of a limited number of sounds yet a human being can create a symphony or a concerto out of these limited sounds.  We can create the infinite out of the finite. We can be in touch with what is described as godliness.   We associate being human with our highest values: freedom, love, insight, creativity and understanding. The monkey can maintain a simple image of a situation.  However human beings have a higher power and can manipulate images and take different points of view. We can take a leap outside ourselves and see ourselves from the outside.  We can see ourselves and the world with the eyes of others.  We are able to distinguish between our inner and outer would.  We can create our inner world where we can perform experiments of thought.  We can move from this inner world and make a leap to a point outside ourselves.  Love makes this leap possible.  It is by this leap that we grow in freedom, love, insight, creativity and understanding.  We gain power over ourselves and our inner world.    When we experience these values, we are truly alive and free. It is difficult to find these important human values in coercive psychiatry.  A human being who thinks that she/he knows what is best for someone else and forces another to do it is not acting like a human being.  These five powerful values are absent and so no true healing can take place.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive” — C .S. Lewis.

If psychiatrists are to become helpful and value the other person as a fellow human being then equality is something which is a must.  At present there is a top/down attitude.  Sometimes you would think the psychiatrist even dislikes the person she/he is supposed to be helping.  I have heard many people who attend psychiatrists express this view.  Some women are even told they are not capable of having children and never will.  What a hopeless message to give to someone wishing to recover. To recover from psycho/social difficulties, we need to be able to use our frontal lobes at their best.  Neuroleptics interfere with the performance of the frontal lobes and make it impossible to recover.  Some of the outward signs of this brain damage manifest themselves as bodily movements.  The medical terms for bodily movement disorders induced by neuroleptic drugs are: akinesia (immobility), parkinsonism (rigidity and trembling), akathisia (disquiet, inability to sit still ) dystonia, ( contortions of the face and body), and diskinesia ( disturbed movements).  The outward person gives us an image of the inner person.
When such awful brain damage can be the result of the use of neuroleptics in modern day psychiatry, it is even more of a crime against humanity when they are forced on vulnerable, suffering people in the name of ‘help’. Worse still, when these drugs are forcefully injected in large doses, the people receiving them will not object because the brain damage has been so successful.

Survivors of psychiatry worldwide know they have been chemically lobotomised, often against their will.  This is dressed up as ‘care’.  There are many ex-User/Survivor organizations. The two largest groups are WNUSP (World Network of ex-Users/Survivors of Psychiatry) and ENUSP (European Network of ex-Users/Survivors of Psychiatry). They both believe that there should be no coercion in psychiatry and constantly campaign against it.  Activists from both organizations along with MindFreedom International, have participated in the UN Ad Hoc Convention on the rights of people with disabilities and have been successful in changing some of the articles which had allowed for force and guardianship in the past. We see this as the first important step to abolish force and coercion as a form of ‘help’ and ‘care’.  In his book ‘deprived of our humanity – the case against neuroleptic drugs’, Dr. Lars Martensson quotes Hebriana, a survivor from Sweden who expresses what it is like to be forced and coerced very well.

“It was a horrible existence.  I was fettered.  The air becomes thick and dense.  You cannot get through.  It is incomprehensible.  That state, if anything, is incomprehensible.  In order to integrate these experiences of psychiatric violence and forced drugging, you have to accept how helpless you can be.”  She goes on to say “ survivors of other horrors created by humans (concentration camps, childhood sexual abuse, torture), have also needed decades, and often a lot of therapy, love and support before they have been able to confront and integrate their memories and begin telling us what they have been through.  Survivors need acceptance and our recognition of their experiences in order to be able to return to the human community and feel that they are members of the human race.

These other groups are approved victims.  They get understanding and acceptance.  They live in a society that recognises its duty to try to restore their sense of security.

Neuroleptic survivors, on the other hand, live in an unrepentant society that keeps perpetrating the horror they underwent.  People do not want to believe that something so horrible can go on in our society.  Such denial is a continuing crime”.
In a civilized society, coercion and force can never be justified as a good way to help others.  It is barbaric and inhumane and can only be counterproductive.  Those who defend it make matters much worse and can never call themselves healers.  They are violent and their methods must be seen for what they are, namely controllers. People who are hurt and abused need love and kindness not force, control and coercion.

A friends experience:

“I got elated after my first baby in 1970.  After 6 weeks at home breastfeeding they put me in a mental hospital. There I was made mentally ill by haldol and largactil. I was then deeply depressed and even forgot about my baby. I had the shakes, lockjaw and a terrible thirst and drooling. I couldn’t even walk.

I had suffered low self-esteem growing up. This continued in marriage though I had some good years. I compared myself negatively with other women when they achieved something.

I thought I couldn’t do that. So I have few skills. Psychiatry insured that I was a failure. My husband carried me but did not question the negative effect of drugs. Negativity causes depression.

I was in the mental hospital over 75 times almost always involuntary because I was elated. Nearly always out of frustration, because of not being able to cope at home alone, without enough support. I was over dependant on my husband and after we separated I became dependent on friends.

I find that psychiatry does not address the basic problems but with the forceful administration of neuroleptic drugs exacerbates the condition.

So that now at 62 years old, having two adult sons, life has slipped by because I lived in the past. Psychiatry cures nobody. I am in the locked up hospital again as I write this feeling insecure, helpless and hopeless one more time.
I feel I am finished and I can’t go on”.

These are the words of my brave friend Helena King who unfortunately is no longer with us. She often said to me and others that “depression is a suffering of the soul which encompasses the mind and body leaving one helpless and hopeless”. She never believed she had a disease but recognized she had problems. She would have liked to find help from those who ‘cared’ for her. However, all she found was coercion and control. Now most service providers diagnose psycho/social problems as ‘mental illnesses’ without a cure. But all people in difficulty can find is maintenance ‘treatment’ of symptoms which for most exacerbate their original problems. They can find no helpful ways but instead they are forced to receive harmful, tortuous and hurtful treatments just as Helena did. Is this good ethical practice or is it an abuse of human rights ?

A true healer and supporter will be aware that she/he is a human being who is learning to live and cope in a fearful world. She/he reaches out to others, encourages, empathises and understands, always realizing that she/he is giving and receiving each from the other. In such a relationship there is no room for force or coercion. But ever present are freedom, equality, truth and human rights. It is only then we possess the respect and dignity which everyone deserves, especially those who have psycho/social problems.

“The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem it is generally employed only by small children and large nations”. —David Freidman

Reference: The case against neuroleptic drugs by Lars Martensson, M.D.
Mary Maddock, MindFreedom Ireland, INTAR (International Network Towards Alternatives and Recovery). Board Member ENUSP, MindFreedom International.
March, 2008.

9 thoughts on “Coercion in Psychiatry

  1. Hi Mary! Wonderful words! I would love a copy of your new book. Have they got it in the Limbrick Centre yet?

    I was chatting about your work to Duane Sherry who is a regular on Gianna’s blog here. Duane also runs Discover and Recover, his own mental wellness resource. I said to Duane that you could probably give him a good slant on the role of the Church in Ireland in restoring mental well-being….


  2. Thanks, Grainne, Dona, Marian and Leah for your encouraging, supportive words. You are all outstanding and an example of how we can work together to break destructive,coercive silence and help to liberate ourselves and others. I am proud to be a woman with people like you in the world.

    Thanks,Gianna, for publishing my article and all the work you do educate, support and understand others.


  3. Mary – your work has such a deep and profound impression on me that to be honest I could not read your piece in one sitting. I had to read it in a few sittings. Not that I didn’t totally love what you had to say, and not that it didn’t hold my interest.

    It’s just that your description of your personal experience – and of new mothers being drugged and oppressed, rings so close to home and touches on some of my deepest core pain. Helena’s story could have been my own mom’s – who is also no longer with us. Psychiatry not only destroys individuals, it wrecks families.

    As a mother of a three year old very active little boy who employs about 99.9% of my (drug free) mental and physical capacity, I can’t imagine trying to keep up with and raise a little one while disabled by toxic neuroleptics. Basically the prescription of neuroleptics to a mother is an eventual sentence for losing her child.

    I’m ecstatic that you survived and have dedicated yourself to the fight for our rights and dignity. You are one of my she-roes, Mary M. Thank you for all you do

    Love and solidarity,


  4. This post made me think of something, that happened a couple of weeks ago here in Denmark: There was an outcry in the Danish media about a rubber mat, that can be fixed to the partition of a box, administering electric shock to horses who kick, in order to make them stop kicking the partition. The leading Danish animal rights organization wants the government to ban “Kick Stop” by law – and the government contemplates to follow.

    “All behavioral research shows, that some horses do this (kicking), and that the reason in all cases is frustration, caused by different circumstances. These can be lack of possibilities to move freely, a noisy stressful environment, enmity toward the neighbour horse, etc.,” a vet from the animal rights organization said. He compared the rubber mat to “hand cuffing someone, making it impossible for them to scratch their back, and calling this care.”

    So, probably the “Kick Stop”- rubber mat will be banned by law in the near future, because it is seen an instrument of torture, a cruelty towards horses, who express very understandable frustration about stress factors in their environment. Which they, of course, shouldn’t be punished for doing. All the while thousands of human beings in this country, who, just as understandably, are frustrated and in despair because of stress factors in their environment, completely legally, and by and large unquestioned, on an everyday basis get their brains fried with psychiatry’s “Kick Stop”- rubber mat: ect and neurotoxins.

    I wonder, what exactly it is, that obviously makes the public think of certain identified human beings as not only less worthy than animals, but actually sort of the opposite of a living feeling being, and thus qualifying for a kind of “care”, that in every other context immediately is recognized as torture and cruelty by almost everybody, giving rise to a public outcry, and a legal ban. I wonder, when and if ever people will wake up and realize the glaring hypocricy in this.

    Which this post also made me think of, is the R.D. Laing quote: “We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love.”


  5. Many of my thougths were voiced, quite beautifully in this essay, and I than you from the bottom and top of my heart/mind/body/spirit/soul.

    Another surving warrior,



  6. Just to add, I love that quote by David Freidman… in fact, John’s son, Joshua, is nearly three and he has turned into a mini-dictator!!! He’s attempting to rule the house with an iron fist, his favourite mantra being “I’m the biggest!” It’s now my job to gently and respectfully help him to outgrow and let go of his narcissistic phase (not easy for him). Maybe, Mary, we could view psychiatry as a giant toddler, as unbridled narcissism gone wild, and it’s our job to stand firm and say “NO”, gently and respectfully.

    I agree, very difficult psycho-social problems (definitely in John’s case) are labelled as schizophrenia. You know it breaks my heart that Joshua is nearly three and what would be immensely healing for John, ie raising his child, has been denied him. Also I know John possesses the calm, grounded and patient Father energy that Joshua craves. In the same way that they separated you from your baby all those years ago, the system as it stands today still destroys not only individuals but also damages their relationships with loved ones. Tragic.

    Like you say, Mary, this has to stop.


  7. As ever Mary, you are such an inspiration to us all and you speak so articulately about this subject. You really see through to the victim/ perpetrator dynamic inherent in psychiatric practice today. Your writing is passionate and empowered and unafraid.
    Where John is my muse, you are my mentor! And though I never met Helena (but John knew her from Carraig Mor) I feel her spirit is guiding you in all this important work you do with MindFreedom Ireland. We are all somehow interconnected.
    It breaks my heart, all of this breaks my heart. Places like Carraig Mor destroy people then it’s conveniently dressed up as ‘care’ to the general public. By remaining quiet about it, society colludes in this. As time goes on, I have less and less time for the “I know what is best for you” brigade, it is insideous and patronising by nature and at the heart of mental health care in Ireland today.
    Well done Mary for exposing this important truth. You remain, as ever, a source of strength and inspiration to me.


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