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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stigma and Antipsychiatry

Stigma toward mental illness embodies the belief that mentally ill people caused their illness. It associates mental illness with shame, infamy, and disgrace. How much stigma toward mental illness exists? It’s difficult to measure. Organizations expected to advocate for the mentally ill population, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (StigmaFree | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, bit.ly/2AaGvie.), appear to overemphasize stigma as a problem. They portray it as a massive problem and urgently promote campaigns to eradicate it.

Toward the beginning of my career, I grew to believe that stigma was the greatest barrier to accessing sound mental health treatment. I didn’t realize then that I allowed myself to be influenced by the many campaigns against stigma that were advertised. Is stigma less problematic than what the media and certain organizations make it out to be? Is the extent of the stigma that they claim a myth? Although stigma associated with mental illness exists, it is apparently not the greatest barrier to accessing treatment.

The Recovery Learning Communities (RLC) are groups, largely dominated by peer specialists, throughout Massachusetts that endorse the belief that signs of psychosis are normal. Besides running frivolous reiki groups, they regularly lead groups for their members titled “Hearing Voices.” They advertise that “Hearing Voices groups do not pathologize the experience of hearing voices or experiencing other altered/extreme states. Instead, they ask “What does the experience mean to you?”" (“Western Mass RLC | Healing and Recovery Through Peer Support.” Calendar, Western Mass Recovery Learning Community, 8 Nov. 2017, bit.ly/2yFc5Fc.) To pathologize a human experience means to view it as abnormal or dysfunctional. Hearing voices that are not there is certainly not normal. Science proves this. If impressionable people aged in their early twenties experience auditory hallucinations that involve commands to kill themselves or others for the first time and attend these groups, the chances that they will seek out appropriate treatment are reduced when they learn that nothing abnormal is going on. For months in a row in 2017, Western Mass Recovery Learning Community has advertised their seminars, titled Coming Off Psych Drugs, that have taught and encouraged people to stop taking their prescribed psychiatric medication (Davidow, Sera. “Western Mass RLC | Healing and Recovery Through Peer Support.” Coming Off Psych Drugs, Western Mass Recovery Learning Community, bit.ly/2vfutCo.).

When they do not deny the existence of mental illness, RLC minimizes it. Minimizing mental illness is not far off from believing that it doesn’t exist. If prospective followers of the anti-psychiatry camp are not persuaded to believe that no mental illness exists, they might be influenced to minimize mental illness, which contributes to stigma.


The government allows the belief that mental illness does not exist to infiltrate them. Massachusetts’ Department of Mental Health funds RLC (United States. Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Department of Mental Health. Search Results. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2017. bit.ly/2yFDQNW.). NAMI's Massachusetts chapter promotes RLC (“PEER SUPPORT RESOURCES.” Peer Support Resources | NAMI Massachusetts, National Alliance on Mental Illness, bit.ly/2iD6wMt.).

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here’s the deal quack: *I* decide what is normal for me, what is healthy for me, and what is right for me, so long as I’m not hurting anyone else. My life and my health both IMPROVED when I ditched psychiatry. EVERYONE has the right to live ANY safe lifestyle, regardless of how “abnormal” or “sick” it seems to you. Niche health care systems preserve individual liberty. Miners get theirs. Football players get theirs. Women get theirs. Veterans get theirs. Mad people deserve theirs, too. And this is America, so, we CANNOT and WILL NOT gut them. Clinicians don’t own the public’s lives. You serve us, not the other way around.

joyce berryman said...

When is your book coming out? I think what you are doing is so brave. I have worked with social workers in the educational setting of special Ed, all are a cut above.
My daughter has schizophrenia, I would love to travel advocate..but she is my mission field. With out me she would be on the street. Please let me know when your book comes out. joycepberryman@gmail.com.

joyce berryman said...

I'm excited to read your book. My daughter has schizophrenia and was on the street for 6 months. She believes she is sick now and gladly takes medication. I will never give up on her, and advocate for her best always. People like you and Pete Earley are on the front lines for us. Please let me know when your book comes out. joycepberryman@gmail.com

Lynn said...

Thank you Joyce! Your comments are inspiring to me. One of the hardest parts of this project is answering this same question, asked by many people, that you are asking. I've spent the greater part of today incorporating professional editing suggestions into my manuscript. I'm on the first of three rounds of professional editing.

I expect it to be ready for publication by summertime. I will let you know when the book becomes available for purchase.

Anonymous said...

How many of the patients that you've forcibly committed or "helped" are self-sufficient, gainfully employed or seeking work versus on SSDI or SSI? I realize there is a serious unemployment crisis in our country and have no problem with the govt providing benefits to people who are out of work and actively seeking work or job training. However, there are several MILLION of the so-called "mentally ill" getting SSI, SSDI, Medicaid, and all manner of benefits without making any effort to get work or job training. Also, there can be plenty of REAL reasons for someone to be depressed; it trivializes people's REAL traumas and losses to think they have a biochemical imbalance or brain disorder when they have suffered very REAL misfortunes.
Disclaimer: I am happy to help Veterans who have served our country and think Vets suffering from PTSD or other disorders or injuries deserve lifetime benefits. However, among the several million people getting benefits for "mental illness", disabled Veterans are in the minority. What is the purpose and benefit of inpatient "treatment" and involuntary commitment if the person is on disability instead of gainfully employed and being independent? If "treatment works" as NAMI likes to say, why are so many mentally ill on SSDI, SSI, Medicaid and other taxpayer paid benefits?

Anonymous said...

This is kind of the silliest. Perhaps you might want to visit us before you write strange things about us? We:

A) Do not identify as 'anti-psychiatry'
B) Do not encourage people to stop taking psych drugs. Many of our own team members take psych drugs. We *do*, however, encourage people to have choices and to have those choices be informed.
C) We pay tons of attention to science. I wonder where you're getting yours?
D) The Hearing Voices movement is international and extremely successful. Perhaps you should learn more about it before suggesting it's some weird and unhelpful thing.
E) Just because you find Reiki 'frivolous' doesn't mean others do. Are you more interested in what helps *others* or just what you believe in for yourself?
F) We don't prioritize 'stigma' either. It's a highly problematic concept. So, it's weird to see us written about in this piece that seems to be placing us alongside that concept.

Really, I guess I just return to my original 'Why not visit and spend some time with us before you start writing such things like this?' It might do you some good. In more than one way.

Also, please kindly remove the name of the person you're citing as responsible for publishing the 'Coming Off Psych Drugs' event. She only posted it on the website at my request, and I'm not sure why her name is showing up with it. She's certainly not the author and didn't sign up to have her name publicized in this way.

I am the one responsible for that event and all the written material about it.

Thanks,

-Sera Davidow