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I remember working as a family t ...

Posted Sep 22 2009 10:52am

I remember working as a family therapist in a psychiatric hospital back in the 1980’s.  I asked a psychiatrist what a young 13 year old girls admitting behaviors were.  He grinned at me and said, “She has good insurance.”

America has a history, an American way of mental health, that is a sad history, of abuse, manipulation, and hurt against those labeled with mental illness.  In too many cases the mentally ill have been little more than a source of profit, an easily availible population to test out any theory without fear of consequence or repercussion, and a group that it really didn’t matter how poorly they were treated because they were never regarded as having the rights or needs of “real people.” 

Robert Whitaker wrote a book called, “Mad in America”  which should be required reading for anyone connected with the mental health system in any way.  He talks honestly about both good and bad moments.  He describes things like wrapping people in wet towels, blistering them, beatings, insulin coma, psychosurgery and many other techniques in the words of both them that used them and those that were the victims.  Things that we percieve as barbaric they talk about in the same matter of fact tones that we talk about psychotropic medication.  It makes me wonder how barbaric we will sound to future generations.

In an earlier post I talked about how little crediblity the mental health system had with many consumers.  Part of it is the naivete of providers in understanding what the experience of mental illness is like.  Part of it is naivete in understanding how many times they are hurting the very people they are trying to help.  Whittakers words are a great cure for that naivete.

He shows that there is a clear historical trend which says that the mentally ill as a whole are a disposable population.  There is little expectation they will be anything other than “crazy” and whatever happens to them happens to them.

In one of his most interesting chapters he compares our mental health to those of developing countries and we don’t come out so well.  This he believes is because of our reliance on medication, despite the fact that it often is not as effective in the short run as advertised and in the long run does positive damage to the mind and body.  This chapter is worth the price of the book.  His descriptions of the rise of the pharmaceutical based mental health system are as good as I have ever read anywhere.

Many of us have personal experiences that back up in one way or another the points he makes.  I have seen more than one person whose presenting problem is good insurance.  I have seen many people who were cured by lack of insurance.  Most frequently I have seen people in genuine pain have not where to go because they have no resources to access it.

There is an old phrase about we get what we pay for.  And we have.  A system that relies on insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and medical providers making a lot of money will find little faith in any vision that threatens that money.

Read this book.  It is well worth it.  I know it has drastically affected by perceptions of many things.  We always think of the American way as being the best way.  But is the American way of mental health really what we want?  I hope we can do better.

I remember working as a family therapist in a psychiatric hospital back in the 1980’s.  I asked a psychiatrist what a young 13 year old girls admitting behaviors were.  He grinned at me and said, “She has good insurance.”

America has a history, an American way of mental health, that is a sad history, of abuse, manipulation, and hurt against those labeled with mental illness.  In too many cases the mentally ill have been little more than a source of profit, an easily availible population to test out any theory without fear of consequence or repercussion, and a group that it really didn’t matter how poorly they were treated because they were never regarded as having the rights or needs of “real people.” 

Robert Whitaker wrote a book called, “Mad in America”  which should be required reading for anyone connected with the mental health system in any way.  He talks honestly about both good and bad moments.  He describes things like wrapping people in wet towels, blistering them, beatings, insulin coma, psychosurgery and many other techniques in the words of both them that used them and those that were the victims.  Things that we percieve as barbaric they talk about in the same matter of fact tones that we talk about psychotropic medication.  It makes me wonder how barbaric we will sound to future generations.

In an earlier post I talked about how little crediblity the mental health system had with many consumers.  Part of it is the naivete of providers in understanding what the experience of mental illness is like.  Part of it is naivete in understanding how many times they are hurting the very people they are trying to help.  Whittakers words are a great cure for that naivete.

He shows that there is a clear historical trend which says that the mentally ill as a whole are a disposable population.  There is little expectation they will be anything other than “crazy” and whatever happens to them happens to them.

In one of his most interesting chapters he compares our mental health to those of developing countries and we don’t come out so well.  This he believes is because of our reliance on medication, despite the fact that it often is not as effective in the short run as advertised and in the long run does positive damage to the mind and body.  This chapter is worth the price of the book.  His descriptions of the rise of the pharmaceutical based mental health system are as good as I have ever read anywhere.

Many of us have personal experiences that back up in one way or another the points he makes.  I have seen more than one person whose presenting problem is good insurance.  I have seen many people who were cured by lack of insurance.  Most frequently I have seen people in genuine pain have not where to go because they have no resources to access it.

There is an old phrase about we get what we pay for.  And we have.  A system that relies on insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and medical providers making a lot of money will find little faith in any vision that threatens that money.

Read this book.  It is well worth it.  I know it has drastically affected by perceptions of many things.  We always think of the American way as being the best way.  But is the American way of mental health really what we want?  I hope we can do better.

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