I understand why people diagnosed with a mental illness turn to antipsychiatry groups. No one likes to admit they may have a chronic, stigmatized condition and many of them were probably misdiagnosed. I have bipolar disorder and when I was a teenager I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I was prescribed medications that are contraindicated for bipolar disorder, namely an antidepressant and a stimulant. It put me in a raging manic state so when I turned 18 I was also given an additional diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and given an antipsychotic called Haldol. I felt horrible so I quit seeing the psychiatrist as soon as I could and joined a 1980s antipsychiatry group called Phoenix Rising. I began drinking daily. About ten years later I started going to a nonprofit called Response that served survivors of sexual assault. They advised me to get sober. I did. About seven years later I developed extreme paranoia and became incoherent. I went to a hospital for an evaluation on my therapist’s advice. In the hospital I was diagnosed with a mixed episode of bipolar disorder (a mixed episode means both depression and mania are present at the same time). I felt so much better I decided to continue taking medication and my life improved dramatically. I have a very supportive psychiatrist and therapist, but I’m lucky; I have good insurance. A lot of people don’t and wind up getting substandard care.
There’s a big problem with poor people not getting the help they need because the local community mental health providers’ budgets are stretched so thin that people can’t go as often as they need to in order to get an accurate diagnosis and the right medication.
I understand why someone would want to avoid psychiatrists given psychiatry’s egregious history and the fact that some providers in psych wards are abusive. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way which area hospitals to avoid when I have a bad episode. People who lament the lack of state hospital beds are not considering the terrible warehousing and abuse that occurred at state hospitals before deinstitutionalization. But is it really any better today? Is jail worse than the snake pit asylums of the 1940s? Maybe it would be better in state hospitals these days because of advances in psychiatric treatment, but given the lack of funds for mental health treatment in my state I’m not optimistic.
It also can be very frustrating trying to find a medication that works best. I can see how someone would give up. And the medications aren’t perfect. I’ve been feeling mildly depressed for the past few weeks, and frankly, I’m worried about it.
I’m also against forcing people to take medication unless they’re a danger to themselves or others and that usually happens when someone becomes an inpatient in a hospital. I understand why the parents of severely mentally ill adults would want their children to be forced to take medication. Many people with psychotic disorders have no idea that they’re ill and can end up homeless. But after the experiences I’ve had with some medications – particularly when I was misdiagnosed – makes me very reluctant to advocate for forced treatment.
My biggest beef with the antipsychiatry movement is that they want to eliminate the institution of psychiatry, which deprives me of my choice to seek treatment. If you don’t want treatment, fine, but don’t try to prevent me from getting help. Some of them also state that if someone breaks the law they should be jailed whether the offender is incapable of knowing right from wrong or not (source). MindFreedom International’s website advises trying unproven herbal remedies as an alternative to psychotropic medications. There are no standards in the alternative medicine industry so how is that any safer than taking psychotropic medications? I know some side effects of psychotropic medications are terrible, but isn’t it safer to talk to a doctor about it? Back in the 1980s when I wanted to get off psychiatric medications I sought help from my general practitioner.
I also don’t agree w/ the view that mental illness is a social construct. There’s this view that there’s no “proof” that psychiatric conditions exist. Brain science is in its infancy and it’s silly to think that the brain can’t be diseased like other organs in the body.
Each side seems to think this issue is black and white. It isn’t. I’ve lived it.