May 17, 2003

No Forced Treatment

Category: Politics — Biella @ 11:22 pm

When I first started doing research on Free Software and the ethics of information freedom, I thought that the politics of information freedom were certainly important but perhaps not “as” important as other political causes. Now, years in the field and more intimate familiarity with the issues have made me think otherwise. I see the politics of information freedom as a sort of “meta” form of politics, the first condition of possibility for all other forms of political causes whether in the field of health, corporate reform, anti-globalization or the environment. Access to information and transparency are simply indispensable for social change.

Today, at the MindFreedom conference, which comes out of the psychiatric survival movement, I was reminded of the importance of transparency, information freedom, and freedom of choice in the realm of health rights whatever the health issue may be but especially in the realm of mental health.

At one point in the conference, someone asked how many people had received electroshock therapy and more than half the room in the large auditorium raised their hands. And most distrubing is that most had received it against their will. The critical hinge of the psychiatric survival movement is that it does not deny all together current and conventional medications but they shun, question, and protest the process of how such medicines and therapies are spread, administered, and forced upon patients. Informed consent is a farce (physicians rarely follow the legal process), while drug companies completely rig studies to make certain new drugs look risk free when in fact there is plenty of risk associated with them. The continued salience of stigma forces patients to adopt treatments that “pulls the plug” of their inner life force to appease a scared and prejudiced public. So the folks who are categorized as mental ill are lied to by the drug corporations, treated as unfit to make decisions for themselves by society at large, while the medical establishment gives very few choices for treatment except massive doses of pills that have been shown scientifically to have little positive effect in curing or even alleviating many illnesses. When a severely disabled patient relies on public health services for food and shelter, resisting medications is not such an easy feat. Only the rich can make choices in this country.

In the end, their main message is “no forced treatment” but that does not mean just informed consent at the moment of “giving treatment” but it means providing real alternative so that there is a choice. At this time, there is not much choice within conventional channels especially when drug companies are doing everything possible to create new markets and add depth to ones that already exist.

New markets and depth…. And where are they adding these so that drug companies can become more profitable than they already are? (According to Robert Whitaker who wrote Mad in America, pharmaceutical companies are the most profitable companies in terms of money invested and profit yielded). The short answer is kids and globalization. So there has been a 10 fold increase in the amount of kids on anti-psychotic drugs alone since 1990! (this ain’t ritalin and ADHD) and there are now new diagnosis such as “pre” schizophrenic disorder slapped onto children. Scary. Truly scary because these drugs can really f*ck the actual mental and emotional development of kids.

The second market is in short, the world. Western biomedical approaches where drugs are king and disseminated through for-profit institutions, are being spread and enforced through such organizations as the WHO, the World Bank and even enforced through international treaties. So WHO mental initiatives to treat such illnesses as schizophrenia emphasize drugs and drugs for treatment. If you think that there is little choice and real informed consent in this nation, forget about in places where resources and alternatives are scarce. It is just plain sickening and scary that the adoption of western style systems for medical delivery whether it is HMO forms of management or psychiatric drugs are seen as part of the package for “free trade.” Neoliberalism transforms prozac nation into a borderless prozac world. As much as Coca-Cola in every world nook and cranny is a problem and in the other direction, karma cola is also a strange cultural outcome of globalization, we are now literally infecting people’s mind and bodies with not just sugar and MTV but potentially dangerous drugs.

So, on the whole the conference was incredibly informative and humbling. I hope to make it tomorrow to the protest they are holding tomorrow against the American Psychiatric Association. But I was somewhat disappointed that some alternative voices in the field of nutrition and environmental health for the treatment of mental illness were absent. Fundamentally, it is still a biological model but one that is radically distinct from the one employed by the psychiatric one which tends to be reductionist and disempowering from a patient perspective. It is a perspective that has the potential to offer another view of illness (and one that is also highly critical of the current medical establishmet) and offern potential therapy. But given the recent life of this movement, I bet that the psychiatric survival movement will grow to embody more perspectives than the ones they hold which tend to be pretty diverse.

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