Wed., June 3, 1998

The "mental health system," its ideology of "biochemical imbalances," the psychiatric drugging of youth, the use of Ritalin.... all of these and more were challenged today in a guest column in today's _Register-Guard_, the main newspaper for Eugene, Oregon!!!

A copy of this op-ed piece is copied BELOW.

The author of this great piece is Linda Sisson, a registered nurse who wrote the piece on behalf of "Mental Health Employees for Ethical Treatment," and "Support Coalition Northwest." (These groups will sponsor a free forum on this issue on Wed., June 17, 1998, 7 pm, at Support Coalition office, 454 Willamette, 2nd floor, Eugene.)

---------- Forwarded column ----------

Date: Wed, 3 Jun 1998 15:00:46 EDT

Guest Column In _REGISTER-GUARD_, Eugene, Oregon, USA.

"Mental Illness Subject Of Much Misconception"

The May 17th article titled "California foster kids drugged into docility" provides an opportunity to focus awareness on issues that are not often brought to public attention. Many people have never had occasion to question the popular wisdom that mental illness is a brain disease caused by a biochemical imbalance which can be corrected by psychiatric drugs. So before we can ask, "why are all these children being drugged into docility?" we must first ask, "what is a mental disease?" and "why do we believe that drugs are the solution?"

Most people are surprised to learn that mental illness diagnoses such as schizophrenia, substance abuse, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as compulsive behavior, anxiety, and depression are not based on any identifiable biological problem. There is no known physical or neurological abnormality, and no blood test, urine test, brain scan, or genetic marker by which it can be discerned. (Reference sources include: P. R. Breggin, "Talking Back to Ritalin," 1998; T. Colbert, "Broken Brains or Wounded Hearts," 1995; Szasz, "Insanity: the Idea and Its Consequences," 1990.)

This information comes as a surprise because we have all read the headlines and seen the colorful brain scan pictures on TV - "Genetic marker discovered for alcoholism" or "Scans show the brains of hyperactive adults have decreased rates of glucose metabolism." What most people did not see is the paragraph on the last page of the newspaper retracting the gene finding eight months later. People did not hear that even though a slight statistical difference was concluded the first time, when the brain scan study was repeated, the findings did not support the original much-publicized one. They also did not hear that all of the scans in both studies were normal, and it is quite impossible to look at an individual scan and distinguish a hyperactive one from a normal one.

The presumed "biochemical imbalance" or "genetic flaw" is inferred by judgments of one person about the behavior of another person. The diagnoses described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) are proposed and voted upon by committees of psychiatrists and consist of lists of behavioral classifications. An individual in question must be deemed to demonstrate, for example, six of nine behaviors on the list in order to qualify for the disease. The political rather than scientific nature of this process leaves it vulnerable to bias and fads. In the past homosexuality and masturbation were considered diseases as was the propensity of slaves to run away (drapetomania).

The controversial attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is an illustration of a current American fad. The nine symptoms on the DSM diagnostic criteria list include: often fidgets with hands or feet; often leaves seat in classroom when remaining seated is expected; often runs about or climbs excessively; often has difficulty playing quietly; fails to finish schoolwork or chores; avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as homework); often loses things necessary for tasks (e.g. school assignments, pencils, books, tools).

As impossible as it sounds, these are the allegedly scientific criteria on which over three million children are being labeled as biologically defective and drugged with toxic stimulants, even though "there is no solid evidence that ADHD is a genuine disorder or disease of any kind....There is no proof of any physical abnormalities in the brains or bodies of children who are routinely labeled ADHD."

The article on the widespread and unmonitored drugging of foster children in California is a poignant and tragic example of the issue that biopsychchiatry critic Thomas Szasz has been raising for decades: a function of the mental illness concept is justification for the control (chemical or otherwise) of deviant behavior. Ritalin and other psychiatric drugs do not correct brain chemistry or fix "crossed wires." Ritalin does not improve academic performance or social relationships. What it does do is "suppress creative, spontaneous and autonomous activity in children, making them more docile and obedient" and at the risk of permanent neurological tics, drug induced behavioral disorders, psychosis, mania, growth retardation, drug abuse, and addiction.

The issues are not just about foster children and "more monitoring or using more care to drug only the ones who are "really mentally ill" are not the solutions. We must have the courage to examine the foundations of the system in which millions of children are being forced to take toxic and potentially fatal drugs of unstudied long term-consequences for "diseases" that have no identifiable biological or neurological basis.

The problem we face is that the idea of mental illness as a biological disease has become our culturally accepted definition - that is, it has become dogma. "Biochemical imbalance" is a powerful ideology, not a fact of science, and one which supports a vast system of social authority, political power and astronomical financial gain. At the bottom line are more questions: What is health and who has it? What is illness and who defines it? And who benefits from these definitions?


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