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Talking to Critics of Psychiatry (Antipsychiatrists)

One of the challenging things about being a person with a mental illness who talks about psychiatry (and doesn’t hate it) is that all those people who do hate psychiatry perk up and get mad. These people often identify as “antipsychiatrists” and I’m not their biggest fan. While I consider it quite reasonable to question your doctor, psychiatrist, treatment, therapist and other treatment aspects, I consider going after an entire branch of medicine ridiculous. There is no “antioncology” faction in spite of the fact that a large percentage of people with cancer die (depending on the type, of course).

And this manifests in many of our lives. It’s not that antipsychiatrists just attack me; it’s that people of that mindset attack your average person who is just trying to deal with a mental illness. It’s the people who say, “mental illness doesn’t really exist” or “psychiatric medicine doesn’t work” or many other things that many of us hear online and in our real lives all the time.

So how do you talk to these people who have decided that your disease doesn’t exist and you shouldn’t be in treatment?

Mental Illness Doesn’t Exist

I’ve written several articles on how ludicrous a statement this is. Of course mental illness exists. And I don’t mean it’s just “in your head” I mean it physically exists as a physical, brain illness. We have brain scans that show it. We have genetics studies that are working towards pinning it down. We know that there are all sorts of differences between a depressed/bipolar/schizophrenic brain and a mentally well one.

So you could mention that to someone. I recommend pointing them to this article on the neurobiological evidence of depression, for starters.

You Shouldn’t Be in Treatment

This one is tougher but luckily, a recent meta-analysis looked at the efficacy of antidepressants, antipsychotics and many other types of medications used in internal medicine and determined that psychiatric medication is about as effective as other medications used in internal medicine. In fact, drugs like antidepressants are considerable more effective than some other drugs like statins. The meta-analysis is found here. Is insulin for diabetes more effective? Yes. But are psychiatric medications effective? Absolutely. (Discussion on the meta-analysis found here.)

Talking to Antipsychiatrists

But here’s the thing, while I have supplied you with two good sources of information, it’s likely that no matter what you say, you will not be able to convince most people of the scientific realities of mental illness. Why? Because many people are zealots and these people aren’t interested in rationale or reasons. These people are interested in bashing you about the head with their point, whatever that may be.

So my best advice is simply not to engage. When things get particularly acrimonious (and they do where many of my articles are concerned) I simply step back. I don’t have to defend myself. I don’t have to defend my position. I don’t have to defend my life choices. What other people think of me is none of my business. So let them rant. It really only makes them look bad.

Focus on what works for you. If treatment is working for you – great – nothing they say can change that. Moreover, it’s not your job to convince them of your reality. You’re working on recovering from an illness. That’s what matters. Not what the naysayers say. Take care of you. Ignore the rest.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

46 thoughts on “Talking to Critics of Psychiatry (Antipsychiatrists)”

  1. Hi John,

    What would you consider “most” disorders. Types of therapy have been proven to work for depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, off the top of my head.

    – Natasha

  2. Therapy has not proven to be effective for most disorders. I never understood how talking to someone could unlock the keys to depression etc. A friend is just as good if you need clarity for some reason.

  3. Hi Norell,

    Yes, I think walking away can be best for everyone’s sanity. Some people just really get off on the adversity. I don’t and I’m not sure it’s healthy in general. I see how angry people get at me and I just think all that energy could be used in a more positive way.

    Thanks for your comment.

    – Natasha

  4. Thanks for your excellent blog Natasha. I am one who has chosen the psychiatry, medication and therapy route to treat my bipolar 2. I do encounter many people who disagree with my choices, but I choose the route you have suggested. I do believe they have the right to their opinions, although most of them have never experienced bipolar first-hand. I don’t believe they have the right to try to force their opinions on me. I don’t try to force my opinions on them. I choose not to engage in long discussions about treatment options and why they think I’ve made the wrong choice. I am doing well. It’s my body, my disorder & my decision. If I have to get up and walk away, I do. I do it politely and not in anger. I just let the person know that this is a subject I don’t wish to discuss any further.

  5. Hi Patrick,

    Well, some people rile against bad doctors (well, most people, understandably) and some people rile against _all_ doctors. There’s a big difference. I hate bad doctors. I think most people do.

    As for Freud, well, I’m not a Freudian and I don’t snort cocaine so he’s not really my guy (see, I do know something about Freud, moreover, he doesn’t really make your case about psychologists, but that’s OK).

    I consider psychologists (those qualified to do psychotherapy, generally) and psychiatrists both important parts of a healthcare team. I recommend therapy to people pretty much daily.

    As for efficacy, I know of no study that suggests therapy is _more_ effective than psychiatry; however, there are studies that say that medication and therapy work better together than either one alone.

    And you may not know this but there are rather prominent groups of antipsychiatrists who lump psychologists with psychiatrists, as in, they hate psychologists and don’t think they should exist.

    I’m glad you (generally) like the blog. Thanks for your comment.

    – Natasha Tracy

  6. Dear Natasha,
    I note there is no mention of doctors who make mistakes,prescribe the wrong medicine or the wrong treatment.Those are the same type of people that your so-called anti-physciatrists are railing against the bad ones.Have you ever researched Freud i sincerely doubt it or you would know he treated about eight patiants and at least one died as a result of his treatment.The brain/mind is more complicated than the human body yet Psychiatrist get one year of training in their specialist field
    I wish people like yourselves who are very influential(deservedly so) would separate therapy into Psychiatrists on the one side and physiotherapists separately. Mental health nurses are far better and use far more modern techniques than old outdated dis proven methods like clinical psychiatrists use.
    I am not just speaking from my own personal experience but of others i talked to. I saw a psychiatrist for a whole wasted year and suffered having to work at the same time then six months later i had a relapse and ended up of work again.I had CBT with a MHN for six weeks and was problem free for eight years and only when i trusted the wrong person who stole from me and then evicted me so i was homeless then getting taken in by another friend and working 80 hours a week for a company that was bieng investigated for fraud on an international scale did i relapse.ECT never works and is barbaric pills work with depression to get you to a place where therapy can help but are never an answer.
    My uncle is bi-polar was for 20 years now he is drug free all due to a special diet(the wonders of having lots of talent and turning that into cash)
    Natasha you always give very clear explanations of the science of medications but on the therapy side i think you are blinded just as some of the “zealots” on the otherside of the argument. Psychologists have much better success rates than psychiatrists
    However please keep up the good work i actually enjoy reading your blog and do think its very informative,also you take the time to reply to people which is helpful.

  7. Hi Aubrey,

    I agree with you, people who have negative feelings of psychiatry do so for all sorts of reasons and may think any number of things about science, and of course, they aren’t all the same. You are an example of someone who wants to focus on one aspects of psychiatric rights, and you are certainly welcome to do so. You aren’t really the kind of person this post is talking about.

    Yes, some people recover without medication. Of this there is no doubt. Mental illness and treatments come in many flavours and different things work for different people – which I say all the time because I believe in people doing what works for them.

    I do not advise people to go off of medication for medical reasons but I have written articles on when people should consider it and how to do it if they want to (not on HealthyPlace). That’s precisely because I _do_ respect people’s right to choose their own paths.

    I respect your choices and have no interest in choosing your treatment for you.

    – Natasha Tracy

  8. John,

    This post isn’t about you. I didn’t address it to you and I deal with many people on a daily basis, you are but one.

    I, personally, am not offended although you seem to have misunderstood my remark. I said that you couldn’t understand aspect of mental illness until you had been there (or it seems for many people) but I never said that I, personally, tried to take my life in front of my parents, I didn’t.

    You can talk about anything you like. If I didn’t think so, I would simply delete your comments but I haven’t done that because I respect your right to express yourself.

    – Natasha

  9. That said, there *are* persons with mental illness who for personal reasons choose to cope without medications – and for whom it works.

    There are many who find the effects of neuroleptics – the personal, subjective experience of it – unbearable.

    Their (read: my) reality in this is just as valuable and just as true as anyone who does engage in treatment via more traditional approaches.

    It is possible, for instance, to believe the right to refuse treatment is a human right, whatever someone’s position on the science might be. It is quite possible to hold this belief while having no or few objections to the mainstream scientific consensus.

    As a person who has experienced treatment over my express objections and against my will, I value choice above all else – even science.

    I’m not interested in arguing the science – it’s outside my area of specialization. All I care about is whether my wishes for what happens to my own body and my own mind to be respected – whether it’s treatment or not – whether it’s supported by double-blind placebo-controlled studies or not – whether the statistical evidence says I’m being unwise in my choices or not.

    I sometimes feel that people who have experienced the system in oppressive ways end up attacking the whole thing.

    I do know the precise mechanisms behind mental illness are not well understood. History has shown many hypotheses, and more are made often. However, scientific ignorance of the specifics does not, to my mind, mean there is no mechanism.

    I believe my symptoms are produced by my biological brain.

    But, people who have rational choices to not accept medication are often lumped in with those who act unreasonably or are unscientific.

    I find myself a skeptic (i.e. James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Penn Teller) and a human rights crusader. I find it odd that my emphasis on the freedom to choose to be untreated puts me at odds with the scientific community in this when I’m the first to criticize unscientific, magical, or illogical thinking in other situations.

    I, in fact, have considerable empathy for people who do feel neuroleptics are something they need. Given how terrible they were for me, I can only respond to the statement “I’ve lost everything one too many times to stop my medication” with profound respect. My hatred of neuroleptics, from my own experience, gives me a greater appreciation of just what that choice means for some people.

    But I will fight to the ends of the earth in support of someone else who says “I want to try to cope without these terrible drugs,” because there was no one to fight for me when I said that.

    I wish the “Psychiatric Survivor” movement would focus on experiences of oppression and force – very genuine and extant issues – as opposed to fighting science.

    My movement is a civil rights movement. It contends that free choice is paramount. It holds that basic human rights and basic human dignity belong to all – even those who have thought process problems.

    I am a psychiatric survivor, not because I don’t believe in science, but because of what I have survived in the name of science.

    I just had to learn to separate my hatred of force and wiser-than-thou paternalism from my feelings on science.

    I don’t have any intention of telling you how to handle your illness, as long as you afford me the same. I respect your choices – including treatment – but I expect the same respect for mine.

    Not all psychiatric survivors are antiscience, but all humans have the right to focus on what works for them.

  10. I’m just another voice for people to sort. You’re educated. You know about he high risk of ect. I talk to anybody who thinks about doing this. Read the ect hall of shame online that exposes the deceptive practices of those who direct funding and operate the machinery. To have your mom slowly come to from ect and not recognize you is an abomination of doctors. I think I would rather be locked up for an unmanageable depression than to lose not just memories but the ability to read or remember an extensive vocabulary, which has happened. You seem to not want to hear about questions surrounding treatment. Eventually all these treatments other than compassionate ones such as talking will beabandoned when genuine understanding of people’s issues or complaints are possibly correlated to a medical treatment. Some illnesses may be a disorder that arises from biological dysfunction or may be the result of a cascade of experiences and thoughts that produce a negative feeling for the person. This question is still open because the brain is still an open frontier of research with many questions. I’m not saying that psychiatrists have not cleaned up their act when they discovered the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness was discovered to be wrong. Some drugs do affect psychosis to an extent they appear normal and act normal. But many recover on their own without meds. Look. I don’t know why you object to my talking about ect, foster children overwhelmingly on powerful brain meds, or 2 year olds being reated with meds for bipolar. Yes I called you spoiled because you still talk about that day you attempted suicide before your parents an take no responsibility for that or your reaction to what you call a mental illness. But if it’s not that what. Saying that I rant is a bit absurd compared with your dictionary of a blog almost solely devoted to glorifying psychiatry to an almost religious unquestioning. I hope this hasn’t offended you because I only wish to talk about what I’ve seen and to read about other people’s stories and for all to know that what I am interested is an honest and transparant health professional.

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