Medicated madness

From nikki @ Give Me Space (To Rock) 2008-06-09: The Medicated Child:

After finding a fast enough Internet connection to pirate, my housemate and I sat in my bedroom and watched The Medicated Child — a documentary about children who are placed on SSRIs, benzodiazapines and mood stabilizers to control various mental diagnoses. As a person who has been permanently altered by medications such as the ones above, it hit me a little bit too close to home to watch this documentary.

You can watch it online on the PBS website: The Medicated Child

My experience in the psychiatric drug system began at age 16. My mother was dying, I was trying to work full time and go to school, and I was sinking in teenage depression. We were on welfare, so my mother decided to find me some sort of mental health care at no cost - this is surprisingly easy in New Jersey.

I was placed on Zoloft, an SSRI, after a brief conversation with a doctor on my first visit to the free clinic. After a few weeks of therapy and more consultations, my doctor raised my Zoloft dose after coming to the conclusion that my depression wasn’t getting better. I was no longer able to fall asleep naturally due to the jitters that Zoloft gave to me, which affected my schoolwork greatly. My doctor then put me on Trazodone to help me sleep at night - this made it very difficult to wake up for school in the morning.

— nikki @ Give Me Space (To Rock) 2008-06-09: The Medicated Child

It goes on from there; every new drug brings a new side effect, and every new side effect brings another new drug to control it. The unending swallow-the-spider-to-catch-the-fly process would be funny, in a macabre sort of way, were it not for the fact that this is a real young woman whose life and brain were being systematically stewed, with permanent effects on her body and her behavior. Not because she wanted it that way, but because the State and its legally privileged medical experts told her do it, bribed her into doing it, and finally used an involuntary commitment procedure to force her to keep doing it, no matter how bad it got.

At age 20, I was on Effexor, Klonopin, Seroquel, Wellbutrin and Neurontin. My social life plummeted, and I was incredibly on edge and anxious. I was suicidal. My skin was a mess. I didn’t feel real — I felt completely detached from my body and was convinced that I was going to die. I became preoccupied with my early death, and started to live as though death was near. I was so tired and had racing thoughts. Seroquel would make me rock back and forth. My doctor said that the Neurontin didn’t seem to be working, so she prescribed me Gabatril in order to strengthen Neurontin’s effects.

I was on 6 different medications for a condition that I didn’t remember anymore. My doctor continued to prescribe me drug after drug to counteract effects of the previous drugs. I didn’t have anywhere else to turn — I trusted and believed her and credited her for keeping me sane. In reality, I was completely insane — and this was from the medication, not from my mental illness.

— nikki @ Give Me Space (To Rock) 2008-06-09: The Medicated Child

This young woman did not have a broken brain. She was not suffering from some congenital mental illness. She was pushed to the brink by emotional crises that were a rational reaction to a terrible situation — her mother’s suffering and death — and then, in the effort to help her by medically suppressing this painful but rational reaction, she was made sick, and made mad, institutionally mad, by the spiraling effects of years of psychiatric cures.

My long-term effects from psychiatric medication: I have painful stomach ulcers that occasionally perforate, my liver has deteorated to the point where I can barely drink liquor, psoriasis on my elbows and knees, some forms of compulsive behavior that started when I began SSRIs, and occasional paranoia that is completely unfounded.

. . .

Before you sign your life away to the psychiatric industry, please pay attention to what goes on. Were you given medication after only speaking to someone for an hour? Were you placed on psychiatric drugs at a young age for ADHD and then put on more drugs for illnesses that seemed to develop after you started those medications? Does your doctor give you a new medication every time you complain about a side effect? Does your doctor ever recommend things like excersize, a change in career, more social time, healthier foods, or naturopathic methods? Does your doctor raise your dose when you have a bad day?

When I think about what was pushed on me in my younger years I feel enraged… and after watching The Medicated Child, I’m outright terrified. There are children as young as 4 years old being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and placed on mood stabilizers. There are children who are put on dehabilitating anti-psychotic drugs at age 6 who develop uncontrollable ticks in their necks in their teenage years. These drugs were never tested on children — if you choose to put your children on these drugs, your child is a guinea pig.

— nikki @ Give Me Space (To Rock) 2008-06-09: The Medicated Child

You really must read the whole thing. What was done to her is, quite simply, unforgivable.

Of all the horrible things that institutional psychiatry routinely does, one of the most infuriating for me is its stupidly aggressive lack of anything approaching self-consciousness or critical reflection. In a field where, not half a century ago, patients were routinely locked away in filthy hellholes that would be hard to distinguish from a medieval dungeon, and, once confined, subjected, against their will, to restraints, tortures and mutilations that would have made Torquemada blush — camphor shock torture, repeated massive electric shocks to the brain, and, at the end of the road, an icepick jabbed through the eye socket and rotated so as to mutilate the brain and deliberately destroy centers of personality and higher cognition — in a field, I say, where all this was dignified as brain damaging therapeutics and regarded as best practices for a scientifically-informed helping profession — in a field where current practitioners now more or less universally agree that torture like this was based on little more than pseudoscience and quackery, and where almost no-one in their right mind would propose ever using practices like these on any patient today — in a field, that is to say, where within living memory thousands of people were subjected to the worst kinds of sadism and torture that the human mind can devise, and all of it based on what are now almost universally acknowledged follies, illusions and lies indulged in by the recognized experts of the field — in such a field, you might expect at least a little bit of humility, historical awareness, and decent caution, rather than sanctimonious self-righteousness and aggressive obliviousness to the idea that psychiatric practice itself might perhaps be part of the problem.

In point of fact, there are countless cases like this one, cases where a life crisis becomes the occasion of massive psychiatric intervention, and where the intervention itself spirals into years of institutionally- and chemically-manufactured madness; in which the stereotypical behavior of the psychiatric patient, invariably passed off as part of her disease, can in fact be traced quite directly to the physiological, behavioral and social effects of the forced drugging, the forced confinement in hospital psychoprisons, and other aspects of psychiatric therapy. Psychiatrists then have the gall to use those same symptoms, created by their own therapy, as proof of the need for even more of the same.

Under the present circumstances, there is no reason to believe that individual psychiatrists or psychiatric institutions will ever trouble themselves to acknowledge this possibility or to incorporate it into their practice in any way that matters. It’s not just the financial incentives — although those are certainly there, and those are certainly important. The problem that underlies the financial problem is that psychiatrists have no real reason to care whether they get things right or not. Why should they? They are backed by cultural prejudices in favor of doctors; they can dismiss any complaints by their patients as literally the ravings of lunatics, and almost no-one will bat an eye; they are backed up by the force of the law, which gives them the power to force their latest and greatest therapies on a literally captive market of unwilling patients. Unless and until psychiatrists no longer have the privilege of inflicting nonconsensual treatment, which is to say, unless and until they become directly accountable to the will and desires of the people for whose benefit they claim to be acting, cases just like Nikki’s are going to happen again, and again, and again.

Free Nikki!

Free all psychiatric prisoners!

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  1. Eric

    Ugh. That’s a horrifying story.

    It seems like most of the problem in this case was voluntary submission to (incompetent) medical authority, not state power per se. The author’s first contact with the psychiatric system was voluntary. The second started with an involuntary 8-day commitment, thanks to the actions of her aunt. But the author was ultimately able to wean herself off all her various medications without anyone trying to stop her.

    Now, a lot of patients aren’t so lucky, and they’re subjected to similar treatments on an involuntary basis.

  2. Rad Geek

    Eric,

    I agree with you that there are more issues here than the directly forced drugging or hospitalization, although (as you note), Nikki was eventually forcibly treated through the involuntary commitment. But I think it’s important to see how the State and the privilege that it grants to psychiatrists over their potentially unwilling patients ripples out through the entire story, not just the episode of involuntary commitment. Part of the reason that drugs were so quickly and thoroughly favored, and piled up atop one another rather than considering alternative options, is precisely because pharma-psychiatry is what the government welfare agencies and government-regimented health insurance system, on which Nikki and her family depended, subsidize. And while her initial contacts with the psychiatric system were voluntary, there is a question as to why psychiatrists feel entitled to suggest the kind of hellish treatments they suggest, and don’t feel especially worried about the kind of worries (like the capacity of multiple interacting extremely powerful psychotropic drugs to themselves cause long-term, possibly incapacitating harm; or, in general, the possibility that the treatment or the conditions under which it is administered might itself be part of the problem).

    You could no doubt partly chalk this up to the arrogance that comes along with a culture of technocratic paternalism, particularly when there are major distinctions of class, gender, or other traditional hierarchies between the supposed Expert and the patient. But then the question is where that culture came from and how it sustains itself, and in the case of psychiatry, I think it has a lot to do with the political privileges with which shrinks operate. A lot of the reason why shrinks act the way they act, treat people the way they treat them, and don’t think about the possibilities they don’t think about, is precisely because they know that if a patient really doesn’t like something, the doctor can always fall back on legally-sanctioned force to make her go along with it anyway. Here, as elsewhere, State-granted subsidy and State-granted privilege are sustaining causes of a sense of entitlement and an attitude of irresponsibility.

  3. anikhaque

    If you ever find yourself in such a situation, file a writ of Habeas corpus. It becomes inordinately more difficult the State to detain you unless they can establish that you are some sort serious threat.

  4. capn_midori

    I just wanted to relate my own experiences with the ADD “epidemic” in America. In third grade I changed schools, and at the beginning of the year my teacher recommended me for testing to join the “Challenge Program” at my school, which was intended for gifted students. However, as the school year progressed, I would become bored with the material taught in class and read books (e.g. “The Count of Monte Cristo”) under my desk. After this happened a few times, my teacher called my mother in and insisted very strongly that I had ADD and be put on medication. Luckily my mother was smart enough to realize that a child that could search for the perfect Lego piece for 20 minutes or read a book in one sitting didn’t constitute a child that needed to be medicated. She also encouraged me to keep reading in class, since apparently the lessons weren’t stimulating enough for me. When I was older, my mom told me about the teacher’s response to my “bad behavior” and it got me thinking how many other kids’ parents weren’t willing to stick up for their kids…

  5. Laura J.

    Many teachers that kids get stuck with are genuinely uninteresting, and thus it is no surprise that so many have trouble paying attention to them. A teacher should seriously worry about his teaching skills if he has to drug children to get them to listen to him.

  6. LadyVetinari

    I have serious doubts about whether or not involuntary incarceration is ever justified. Yes, there are people whose lives are saved by it, but I can’t help thinking that there might have been alternate methods of saving their lives. I’m also willing to grasp the nettle and say, fine, it’s wrong even if it WOULD save lives. Ethically, it’s ultimately their decision to commit suicide.

    But I’m curious as to what an anarchist or left-libertarian response to a suicidal person with no connection to reality—an extreme schizophrenic, perhaps—would be. Community offers of help, perhaps?

  7. quasibill

    LadyVetinari,

    I clearly don’t speak for anyone but myself, but as a left-libertarian, my simple answer would be that a person could do what he thought was right to save a community member. The difference being from now is that there is absolutely no concept of privilege in such actions - the “rescuer” has no immunity from the repercussions of their actions, and a jury of their community members will possibly get a chance to determine if their actions were reasonably designed to rescue someone who who was no longer competent to be making their own decisions. If the “rescuer” oversteps the bounds of community morality, he can (and should) be held responsible.

    Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific than that, because we’re talking about counter-factuals and localized morality. But I’m fairly confident that the system would be far less prone to abuse for two reasons - one, the loss of privilege will discipline the actor, and two, the fact that it is a community member, who likely has a personal relationship with the incompetent, means it is more likely that the incompetent will treated with compassion and as a human being, not as a “ward.”

    Not perfect, granted. But better? I think so.

  8. LadyVetinari

    That sounds fair, quasibill. In that case there’s no specialized class of people who can declare you insane with impunity. Of course in that case there’s the danger of the eccentric old bat living on the edge of the community being declared crazy because the some wealthy respected burgher wants the old bat’s property…but I don’t see any reason to think the abuses would be worse in that system.

  9. Araglin

    Quasibill and LadyVetinari,

    I think that y’all are definitely on the right track here, but I think that the complexity of these questions highlights the fact that, while tons of work has been done within anarchist or libertarian circles treating contractual relations between independent, rational adults, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done on fiduciary (or, non-arms-length) relationships, including: Parent-Guardian/Child-Ward, Trustee/Beneficiary, Agent/Principal, etc. These sorts of relationships involve certain powers (that one party) that one party may have over the welfare of another, but where that party has an obligation to exercise those powers for the benefit of that other, here’s where things like duties of loyalty and care, and strictures against self-dealing and conflicts of interest, need to thought through and re-cast if necessary to ensure that they don’t involve anything that would be violative of libertarian rights.

    If either of you could point me in the direction of sources dealing with these issues, I would be much obliged.

    Cheers, Araglin

  10. Rad Geek

    LadyVetinari,

    But I’m curious as to what an anarchist or left-libertarian response to a suicidal person with no connection to reality

    Well, like quasibill, I’m speaking only for myself here.

    I think that, ethically speaking, you have to distinguish (at least) two different issues here — the issue of whether it’s ever justified to forcibly restrain someone momentarily to keep them from killing or hurting themselves during an episode of extreme distress, from the issue of whether it’s ever justified to lock someone up in a closed-in psychoprison for an indefinite period of time, or to force psychiatric treatments on them against their will, unless and until you (or some other third party) determines that they are no longer a danger to themselves. I’m not tremendously comfortable with the former, but I’m far more comfortable with the idea that it might in some cases be justified than I am with the latter, which I am quite certain is never justified, and I think that allowing that momentary restraint in emergencies might sometimes be O.K. does not commit anybody to the latter position. And the slope between the two is not especially slippery; admitting the propriety of temporary restraint in a moment of crisis where you have a good likelihood that the person restrained will be O.K. with, or thankful for, having been restrained very soon, once the crisis has passed, is a far cry from admitting the propriety of long-term confinement, straitjackets, strip searches, forced drugging, etc., etc., etc. over a period of days, weeks, months, or even years.

    As for momentary restraint, I’m inclined to say something roughly like what quasibill is saying. If you think that the person is temporarily impaired in her judgment and will thank you for having saved her after the crisis passes, then go ahead and intervene as long as it is possible to do so within the bounds of proportionality (blocking a doorway or grabbing someone from a ledge is one thing; locking them in a padded room or shooting them up with thorazine is another). The critical thing is precisely that if you choose to intervene like that, you do so at your own risk, rather than with the forceful backing of the legal apparatus. If you were right then her ex post facto decision to thank you rather than complain and seek restraint against any further attempts to hurt or kill herself will be enough to ratify your decision. If you were wrong and she decides to take legal action against you, then it’s perfectly fitting that you should be held accountable for your interference, rather than being insulated from the consequences of your actions by legal privilege or professional status.

    In a case where someone is suicidal, not as a matter of temporary crisis, but as a long-term and fixed state of emotion and will, and this is announced and well known, then I think that they should be left in peace to kill themselves, if they so choose, rather than being forced to live. That may be terribly sad; it may be foolish or even crazy; but everyone does have a right to end their own lives.

    Speaking from the left side of my mouth, I’d also certainly agree with you that community offers of help are extremely valuable and I would like to live in, and would help support, a society in which people with severe emotional, cognitive, or other mental problems have lots of caring people and lots of safe places that they can fall back on for help when and if they need it. And, for that matter, lots of drugs to take, including powerful psychotropic drugs, if that’s what helps them get through the day. I think the important thing is to eliminate forced treatment, and in general to disrupt the pseudoscientific medical model on which these kind of services are currently offered.

    Speaking generally, I think that the medicalization of everyday life, and the inability of many people in our culture to talk about any of the things that are most important to us without first running them through a quasi-medical set of diagnostic categories, is a very serious cultural problem, closely intertwined both with many cultural forms of authoritarianism and with the ever-lengthening grasp of the therapeutic State, and that that kind of pseudomedical rhetoric is something that anarchists and left-libertarians ought to be challenging as strenuously as possible.

· August 2008 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-08-05 – Iatrogenesis:

    […] GT 2008-06-24: Medicated madness […]

· November 2008 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-11-10 – On sound and fury:

    […] GT 2008-06-24: Medicated madness […]

— 2009 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-12-03 – Without remorse:

    […] From GT 2008-06-24: Medicated madness […]

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