The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Distress vs Illness: Social Control

Sean Fleming • 16 February 2005

The present Review of Mental Health (N.Ireland) being undertaken by psychiatric and mental health professionals is fundamentally flawed and in truth attacks the human rights of those it regards as ‘mentally ill’. This review forms part of a wider review into the reform of mental health legislation in the UK which saw the UK government produce a draft Bill In September 2004.This new Bill will replace The Mental Health Act 1983. The Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 as a part of this Act presently governs the treatment of people with ‘mental health’ problems in Northern Ireland.

Recently the Chairperson of the Review of Mental Health wrote to the NIO Minister for Finance calling for more funding to implement the plans of a committee set up under the Review. What is interesting is that in his letter the Chairperson recognises the fact that in the north of Ireland much severe mental distress ‘derives both from the chaos of the last 35 years as well as powerful socio-economic factors of poverty and deprivation’.

Yet if one examines the general thrust and content of this letter and the committee’s calls for funding it is clear that increased funding is aimed towards providing more mental health professionals and physical ‘treatments’ which can only serve to perpetuate the already failed biomedical or biological approach to ‘mental illness’. The truth is that the pervasive understanding within the mental health field is that ‘mental illness’ is essentially biological in origin. Biological psychiatry is quite simply wrong given that the causes of this mental and emotional suffering are societal or environmental in origin. It is these factors which can bring about mental suffering that they (the psychiatric profession) label as mental disease or illness. We therefore need approaches that address this reality by providing a network of genuine caring and supportive services. Disabling drug treatments and biological theories of mental illness (‘mental illnesses are the result of brain chemical imbalances or genetic defects’) deflect attention way from this reality and in fact illustrate how psychiatry continues to act as a form of social control. In preventing recognition of how society and the State perpetrate and perpetuate severe mental distress (poverty, unemployment, inequality, injustice and inter-personal conflicts, etc) the aim is to objectify the patient telling him/her that the problem is their ‘illness’ or their ‘faulty’ brain chemistry or ‘neurochemical defect’.

This review and its members are simply acting out their role as agents of the State in producing a review that will not benefit psychiatric patients in any positive way at all. It engages in the demeaning objectification and labeling of those suffering severe mental distress. It is an exercise in legitimising a pseudo medical practice and its mental ‘health’ professionals. The reality is that this review supports the internment of the ‘mentally ill’ in psychiatric institutions or prisons against their will. It supports the use of forced drug ‘treatment’ on people it views as lacking ‘capacity’ or ‘insight’ into their ‘illness’ (Illnesses that can’t be proven to exist through any physical or objective medical tests!) It does not voice any opposition to the extended powers on forced ‘treatment’ in the community being considered in the draft Bill if this is believed to be in the best interests of the ‘patient’. If one reads the review one finds that nowhere in it do these mental ‘health’ professionals ever once question the extremely close relationship between psychiatry and the drug companies nor once do they question the growing controversy concerning ‘anti-depressants’ and their serious side effects (even suicide). Not once do they raise any concern about the neurological diseases caused by so- called anti-psychotic drugs. Why? Because it would be professional suicide if they did!

Consequently there is no recognition in the review of the need to have in place a service that can help patients safely withdraw from heavy psychiatric drugs which is something that psychiatric patients have always wanted. Mental ‘death’ professionals will unconscionably defend the drugs irrespective of the serious health risks to the patient. Psychiatry today is simply about dispensing brain-disabling and debilitating drugs. There is simply no emphasis at all on alternatives.

I have recently written to the manufacturers of ‘anti-psychotics’ in relation to the inadequate information and in some cases complete absence of information provided in the patient information leaflet for these drugs. I raised this with the UK drug regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as well, who said they would follow up certain concerns with some of the companies contacted. When I contacted the Mental Health Commission for N. Ireland, a body which claims to protect the welfare of psychiatric patients and whose work is being examined in the Review, they told me that ‘they did not adopt any stance on the use of any psychiatric drug’. Concerns about these drugs are clearly only raised by concerned individuals and not the bodies supposedly charged with responsibility for caring for the ‘mentally ill’.

It confirms for me the reality that state mental health organisations will not challenge harmful drug treatments because of the symbiotic relationship that exists between psychiatry and the psychopharmaceutical manufacturers. Remove drugs and the psychiatric industry collapses along with the practice of coercion. Drug money is what psychiatry runs on.

Drug company domination can be seen in research carried out at the Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Queen’s University, Belfast. One research project there is funded by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the American pharmaceutical company that was contacted in 2003 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory authority in the USA, concerning their ‘anti-psychotic’ drug Risperdal. They were told that the incidence of diabetes associated with the drug was not as they claimed ‘very rare’ and were warned about providing false information to healthcare professionals. Janssen deliberately concealed the truth concerning the health risks this drug presented and patients who developed diabetes as a result of this so-called treatment have filed lawsuits in the USA against the company. The terrible irony of this is that this study being undertaken by Queen’s is entitled ‘Prevalence of Diabetes in Patients In a N.Ireland population of people with Schizophrenia’. Implicit within this is the contempt in which psychiatric patients are being viewed. These are the people whom Queen’s are taking drug money from!

Let’s take another drug company, Bristol Myers Squibb, the makers of the ‘anti-psychotic’ Abilify. They too refuse to mention in the patient information leaflet that it can cause diabetes. It is accepted as medical fact that all these ‘anti-psychotics’ do present a risk of diabetes yet this company refuses to give any indication of the risk. I contacted the MHRA about this and they decided to raise the matter with the EMEA (European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products) from whom the drug is authorized. They will be asking for changes to be made in relation to the patient information leaflet. This Queen’s study funded by Bristol Myers Squibb is entitled ‘A Comparison of the Effects of Abilify and other Anti- psychotics on Weight Gain’. Nearly all anti-psychotics are notorious for massive weight gain and disfigurement.

Another study by Queen’s entitled ‘The Genetic Epidemiology of Tardive Dyskinesia in N.Ireland’ is quite astounding in its hypocrisy. The psychiatric profession and the drug companies admit that their drugs can and do cause this neurological disease called tardive dyskinesia (TD) which is characterised by involuntary muscular movements of the mouth, face, neck, arms or indeed any part of the body. If these drugs were only used for very short periods during extreme mental distress there would be little or no risk of TD and consequently no need for such ‘studies’. It is precisely because psychiatrists insist on prescribing them long term that many patients develop TD and other neurological diseases (if psychiatrists weren’t dispensing psychiatric drugs, what else, of course, would they be doing?). It is quite simply a disgrace that this profession gets funding and sponsorship to investigate diseases which they themselves are guilty of causing. This ‘study’ is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in the USA which takes a very biological view of mental illness ascribing as they do secondary or no importance at all to the real societal and environmental causes of severe mental distress.

Queen’s claims to be involved in studying ‘genetic risk factors for psychiatric diseases’ and the ‘neurotransmitter pathology of schizophrenia’. This is simply delusional stuff. No genetic cause has ever been established for even one of the so –called mental illnesses. All this rests on the theory that mental illnesses are brain illnesses, a theory which they present as if it were fact! If they were real brain illnesses they would become part of the medical specialty of neurology and not psychiatry. Psychiatry on the other hand investigates non-existent illnesses. I am absolutely convinced that a genetic cause or genetic defect for ‘schizophrenia’ will never be found because schizophrenia, I believe, as a brain illness simply does not exist. This department at Queens pursues this fruitless quest because it presents an illusion of medical science and that psychiatry is on a par with the rest of medicine. Instead of curing or treating disease they excel in causing disease which is after all psychiatry’s specialty.

The sad truth is that no psychiatric patient in N.Ireland can take anything positive out of this Review or from the present research in this area funded by drug companies. Psychiatry continues to label people mentally ill when in fact there is no evidence that they are suffering from brain pathology. They cannot be said to be suffering from biological diseases or diseases of the brain. The term needs to be replaced by the correct term severe mental/emotional distress. The psychiatrically labeled face a future of more harmful drugs and the much feared depot injections including increased stigmatization. The State though will continue to support psychiatry and the mental health industry. Its purpose as social control masked as genuine medical practice will continue to harm and ruin lives and will continue in failing to address the real causes of severe mental distress.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

18 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

"Death by Suicide"
Margaret Quinn

But Will Anyone Object
Brian Mór

Seeking Justice for a Brother
Davy Adams

Perspective and Perception
Eamonn McCann

Only One Option Left, Really
Mick Hall

Trust Your Leaders!
James Connolly

A perfect 10 for Bertie's volte-face on the peace process
Anthony McIntyre

Distress vs Illness: Social Control
Sean Fleming

Double Visions Conference
Seaghan O Murchu

No More Lies

14 February 2005

An Ireland of Equals Will Not Be Built on Fear
Gerard Quinn

'Law and Order' From Behind a Balaclava
John Kelly

Where Are the Guards of Honour?
Sean Magee

Losing Hearts and Minds
Mick Hall

Protest? You're Having a Laugh
Michael Benson

Brian Mór

When A Leader Deserts His Men
Anthony McIntyre

No News
James Fitzharris

I Didn't Know Her, But I Did
Fred A. Wilcox

Parents Must Fight Bigotry
David Adams



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices