The Anti-
Anti​depressant Syndicate

The friends and foes of Big Anti-Pharma

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Bruce Cohen grips the mic and begins mocking mental health diagnoses. Caffeine use is now a mental disorder! The audience laughs. Delayed ejaculation is a mental illness now! They laugh again. He rattles off more from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5): the skin-picking disorder; Oppositional Defiant Disorder; Restless Legs Syndrome. “Female Orgasmic Disorder is now a mental illness,” he says, pausing for effect. “The problem is not your partner!” Uproar.

Cohen is the first speaker in a merry-go-round of experts touring New Zealand in 2018 as part of the Mental Health in Crisis series. For some of them, Big Pharma is the end of the world; for others, Big Pharma is their whole world. The “crisis” they refer to isn’t what people usually mean when they lament the state of mental health and care — the long wait times to see a counselor, high costs for help, and persistent suicide rate — but the very notion of modern psychiatry. New Zealand may be a small nation, but with its outsize media profile and troubled mental health system, it has become a tactical front for the new war on psychiatry, which is a whole lot like the old one, except that its combatants now studiously avoid the term anti-psychiatry.

UnsubstantiaTED Talks

Cohen, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Auckland and author of a book outlining a “Marxist theory of mental illness,” hurriedly prefaced his talk in the cadence of a pharmaceutical commercial’s side-effect warning: of course he wasn’t denying people’s experiences of trauma or distress. But here came the sell: “Often when you challenge the taken-for-granted assumptions about psychiatry . . . you’re written off as anti-psychiatry . . . which is kind of a way of trying to silence us.” More specifically, he was implying, you’re written off as a Scientologist.

This is something another Mental Health in Crisis speaker, Robert Whitaker, raised in his book Anatomy of an Epidemic, published in 2010. Whitaker was a 1999 Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series of articles he co-wrote about psychiatric research for the Boston Globe and today runs the popular website Mad in America. In Anatomy of an Epidemic, he writes that in the early 1990s, drug manufacturer Eli Lilly stumbled upon a genius technique for deflecting criticism of their antidepressant Fluoxetine (the generic name for Prozac) — to paint all critics as Scientologists. The gambit, Whitaker argues, was successful: “The media had been conditioned to associate criticism of psychiatric drugs with Scientology.”

For all our progress, the mental health world remains largely split into psychiatry and anti-psychiatry camps.

But why did this accusation stick? Why would Scientology, a religion with a gospel of self-improvement and wealth accumulation, get involved in debates over mental health? Scientology’s stake in challenging mental health orthodoxy is in part to avenge its founder L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas being laughed out of town by the psychiatric establishment in the 1950s, when he offered up his theory of Dianetics, and the religion’s practice of “auditing,” as an alternative to the talking cure. Not to mention Hubbard’s need for a convenient scapegoat on which to blame the otherwise inexplicable ills of the world. Scientology’s mission, in this area at least, is perfectly encapsulated by their work with a New Zealand woman named Maria Bradshaw, who organized the Mental Health in Crisis tour.

When Maria Bradshaw’s seventeen-year-old son Toran Henry died by what she calls “antidepressant-induced suicide” in 2009, she organized a march down Auckland’s main street on what would have been his birthday to “raise awareness of the failings of the mental health system and the dangers of drugging children dealing with emotional distress,” as she put it to me. A few days before the march, she had received a phone call from Steve Green, then head of the New Zealand branch of Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), who she says told her that “he would be there and would love to meet me to see how he could support what I was doing.” Though the organization claims it is “dedicated solely to eradicating mental health abuse,” CCHR is also a Scientology group.

This generous offer to a grieving mother was followed by the creation of CASPER (Community Action on Suicide Prevention Education and Research) with another suicide-bereaved parent, Deb Williams, propelling Bradshaw to media stardom—by the standards of a country with a population of five million, anyway. Green would go on to become a trustee of the organization and featured as a spokesman in media. By her own admission, this had been one of her goals from the start. In a 2013 post on Mad in America, Bradshaw wrote that “our goal was to establish ourselves as the ‘go-to’ agency for media stories on suicide.” In another pitch reminiscent of a drug advertisement, she assured readers that “our blend of credible research and personal stories makes good copy.” Later, in a parliamentary debate, it was alleged that the group’s sympathetic audience had largely been bamboozled and were unaware of the fact that CASPER was closely connected to CCHR, dimming the organization’s star. (Bradshaw remembers it a little differently: “I spoke to many journalists afterwards asking whether it affected their perception of CASPER’s credibility and therefore their willingness to publish our views, and [they] all laughed about it,” she told me this year.)

Bradshaw and I both found ourselves at the conference venue on Wellington’s waterfront for the 2018 Mental Health in Crisis tour—but don’t worry, a promotional website jarringly clarified, this event was not connected to Scientology or CCHR. (Bradshaw told me this year that she doesn’t “actively” work with the group anymore, either.) This was in contrast with a CASPER-hosted talk Whitaker gave in 2011. Attendee Tracey Cannon told me that at that event, there were still CCHR materials all over: “They had their standard big display, pamphlets in the lobby of the place.” Cannon had read Robert Whitaker’s seminal book Mad in America and thought of him as something of a hero, so “I was annoyed and disappointed about the CCHR stuff, wondered at the time if it was even connected, but as we were all standing around in the adjoining room surrounded by it, along with a couple of people manning the stand giving away copies of their slick movies, I guessed it had to be.” Oddly, while Whitaker was cognizant of drug companies lumping their critics in with Scientologists, he appeared to have no problem associating his own work with CCHR. CCHR’s involvement was upsetting to Cannon, who had briefly dabbled with Scientology during an episode when she had been homeless and drifting in and out of reality. “I was attracted to some kind of sign about personality testing and finding out what parts of your life could be improved,” she says. “There was a lot going on in my head, and I was trying to make sense of it, as well as needing safe places to be.” She ultimately walked out because it didn’t, in fact, feel safe: “They target people who are looking to make sense of their mental health experiences; they’re not alone there. In the late eighties I also spent a huge amount of money doing self-transformation seminars and weekend workshops.”

I’d decided to go to the conference myself after reading two high-profile news articles that took aim at psychiatry. One, a front-page story published in The Press, bore the blunt headline “Antidepressants ‘don’t work.’” The other was an opinion piece on the Newsroom titled “A Case Against Antidepressants.” Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions (endorsed by Hillary Clinton and Elton John) had just come out, saying basically the same thing—“Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?” asked the headline of a Guardian excerpt of the book. It seemed like there was a new wave of anti-psychiatry in the air, although, as neuropharmacologist David Nutt, who has sparred with a who’s-who of anti-psychiatry influencers, would later tell me, “it comes up every three years.” The cycle begins anew when another book on the topic is published, or a fresh medication scandal hits the news.

My interest was also personal: I’d been on Prozac since the age of fifteen and took the mood stabilizer sodium valproate for five years. You could say I was biased — or brainwashed. I prefer the truth: I live with mental illness. But I wanted to hear these arguments from a source other than dry academic papers or well-meaning relatives emailing links about how gut-health affects your mood. I couldn’t imagine being so sure about something that affects so many people in different ways, so sure that I could confidently declare universal truths about what does or doesn’t work.

Gøtzsche Journalism

In 2018, Bradshaw arranged for a trio of experts from the Mental Health in Crisis tour — including Whitaker and Danish academic Peter Gøtzsche—to meet with government health officials, including mental health boss Dr. John Crawshaw, in what was clearly not a very productive exchange. Hours later, Gøtzsche would tell an audience in Wellington that “it was a very interesting meeting, to use a British understatement.”

According to minutes of the meeting, Gøtzsche said that action needed to be taken against psychiatrists “who argue that antidepressants prevent suicide, when in fact, these medications are leading to death,” and that it should be forbidden to prescribe psychiatric medications to children. In an earlier letter to the former health minister, he had expressed similar sentiments, writing, “I have estimated, based on the best research I could find, that psychoactive drugs are the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. This might be an exaggeration,” he added, “but there is no doubt that these drugs kill very many people.” As Gøtzsche views it, he is well-placed to make such pronouncements: “My academic credentials are high. I am the only Dane that has published more than seventy papers in the five best general medical journals (BMJ, Lancet, JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine and New England Journal of Medicine) and my works have been cited over twenty-five thousand times.”

Gøtzsche, a Danish physician turned anti-psychiatry crusader, is something of a celebrity in the skeptic world. In 2018, he was expelled from the Cochrane Collaboration—the board that operated the prestigious Cochrane Nordic Center, of which he had been director—and subsequently released a book, Death of a Whistleblower and Cochrane’s Moral Collapse. Later, he founded the Institute for Scientific Freedom ; at its launch, a member of CCHR attended, telling a prominent Danish news site that CCHR shared views with Gøtzsche. He even featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2014; in a mock investigation sketch with Michael Che, Gøtzsche played a Deep Throat type, meeting in a parking garage and telling Che that “pharmaceutical companies are like drug cartels.” When Che laughs, Gøtzsche responds, “This medicine kills people. Do you still think it’s a joke?”

Gøtzsche’s work was cited in Newsroom’s “A Case Against Antidepressants” piece, which he also cowrote. The op-ed drew on his own 2016 analysis that showed antidepressant use doubled the risk of suicide and violence in young people. But this statistic was misleading: not mentioned was the fact that “doubled” in this case represented an increase from two to four percent, as the New Zealand Media Council pointed out. Nor that Gøtzsche’s study used the term “suicidality,” which includes suicidal ideation and attempts — upsetting experiences that are nevertheless profoundly different from completed suicides. The study’s definition of violence was equally murky, including anxiety, tremors, and bad dreams. There were no events like assault, homicide, or aggression in the trials he covered. As the Council noted, “For most readers, it would not be accurate to use ‘violence’ to mean bad dreams, ‘caffeine feeling,’ and some of the other harms listed.” The editor of Newsroom told the council he had “published the article in good faith relying, as per our ongoing arrangement to publish academic research and opinion articles, on the University of Auckland’s academic research and editing process.” But the op-ed was later amended with the following note: “This article has been found to have breached the Media Council Principle relating to comment and fact which requires that opinions must be based on accurate facts.”

The academic research and editing process, so venerated in news media and by the general public, often leaves a lot to be desired. Take the recent viral claim that the phrase “how to hit a woman so no one knows” was googled 163 million times in 2020. The claim can be traced back to a now-retracted study, published in The Journal of General Psychology and led by Katerina Standish, deputy director and senior lecturer at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at New Zealand’s University of Otago. It turns out that 163 million was actually the number of Google search results, not the number of searches. “To The Journal of General Psychology that saw merit in my work, I am grateful,” Standish tweeted in April after Snopes debunked the claim, “but let’s take a closer look please.”

Why would Scientology, a religion with a gospel of self-improvement and wealth accumulation, get involved in debates over mental health?

Within the footnotes of critical psychiatry research, it’s common to find a nesting doll of older, sometimes discredited research. Take Whitaker’s own book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, which heavily quotes the Harvard-trained psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, who admitted to working with the Church of Scientology in the 1970s. (Breggin, it should be noted, claims to have cut all ties in 1974 and has since repeatedly disavowed the group.) And the problem isn’t confined to academia. The cornerstone of Maria Bradshaw’s advocacy is her belief that antidepressants killed her son; he had restarted Prozac after previously stopping because of adverse reactions. But there was a lot else going on before he died: he had reportedly been bullied by a teacher, a promised reunion with his estranged father had been scuttled, and video of him being beaten up had been circulated among his peers.

Nutt, who has spent much of his career responding to and debunking the work of people like Gøtzsche, says that their research comes from a position of disbelief, not neutrality. Even Hari, who Nutt calls a friend, deliberately looked for research to back up his hypothesis. “His book on drugs was brilliant, his book on depression was bollocks,” according to Nutt. He acknowledges there’s an underlying optimism that can drive anti-psychiatry: it would be nice if this weren’t all true; if we were only nicer, then depression wouldn’t exist. But, he says, there is also the grift:

It’s very easy to get in the public eye with scary stories about medicine. In fact, many people have made their whole careers, literally, whole scientific careers, out of criticizing or finding problems with medicine . . . problems can get you a lot further academically than they should, and solutions often don’t give you the same kind of air time. Scare stories. People love scare stories. They’re activating. They’re captivating.

Narcononplussed

The lure of “scare stories” may help explain why CCHR maintains such broad influence despite their highly normal-sounding “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death Museum”—dedicated to cataloguing the terrors of psychiatry—and their belief that the entire mental health field (including talk therapy) is evil. It is understandable that people search far and wide for answers after deaths by suicide, or want to challenge the idea that their lives must be dictated by doctors. As one California mother told the media, CCHR was there for her after her fifteen-year-old son underwent an involuntary psychiatric exam in 2016. “I’m not a Scientologist . . . I’m a Christian . . . I found them online. And they told me who I needed to call and what I needed to do.”

Within the footnotes of critical psychiatry research, it’s common to find a nesting doll of older, sometimes discredited research.

CCHR was founded in 1969 by Thomas Szasz and the Church of Scientology as part of their effort to challenge the legitimacy of psychiatry. That same year, L. Ron Hubbard wrote in Scientology Journal that “the psychiatrist and his front groups operate straight out of the terrorist textbooks. The Mafia looks like a convention of Sunday school teachers compared to these terrorist groups.” The first abuse case that CCHR took up was that of the Hungarian refugee Victor Gyory, who was detained in a Pennsylvania Hospital, his “babbling in tongues” deemed to be schizophrenia. Szasz said no, Gyory’s babbling was actually Hungarian, and secured his release. From there, CCHR blossomed: this was a time of barbaric psychiatric treatment, including lobotomies, dangerous restraints (some of which are still used today), and neglected facilities with a culture of abuse (this continues, too). But the organization’s fortunes began to change with advancements in psychiatric care. By the 1990s, as many asylums shut down, it became clear that CCHR needed a new enemy. Enter psychiatric drugs and new diagnoses, which, the CCHR argued, were only created to justify more drugs, which in turn would create more new disorders.

At the same time, CCHR has brought about real change, even significant progress. In Australia, the group was the catalyst for inquiries into the use of deep sleep therapy at the Chelmsford Private Hospital — which involved drugging patients into comas for days or weeks and giving them electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) — after the practice resulted in at least twenty-four deaths. They also investigated deep sleep therapy in New Zealand in the 1970s, helping to catalyze a government inquiry in the 1990s, and their advocacy work around the abuse of teenagers at Lake Alice Hospital is ongoing — including helping to win compensation for the victims and helping one man submit a complaint to the United Nations, which was later upheld, that New Zealand had breached the Convention against Torture by failing to properly investigate the abuse.

CCHR’s cousin Narconon, another Scientology front group, has a more practical mission — offering rehab centers for people recovering from addiction. The first Narconon program was founded in 1966 by William Benitez after he was inspired by an L. Ron Hubbard book. Hubbard later took over the program as part of his mission to spread Scientology through front groups under the guise of “social coordination.” But there’s even less mention of Scientology in Narconon materials than in those of CCHR, and to prospective patients, the organization claims it is a “secular” program that offers drug counseling and medical personnel, with a price tag of around $30,000.

The primary mode of treatment at Narconon centers is the “New Life Detoxification program,” where students—they are not called patients—exercise intensely, then sit in a sauna for around five hours a day and ingest vitamins. The idea is that these saunas “sweat out” the bad toxins. It’s not exactly scientific, despite Narconon’s attempts to present it that way. In 2018, The Journal of International Medical Research (published by SAGE), published a study on the “safety and tolerability of sauna detoxification for the protracted withdrawal symptoms of substance abuse,” which found that the “Hubbard sauna detoxification method was well tolerated.” Narconon was disclosed as having funded the study at the end of the paper; the journal itself had years earlier been caught up in an embarrassing sting by a Science journalist who submitted spoof papers to academic publications.

Narconon’s flagship branch in Canadian, Oklahoma, was investigated in 2012 after three deaths occurred there in a nine-month period; the next year, Oklahoma enacted Stacy’s Law in honor of former student/patient Stacy Dawn to provide stricter oversight of rehab facilities. This branch was not alone. For over a decade, distraught families brought lawsuits against Narconon facilities around the country, accusing the program of swindling them out of thousands and subjecting their loved ones to an indoctrination in Scientology and useless and even dangerous “therapies.”

The program is not confined to the United States: its reach has extended as far as New Zealand. In 1974, Betty Wark set up Arohanui Incorporated to provide housing and help for young people. Wark would “patrol the streets during the winter nights taking creamed mussel soup and scones to ‘street kids,’ urging them to make contact with Arohanui,” according to a research paper on her legacy.

Arohanui piloted the “Learning to Learn” model, part of Scientology’s “Applied Scholastics” program, and saw dramatic results. “I’m a Catholic. I’m not a Scientologist,” Wark said, “but within the program people are able to hold whatever beliefs they have.” Following the success of “Learning to Learn,” Wark looked to Narconon as a way to help young people struggling with addiction. She found the sauna treatment helpful, saying that “once they start the detoxification program with saunas and vitamin and mineral supplements they have to start thinking about why they are doing it and where they want to go with their lives. They have to confront things they are hiding from.” The trust would eventually run into funding issues: “People get turned off when they hear the word Scientology; they just don’t want to know,” Wark said.

It is very easy for good people trying to make a change to get suckered into the shadowy world of groups with lots of cash but nefarious agendas. A New Zealand policeman was (presumably unwittingly) featured on Foundation for a Drug-Free World’s website—yes, this is another Scientology front group—waxing lyrical about the anti-drug pamphlets he could hand out to the public. Māori wardens have had a longstanding relationship with the Foundation, too. While warden Thomas Henry has been critical of the Foundation, telling Te Ao news that “sometimes they can get very pushy,” he still participated in a promotional video and was photographed at the launch of the glittering new Scientology headquarters in Auckland. The Foundation’s pamphlets have been handed out at schools across the world.

Even if advocates are associating themselves with Scientology front groups unintentionally, what does it mean if your messaging is similar to that of an abusive cult? Beneath the good that CCHR has inarguably done, there is plenty of harm. Positioning themselves as reasonable skeptics who are just asking questions, their ulterior motive is to sow seeds of doubt about the whole concept of psychology. Not that the Church of Scientology has a sterling reputation for helping members who are suffering from mental illness itself. One of the most notorious deaths within the church is that of Lisa McPherson in 1995. McPherson was found in Florida, mentally distressed, naked, and asking for help after a minor car accident. While she underwent a hospital psychiatric exam, fellow Scientologists showed up to say that their religion opposed psychiatry. McPherson was released into their care, and a little more than two weeks later, she was dead. The New York Times reported that “by church accounts, she had spit out food, banged violently on the walls of her room and hallucinated. The county medical examiner said Ms. McPherson was deprived of water for at least her last five to ten days and died of a blood clot brought on by severe dehydration.”

In Danielle Carr’s excellent piece on Scientology’s anti-psychiatry crusade for Pioneer Works, she argues that their work has been rendered largely redundant by changes in how we access care. “Scientology’s fight against psychiatry is a continuation of a critique that was once popular across and beyond the organized left,” Carr writes:

Feminists, gay rights campaigners, civil rights activists, and Scientologists once agreed that the so-called mental health professionals who are anointed to diagnose mental illness and treat it institutionally or pharmaceutically were to be regarded as an extended arm of the carceral state. . . . By the mid-1990s, you were more likely to be arguing with your insurance to get them to cover psychiatric treatment than you were to be involuntarily committed to an institution. . . . Suddenly, the problem was not the threat of getting too much medical treatment, but the opposite — difficulty in getting access to it when you did need it.

While this is true, the operations of CCHR have careened off into subtler directions to account for these changes. Curiously, though, they also seem to have abandoned their main argument when it comes to people they view as morally hopeless—people who are still subject to the kind of coercive care that used to be de rigueur. A disproportionate number of prisoners are diagnosed with mental illness, yet Scientologists don’t campaign to abolish prisons.

Fluoxetine Philistine

Like someone recently discovering that social media has introduced a rise in people realizing they have ADHD, Bruce Cohen noted at his Mental Health in Crisis talk that a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) diagnosis was a way of pathologizing the “over aggressive woman, now, in the workplace in a neoliberal society.” Cohen also suggested that the recently recognized Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder “could” be an example of women being “medicalized around menses.” After listing off some of the symptoms named in the DSM, such as anxiety, dysphoria, and a lack of energy, he said, “many of you are probably wryly noting that the emotional ups and downs preceding your period, a part of normal life, they are now tell-tale signs of a psychiatric disorder.”

By the 1990s, it became clear that Citizens Commission on Human Rights needed a new enemy. Enter psychiatric drugs and new diagnoses, which, the CCHR argued, were only created to justify more drugs, which in turn would create more new disorders.

The king of this line of thought—that all so-called mental disorders are natural responses to material or physical phenomena—is Johann Hari. In Lost Connections, he writes that “if your baby dies and you go to the doctor the next day and you’re in extreme distress, you can be diagnosed immediately,” referring to a grief diagnosis. (This hypothetical conveniently ignores DSM guidelines, which state that a person should have experienced symptoms for “more than two weeks” before diagnosis, although the extensive corrections page on Hari’s website says he meant that psychiatrists could diagnose someone who said they had been experiencing symptoms for two weeks.) The book recounts the “forty-thousand-mile journey across the world and back” that Hari took in order to find the answers to the question of antidepressants, which he himself had taken for thirteen years. On this pilgrimage he met Irving Kirsch of Harvard University.

Kirsch and his colleagues had done a meta-analysis of four SSRI antidepressants in 2008 and found that the drugs’ efficacy was more significant for people with severe depression and less so for those with mild or moderate depression. Hari presents this finding as “antidepressants don’t work for most people,” failing to note that other studies looking at the same dataset came to different conclusions, including a study which found that the antidepressants were better than a placebo at all levels of depression. During interviews surrounding the book’s release, Hari repeatedly said that “between 65 and 80 percent of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year.” The source for this claim? Not a rigorous peer-reviewed study, but a dubiously sourced self-help book called The Depression Cure.

While the text of Lost Connections itself is suitably hedged, publicity for the book made sweeping claims like the “the causes of depression don’t lie in your skull. They mostly lie in the way we are living today” and “survivors of childhood trauma are 3,100% more likely to attempt suicide later in life. But there is a solution.” Hari’s solutions, however, are often reductive, or too particular to be of much help to the general sufferer; for instance, he recounts the story of someone who traveled to Cambodia and heard from locals there about the victim of a landmine who could find no relief for his PTSD until he was given a free cow. Ironically for someone with such an anti-capitalist bent, one of Hari’s biggest pieces of advice is to find meaning in work: “When you have no say over your work, it becomes dead and meaningless. But when you control it, you can begin to infuse it with meaning. It becomes yours.” One critic summed up Hari’s book thusly: “A self-help book for a well-off Guardian reader who fancies themselves as clever and educated about science. It’s badly evidenced, largely inapplicable for the people who need societal interventions the most, and is nowhere near as groundbreaking as it thinks it is.”

Lost Connections suffers from a common problem: in discussions both for and against psychiatry, the people who take or have taken these medications are often absent. As mental health advocate Mark Brown writes:

Discussion of antidepressants always attracts “insteaders.” “Why,” the insteader will ask, “are we prescribing antidepressants when we could be doing this thing which I am particularly keen on instead?” Insteads range from having a healthier diet to doing more exercise to reconfiguring society, most being either amusingly cosmetic or hubristically over-reaching. Changing the world is hard when you can’t bear the feeling of your own skin and when every word feels like a stone dropped in a stagnant pond.

Of course, the opinions of people who actually are prescribed medication vary. For one young woman, who has been taking lamotrigine for type II bipolar for the past eighteen months, it has been life-changing: “The stabilizers have really given me my brain back and [allowed] consistent functioning.” The woman, who has previously been admitted to psychiatric wards, says, “In an ideal world I’d love to be meds-free and if there are people who can live happily with other interventions despite their diagnoses, that’s great. But in my experience, it’s been a case of continuing to try all the options or to avoid seeing suicide as the only option.” Another person, who uses the antipsychotic quetiapine as a secondary treatment for depression, refers to medication as a “safety net” after being in “quite a distressed place when it was first prescribed to me, feeling suicidal with high levels of daily stress and panic alongside a very deep depression.” And for some, like Tracey Cannon, “a medicalized view of my experience never made sense in the first place, so I immediately set about looking for something that did.” As someone who works with health authorities as an advocate for those with mental illness, Cannon has followed these discussions for a long time. “I think maybe the alternatives to psychiatry movement has evolved from an anti-psychiatry movement . . . these days it’s probably more about wanting to have genuine choice, which I don’t think exists yet in conventional mental health services.”

She is right: genuine choice is lacking. For all our progress, the mental health world remains largely split into psychiatry and anti-psychiatry camps. The latter can deny the existence of mental illness and the necessity of medication; the former can overemphasize the existence of mental illness, downplay external factors, and carelessly prescribe medication. In this binary understanding, issues like insurance companies dictating which medications people can access; people struggling to access inpatient and outpatient treatment; people being stripped down, restrained, and injected with medication when seriously unwell; or people being imprisoned all fall to the wayside. Perhaps those really being silenced are the vulnerable people who academics, Scientologists, and journalists alike are trampling in their stampede to make the definitive statement on psychiatric medication.

Jess McAllen is a staff writer and fact checker at The Baffler. An award-winning journalist from New Zealand, she focuses on mental health issues.

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