CCHR Pays Tribute to Its Co-Founder, Prof. Thomas Szasz for Exposing 'The Therapeutic State'

400,000 Americans Involuntarily Committed and Forcibly Drugged

Prof. Thomas Szasz

On Sept. 8, 2012, an iconic leader in the mental health field, Professor Thomas Szasz died at age 92. He was the co-founder of the international mental health watchdog group, Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), based in Los Angeles, that today carries on his legacy—now needed more than ever, it says. On the fifth anniversary of his death, CCHR warns that the "Therapeutic State" Prof. Szasz described as government and psychiatry implementing policies for social control, is still a threat. CCHR cited information from IMS Health that shows 274,804 babies, 370,778 toddlers and 500,948 preschoolers are prescribed psychotropic drugs so powerful they carry more than 400 international Drug Regulatory Agency warnings.[1] Dozens, if not hundreds of children and adolescents—some aged five or younger—are also administered electroshock treatment. Such widespread drugging medicalizes educational and child-rearing problems and, as Prof. Szasz would say, "is a form of child abuse."

An estimated 400,000 Americans are involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities every year—about 45 every hour, potentially also being forcibly drugged. Today, patients can even be committed to privately-owned psychiatric facilities and their insurance companies billed for treatment they don't want and is being forced upon them—all without evidence that this "help" even works. According to Prof. Szasz: "The most important deprivation of human and constitutional rights inflicted upon persons said to be mentally ill is involuntary mental hospitalization...."

Even before Hurricane Irma hit America's shores, Florida's involuntary commitment law, The Baker Act, was being used to commit those homeless who refused to seek shelter to psychiatric facilities in Miami—apparently whether "mentally ill" or not. No one would want to leave them endangered, but commitment to a mental hospital doesn't guarantee protection and help.

For some time now I have maintained that commitment—that is, detention of persons in mental institutions against their will—is a form of imprisonment; that such deprivation of liberty is contrary to the moral principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States; and that it is a crass violation of contemporary concepts of fundamental human rights.

Prof. Thomas Szasz

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Wall Street Journal reported as many as 30 percent of Americans would develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The "treatment" for this was the antidepressant paroxetine. About $1.8 billion of the drug was sold in the U.S. in 2001 and within a year of the terrorist attack, the New York Post reported, the antidepressant "widely prescribed to New Yorkers affected by the Sept. 11 attacks could trigger suicidal thoughts and cause severe withdrawal problems in some patients, experts say."[2] And even while Hurricane Irma was subsiding, psychiatrists were already taking advantage of people's devastated reaction to define this as PTSD. CCHR says their co-founder would warn about labeling people's normal reactions as a "mental disease" and forcing psychiatric treatments on them.

In its obituary of Dr. Szasz in 2012, The New York Times described him as a psychiatrist who led a movement against his field. He "questioned the legitimacy of his field and provided the intellectual grounding for generations of critics" and "patient advocates." Further, in his groundbreaking 1961 book, The Myth of Mental Illness, "Dr. Szasz saw psychiatry's medical foundation as shaky at best, and his book hammered away, placing the discipline 'in the company of alchemy and astrology.' The book became a sensation in mental health circles, as well as a bible for those who felt misused by the mental health system."[3]

Such misuse was especially seen by those forced into institutions where they could, until CCHR was established in 1969, be drugged, electroshocked and lobotomized against their will. CCHR fought for and achieved legislative protections against this. Prof. Szasz stated: "For some time now I have maintained that commitment—that is, detention of persons in mental institutions against their will—is a form of imprisonment; that such deprivation of liberty is contrary to the moral principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States; and that it is a crass violation of contemporary concepts of fundamental human rights. The practice of 'sane' men incarcerating their 'insane' fellow men in 'mental hospitals' can be compared to that of a white man enslaving black men. In short, I consider commitment a crime against humanity."[4]

In support of this statement, he said that those supporting commitment must show that the practice is "beneficial" and "necessary for the protection of mentally healthy members of society...."[5] Which it can't. His point was simple: emotional suffering is not a physical disease. Diagnoses of "mental illness" are psychiatric opinion, not medical science. They should never be used to strip people of their freedom or relieve them of their responsibility.

In Dr. Szasz's 1998 Manifesto, he explained: "The word 'disease' denotes a demonstrable biological process that affects the bodies of living organisms (plants, animals, and humans). The term 'mental illness' refers to the undesirable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of persons. Classifying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as diseases is a logical and semantic error, like classifying the whale as a fish. As the whale is not a fish, mental illness is not a disease. Individuals with brain diseases (bad brains) or kidney diseases (bad kidneys) are literally sick. Individuals with mental diseases (bad behaviors), like societies with economic diseases (bad fiscal policies), are metaphorically sick. The classification of (mis)behavior as illness provides an ideological justification for state-sponsored social control as medical treatment."[6]

Just as CCHR sees that people can experience serious problems in living and terrible stress where they need help, Phil Barker, Honorary Professor, University of Dundee Poppy Buchanan-Barker said: "Szasz always acknowledged that people could, and often did, experience great distress. However, he believed that it diminished them to attribute this to some 'ghostly' presence called 'mental illness.' This, he felt, might suggest they were powerless to change."[7]

Natural disasters and each mass shooting in America generate a stereotyped response from psychiatrists: greater power to force treatment on individuals or greater mental health funding, which can achieve the same.[8] The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says, "The need for mental health services increases in the aftermath of a climate-related disaster."[9] In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the APA president sent out this message, "...we must be mindful that people who have been affected either directly or indirectly by this disaster may experience a number of reactions in the aftermath, including fear, anxiety and sadness. We implore anyone experiencing prolonged mental health symptoms to seek professional treatment."[10]

No one can disagree that those experiencing the aftermath of such disasters can experience these emotions, but restored homes, food, proper medical care, shelter and a return to normal life as soon as possible is better "medicine." Not being told they may not recover and need psychotropic drugs that can numb recovery and potentially hook them for life.

Prof. Szasz pointed out that that "the entire vocabulary of psychiatry is pseudoscientific slang."[11] That legacy continues to garner support. For example:

  • Thomas Insel, former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health said the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lacks scientific validity, stating: "The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever."[12]
  • In 2013, more than 50 mental-health associations said the APA's goal of a more scientific manual had failed and many of these groups also called for a boycott of DSM-5.[13]
  • The same year, a petition from The International DSM-5 Response Committee said the manual would "result in the mislabeling of mental illness in people who will do better without a psychiatric diagnosis," and "will result in unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment with psychiatric medication."[14]
  • For more than 50 years Szasz challenged a theory that a chemical imbalance or any other physical dysfunction caused "mental disorder." In 2013, James Davies, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton in London and author of Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good, stated: "Despite nearly 50 years of investigation into the theory that chemical imbalances are the cause of psychiatric problems, studies in respected journals have concluded that there is not one piece of convincing evidence the theory is actually correct. And if the evidence for the biological causes of this growing number of mental health conditions is almost non-existent, the evidence for the drugs being used to treat them is also most often unconvincing."[15]

Writing in The Guardian in 2012, Anthony Stadlen said, "Szasz had a deep faith in human freedom. Human beings, he said, are free agents, fully responsible for their actions. He denounced any incursions on civil liberties in the name of psychiatry. To some people, Szasz appeared almost frivolously to ignore the obvious anguish and incapacity of many. But he told me that not a week went by without his hearing from desperate patients that he was the only person who understood their predicament." Further, "Szasz was deeply concerned with human suffering. His point was simply that suffering was not necessarily a medical problem, did not imply lack of responsibility and should not be treated forcibly."[16]

Jan Eastgate, president of CCHR International, who knew Prof. Szasz for more than 30 years, says: "It was during a CCHR Anniversary celebration gala that I asked Prof. Szasz when he first made the decision to challenge psychiatry's coercive powers. Without hesitation, he said, 'When I was six years old.'" He was born in Budapest on April 15, 1920. As a boy, during long walks with his parents, he saw prisons and psychiatric hospitals and couldn't differentiate between the two. This sparked his "passion for liberty," he said.

In 1938, at age 18, he and his family fled Nazi Europe and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Following military service during the Korean War as a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves, he began a distinguished career as Professor of Psychiatry at Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse. Psychiatric residents throughout the country went to Syracuse, specifically to study with him. He became one of the most prolific published writers in psychiatry—writing 11 of his dozens of books after turning 80. He wrote hundreds of articles published in prestigious journals and was the recipient of honorary degrees and over 40 awards.

As a libertarian, he equated coercion with slavery, quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel." To which Szasz added: "I knew very little about Lincoln when I grew up in post-World War I Hungary. But I did recognize, as a gut feeling, that if the domination of the mental patient by the psychiatrist is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel."

On 13 November 2012, Congressman Ron Paul put a tribute to Szasz in the Congressional Record: "No doubt Dr. Szasz could have enjoyed a successful career had he moderated his views or kept quiet instead of presenting a principled challenge to the psychiatric-government complex. But Dr. Szasz was one of those rare individuals who could not be silent when liberty was threatened."[17]

Prof. Szasz's legacy lives on through his written works and through CCHR that is dedicated to achieving his ideals. On the Anniversary of 9/11, continued terrorism and the devastating effects of natural disasters, CCHR points to Prof. Szasz who believed help from "family members, friends, clergymen," among many other options could be legitimately solicited by or on behalf of those experiencing problems in living.[18] Legitimate help—not coercion and harm—should be sought and given. As a guideline, this is best summed up in this quote from Dr. Szasz: "I am probably the only psychiatrist in the world whose hands are clean. I have never committed anyone. I have never given electric shock. I have never, ever, given drugs to a mental patient." It is a legacy that the mental health system today sorely needs.

CCHR is a mental health industry watchdog organization that works for patient protections and encourages the public to take action against mental health coercion and abuse. In the course of its 48 years, it has helped get more than 180 laws enacted, restricting involuntary commitment laws, implemented legal rights and obtained informed consent laws. As a nonprofit, CCHR relies on memberships and donations to carry out its mission and actions to curb psychotropic drug use in foster care. Click here to Support the Cause.

Contact: Amber Rauscher, media@cchr.org or (323) 467-4242.

References:

[1] https://www.cchrint.org/2016/09/08/1-million-0-5-year-olds-prescribed-psychiatric-drugs

[2] http://nypost.com/2002/10/20/darker-side-to-the-911-wonder-pill

[3] “Dr. Thomas Szasz, Psychiatrist Who Led Movement Against His Field, Dies at 92,” The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/health/dr-thomas-szasz-psychiatrist-who-led-movement-against-his-field-dies-at-92.html?mcubz=0

[4] http://www.brown.edu/Courses/BI_278/Other/Clerkship/Didactics/Readings/Crime_Against_Humanity.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] http://www.mindingtherapy.com/the-reality-of-thomas-szasz

[7] http://www.centerforindependentthought.org/SzaszLegacy.html

[8] https://www.cchrint.org/about-us/co-founder-dr-thomas-szasz/quotes-on-involuntary-commitment

[9] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/climate-change-and-mental-health-connections/affects-on-mental-health

[10] https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/apa-extends-sympathy-to-the-victims-of-gulf-coast-flooding-offers-resources-to-cope-with-aftermath

[11] http://www.mindingtherapy.com/the-reality-of-thomas-szasz

[12] Thomas Insel, “Transforming Diagnosis,” NIMH Website, 20 Apr.  2013, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml

[13] Michael Dhar, “Psychiatry’s Contested Bible: How the New DSM Treats Addiction,” Pacific Standard Magazine, 2 May 2013, http://www.psmag.com/health/psychiatry-contested-bible-dsm-addiction-56953/

[14] “International DSM-5 Response Committee Statement of Concerns over the DSM-5,” http://www.aipass.org/files/Statement_of_concern_IDRC.pdf

[15] “Does your child really have a behaviour disorder? A shocking book by a leading therapist reveals how millions of us – including children – are wrongly labeled with psychiatric problems,” Daily Mail, 6 May 2013.

[16] Anthony Stadlen, “Thomas Szasz obituary: Psychiatrist who fought coercion and denied the existence of mental illness,” The Guardian, 4 Oct. 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/oct/04/thomas-szasz

[17] https://www.congress.gov/crec/2012/11/13/CREC-2012-11-13-pt1-PgE1750.pdf

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353517

Source: Citizens Commission on Human Rights International


Categories: Non Profit, Healthcare, Healthcare

Tags: CCHR, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, Mental Health Industry Watchdog, Thomas Szasz


About Citizens Commission on Human Rights International

View Website

As a mental health industry watchdog, CCHR's mission is to inform and mobilize the public against violations of human rights and civil liberties committed under the guise of "mental health." Put Patients Above Profit. Take Action Against Abuse.

Citizens Commission on Human Rights International
6616 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
United States