This is a novel, about one woman's life being almost destroyed by the "help" of the psychiatric system. Unfortunately, it is based on fact.
I have already run across those who claim that the novel is "hysterical paranoia", a fanatical axe-attack on psychiatry. It did not seem like such to me -- while I read it, Shirley Allen was being besieged in her own home by state troopers in Roby, Illinois because a family member had complained to the courts that she was "acting strangely". Shirley was finally taken into custody and spent over a month in a psychiatric hospital -- a month that she will be billed for, even though she was there against her will -- before a judge finally released her, saying that she had never been a danger to herself or to anyone else in the first place.
There is no report of Shirley Allen being abused in the hospital. But when my mother was in psychiatric hospitals, she was given Thorazine although it was directly contra-indicated by the physician's reference materials due to a disease she was officially diagnosed with that was clearly indicated on her records. This "treatment" probably hastened her death.
I am not "out to get all psychiatrists." I know that there are responsible people who do a great deal of good, in psychiatry and psychotherapy and psychological counseling in all its forms. But the field is also extremely vulnerable to abuse, and has to be closely monitored. I don't want any other family to find out years after a loved one's death that they trusted a doctor's treatment that harmed, instead of helping.
By the facts woven through the novel -- about the effects of psychoactive medications and electroshock therapy, the procedures of involuntary commitment, the conditions in many nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals -- I hope this book will make everyone take responsibility for their own treatment and that of their loved ones, and question all doctors and treatment centers closely.
Another thing the novel does is point up the alternatives to complex-sounding diagnoses and psychiatric terminology. Sometimes a person is "acting crazy" because they are in an insane situation! They don't need therapy or medication, they need to solve a physical problem. In a true story I read recently, a man who worked for bosses who lied to and exploited their employees went to therapy, unsuccessfully, for years. He finally had a marvelous turnaround in his mental health when he quit and changed jobs.
The book doesn't dwell on the other basic factor in many problems that appear to be "mental illness" -- undiagnosed medical problems. One of the other things we found out about only years after my mother's death was that my sister had an inflammatory disease that occasionally affected the nervous system -- a disease whose symptoms closely resembled many things our mother complained of.
The book presents in the end what I described to my friends as "a Utopian hospital", one that seems too good to be true, where each patient's dignity and free will are nurtured to growth instead of suppressed, where the staff believe that no matter what traumas a person has suffered, with quiet and calm and care they can usually recover themselves. I hope there really are such places.
There are many people who need help, and I am glad that there are professionals willing to help them. I am also glad there are those who will harry the invasive, arrogant and irresponsible tactics of false "helpers" out of the field.
Write On, Diane Klein!
previously published in Real Change, circulate at will with attribution
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