Psychiatry: the use and abuse of


Nushin Namazi writes: The use of psychiatric intervention to achieve political and improper ends (to punish political and religious dissidents) was quite common in Germany, The Soviet Union, and China. This unique role of psychiatry in discrediting opinion and dehumanizing those with whom one disagrees is not limited to totalitarian regimes. In the words of Dr. Frances S. Norris, a trained pathologists and nuclear medicine expert and a former Army colonel, who was sent to a psychiatric ward in retaliation for reporting what she considered to be improper medical procedures at two Army hospitals and was eventually forced out of the Army in 1988: "There are a lot of people like me. They don't speak out. It's extremely difficult for somebody to admit that all these things happen." In the military this issue (use of mental health system for reprisal) had reached such heights as to warrant Congressional hearings in 1987 and enactment of legislation in 1988.
 
Psychiatry arose about 300 years ago from two main sources: the need to control and put away "lunatics" who were disturbing the social order in European cities, and from a  growing interest in the study of the "mind" in European medical circles. Since both psychology and psychiatry developed together at a time when the powerful myths of racism were being refined and integrated into European culture, racist thinking became an integral part of the system of psychiatry that Europe developed and exported around the globe (source: Fernando, Forensic Pyschiatry, Race and Culture. Routledge, London and New York, 1998). Even the U.S. was not immune. Hailed as the founder of American psychiatry, Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) theorized that a cure for having black skin "would add to the happiness of the Negro" as it was not God but nature that marked the black man --that his blackness is "a sign not of his congenital sin but of his congenital illness." (Szas, Thomas: The Manufacture of Madness).
 
Although psychiatry has many weaknesses and can be readily abused and exploited to further the practitioner's own agenda, there have been significant advances in the field and contributions to the care of mentally ill, and there exist psychiatrists who practice with caution and treat patients with humanity.

RH: I trust that this is true of the vast majority of psychiatrists.


Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: January 16, 2005