Allen Frances is pushing his latest article in Psychology Today all over Twitter now. He calls for an end to civil war among the various advocates for the mentally ill. Very reasonable, very appealing...
I give Dr. Frances some credit for his admissions over the past few years, that psychiatric "diagnosis" as exemplified in APA's DSM is highly problematic at best; and that the medical profession has overprescribed psychiatric drugs almost to the point of criminality. When the chairman of the DSM-IV task force concedes these things, people have to listen, and it has a positive effect.
But Frances is wrong on one central point. He's actually so wrong that his broad appeal and visibility in the mental health world may do more harm than good. Coercion is the only public policy issue in mental health.
Allen Frances says coercion is a "paper tiger" because most of the Twentieth Century snake pit state institutions closed, and half a million mental patients were released for treatment in the community. This is akin to arguing in 1850, that since the African slave trade had been legally prohibited, abolitionists would only shed blood needlessly for a cause already won.
Frances says mental patients have a harder time getting into a hospital than getting out. This is akin to assurances in 1850, that Negroes were much better off under the Southern system of servitude, that they did not want and could never thrive in freedom.
I have worked directly with such "patients" as those with whom Dr. Frances presumes to sympathize, for thirteen years. They are not happy in their slavery.
If psychiatric "treatment" is generally valuable to those who receive it, if the "severely mentally ill" really want to be "treated", then laws which force people into "hospitals" and laws which allow "doctors" to force needles and inject hated, debilitating drugs into the bodies of desperately resisting human beings should be completely unnecessary.
The fact that Allen Frances believes such torture is justified makes his whole argument a dark joke. If he wants to help the mentally ill and society, let him renounce involuntary psychiatry. Let him push publicly for repeal of commitment laws and the insanity defense. Let him become an honest abolitionist or continue to protect his investment in psychiatric slavery, but there is no middle ground.
Dr. Frances, do not cheapen the name or the memory of Thomas Szasz! Let civil war among the various self-proclaimed advocates for the mentally ill continue, as Abraham Lincoln said, "...until every drop of blood drawn with the lash is repaid by another drawn with the sword."