Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Psychiatrists as doctors, psychiatric institutions as hospitals, N Unit and Voltaire

Voltaire said that anyone who makes you believe absurdities will make you commit atrocities. He also insisted that arguing any point requires first defining your terms.

A doctor is a person skilled or specializing in healing arts. (Miriam Webster says so, not just me.)

And a hospital (the entomology is closely related to hospice, hostel, hotel, host) is fundamentally a place of refuge, where a person can find help and hope, e.g., to recover from sickness or injury.

There are other definitions, but these are mine for the purposes of this argument.

Psychiatrists generally admit that they do not heal or cure anything. They do not specialize in healing arts, they rather specialize in certain arcane arts of control. This is a legitimate social function, by the way. People who are violent, destructive, or who directly inspire and precipitate violent reactions from others, need to be controlled. Unfortunately most of us think controlling other people in some circumstances is bad, so we often need to pretend we’re not doing that when we really are. Psychiatry, especially state psychiatry, is precisely this pretense.

Psychiatrists are thus fake doctors. Society encourages them to fake being doctors, but that’s somewhat beside the point. Although they have medical degrees, licenses, and most of the elaborate accoutrements of what people think medical science might be, they nevertheless specialize in controlling arts, not healing arts. Saying you are a doctor, indeed insisting that you must be recognized by society as a doctor above all else, while simultaneously protesting that you cannot cure the illnesses of your patients, is an absurdity.

Likewise, psychiatric institutions are fake hospitals. They obtain patients from the police, hold them against their will, and force treatments on them. They dehumanize and punish them, and go to great, ritualized bureaucratic lengths to deny them rights. This is directly contradictory to any purpose of refuge, recovery, help and hope. Calling these oppressive places hospitals is an absurdity.

On N Unit at Elgin Mental Health Center, a forensic “patient“ for whom I advocate is being continuously harassed and threatened by several staff, with negative reports in his chart intended to block his progress to a less restrictive environment. He has an upcoming court hearing on a petition for conditional release, and staff taunt him about how easily they can torpedo any favorable decision on that petition. He’s not a young man, so he’s at risk for COVID19 while he is kept at the facility. He’s clearly not psychotic, in fact his psychiatrist believes he never was mentally ill. However that psychiatrist now says he won’t testify to the whole truth in court.

Today when this patient told a nurse manager named Sherry that he might write a complaint to Equip For Equality about her disrespectful attitude, Sherry literally jumped at the chance to reply, “I’m really happy you told me that, because it’s a threat, and now I can write in your chart that you threatened me!”

But complaining, accurately or inaccurately, about mistreatment to Equip For Equality or the Office of the Inspector General is not a threat, it’s every patient’s statutory right! Such rights were explicitly written into the law to make forced “hospitalization” nominally constitutional. Without the formal recourse, patients would be brutalized more often than they are. There would be rampant sexual abuse. Sherry might become another Christy Lenhardt or Mark Roberson. Extreme coercion of patients to take unwanted, unnecessary, and extremely harmful psychiatric drugs would be completely unbridled, and a thin vestige of informed consent would evaporate. So the actual threat today came from Nurse Manager Sherry, not the patient who had a clear right to formally complain.

Mental patients are generally thought to be less truthful and/or less accurate in their observational ability than mental health professionals, so patients’ complaints about staff are very rarely substantiated or even honestly investigated. (A former investigator for OIG told me it’s about two or three percent.) Sherry knows perfectly well that one patient’s complaint is no realistic threat to her job or her professional future. She also knows perfectly well how effective her retribution will be against that patient, when she falsely charts him for “threatening” her.

On N Unit today, the thing that really happened was this: a patient “threatened” to speak truth to power and a nurse manager threatened his freedom, his future, and his life. The way the system is set up, it’s what happens all the time.

We are committing atrocities after being led to believe absurdities.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Furlough useless state mental health employees!

I got a call today from a “patient” at Elgin plantation who was complaining that nobody’s getting treatment.

Of course, I had to stop and think... mostly I deal with people who want to escape from “treatment” which is harmful, degrading, etc. Here was somebody calling me because he wasn’t getting treatment? Hmmm.

As it develops, all therapy groups, individual counseling, and activities are cancelled at Elgin for the COVID19 emergency. These are almost the only things the plantation’s slave population can do on any given day. Those people are now bored. This is what they’re there for: their only jobs really, consist in receiving mental health “treatment”. The plantation also derives some public relations value from providing more than just drugs and electroshock, because those forms of “treatment” have negative implications in the public mind.

Being able to claim or refer to a complicated variety of different “services” provided by a complicated variety of different “mental health professionals” has become vital to the project of disguising the nature of the plantation. Without that disguise, taxpayers might easily realize that the forensic mental health system is nothing but a much more expensive prison system, and they might not want to pay for it anymore.

I have on many occasions seen judges and state’s attorneys obsess over details of a complicated variety of “treatment” prescribed for an NGRI petitioner. This appeared to have a purpose to tease out better prediction of whether the person might be a prospect for conditional release into the community, instead of being kept forever on a locked clinical unit (at huge public expense). I always tended to discount the importance of what seemed to me like trivia in treatment plans and court reports, such as whether a “patient” believed in Moral Reconation Therapy, or whether she had done an anger management group one time or three times, or whether he had joined a substance abuse group conducted in Spanish only to learn the language.

I always thought judges must suspect on some level that all these “treatment” modalities were fluff. The only substantial issue had to be the person’s behavior. If somebody gets in fights all the time and scares the hell out of others, that person probably needs to be restrained. But if they get along OK for a year or two on a psychiatric plantation, maybe they can be manumitted.

The issue of psychiatric drugs was a big part of this. If somebody’s behavior is social enough without drugs, then it seems counterproductive to prescribe them. If somebody’s behavior is only OK because they take the drugs, then you’d better pay a lot of attention to what might happen when that person is no longer locked up. That seemed like common sense to me.

Well, lo and behold, everybody else was thinking much more about all these other “treatments”. Until they weren’t.

COVID19 is now the system’s excuse to discontinue all therapy groups, all individual counseling, and all activity therapies. Those “treatments” are not important enough to continue. They are fluff. At least, that's what I’m told is the protocol for the Elgin plantation. I doubt there’s any difference at Chicago Read, Chester, Madden, Alton, Choate, or any other IDHS facility.

Needless to say, if these things were important, it would be easily possible to conduct smaller therapy groups, for example, with only three or four people in a large enough room to social distance. Individual counseling sessions could be done by video. Physical exercise, library use, consumer council and gardening would only need to employ a few new rules. There are plenty of “mental health professionals” of various and sundry types, all on the state payroll, to figure this out and supervise it.

But no, what they do instead is just stop most “treatment”. Can’t do it now, COVID19, shut down anything non-essential.

Fine, it’s fluff. So are at least a third of all those employees. Furlough them, save the state money!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dangerously Delusional

In a recent post, I briefly mentioned James Baker... again.

I say again, because I’ve been blogging about James for many years, maybe longer than anyone other than Rodney Yoder. He has a long Thiem date because he was NGRI for murder back in the 1980’s. However, James has been asymptomatic for psychosis and very well behaved for decades now, without any reliance at all on psychiatric drugs. He’s in his seventies, very smart, very disciplined, and until recently in excellent physical health.

James has had all his privileges, including court-ordered passes, for about six years. Never caused any problem, always responsible.

Tom Zubik once told me he doesn’t want James to die at EMHC. That worries him because it would make him look bad. (Sure as hell! And I would do anything I could to contribute to those optics.)

So, anyone with common sense might ask, why not get James out as soon as possible, as a high-priority, creative-solution work product by a couple of competent and well-intended people at Illinois’ legendary Elgin Mental Health Center, which once upon a time even included Thomas Szasz on its staff? It’s never more than one or two people out of scores who can actually think outside of institutional boxes and get things done, but there are a couple of prospects for James. His current treatment team, run by Social Worker Rose Adler and Psychiatrist Vic Gill, might be able to pull it off.

The thing that has probably cost James a couple years or more is ”medical evidence” that maybe he did believe, or does believe, that he’s the King of Egypt. “Medical evidence” of someone’s beliefs is of course a very strange concept to begin with. Psychiatrists have to talk about “delusions” to suggest that they are somehow experts with specialized knowledge about people’s beliefs. But delusions are defined in such a squishy, context-dependent way as to let anyone describe anyone else’s beliefs as delusional. The real point needs to be somebody’s behavior, not their beliefs.

Baker has stated categorically that he does not imagine himself to be an actual king of the present day nation, the Islamic Republic of Egypt. He has assured everyone that he doesn’t expect any privileges or acknowledgement or value, from anyone, with regard to being King or Egypt.

In fact, he completely stopped talking about this “King of Egypt” thing for years, and a prior treatment team stopped worrying about it, as well. It took psychiatrist Richard Malis-with-malice to dredge this thing up out of old records and taunt James with it, in hopes of making some case that James should take drugs to cure his delusions. “Curing” someone’s unacceptable beliefs with drugs is a truly atrocious, (Soviet- or Nazi- or Maoist-) totalitarian-style version of “mental health services”. In theory, we don’t do that in the USA.

But psychiatry is psychiatry. Maybe Dr. Malis-with-malice wanted to be the medical hero who discovered a brain malfunction in James Baker and cured it with drugs. So he ramped up the coercion, which is psychiatry’s most cherished, vital tool. James was denied competent care for physical injuries until he couldn’t even walk. He still declined to deal with his tormentor. He refused to be transported in chains to medical facilities, even though I offered to hire a PI to get a picture of it, which would have made for a dramatic internet demonstration of the slave plantation character of EMHC.

Finally the court put an end to this cruel nonsense, and shortly afterward, mercifully, Malis-with-malice was taken off the case. Maybe James will eventually recover from his iatrogenic physical injuries and disability. Maybe he’ll play basketball again, like he did before Malis-with-malice arrived to torture him.

What about dangerous delusions?

Baker likes to imagine himself as some kind of historic dignitary, knowing full well it’s his own personal illusion which gives him life-sustaining private comfort and has no value in the outside world. Much like, perhaps, dreams of wealth or flying or a world without COVID19....

Richard Malis likes to imagine himself as a “medical scientist” who can fine-tune other people’s imaginings and self-images with “medication” even if that necessitates turning them into cripples. Much like, perhaps, Josef Mengele or Ernst Rubin or Ewen Cameron.

Which one of these guys is dangerously delusional? I just hope that Dr. Gill, Rose Adler and other well-intended people in IDHS can take a reasonable perspective!

Get Baker OUT!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Cancelled staffings: plantations crumbling

The psychiatric plantation system in Illinois is regulated in substantial part by 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4, a complex section within the Unified Code of Corrections of the compiled statutes of this state. The legislature frequently tinkers with this law, trying to make it more practical for the state to own and employ certain criminals as slaves under a guise of medical “treatment of mental illness” while supposedly “protecting the community” against violence, and the slaves against self-harm. To better establish such a favored guise, this section refers to and incorporates most aspects of the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code, 405 ILCS 5/5-100, et seq.

Needless to say, these statutes were not written and do not adequately consider the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, of a global pandemic. Courts are closed, public access and visitation are cancelled, clinical units are locked down, competent medical staff (and even so-called “mental health professionals” who are far less than competent doctors) are not reporting to work while quarantined. Everybody is afraid of the virus, and the normal business of the plantations is grinding to a halt.

One statutory and well-established ritual is the monthly staffing, or the treatment plan review. This is where each individual slave has a conference with members of his/her “treatment” team (usually including a psychiatrist, a social worker, and perhaps several other clinicians who may see the person on a regular or daily basis), to go over recent progress, any recommended changes in the plan and/or any incidents of concern.

The monthly staffings are critical to maintaining the public pretense of rational, scientific and beneficently medical “mental health care,” and to disguising the gruesome truth and injustice of psychiatric slavery. I have attended these rituals at six different Illinois plantations since about 2002, advocating for individuals who want to refuse psychiatry (especially the drugs), but don’t believe they will be allowed to do so.

During the COVID19 pandemic, those who wish I could disappear from the scene have had a ready-made reason to discourage me from showing up: the plantation is quarantined, nobody’s allowed into the facilities. I have had to remind them that Section 2-102(a) of the Mental Health Code [405 ILCS 5/2-102(a)] stipulates the right of any recipient of mental health services to have any individual of his or her choice involved in the formulation and periodic review of his or her treatment plan. That’s just the law. If a psychiatric slave wants me there for their monthly treatment plan review, the plantation has to arrange some way for me to attend. Otherwise it’s not a real staffing or treatment plan review as prescribed by the law.

The first reaction from the plantations was to call what they may have thought was my bluff. But I did show up at Elgin a week or so ago, had my temperature taken at the door and so on, and attended a staffing in person during the pandemic. Then arrangements were supposedly made to conduct future staffings via teleconference. Several such were scheduled. So far, only one has actually occurred, that being for Marci Webber at Chicago Read MHC. Two or three other staffings by teleconference were canceled or postponed, for “patients” (slaves) at Elgin MHC.

I have told everyone I represent that they may choose to not attend a monthly staffing at all, until their right to have me present is accommodated one way or another. I don’t necessarily think it’s in anyone’s specific interest to neglect or undermine this central ritual of the plantation. I have always encouraged slaves to stay in communication with masters and overseers. Live and honest communication is precisely what undermines the system most effectively, because it tends to demonstrate that everyone is the same kind of human. It tends to prove that psychiatrists do not know better than patients what is in patients’ best interests; they have no clue why crazy people are crazy and no hope of “curing” anyone’s mental illness with medicine. The more communication, the better for abolition.

This morning at the last minute, I received a call from Stephanie Maszczyk, a social worker on Hartman Unit at Elgin MHC, cancelling or postponing another scheduled teleconference staffing. Ms. Maszczyk stated that the reason for the schedule change was that an investigation of possible COVID19 cases on the unit had to be conducted.

I just watched a press conference by Governor Pritzker, in which he was asked a question about COVID19 hotspots, including (by name) Chester Mental Health Center. His answer was evasive or incoherent.

Bodies are being put on the gears, and on the wheels, and on the levers, and on all the apparatus of the machine. I think they might make it stop.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

About Marci Webber

I am not currently representing Marci in any formal legal proceeding. I did represent her as legal counsel some years ago, so I have to be cognizant of professional rules if I’m going to stay out of trouble. Everything I say in this article will be with Marci’s permission.

She’s in a very unusual position as a psychiatric slave. Her masters at Chicago Read Mental Health Center admit they don’t know why she’s there, claim they have no interest in keeping her there but profess zero authority to release her, and invest themselves in ostentatiously absurd justifications for the whole situation on a daily basis.

My feeling is, somebody who is not showing his or her face has an agenda which includes keeping Marci locked up as long as possible. The more it continues, the more probable it becomes that any such person will be unmasked and held responsible. I encourage all reasonably honest clinicians and public employees who know enough about Marci’s case to realize that it’s just weird as hell... to think about who’s really giving the orders, and why, and if you can do so safely, identify them.

Marci was found not guilty by reason of insanity on a violent criminal charge. Because of the fraud and nonsense in the whole forensic mental health system, people can probably be forgiven for thinking (if shallowly, irresponsibly) that she deserves to be punished. (The truth is, she has been.)

But the legal, social, ethical fact is that the only legitimate interest anyone ever had in Marci’s involuntary commitment to a state psychiatric “hospital” was for the purpose of treating any mental illness which might have caused her to commit that original violent act, protecting her and the public in the meanwhile. At this point in time, it is over obvious that there is nothing left to do for that legitimate purpose. Marci is thoroughly documented as recovered from her one-time psychosis, which was probably caused by psychiatric “treatment” to begin with. No one suggests good evidence that she is dangerous to herself or anyone else anymore. The crime she was charged with has an approximate recidivism rate of zero.

So any alert taxpayer should be asking why Illinois is spending $800/day to keep this woman “hospitalized”. They should be asking Chicago Read Administrators like Dr. Robert A. Sobut, MD and Debra S. Marsico, who can possibly be reached by phone at 773-794-4010, and who have regular offices at 4200 North Oak Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60634. By the way, it seems we pay Ms. Marsico an annual salary over $90,000; and Dr. Sobut presumably somewhat more than that (although mysteriously, he doesn’t appear in the normal databases). That money comes out of our pockets, so these public servants do have some duty to us.

Both Sobut and Marsico were in attendance at a monthly “staffing” for Marci Webber yesterday. It is directly from them, as well as the IDHS General Counsel downtown, that I get my characterization in the second paragraph above. The best anyone can do (with ostentatiously absurd justifications) is, “Well, it’s really the court’s fault that she’s here, and anyway she seems a little angry to us...”

Of course, the court (that being DuPage County Circuit Court Judge George J. Bakalis) did release Marci from the Chicago Read plantation in December. Bakalis released her despite the lack of consensus from the state psychiatric overseers, finding that she simply is not mentally ill and dangerous anymore. She found an apartment and was living perfectly well on her own, and would have continued to do so, causing no further problem for anyone, but for the unprecedented appeal of Judge Bakalis’ decision (in which he is due great deference according to the case law precedents) and a stay that was denied but then overturned by the Appellate Court.

Now all the courts are closed, so the appellants don’t even have to file their brief until... nobody knows. Marci rots in the plantation, with COVID19 stalking, everyone afraid, none of the fake “medical professionals” being anything close to effective because they have little or no training or expertise in real disease, their specialty being pure bullshit.

And if I were Marci, I would sure be angry. Anyone would! But Dr. Sobut pretends her anger is a sign that she’s not stable. She’s extremely stable. She is angry, and will continue to be angry and seek justice for what these idiots are doing to her, for what we taxpayers are doing to her, for our lies which cost so much.

I will help her. Psychiatria delenda est! 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Report (unverified)

Time: within the past week;
Place: Chicago Read Mental Health Center;
Form: negligent endangerment....

Event: A new patient named Carlos arrived on a clinical unit from quarantine (possibly a special unit at the facility designated J West) and/or recent hospitalization. He was put into a two-man room with another patient, TS, who was apparently healthy at the time. Carlos had a 102.5 fever and coughed all night. Within a couple days, Carlos was back in quarantine, although no staff were talking about why, and no questions from other patients who had been in contact with him on the unit were answered. (HIPAA was cited.)

TS was released from Chicago Read without being tested or told whether Carlos had been COVID-19 infected. Presumably he is in the community, likely living with his elderly parents and/or children.

The individual who reported this to me got the information partly from a staff member, who has previously stated that she was threatened by James Corcoran with the loss of her license, if she talked about the negligence and corruption she witnessed on the Illinois Department of Human Services psychiatric plantations.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Shout-out to Dr. Mo

At the risk of causing trouble for someone purely by association with any approval from me, I’d like to say that one state psychiatrist (!) is doing a competent and (hopefully) effective job of helping at least one patient, at least for the moment.

I don’t really know Dr. Mo as well as I know some others on the plantation at Elgin, but I was very impressed yesterday during a staffing for a patient (whom I also don’t know that well, as a matter of fact). Dr. Mo’s full name is Tahseen Mohammed, M.D.

The patient has a Thiem date about five years away, and obviously he’d prefer to get out of Elgin sooner than that. But he has decided that it would be a huge advantage if, whenever he is free, he’s also free of psychiatric drugs. It seems to me he’s been wrestling with this for a while. He’s gone back and forth between being willing or not, to tell his treatment team he’ll simply refuse medication. I’ve told him I would defend him against any forced meds petition, but he needs to make his own decision and ultimately he’ll have to bring his treatment team along on it.

I actually didn’t think this guy stood much chance of doing this. I’ve known many psychiatric slaves who dreamed about freedom from the drugs, but most have feared it would require a severe trade-off of physical freedom from the plantation. They’re all told, more or less plainly, that if they don’t take “their” meds they’ll never be released. It’s not true, there’s no scientific medical or legal justification for the idea, but nonetheless that’s the policy and the received wisdom, that’s the practical situation. It’s also the specific battle that I seem to be fighting most often in my long continuing war for abolition.

Dr. Mo told my client during the staffing yesterday that he had no problem with his wish to be medication free. This is easy to say, and it is frequently said by state psychiatrists (I’ll resist the temptation to name and shame the bad guys here) with much artful duplicity. But for whatever reason, I felt myself believing that Dr. Mo was being straight with this guy. Maybe I was distracted by the odd circumstances of a staffing during the pandemic: everybody talking through masks, hoods, sitting about twenty feet away from anybody else. Maybe it’s easier to deceive others when your face is covered.

But Dr. Mo had a very practical problem that, it seemed to me, he handled very well. He was up against a deadline to get this patient’s signed release to be voluntarily medicated, and the patient had decided not to sign the release.

The situation was handled with a competent explanation of why the patient should ween off the various drugs gradually, rather than stop cold turkey. Dr. Mo promised he would actually help with this. The dose of meds will be cut pretty much in half immediately, and then reduced more, each month thereafter. I even suggested that the weening could be more gradual and take longer. There’s hardly anything more useful and socially valuable that an involuntary “patient” in the Illinois plantation system can do with whatever time they must spend as a slave, than getting entirely and stably off psychiatric drugs. When someone who is successful at this eventually returns to the community, they can be much more productive and capable of making amends for whatever mistake put them in this horrible system, if they are not disabled.

The thing is, when somebody has been taking psych drugs for a long time, they may not even know what will happen when they stop. My client will have to behave himself, lest clinicians who will be watching him like a hawk may discern “symptoms of his mental illness returning”, and use that as an excuse to enforce the old orthodox idea that anyone diagnosed with a serious mental illness should agree and resign themselves to take drugs they hate forever. There is a great deal of literature now, about “discontinuation” or withdrawal syndromes during a psych drug taper which can mimic “returning symptoms” of mental illness. Probably the best source of information about this whole subject is The Withdrawal Project of Inner Compass Initiative, founded by one of my very few-and-far-between personal heros, Laura Delano.

I strongly encourage anyone who reads this post, if it rings true at all to you that maybe getting off the drugs and learning to think, feel and behave in ways that do not frighten people or cause so much trouble... is a better idea than agreeing to permanent disability as a “mental health consumer-for-life” ... you should become acquainted with Laura Delano and her organization!

Meanwhile, thank you for your work, Dr. Mo. Happy Easter to all who celebrate, and stay healthy.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Let them out!

It seems to be an obvious, merciful policy to let people out of confinement if it’s possible to do so. Prisons are bad places to avoid coronavirus, the public easily understands that. But for some reason it occurs to almost no one that involuntary psychiatric facilities are just as bad, or worse.

The Chicago SunTimes reports today that thousands of prisoners in the Illinois Department of Corrections may be released so they have a better chance to avoid the pandemic. There is a class action lawsuit, and the governor seems to agree with the purposes of the plaintiffs to avoid unnecessary deaths among people who were sentenced for crimes.

Are we any less merciful toward those found not guilty of crimes, by reason of insanity? Yes, in fact we are much less merciful. As far as I can tell, nobody is advocating for release of involuntary psychiatric “patients” at Elgin, Chester, Madden or Chicago Read Mental Health Centers.

There are many who could be released without endangering public safety.

One such “patient” at Elgin MHC is James Baker. He committed what would have been a violent crime... 33 years ago. He is in his seventies now, and in poor health. He hasn’t had any incident of threatening or aggressive behavior for decades, and the doctors who know his case have no further “treatment” to offer him. The Forensic Director at Elgin, Tom Zubik, actually told me months before the pandemic that he was worried Baker would die in custody.

Another such “patient” at Chicago Read MHC is Marci Webber. She was found NGRI for a horrible crime that occurred while she was in a psychotic break born of psychiatric drug withdrawal or intoxication. The chances that she would ever be violent again are approximately zero, according to every expert consulted.

Marci actually was released in December by the same Circuit Court judge who presided over her case from day one. However, in a mysterious set of circumstances that no one in the system seems to have ever seen before, she was re-“hospitalized” pending a highly unlikely appeal bound to take months. Marci even has a place to go and a support system. While she was on conditional release she rented an apartment, and was doing fine. Now somebody else has to pay her rent while she rots in Chicago Read, waiting for the coronavirus, as the wheels of some obscure legal process grind and the taxpayers are fleeced for $800/day.

It is just pure nonsense... that some fine public servant somewhere can’t come up with a rational solution to get these two individuals out of psychiatric slavery, to ease the burden on public resources, and probably to spare a couple lives.

I don’t know any prisoners, but I know plenty of so-called mental “patients” who are in exactly the same boat, or worse. Baker and Webber are just examples. Why can’t we talk about letting a few of these guys go?

Very Well Done, David Brooks!

Today’s New York Times column by David Brooks just made my day. His point is to request real people’s descriptions of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their mental health. He is appealing to an audience of millions of readers, so he’ll get many and varied responses which may become a useful research data base.

But the most spectacular aspect of this column is the fact that it makes no mention whatsoever of any DSM “disorder” or any psychiatric “treatment”. The mental health orthodoxy is very dramatically missing! Brooks quotes five current experts, but none of them are identified as psychiatrists, although two actually are. One of those two, Dr. Martha Welch, M.D., is in fact a professor at Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry.

That means Dr. Welch works in the same academic department run by Jeffrey Lieberman (of my own “Somebody take that man’s picture” experience).

So why didn’t David Brooks mention that Dr. Welch is a psychiatrist, or at least put “MD” after her name? Why didn’t he credit Lieberman’s Department of Psychiatry at Columbia? Why didn’t he write about any specific mental illnesses or chemical imbalances, or at least acknowledge that emotional and behavioral problems are most properly medical issues for which psychiatrists should ideally be consulted?

Maybe it’s because he understands his public well enough to know they don’t like psychiatry, or even despise it, and certainly they aren’t interested in reading any more Jeffrey Lieberman-type bullshit? It’s been a century since the Jeffrey Lieberman’s of the world have been in charge of mental health. They have accomplished nothing except higher rates of disability, higher incidence of suicide, and overall debilitating social and human degradation.

Lieberman isn’t taking Brooks’ attitude well. He threw a tantrum on Twitter which, ironically, disrespected not just Brooks but his own colleague at Columbia by implying she’s not a real expert in mental health. I’ve seen Lieberman do this before. He’s a jealous little boy who knows better than the New York Times about how they should use their own editorial space. He’s not interested in helping people, or he would at least acknowledge some of the things that David Brooks gets right (e.g., relationships are of utmost importance — what’s so “sophomoric” about that?!).

Lieberman is only interested in one thing. He’s the Pablo Escobar of the mental health world, not because he runs drugs, but because he thinks drugs are his own route to power.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Wars, music (history)

I think this will be an article that has very little to do with mental health, although I may come back later with a connected lesson....

Songwriter John Prine is intubated in critical condition with COVID-19 in a Nashville hospital. His wife has been telling the people who love him to pray and sing his songs. My wife and I are telling Alexa to do that (at least the singing part), more or less continuously.

There’s a lyric in the song, “Grandpa Was a Carpenter” that always amazes me, every time I hear it: “He voted for Eisenhower ‘cause Lincoln won the war.”

I doubt that Prine wrote that line while pondering American history as any academic exercise. He was simply remembering a real person, his own grandfather. How many people appreciate the historical salience of that little meme? Probably not very many. But I hope my children do, and I hope they will tell their children....

The war that Lincoln won was of course the Civil War, aka “The War Between the States” as my grandparents insisted should be its proper name. When I was a child in the 1950’s, there were plenty of people alive who had lived through World War II, and yet still thought of the war first of all as that one which ended not in 1945, but in 1865. That generation is all gone now, and the generation which came after it (called the greatest, those who won World War II) almost is.

The Civil War changed the United States of America, fundamentally and completely. Then the world wars of the 20th century proceeded to change human civilization every bit as much. The idea that one individual in one lifetime could consider Abraham Lincoln’s victory as reason to vote for Dwight Eisenhower may, just on its surface, come from the fact that they were both Republicans. But the John Prine lyric is much more interesting than that. It tells of how generations connect to each other and continue from age to age, parents, children, grandchildren.

Obviously, Eisenhower won the war, too, and it was a much bigger war. Some historians might say it took even more courage, genius, and certainly more human cooperation, than Lincoln’s war. Times change quickly, but the differences between Lincoln’s and Eisenhower’s wars, over a period of 80 years, are probably much less than the differences over the 75 years between 1945 and 2020.

“Grandpa Was a Carpenter” frames a period that is truly gone, although most of us in middle age still remember it as part of our own lives or those of our families. To our children it’s just history, though they might remember it as part of our lives after we’re gone.

People don’t change as much as the times they live in. I think Abraham Lincoln would have understood and used the atomic bomb, even if cyber war would have been a severe stretch for both him and Eisenhower, as perhaps it is for me.

I hope John Prine survives the pandemic.