The rebellious psychiatrists who helped me see beyond the myths and stigma of mental illness

This article by David Shariatmadari was published in The Guardian (2013). It begins:

“‘Do you feel you have to agree with what most of the people round you believe?’ ‘Well, if I don’t I usually land up in hospital.’ It is London in the late 1950s. A woman, Ruth, sits opposite a Scottish doctor in his consulting room. On his desk a tape recorder reels away softly. She speaks with an air of quiet defeat, having already had the bad news, the diagnosis. It’s been the same for a long time: schizophrenia. Hospital for her means a regimen of neuroleptic (“brain-seizing”) drugs, tranquilisers, perhaps even being plunged repeatedly into an insulin-induced coma.

The doctor, while sympathetic, offers no cure. He is merely conducting research. Although he is a psychiatrist, he has become disillusioned with the medical model of mental illness: he understands that schizophrenia is not like diabetes or cancer. It was called into existence only relatively recently; it is not unusual for psychiatrists to disagree on which of their patients might be schizophrenic; there is no laboratory test that can determine whether someone has the disease or not. Most doctors regard it as a malfunctioning of the personality, without rhyme or reason.

This one, RD Laing, thinks he can understand even the most baroque madnesses, that they are legible. His view is that a diagnosis of schizophrenia is better seen as a social, rather than medical, phenomenon. Sanity, Madness and the Family, a record of interviews with 11 schizophrenics and their relatives, is an attempt by him and his colleague, Aaron Esterson, to put this beyond doubt …”

You can read more from here.

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