I decided to start this blog in response to the media coverage of mental illness and their obsession with turning those (including myself) who have been diagnosed with mental health problems into mad axe wielding murderers. In the UK the Sun one of our national tabloids had a headline stating 1,200 murders by people with mental illness. The story caused a stir on Facebook and Twitter but did the Sun retract or change anything? No it did not care, that was yesterdays headline, the Sun merely moved on to its next object of contempt.
Why is it that being psychophobic is okay in our society? It is not acceptable to be homophobic, or xenophobic in todays world and rightly so, but psychophobia is a word that does not yet exist and therefore using peoples diagnoses as a way of making judgments about them is perfectly acceptable.
Why is it that we are seen as the perpetrators of violence when the reality is that the exact opposite is the reality? In this blog I want to challenge this perceived reality by showing how the psychiatric establishment has been and still is a state sponsored vehicle for violence against those they are meant to serve.
I am deliberately starting from 1920 to the present day on the basis that there are still people alive today who were alive when these atrocities happened and therefore they cannot and should not be consigned to the dustbin of history. I would argue that these events are not just historical, except that they happened at a point in history, but they are also living problems in today’s society. Not only have we failed to learn lessons from what happened but we are still repeating many of the mistakes in the present time.
In the first few blogs I will focus on the murder of over 180,000 psychiatric patients in Nazi Germany between 1939 – 1945, because of the time frame and the power structure it is often thought that the Nazis conceived these mass killings and were implemented as part of their Ideology. Whilst there is probably some truth in that the implementation was made easy because the Nazis were in power, the idea came from a very different source; psychiatry.
Psychiatry was not only critical in implementing “Scientific” extermination, it both proposed and discussed the possibility openly before Hitler came to power. In 1920 the German professor of psychiatry, Alfred Hoche, with co-author law professor Karl Binding, published the first academic treatise justifying large-scale medical exterminations.
They called for destroying “Lives unworthy of living”, namely, incurable mental patients. This led to a lively debate within German medical, legal and theological circles during the 1920’s, preparing the way for later acceptance of the murder program when Hitler took power.
So, the above fact is something we must deal with. The medical profession was in effect calling for the use of involuntary euthanasia as far back as 1920, dressed up in a eugenics framework the need to eradicate the disease by eradicating people with the disease. It was not much of a step from this position to seeing Judaism as a disease and from here the introduction of the final solution.
Indeed a representative from the American Medical Association, physician Andrew Ivy observed:
“Had the profession taken a strong stand against the mass killing of sick Germans before the war, it is conceivable that the entire idea of technique of death factories of genocide would not have taken place.”
It can be argued therefore that without psychiatry the holocaust would not have happened.
Many in the psychiatric profession today will claim to not know about this part of their history, explaining away the deaths of so many patients as part of the legacy of the Nazis. Those who do know their history will placate themselves by saying it could not happen today. That the association with clinical experimentation on patients, the complicity and role the pharmaceutical industry played and the use of treatments knowingly designed to shorten life expectancy would no longer be tolerated in our civilised society. So let us explore the facts and how we have lost the role of the psychiatric elite in the extermination of 180,000 of my brothers and sisters.
Just a few years after the war in Europe ended in 1945 German politicians once again took over the administration of their country and what happened to psychiatric patients was overlooked. Attempts from a few, like Alexander Mitscherlich (1960) to bring it to public attention were blocked. A few psychiatrists were sentenced, but in general there was no gap, no starting anew, instead continuity, repression and denial. It was if there were no lessons to learn, indeed it was as if the atrocities in the psychiatric hospitals did not happen, 180,000 deaths of no importance. As many of the staff that were clearly culpable especially psychiatrists continued their careers unabated.
Now that’s Madness.