Shrink on the Box

When Lili Marlene finds time to watch the tube in the daytime, she doesn’t waste a moment on tripe like Oprah or Dr. Phil or that other rot on the commercial stations.  I tuned in to the National Press Club of Australia address today (July 7th 2010) on the ABC, and the guest was Prof. Patrick McGorry AO, the current Australian of the Year, a psychiatrist and an advocate for early intervention in psychiatric care for young people who have “emerging serious mental illness.” If you are familiar with my writing you might know that I take a dim view of the psychiatric profession, and I’m also sceptical about the value of imposing more psychiatry on Australians, as Prof McGorry advocates, and which the last Prime Minister apparently did not support.

I noticed that one journalist asked a quite controversial question of the professor during the question session.  If I had the opportunity to ask the Professor a few questions I just wouldn’t know where to start.  I am but a humble housewife who thinks too much, so I’d never get the chance anyway.  I can think of a list of questions that I’d love to ask the Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry.  I feel a list coming on.

Question 1. The psychiatric profession in Australia and in the United States has for many years been aggressively and very successfully promoting the widespread use of a group of medications for the treatment of depression, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Seroxat, that according to the best scientific evidence do not have any positive therapeutic effect beyond that of an active placebo, but have many undesirable side effects.  Why should Australian taxpayers give even more funding to a profession that has already demonstrated such deplorably low professional standards?

Question 2. You are an advocate for the early identification and psychiatric treatment of emerging psychosis in young people, and your message has been that it is best to do this early rather than to wait until the signs of mental illness are well established.  You ask us to trust your professional colleagues to be able to correctly identify genuine mental illness in young people before they manifest the full effect of psychosis, while it is a fact that your profession has a long history of misdiagnosing autistic people with psychosis-related labels such as schizophrenia and “cluster A” personality disorders, even during times when a rush to early intervention has not been an explicit goal of psychiatric practice.  It isn’t difficult to identify some well-known cases of such misdiagnosis.  Wendy Lawson is an autistic Australian advocate for autistic people who spent 25 painful years on inappropriate medication after being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.  The famous New Zealander author Janet Frame ONZ CBE was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when she was young and endured years of institutionalization and electroconvulsive treatment before her diagnosis was overturned. She came close to being lobotomized.  Frame has posthumously and controversially been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.  The enigmatic American diarist Opal Whiteley spent the last 44 years of her life at Napsbury Hospital in the UK, the same hospital in which the English artist Louis Wain had spent the last 15 years of his life, both diagnosed with schizophrenia.  According to one source Whiteley may have been subjected to a lobotomy in the early 1950s, and was given drugs and electroshock.  Both Wain and Whiteley have been posthumously diagnosed as autistic.  Jani (January) Schofield is an 8 year old girl living in the US who has been given a highly questionable diagnosis of “child-onset schizophrenia,” and apparently no other diagnosis, despite much evidence suggesting that she has autism and synaesthesia, including the ordinal linguistic personification form of synesthesia, two neurological conditions that could potentially explain her behaviour.  Jani has reportedly been given heavy doses of powerful psychiatric drugs, which appear to not be working.  Anecdotal and clinical evidence exists that suggests that many autistic people have been misdiagnosed as psychotic or schizophrenic.  This is a scandal, because autism, Asperger syndrome, and other conditions on the autistic spectrum are not mental illnesses.  The current enlightened view is that these conditions should be thought of as disabilities and/or forms of human variation.  Why should the Australian people trust psychiatrists who have a zeal for diagnosing psychosis?

Question 3. Will you give a public apology to autistic people who have been misdiagnosed and/or mistreated by the psychiatric profession, as a representative of this profession in Australia?

Question 4. Can you give an assurance that the professional staff working in the network of mental health clinics that currently exist and are planned, which you are associated with, have a full and up-to-date understanding of the autistic spectrum and synaesthesia, in all of the manifestations of these conditions, as presented in both sexes, and are able to easily and promptly tell the difference between these neurological conditions and mental illnesses?

Lili Marlene does not expect anything resembling an answer to any of these questions from any practicing psychiatrist.  I don’t know why I bother really.  Must be mad.

National Press Club of Australia

Misdiagnosed, miscategorized, under-investigated, mistreated and misunderstood: diagnostic, administrative, research, informal and historical labels that have been given in the past and/or in contemporary times to people on the autistic spectrum (another list by Lili Marlene).

Lili Marlene’s Shrink on the Box first appeared on July 7, 2010, at Incorrect Pleasures, and is republished here with her permission.

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