More Harm Than Good

I was baptised and brought up in the Catholic faith. I joined the Ursuline order of nuns when I finished secondary school as I naively thought that I would become a better person and also help others. At that time, the church was self critical and seemed to want to renew itself. This inspired me to stay within the church as a Catholic nun and be part of a system which I thought would do more good than harm. Change happened very quickly because it was led from the top down. I was very excited at first but as the years went on I became more and more disillusioned because changing external things was not changing the core of Christianity and the Catholic church in particular.

Because of Christianity’s belief in original sin, it views every human being as flawed and in need of redemption. That is why its doctrine is firmly based on the belief that Jesus Christ is both God and man and He redeemed all of us by dying and rising again. It is then necessary for all of us to depend on our redeemer in order to be saved before we enter the heavenly gates. All forms of Christianity are united in this belief. We cannot be saved if we do not believe we are in need of redemption. When Christianity is self critical, it is not critical of this core belief.

There were many reasons why I found it more difficult to continue being a nun, a Roman Catholic or a Christian. I had no issues with the basic idea of loving your neighbour as yourself but I had many issues about how this was interpreted and put into practice. The religious institutional system was and still is more interested in protecting itself than practicing love and compassion. It claims to follow a poor, humble, cross bearing Christ. At the same time it is extremely wealthy and uses its power to control others while aligning itself with other rich, powerful institutions. The institutional churches do not know the meaning of poverty. They are very poor in spirit and understanding.

Inequality, lack of understanding, poverty and differences in religious doctrines have been the root of many wars fought over the centuries. Religion often continues to divide more that it unites. In Ireland we were ruled by the Catholic church with its cannon laws much more successfully than we were by British rule. Because the church ruled over the people, it is understandable that many of its clergymen abused our children. It was not until these children grew up that some of them were believed and that many others began to see how the church misinformed people and kept them under control. Many Irish people have lost faith in the Catholic church since I was a young girl. I could say that even though I set out to be a Catholic nun as a teenager, I was at the forefront of the critical church movement!

Now I consider myself to be at the forefront of another critical movement, one that challenges deceptive, oppressive, institutional psychiatry. While Christianity claims to be faith based, psychiatry is faith based and yet claims to be scientific. It is based on what is referred to as the ‘medical model’.

“ The medical model…….is not based upon any reality, nor is it medical, though it uses the prestige of physical medicine and the reality of physical disease to mystify us and to command a general social consent, lay or legal. Ultimately it is a communal mythology, which conveys enormous powers both to the state and to psychiatry through the commitment process. Very few countries have not enlisted their complete faith –formally and informally, officially and privately–in the notion of mental illness and its corollary, mental health. Mental illness is a government commodity, a ministry, a department, a branch of every bureaucracy at the federal, municipal, provincial, state and local level.” (Kate Millet: The Illusion of Mental Illness Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry Peter Stastny Peter Lehmann (eds.)

I was misunderstood as being ‘mentally ill’ when I gave birth to my first born in St Finbarr’s maternity hospital. It was 1976 and just 4 years after I had left the convent. I was very fortunate to have met someone I loved. We both wanted to have children. We were very excited when I became pregnant soon after we married and settled down in Cork on the banks of the Lee. We did what we thought would be good for us to have a healthy baby. I attended a local GP and soon afterwards a gynaecologist. For the first 4 months I was frequently physically sick. My GP knew this but he did nothing to help me. He knew nothing about nutrition and I too was ignorant. I had very little energy and often felt weak. Thankfully I improved with time but because my body lacked vital vitamins and minerals, it is no wonder I was underweight and my pregnancy was very difficult. However, because we were both so excited at the prospect of being parents and I knew my ill health would only last a few more months, I got through it in good spirits. At the end of January 1976 I went into labour and then the real horror story began. What should have been the best moments of my life turned into a nightmare. To bring forth children should be the most natural and beautiful experience in the world but because of the medicalization and the institutionalization of motherhood, I and many other mothers, had a different experience.

After I arrived at the hospital the over-riding memory I still have is of being a cog in a wheel. Everyone was buzzing around me as if I wasn’t there, as if how I felt did not matter. It was a busy hospital and it needed to work like a factory. It was necessary to produce the goods. There were no epidurals then so when I was in severe pain they had nitrous oxide to help out. I could have as much as I wanted for the long labour I endured until the busy gynaecologist finally arrived to deliver our baby. The nitrous oxide did not relieve the pain but it did send me into an altered state and complicated an already horrific experience. Then they had Sparine, the first neuroleptic I was given, to counteract the effects of the nitrous oxide. The long tale of medical induced harm became a reality and lasted for almost 3 decades. ‘First do no harm’ continues to be an illusion for many.

For the medical establishment, drugs and physical treatments play a major role. It is no wonder then that when the Sparine didn’t work that more drugs were again the first choice. When they didn’t work I was viewed as a ‘mental case’ in need of more medical intervention. I was transferred to a ‘psychiatric hospital’ where I was started on 13 sessions of electroshock just 3 days after childbirth. But of course because I was now their guinea pig, many neuroleptics were forcefully applied by injection to my already feeble body. Due to the effects of the brain damaging electroshock and the toxic drugs I endured, I do not remember many details around this time but the memories of the torture I experienced have not been wiped out. I even tried unsuccessfully to run home.

Because I was misunderstood by the medical profession, it is no surprise that I was even more misunderstood by a branch of medicine that feigns to be medical namely, psychiatry!

Ever since its conception, it has tried to present itself and its ‘treatments’ as medical. Over the centuries all its interventions have been exposed as being harmful, often tortuous but to this day, it continues to thrive on deception. It just changes the so called ‘cure’, based on yet another theory or opinion and carries on to harm people in the name of help. It even has the legal capacity to force people who do not want its ‘help’ to receive it because it believes it is for their good. It is backed up by states and all who hold the chains of power globally. The most powerless – the poor, women, children, the elderly, blacks, disabled, gays/lesbians etc are their victims. Like Christianity, psychiatry believes those it ‘diagnoses’ are flawed human beings in need of its assistance. It defines those it labels as ‘non persons’ or ‘sub human‘. It considers them to be unable to make good decisions for themselves and in need of guardianship. It has been given the Godly power to redefine adults as children.

If we care about ourselves and others we will want to know ourselves and others. We will want to be more authentic. We will want to be real. Western society in general has convinced itself that to be fake is better than to be authentic. Is it any wonder then that psychiatry which is built on falsehood, the emperor who has no clothes, has fooled us and become so popular. It is doing all it can to spread its deceptive message and unfortunately, is being very successful.

It is by being aware of our experiences that we can acquire true knowledge of our selves, others and the world around us. Everyone has the power to be themselves. This is real power which can enlighten and help protect us from powerful forces which can destroy us if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The generous spirit of understanding and compassion is much stronger than the ugly spirit of death and destruction.

I have experienced psychiatric oppression and destruction like many others. As my fellow psychiatric survivor Kate wrote so beautifully from her loving heart:

“We are also survivors of one of the meanest systems of oppression ever developed, and its victims and its critics. We are the ones to tell the truth, to say that mental illness is an illusion, intellectually and scientifically, but also a system of social control of unprecedented thoroughness and pervasiveness. It is our role to expose this illusion and to free us all – for we are all constrained, oppressed, limited, intimidated by the phantom of mental illness. We stand with reason against error and superstition, with imagination against conformity and oppression. What good fortune to be part of such a struggle for freedom and human rights.” Kate Millet: The Illusion of Mental Illness

It is my good fortune to be with Kate Millet and all my fellow survivors of psychiatry in this powerful struggle for freedom and human rights.

Mary Maddock, MindFreedom Ireland.