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Socialist Review, May 1994

Paul Baker


To rebel is to be ill


From Socialist Review, No. 175, May 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The recent article by Hazel Croft, Past Caring, on mental health services, provides a welcome opportunity to debate progressive and socialist concepts of how to promote mental health in the 1990s. Unfortunately the article failed to do this, sticking mainly to the well worn arguments that appear in social work journals which essentially equate more resources for more psychiatry with better mental health.

I believe this is an erroneous position which in no way recognises that the problem of mental health services and their failure to deliver effective care and support is located in the services themselves. The very nature of psychiatry is biologically and genetically driven.

Secondly, there is the vested interest of transnational drug companies who make enormous profits by pushing highly addictive and physically damaging mind controlling drugs. This has led to a service that reduces human distress to symptoms that can be controlled by ‘medication’ and that considers increasing numbers of human behaviours dysfunctional.

This may sound polemical, but it is in fact the underlying problem and it is extending. In the US the so called Violence Initiative, a research programme launched by American psychiatry in 1992, seeks to find the genetic predisposition to violence in urban populations and to find suitable ‘treatments’ for families and children. Most of these families are black, live in circumstances of great social injustice and inequity and are being told that to rebel is to be ill. Forget social injustice as a cause of urban unrest, it’s down to your genetic make up, don’t change your environment for the better – we’ll change you to cope with it better. Where have we heard that before?

The answer is back in the 1930s when psychiatry gave the Nazis the science to justify their ‘master race’ programmes against the mentally ill.

There are radical critics of psychiatry – Peter Lehmann’s Against Psychiatry and Fred Newman’s The Myth of Psychology, a Marxist critique of psychiatry. How about having a real political debate on the issue, rather than a well meaning but non-analytical account which perpetrates the same old myths.


Paul Baker

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