Election Section

Commentary: Chemical Therapy Endangers Psychiatric Patients By SETH FARBER

Friday August 05, 2005

On May 15, I attended Maria King’s funeral at St. Joseph the Worker Church. Maria’s funeral was beautiful, though wrenchingly sad. Saddest of all, I thought, was that the church was only half-full. Since the San Francisco Chronicle had run a front-page story that day “A Death in Berkeley”—I expected the service to be packed. It wasn’t. Some of Maria’s homeless friends were there, and locals who knew her. The priests at St. Joseph’s, especially pastor George Crespin were there, having grown to think of Maria as a friend. Her shocked family was there en masse having flown in long distance from scattered locations.  

I never met Maria. I feel sure if I had, I would have remembered her. Because there is one thing the Chronicle writer got wrong: Maria King was not your average “Homeless Everywoman.”  

Born and raised among the intelligentsia, she was exceptionally, precociously bright and gifted. It was almost impossible for Maria to end up as she did—dead on a cold February street, her head kicked in by two brutal punks. And in Berkeley, of all places, the most liberal university town in America.  

The odds against such a ludicrous tragedy must be astronomical. 

To those with long experience of contemporary mainstream psychiatry, and especially of the federally funded MH/MR system in which Maria was treated, however, an explanation of her terrible death seems all too clear. The question surrounding Maria’s death is not just “where did the system fail,” but rather, “where did it fail the most dismally?”  

Inept psychiatric treatment, mostly especially the cocktail of psych drugs Maria had been force-fed for years was, overwhelmingly, the culprit, precipitating her slide into the mental confusion and instability that led to chronic homelessness—and in the end to her horrible, wholly unnecessary death.  

The East Bay area phone directory lists several pages worth of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. Unfortunately, the average layperson is clueless as to how to choose the most appropriate. More unfortunately still, private therapy is expensive, with average starting prices at $150 an hour. 

The most practical answer, seemingly, is to seek out the local MH/MR clinic where patients are billed little or nothing on a sliding fee scale. Thousands of citizens (and their number is ever-growing) avail themselves of federally funded medical care programs when they need a doctor. Medical care is incredibly expensive.  

Maria’s mistake, common throughout the United States, and encouraged by current trends is psychiatry, and by the American Psychiatry Association itself, was to accept the equation of psychiatry with other branches of medicine.  

Few patients realize current mainstream psychiatry endorses chiefly biopsychiatry—and that the federally funded psychiatric system including short-term stay psych hospitals and state hospitals as well the outpatient clinics endorses only biopsychiatry and offers only one “one-size-fits-all” treatment: chemical therapy. 

Somewhere during the ‘80s and ‘90s, with the rise of biopsychiatry, this concept got scrambled, the “talk” aspect of therapy disappeared—and today, much of America, including lower level workers in the psychiatric system itself, firmly believes that psych drugs “cure” emotional or mental problems, in precisely the same way that penicillin cures strep throat. 

That—to misquote the venerable Sam Goldwyn—is, in two words, Im Possible. 

Dangers of chemical therapy have come to public attention within the last decade, but occasional TV news stories about the Ritalin scandals in elementary schools or isolated individuals who became homicidal on Prozac only represent the tip of a massively scandalous iceberg. 

Dr. Peter Breggin has fought a lonely battle for years against the contemporary abuses of biopsychiatry and is the foremost authority in the United States on the dangers of psychiatric drugs. He is the author of 20-some books, one of the most recent is Your Drug May Be Your Problem, and updating of his classic work, Toxic Psychiatry. 

The interested reader is urged to check out his website, www.breggin.com, especially the easy-to-use grid giving capsule information on the most commonly used and abused psychiatric drugs.  

Those with strong stomachs might try sites for Kids Who Kill, www.uhuh.com/education/drugskill.htm (virtually all juveniles who committed murder within the last decade, including Eric Harris, were on psych drugs at the time), and the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (http://psychrights.org/index.htm).  

The biggest and best-known of the growing number of underground websites for anti-mainstream psychiatry activism is MindFreedom.com. (Endorsement of chemical therapy by the federal MH/MR system is emphatically not an example of the United States government, or any public official being “out to get us.” Not at all. It is a perfect example of gross ignorance—often, well-meaning ignorance and laziness—on the part of the federal funding agencies and politicians who are primarily interested in getting re-elected.)  

The stigma surrounding “mental illness” together with the mystique surrounding psychiatry and psychology remains a formidable obstacles to any layperson, including journalists, politicians and who might seek to investigate it.  

The contemporary version of biopsychiatry is dangerous quackery. It is a cashcow for the big drug manufacturers as well the psychiatric establishment. It helps virtually no one, and it harms thousands of American annually. 

To those seeking therapy or already involved in it, an informed choice is yours for the asking. The choice made by Maria King cost her sanity—and in the end, her life. 


Dr. Seth Farber lives in New York City.