Description of the situation


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Presentation by Maths Jesperson (European Network of (ex)Users and Survivors of Psychiatry) on the occasion of the EESC SOC hearing on the European Year of Mental Health – Better Work, Better Quality of Life in Brussels on 30 October 2012

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Description of the situation

  1. 1. Maths Jesperson Description of the Situation Presentation at the public hearing on the European Year of Mental Health – Better Work, Better Quality of Life European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Brussels 30 October 2012We, users and survivors of psychiatry, welcome the initiative to make 2014 a European Yearof Mental Health. I have been asked to give some comments on the EESC WorkingDocument concerning this.But before going into this, first a few remarks on terminology. I will in this presentation neveruse the concept “mental illness”. This is a false concept, because what we talk about here isnot an illness. There is no scientific proof of the illness model, although this is still the mainhypothesis within main stream psychiatry.In our movement we instead use the concept “psychosocial disability”, which also is theterminology used for example by the United Nations. But if you don’t like that, I advise youto use the concept “mental disorder” instead of ”mental illness”, because “mental disorder” isnot biased towards the medical model, but do encompass also the social model and thepsychological model.Coming back to the Working Document, I must first say that there is almost nothing in thetext that I object. I find many parts excellent, but there are also some parts which I think are abit too vague and general in their descriptions and recommendations.When describing the current situation, the starting point of the Working Document is theobservation that mental health problems are increasing all over Europe - and that this in someway is related to the development of our modern time. Some distressing elements in themodern society are identified. All this is true, but the description is still too vague and general,and it’s hard to see how those distressing elements are concretely linked to the increase ofmental health problems.During the last 30 years I have talked with thousands of psychiatric patients, and according tothis experience as well as to an overwhelming body of scientific evidence, it is very clear thatthe starting point is a traumatic experience in childhood or early youth. Of course childhoodtraumas don’t always develop into severe mental health problems later in life. Someadditional causes must occur as well.The starting point is a trauma. From this emerge an emotional conflict, which pops up overand over again. To be able to go on living, the individual develops a coping strategy to keepthe conflict at bay. This could work quite well for many years, but when the individualencounters a new crisis later in life, the old emotional conflict bursts forth once again, andmuch worse than ever before. The emotional conflict is now so huge that the individual 1  
  2. 2. cannot bear it anymore. It becomes overwhelming. The coping strategies don’t work anylonger. What the general public call madness or mental illness, is actually a non-functionalcoping strategy.The first new crisis a person with childhood trauma encounters is usually puberty. This is thereason why psychotic problems often start at the age of 16-18. Crisis later in life, that triggerold traumas and old reactions to burst forth, can be mobbing in the working place,unemployment, bankruptcy, poverty, death of a dear one, divorce and so on. This leads toexclusion and isolation, and all these elements strengthen each other in a vicious circle. In myopinion it is in this way – as additional or secondary causes – that social and economicproblems influence the increase of mental health problems in modern society.But there is one major cause behind the rapid increase of mental health problems in Europe,which isn’t mentioned at all in this Working Document, and that is psychiatry itself. This isthe blind spot in almost all discussions around mental health problems. It is taken for grantedthat psychiatry is an instrument to combat mental health problems. When psychiatry fails tosolve these problems – and psychiatry fails all the time – it is not seen as a problem inherentin psychiatry itself, in its theories and methods. The diagnosis is instead that psychiatry hasn’tenough money. Consequently the politicians allocate more and more money to psychiatry,become frustrated that this doesn’t solve anything at all – and still think that the problem is alack of money.But lack of money is not the real problem. The failure of psychiatry has its roots in psychiatryitself - in its antiquated and ineffective theories and methods. Now, this is a too big issue toexpound more in detail here. And it’s also a very hot issue, so I understand why the politiciansbeat about the bush. But if those in power continue to evade this main issue, they will neverget anywhere. It doesn’t matter how many millions they spend on social projects or huge anti-stigma campaigns. The problems with increasing mental health problems in Europe will justcontinue.To illustrate what I just said, I will give you two concrete examples to ponder on:1. One of the hottest discussions within the psychiatric field right now, is the fact that the livesof psychiatric patients are shorter and shorter. And it is a dramatic reduction of the averagelength of life, which is well captured in a headline from the newspaper USA Today:“Mentally ill die 25 years earlier, on average” 1 The article refers to a study carried out in anumber of states in the US. The study looks at life expectancy of psychiatric patients in theearly 90’s compared with today, and the result is shocking! In the early 90’s psychiatricpatients lived 10-15 years shorter than the ordinary population. Now they live 25 yearsshorter! In these figures suicides are not included, so it’s not about a rise in suicide rates.A similar study was carried out in the UK a few years ago, by a team from the NationalInstitute for Health Research. The researchers made the following conclusion: ”Premature                                                            1‐05‐03‐mental‐illness_N.htm  2  
  3. 3. mortality among people with mental disorders most likely arises from a combination offactors including social disadvantage, long-term antipsychotic drug use and higher-risklifestyles.” 2Psychiatric medicines are one of the main causes for psychiatric patients living 25 yearsshorter than the ordinary population. This is a bomb under mainstream psychiatry, because itcannot be denied. There is already a denomination for this cause. It’s called “metabolicsyndrome”. The psychiatric drugs harm the metabolic process in the patient. This leads todiabetes, overweight and a series of other injuries, which end with the person dying by a heartdisease or a stroke at the age of 40.Why are the politicians ignoring this terrible catastrophe, which is increasing more and moreevery year? Why isn’t there a European emergency plan for stopping this? Aren’t the lives ofpsychiatric patients just as valuable as other citizens’? Do we still have the idea of“Untermensch” lurking in the back of the heads of the politicians? If I would be cynical, Imight think the politicians secretly think it’s good that psychiatric patients die 25 yearsearlier, because it saves a lot of money for society…Anyway, this urgent problem with premature death among psychiatric patients – caused bypsychiatry – must be addressed in this Working Document!2. In the August issue of the British Journal of Medicine is an amazing editorial. The starting-point is the fact that psychiatric medicines are not much more effective than placebo. Whenthis fact is combined with the knowledge that the same medicines entail severe risks for thepersons physical health and even life, the authors make the conclusion that there is noscientific or ethic ground for forced psychiatric treatment with medicines.3But this is not the conclusion made by European politicians. On the contrary - since ten yearsforced psychiatric treatment is increasing in every European country through new legislation.Before these laws on “community treatment orders” – as the euphemism goes – wereimplemented, forced psychiatric treatment could only be carried out in hospitals. Now youcould be forcibly treated in your own home - more or less for the rest of your life. And thetendency is continuing. In Sweden, for example, we have a new law proposal, which willmake it even more easy to subject people to forced psychiatric treatment.There is no scientific ground for this increase of forced psychiatric treatment in Europe, and itis clearly against the UN Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities, which thesame European politicians have ratified in their parliaments.                                                            2‐mental‐illness (the full scientific report is available at Another British study with similar results was presented in the journal BMC Psychiatry in 2011, see‐03‐life‐severely‐mentally‐ill‐due.html (the full scientific report at‐244X/11/46). 3   3  
  4. 4. In the next session I will give some concrete examples on what has to be done.But before concluding, I will just mention that there is one paragraph in the WorkingDocument that I find really excellent. It’s paragraph 2.4 about “spiritual experiences of peoplewith mental health problems”. There is not enough time for going deeper into this subjectnow, but here you really come into a field, which is at the very heart of our movement ofusers and survivors of psychiatry. Excellent!   4