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Anarchy being diagnosed as a mental health problem?

By Guttz, Jun 16, 2013 | Updated: Jun 16, 2013 | | |
  1. Guttz
    Are the Young People That Shrinks Label as Disruptive Really Anarchists with a Healthy Resistance to Oppressive Authority?

    Many young people diagnosed with mental disorders have acted on their beliefs in ways that threaten authorities.

    Many young people diagnosed with mental disorders are essentially anarchists who have the bad luck of being misidentified by mental health professionals, who 1) are ignorant of the social philosophy of anarchism; 2) embrace, often without political consciousness, its opposite ideology of hierarchism; and 3) confuse the signs of anarchism with symptoms of mental illness.

    The mass media equates anarchism with chaos and violence. However, the social philosophy of anarchism rejects authoritarian government, opposes coercion, strives for greatest freedom, works toward “mutual aid” and voluntary cooperation, and maintains that people organizing themselves without hierarchies creates the most satisfying social arrangement. Many anarchists adhere to the principle of nonviolence (though the question of violence has historically divided anarchists in their battle to eliminate authoritarianism). Nonviolent anarchists have energized the Occupy movement and other struggles for economic justice and freedom.

    In practice, anarchism is not a dogmatic system. So for example, “practical anarchist” parents will use their authority to grab their child who has begun to run out into traffic. However, practical anarchists strongly believe that all authorities have the burden of proof to justify control, and that most authorities in modern society cannot bear that burden and are thus illegitimate—and should be eliminated and replaced by noncoercive, freely participating relationships.

    My experience as a clinical psychologist for almost three decades is that many young people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses are essentially anarchists in spirit who are pained, anxious, depressed, and angered by coercion, unnecessary rules, and illegitimate authority. An often-used psychiatric diagnosis for children and adolescents is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD); its symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”

    Among young people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading ADHD authorities, says that they have deficits in “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. A frequently used research tool that distinguishes alcohol/drug abuser personalities was developed by Craig MacAndrew, and is commonly called the MAC scale. It reveals that the most significant “addictive personality type” have discipline problems at school, are less tolerant of boredom, are less compliant with authorities and some laws, and engage in more disapproved sexual practices.

    I have encountered many people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, and who are now politically conscious anarchists, including Sascha Altman DuBrul, author of Maps to the Other Side: The Adventures of a Bipolar Cartographer. DuBrul, several times diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has lived in rebel communities in Mexico, Central America and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, worked on community farms, participated in Earth First! road blockades and demonstrated on the streets in the Battle for Seattle. He reports that many of his anti-authoritarian friends also have been diagnosed with mental illness.

    Teenagers, as evidenced by their musical tastes, often have an affinity for anti-authoritarianism, but most do not act on their beliefs in a manner that would make them vulnerable to violent reprisals by authorities. However, I have found that many young people diagnosed with mental disorders—perhaps owing to some combination of integrity, fearlessness, and naïvity—have acted on their beliefs in ways that threaten authorities. Historically in American society, there is often a steep price paid by those who have this combination of integrity, fearlessness, and naïvity.

    While DuBrul and his friends have political consciousness, my experience is that most rebellious young people diagnosed with mental disorders do not, and so they become excited to hear that there is actual political ideology that encompasses their point of view. They immediately become more whole after they discover that answering “yes” to the following questions does not mean that they suffer from a mental disorder, but instead have a certain social philosophy:

    Young people who oppose inequality and exploitation, reject a capitalist economy, and aim for a society based on cooperative, mutually owned enterprise are essentially left-anarchists—perhaps calling themselves “anarcho-syndicalists” or “anarcho-communitarians.” When they discover what Noam Chomsky, Peter Kropotkin, Kirkpatrick Sale, or Emma Goldman have to say, they may identify with these thinkers. These young people have a strong moral streak of egalitarianism and a desire for social and economic justice. Not only are they not mentally ill but, from my perspective, they are the hope of society.

    There is another group of freedom-loving young people who hate the coercion of parents, schools, and the state but lack an egalitarian moral streak, and are very much into money and capitalism. Some of them may have been dragged into the mental health system after having been caught drug dealing, and are labeled with conduct disorder and/or a personality disorder. While these young people rebel against they themselves being controlled and exploited, many of them are not averse to controlling and exploiting others, and so are not anarchists, but some have spiritual transformations and become so.

    An Underground Resistance for Oppressed Young Anarchists

    There are at least two ways that mental health professionals can join the resistance: 1) speak out about the political role of mental health institutions in maintaining the status quo in society; and 2) depathologize and repoliticize rebellion in one’s clinical practice, which includes helping young anarchists navigate an authoritarian society without becoming self-destructive or destructive to others, and helping families build respectful, non-coercive relationships.

    If a nonviolent anarcho-communitarian (politically conscious or otherwise) is dragged by parents into my office for failing to take school seriously but is otherwise pleasant and excited by learning, I tell parents I do not believe there is anything essentially “disordered” with their child. This sometimes gets me fired, but not all that often. It is my experience that most parents may think that believing a society can function without coercion is naive but they agree it’s not a mental illness, and they’re open to suggestions that will create greater harmony and joy within their family.

    I work hard with parents to have them understand that their attempt to coerce their child into taking school seriously not only has failed—that's why they’re in my office—but will likely continue to fail. And increasingly, the pain of their failed coercion will be compounded by the pain of their child’s resentment, which will destroy their relationship with their child and create even more family pain. Many parents acknowledge that this resentment already exists. I ask liberal parents, for example, if they would try to coerce a homosexual child into being heterosexual or vice versa, and most say, “Of course not!” And so they begin to see that temperamentally anarchist children cannot be similarly coerced without great resentment.

    It has been my experience that many rebellious young people labeled with psychiatric disorders and substance abuse don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities. Often, these young people are craving a relationship with mutual respect in which they can receive help navigating the authoritarian society around them.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on May 17, 2013, in “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005–2011,” reported: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”

    Is there an epidemic of childhood mental illness, or is there a curious revolt? My experience is that many young Americans, feeling helpless, hopeless, bored, scared, misunderstood, and uncared about, ultimately rebel; but given their wherewithal, their rebellion is often disorganized, futile, self-destructive, and appears to mental health professionals as a disorder or illness. Underlying many of psychiatry's diagnoses is the experience of helplessness, hopelessness, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization. Does society, especially for young people, promote:

    Emotional and behavioral problems are often natural human reactions to a society that cares little about: 1) autonomy—self-direction and the experience of potency; 2) community—strong bonds that provide for economic security and emotional satisfaction; and 3) humanity—the variety of ways of being human, the variety of satisfactions, and the variety of negative reactions to feeling controlled rather than understood. Young anarchists are especially sensitive to American society’s absence of autonomy, community, and humanity—and this can result in overwhelming anxiety and depression.

    While giant pharmaceutical corporations promote psychiatry’s authority as a vehicle for increased drug sales, the whole of the corporate state supports psychiatry so as to maintain the status quo. In the old Soviet Union, political dissidents were diagnosed by psychiatrists as mentally ill, then hospitalized and drugged. Even more effective for those at the top of the hierarchy is what now occurs in the United States: diagnosing and treating anti-authoritarians before they have reached political consciousness and before they have created communities of resistance.

    One reason that there is so little political activism in the United States is that a potentially huge army of anti-authoritarians are being depoliticized by mental illness diagnoses and by attributions that their inattention, anger, anxiety, and despair are caused by defective biochemistry, not by their alienation from a dehumanizing society. These diagnoses and attributions make them less likely to organize democratic movements to transform society.

    In the early 19th century in the United States, a network of secret routes, conductors, and safe houses were used by African Americans to escape from slavery. This network was commonly called the Underground Railroad, organized by runaway slaves, free African-American abolitionists, and white abolitionists. Today, communities of ex-psychiatric patients (see MindFreedom and the Icarus Project) are helping young anti-authoritarians resist their mental illness labeling and coercive treatments. There are also a handful of mental health professional dissident organizations that, while not promoting the social philosophy of anarchism, do oppose dehumanizing diagnoses and coercive treatments (for example, the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry).

    While there are career risks for modern-day mental health professional dissidents, these are small risks compared with those taken by slavery abolitionists. So as a mental health professional, I find it quite embarrassing that there are so few professionals involved in the current resistance. In American history, there have been several shameful periods where groups—including Native Americans, homosexuals and assertive women—have been pathologized, dehumanized and given oppressive treatments by mental health professionals in an attempt to alter their basic being. Today’s psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors would do well to recognize that historians do not look kindly on those professionals who participated in institutional dehumanization and oppression.

    June 14, 2013
    Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011).

    Guttz: I know this is not about any drug in particular but thought people here might find this interesting.


  1. Großschmackhaft
    I cannot take this seriously.

    I think i saw a very similar bunch of questions already. It was in Scientology's free personality test. This is no different. A bunch of questions that everyone will answer almost the same way, the conclusion of which is that Scientology is perfect for whomever takes the test.

    I mean it's good that he can get people to accept themselves instead of beating themselves up about how different they are from all the other reindeer, but one does not need a political ideology for that.

    ...and i presume after receiving said help they can concentrate perfectly, quit drinking and have no bipolar episodes anymore?

    Oh, i guess it doesn't really change anything apart from making people more content with the problems they still have.

    What a transparent way to promote an ideology of choice to a target group of people diagnosed with mental disorders. Any non-mainstream ideology would work.

    Coincidentally, i also have my doubts whether ADHD exists. But a government conspiracy to keep down anarchism? :rolleyes:
    The government would love to control whoever they can especially the people that want to voice their opposition to government.
    The USA has used drugs to control people and communities.
  3. Großschmackhaft
    I was not aware of this. Please elaborate.

    If you do a search on this site "cia lsd" you will find several posts on the subject.

    Hope that helps.

    There is lots of info on this subject it would take me days to type up.

    Hope this helps yo.
  5. Großschmackhaft
    I was aware of the administration of drugs, specifically LSD, to unknowing test subjects, however i don't think this can be considered "controlling" them.

    I am very critical of the widespread use of of psychopharmaceuticals to bring people who diverge from perceived normality closer to society's standards, but we need to be careful and precise when talking about this so there can be no mistaking it for one of the many conspiracy theories that are centered around governmental brain control, etc.
  6. Calliope
    I can take this seriously, though your complaint about the list of questions has some legitimacy. However, I can think immediately of more than a handful of people I know personally who wouldn't answer all those questions as the purported merely anarchist not mentally ill young people presumably do. There really are people who believe that submitting to authority is appropriate in many circumstances, and do in fact like being an employer and/or employee. So I don't agree that his list really is constructed like the scientology one to get everyone's assent. So Dr. Levine might have an instrument with the typical (if unavoidable) over-generality of most in clinical psychology, but his doesn't seem near as sleazy as the snake-oil scientologists'.

    I see no claim in the article about any government conspiring to keep down anarchism. Paediatric mental health diagnoses are driven by a whole bunch of things: parental concern, genuine problems experienced by young people, fashion and current theoretical thinking in psychiatry and clinical psychology (both of which are of course under some influence by the money bags in big pharma, given the shockingly low levels of research funding doled out by governments and public agencies these days), the needs of our education systems and schools, and, not least of all in the US for sure, slotting children with problems under an official label is driven by the need for a specific diagnosis in order to have treatment covered by insurance and to get access to educational supports in many many school systems. This last dimension of the issue is surprisingly absent from Levine's piece, and I wonder what he would propose to people whose kids need educational supports and whose health insurance doesn't cover philosophy classes, memberships in the local political groups, camping equipment to Occupy something, or whatever clinical/behavioural/cognitive/chemical suggestions he has for young anarchists trying to adjust to the unjust, inegalitarian capitalist world we live in?

    And as regards Oppositional Defiance Disorder, it is diagnosed in children as young as preschool (Does he really mean to attribute complex political beliefs to 4 year olds who have daily tantrums?). Levine seems downright disingenuous to me in connecting ODD to anarchism and doing so by only quoting two of the eight ODD criteria, ones which need not even be present for the diagnosis. Note the ones that he left out highlighted in red below, and also that at least two of them have to be present for a child to be considered to have ODD. They don't seems anarchistic to me, not in the hippy dippy way Levine paints it, but downright anti-social, however normal in small amounts they are for any child or adolescent.

    The criteria for a diagnosis of ODD (DSM IV) are:

    A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least six months during which four or more of the following are present:
    1. Often loses temper, 2. often argues with adults, 3. often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules, 4. often deliberately annoys people, 5. often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior, 6. is often touchy or easily annoyed by others, 7. is often angry and resentful, 8. is often spiteful and vindictive.
    AND which causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.
    It is also the case that if other psychiatric or organic causes for these behaviours exist ODD won't be diagnosed either.

    A telling point against Levine's apparent beliefs to me is the fact he offers no comparison to children and adolescents who have not been diagnosed with ODD, ADHD, and/or bipolar. I had no psychiatric diagnoses until I was in my 20s (and it wasn't a matter of neglect or lack of health care), but I can tell you I was a pretty committed anti-authority, anarchy-friendly kid, and decently egalitarian, and I knew many many others like me. Isn't it in fact a bit definitive of adolescence to at least have anarchist leanings? If so, what distinguishes those who land in a diagnosis and those who don't? It cant be the anarchism, that they share. Surely it isnt just random contingencies... I'd be a lot more impressed with his arguments and claims if he at least dealt with that issue and explained. It really needs to be addressed. Can't one be antiauthoritarian and not experience the level of dysfunction that normally (or ought) underly diagnoses of bipolar, ADHD, ODD and conduct disorders?

    I don't disagree at all that many kids and young people are wrongly pathologized - many of these temperamental, behavioural, emotional and social difficulties are attempts to adapt to intolerable family, school, and more general social environments. It isnt a mistake to be angry, hurt and traumatized by much of what many people unfortunately endure in their lives, especially when young, but that doesn't mean that the sort of ways of being that these diagnoses are intended to capture are what we would call human flourishing. They simply are not adaptive.
  7. This Bear Eats Fascists
    Fair enough.

    Are we talking about MKUltra? If we aren't yet, we should. Declassified official CIA documents detail how Project MKUltra administered an array of psychoactives (including LSD) for the express purpose of controlling the minds of (unwilling) subjects.

    I tried linking but can't. Google:

    1977 Senate Hearing on Project MKUltra. Project MKULTRA, The CIA's Program Of Research In Behavioral Modification

    You can easily find a PDF. The document is lengthy. If you wish to skip to where exactly I am citing from, refer to pages 14-15, 102-104, 122-125, 167 on. Again, this is a government document. Not a half-baked conspiracy theory to roll your eyes at...

    And by the way, why is that such a loaded term- conspiracy theory?

    To borrow from the great George Carlin:

    Do I believe powerful people might get together and might have a plan? That powerful institutions might seek to consolidate and hold on to that power?

    Obviously doesn't happen- I'm just a lunatic. A conspiracy theorist.

    Bringing things back to the article:

    I think it's a really important read. Whether you buy 'conspiracy theories' or not, it's always valuable to read a professional's observations of and comments on an institution from the inside. Excellent stuff.
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