Questioning Doctor's Diagnosis

By Ben Hansen

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The following op-ed piece was published in the Sun., Nov.26th, 2000 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, northern Michigan's largest daily newspaper.

In the Northern Living section of the Nov. 7th Record-Eagle, in a feature entitled "We're not such bad people: triumphing over mental illness with medication and support," the story is told of a woman named Pat who suffered psychotic episodes until she was diagnosed and medicated for the "insidious disease" of schizophrenia.

The psychiatrist overseeing Pat's treatment, Dr. Lyn Conlon, calls Pat's illness a "biological condition" that is "easily treated with medication."   Dr. Conlon adds approvingly, "Pat has come to grips with the fact that she has a lifelong disorder."

The latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual states plainly, "no laboratory findings have been identified that are diagnostic of schizophrenia."  Therefore I wonder how Dr. Conlon can be so sure that her patient has received a "proper diagnosis."

If, as Dr. Conlon claims, schizophrenia is a biological condition that is "no different than having high blood pressure," then why are there no laboratory tests for schizophrenia like there are for other biological diseases such as diabetes?   There is no blood chemistry, neurobiological, brain scan or any other clinical test that can be performed by any neurobiologist, biochemist or pathologist to prove a "proper diagnosis" of schizophrenia or any other mental "disorder."

Modern medical practitioners tend to focus on the symptoms of illness, and they prescribe medications to treat those symptoms.   This tendency is especially prevalent in the psychiatric profession.  Increasingly, psychiatrists have become "psychopharmacologists" who simply manage symptoms by dispensing pills, an approach that is fully endorsed by the pharmaceutical industry.

The Record-Eagle's story directs readers to, a website sponsored by Janssen, maker of the drug Risperdal, commonly prescribed for schizophrenia.   Janssen touts its wonder-drug without mentioning that like all neuroleptics, Risperdal may cause tardive dyskinesia and neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

After praising her patient for battling the stigma of mental illness, Dr. Conlon declares, "I wish more people would step forward and carry the banner."

As a psychiatric survivor unafraid to use my full name, I hereby step forward to tell my story:

In August 1999, following the death of my father and the suicide of a friend on the same day, I suffered a breakdown and became psychotic.  The police transported me to the psychiatric unit of a local hospital, where I was forcibly injected with the drugs Haldol and Ativan.

When I awoke 26 hours later, hospital staff informed me that I'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a disease requiring treatment with medication for the rest of my life.   I disagreed with the diagnosis, saying that I'd had an extremely stressful week and that what I needed was plenty of rest, not medication.

The psychiatrist overseeing my treatment told me that both my unwillingness to accept the diagnosis and my refusal to accept medication were symptoms of my disease, thus confirming the diagnosis.  She explained that if she did not treat me with medications, she could lose her license, therefore I would not be released from the hospital without being medicated.

With the support of my family and dearest friends, I continued to steadfastly refuse treatment with psychiatric drugs.  Because the psychiatrist refused to treat me without drugs, I was held in the hospital involuntarily for the next 39 days, totaling a bill of $23,000.

After a monumental battle which included a jury trial, I was finally allowed to return home, where the real healing could begin -- without medications.

Two weeks after my release from the hospital, a different psychiatrist who took the time to actually talk to me concluded that the original diagnosis of bipolar disorder was incorrect, and that more likely I'd suffered "brief reactive psychosis," a temporary condition caused by stress.

If I would have accepted the hospital's diagnosis of a "lifelong disease," I would have been released from the hospital much sooner, but I would now be a permanent client of the mental health system, medicated with dangerous drugs for the rest of my life.

I encourage your readers to visit, the website of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, which is not funded by pharmaceutical profits.

(editor's note:) Ben Hansen is co-coordinator of the Michigan Branch of Support Coalition International [MindFreedom], a grassroots organization working for human rights in the mental health system.   In April he was appointed to the Michigan Dept. of Community Health Recipient Rights Advisory Committee, a watchdog panel that meets in Lansing.

© 2006 Christine Bazzett