by Terry Messman

Photo by R. Valentine Atkinson, reprinted from The History of Shock Treatment, by Leonard Roy Frank
Photo by R. Valentine Atkinson, reprinted from The History of Shock Treatment, by Leonard Roy Frank

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he growing problem of psychiatric abuses, brain-damaging medications and forced psychiatric treatment are all a matter of grave concern for poor, disabled and homeless people, their friends and family members, and all those who work with them and are concerned for their well-being.
Over its history, Street Spirit has published a series of in-depth reports on many different kinds of psychiatric abuses that have been carried out in the name of healing, yet often end up damaging and disabling people for life. In light of renewed calls for forced psychiatric detention under the guise of “helping the mentally ill,” we are collecting and re-publishing these stories in a new section “Psychiatric Abuses and Human Rights”. 
For many years, Street Spirit has taken an in-depth look at the whole issue of psychiatric mistreatment and atrocities, and has published interviews, investigative articles and first-hand accounts that expose the faulty scientific assumptions that underlie psychiatric “therapies” that purposely damage the higher functions of the brain. These articles add up to a damning indictment of psychiatric practices which are perpetrated in the name of healing, yet often end up damaging and disabling people for life.
Street Spirit has conducted two in-depth interviews with Robert Whitaker, one of the most important investigative journalists exposing these practices. His first interview focuses on the deliberate epidemic of serious brain damage caused by the new “wonder drugs” such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Zyprexa. The second interview with Whitaker traces the history of psychiatric mistreatment in America and is a stunning exposé of the shameful and barbaric practices of this profession.
These interviews with Whitaker are the two most requested and widely reprinted articles in Street Spirit’s history. We have published them both on our website so Whitaker’s amazing and groundbreaking investigative work can be made more easily accessible to the widest audience.
Our reports also include important articles by Leonard Roy Frank, a greatly admired writer on psychiatric abuses who experienced at first-hand, as a young man, the nightmare of electroshock and insulin coma therapy.
Leonard Roy Frank lived through these nightmarish experiences to become a powerful and eloquent voice speaking out for an end to these torturous practices. For decades, he has championed the rights of other psychiatric survivors. In this issue, we profile his journey from electroshock — or electroconvulsive brainwashing, as he calls it — to nonviolent resistance against psychiatric cruelty. This issue collects some of his most important and revelatory writings on electroshock and the dismaying level of disease and fatalities caused by widely prescribed psychiatric drugs.
How Psychiatric Abuses Impact The Homeless Community
Whether on the streets or in the psychiatric wards, homeless people are discriminated against in ways that would not be tolerated by any other minority. Homeless people are subjected to ugly, yet nearly invisible forms of discrimination behind the closed doors of psychiatric hospitals.
Because the issue of psychiatric abuse is of great concern to the homeless community, Street Spirit broke the story about the shocking mistreatment of low-income and homeless psychiatric patients at East Bay Hospital in Richmond. Our reporting helped close that cruel dungeon. Street Spirit has continued to report on psychiatric injustices in an effort to bring to light the inhumane practices in this poorly regulated and ever-growing industry.
All too often, it is the grim fate of poor and homeless people to end up committed to the worst psychiatric hospitals, and to suffer the greatest neglect and abuse.
Several factors conspire to create this outcome. First, when people were deinstitutionalized from state mental hospitals (also known as snakepits), our society made a promise to set up community-based mental-health centers, supportive housing and therapy programs to enable them to live a life of dignity and independence in their own communities.
All levels of government bailed out of that promise. The result of society’s refusal to build a decent system of community mental health care is the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of people to a perilous existence on the streets, supported at best by a pitifully small SSI check.
Second, the hardships, malnutrition, sleep deprivation and unbelievable stresses of street life can undermine the most stable person’s mental state.
Third, poor people are sent to hospitals of last resort because they often have no medical insurance, no family to help and no stable residence. A homeless person who undergoes a psychological crisis on the city streets is a sitting duck to be picked up by the police and involuntarily committed to an inner-city psych ward. Society sets them up for this fall.
Our society’s broken promises have left hundreds of thousands of disabled persons stranded on the streets. Just because we usually forget that disabled people have the same rights as the rest of us, it is still an act of pure bigotry to single out one class of fellow citizens for neglect, abuse and naked hostility.
The homeless movement and the psychiatric survivors movement are indissolubly linked — linked by shared oppression, by discrimination, and by a common need for housing, health care and human rights. The fight against psychiatric abuses is part and parcel of the fight for freedom, civil rights, dignity, and decent health care for all.