Tools and Shackles: Revisiting psychiatric medication…

Since I posted my piece on psychiatric drug promotion and the marketing of madness (the story of the Novartis DVD on Clozaril) I have had some really thought provoking and interesting, but also difficult, discussions with people who read and commented on my piece…

Ready To Release The Shackles by  Danny O’Connor

…discussions which for me reflect the fact that trying to write about mental health issues from both sides of a very tall fence, so to speak, is extremely challenging and of course would not yield any easy answers… there is just a great deal of ambivalence…a constant dialogue with myself with endless ‘Yes, but…’ positions…so I end up with my brain (and my soul) hurting…

Looking at the Mad in America – Science, Psychiatry and Community website (where really interesting blog posts appear), I came across a piece by Sera Davidow entitled False Arguments: A Three-Part Story ( Sera’s piece finishes with a poem from an anonymous source called Tools are Shackles.

I thought that this poem captures really well – in an artful and also humorous way- the profound ambivalence that I am experiencing in relation to my mental health crisis, my mental health service use and my consumption of psychiatric drugs with very serious side effects…

I thought that it also captures  well my cynicism towards orthodox biomedical psychiatry and what I perceive as its monolithic  obsession with the theory of madness as a chemical imbalance in the brain that requires biochemical agents (drugs) as supposedly ‘the most effective’  – but very often coercive and dangerous too- means for rectification.

Furthermore, the reference to shackles made me think of prisons and convicted prisoners…it brought back  painful memories of my detention under the Mental Health Act 2007 in an acute  psychiatric ward in Manchester back in 2009…detention which I definitely experienced as imprisonment.


Tools are Shackles

by Anonymous

Tools are shackles.

Shackles are tools.

I was taught early on to follow the rules.

Listen to your elders. Respect authority.

Be sure to go along with the majority.

As I grew up, I followed rules less and less.

I didn’t give authority much respect.

Unbeknownst to me, I was headed in the wrong direction.

Living by my own rules, I lost my human connection.

It didn’t take long until I was far off course.

Roaming the wilderness of the mind, I encountered a powerful force.

I thought I was free in the bush because I had a wide range,

But I was trapped by the vastness. Isn’t that strange?

Tranquilizer dart pierced my rear, and I was introduced to psychiatry.

No more running away from authority.

I don’t know the institution’s intentions. It wasn’t all bad.

It took away every last bit of sanity that I had.

Tools are shackles.

Shackles are tools.

I was forced to follow a new set of rules.

They said your mind is sick, and how do we know?

It’s from the odd behaviors that you show.

Luckily, we’ve got a tool to help you out.

It’s called a diagnosis, and it lets us know the type and amount

Of medication needed to restore your health.

All the things you thought you knew about life, you can put on a shelf.

Now medication is our greatest and most revered tool.

Did I mention that it may very well likely cause you to drool?

Every Wednesday we’ll use a tool to give you an injection.

Everything we’re doing is for your and our protection.

You’ve got a bizarre illness. In the olden days, they called it sin.

But our tools have freed you from your boundless prison.

You’ve entered a systematic new world, though it’s a bit smaller than what you’re used to.

We’re all safe now, so be grateful for the subhuman to which we’ve reduced you.

Life may be a little boring. It may be a little dull.

Don’t blame us. Blame that unruly brain in your skull.

In our system, everyone’s got a place but not a direction,

You may not be moving forward, but you agree you required correction.

I agree I needed structure. That I don’t dispute,

But I didn’t need to be made agentially mute.

I guess when you think about it, a shackle is a tool,

But anyone who would try to free someone with a shackle has got to be a fool. 





  • an ,

    I like this poem. Some forty five years down the line from my initial crisis I negotiate my way between engaging with ‘society’ and rebelling or keeping myself apart; between managing my life without medication and feeling that if there was some drug that would make things easier then I might well take it occasionally (as I do diazepam).A much used phrase of mine is ’roundabouts and swings’ (pros and cons). It’s why i like social history – how did the clinical and medical models emerge and why do these seem to have reasserted themselves so strongly in the last decade or so? it doesn’t provide an answer as to what to do but does give a better understanding of the complexity of the situations (and decisions) we make?

    x Anne

    • Dina ,

      Hi, Anne
      thanks for this. I like the phrase ’roundabouts and swings’ too.
      have a good weekend
      dina xx