Mental Health: The Alternative Textbook

Mental Health – the alternative textbook is a revision and renaming of Psychiatry – the alternative textbook (published in 2009). Volume 1: The Failure of the Medical Model is a critique of standard mental health procedures and the dubious beliefs that determine the forms they take.





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Whereas in general medicine there is a push for evidence-based practice, in mental health this is largely ignored. None of the categories of mental health diagnosis – i.e., of functional mental disorder (the so-said mental illnesses) – are endorsed by sound medical science; they simply correspond roughly to particular behavioural signs and what patients say they perceive, feel and believe.

Nor is psychiatric medicine demonstrably efficacious: research finds that where patients’ conditions sometimes seem to improve with medical treatment, it is not measurably more than by placebo or no treatment at all. Moreover, and despite the dogmatic assertions of the professionals, there is no biochemical or genetic evidence to support the perennially seductive ‘medical model’ of mental illness.

On the other hand, when they enter the mental health system, it is routine for distraught and confused people to find themselves stigmatised, isolated and subjected to procedures that are often unhelpful and even detrimental to their emotional, mental or physical wellbeing. This persuades us that psychiatry’s so-called medical model is essentially an ill-conceived and wishful response to the universal dread of emotional and mental chaos – that the main thrust of today’s ‘good practice’ is oppressive to the suffering individual but serves first of all to quieten the fears of everybody else.

In short, no matter how fine the intentions of the officials, we cannot avoid concluding that psychiatry and the wider mental health response wears the mask of scientific medicine so as to work the levers of an overbearing social power.

In 1986 the three main collaborators on this book founded Asylum – a magazine for democratic psychiatry. Run by a loose collective of volunteers, this continues as an independent, non-partisan forum for the expression of the views of anyone with an interest in mental health issues, whether a current or former patient or service-user, any kind of mental health worker, a carer, or simply an interested member of the public.

Alec Jenner, MB, ChB, PhD, FRCP, FRCPsych, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry (Sheffield), Profesor Visitante (Conception, Chile), practiced for fifty years and was one of the leading psychiatrists of his generation. After qualifying in medicine he was recruited to psychiatry for his expertise in biochemical research. In 1967 he was appointed Professor at Sheffield and manager of the psychiatric services for the whole of the Trent Region – a population of six million. Meanwhile, he had carried out the first double-blind UK trials on Librium and Valium, and was made Honoury Director of the UK’s Medical Research Council Units for Chemical Pathology of Mental Disorders and for Metabolic Studies in Psychiatry. Alec Jenner was also instrumental in a number of reforms. In particular, he initiated Sheffield’s Phoenix House Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Unit (the second biggest in the country) and established the city’s specialist psychogeriatric service. He was the first Western psychiatrist to draw the public’s attention to the political use of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. In light of the accumulating evidence, and in opposition to the prevailing but unproven and often harmful ‘medical model’, Professor Jenner came to advocate a humanistic kind of social psychiatry. A regular contributor to Asylum, his vision, organisational skills and financial help were vital in setting-up the magazine and keeping it going.

Lin Bigwood, RMN, BA (Hons), MA (York), Dip Couns began psychiatric nursing as a cadet, more than forty years ago. After nursing for some years, she took a degree in Sociology and later a master’s degree in Social Policy. She has experience of working and managing in many areas of psychiatry, counting nine acute admission wards (including forensic) and A&E. In 1984 Lin was a Nurse Tutor when she organised an international conference on the government’s proposals to close down the big old psychiatric hospitals and introduce Care in the Community. At the plenum of the conference it was decided to establish a magazine (Asylum) so as to continue openly debating mental health issues. At about the same time, she heard from some patients (and then some staff) that two senior psychiatrists had been sexually assaulting female patients for many years. In order to discredit and silence her when she ‘blew the whistle’ on this abuse and its cover-up, in 1986 managers and executives in local, regional and national organisations of the NHS, in a university, and in her trade union conspired to have her sacked, thereby terminating her high-flying nursing career. She was only able to return to nursing in 1997, when the political climate had thawed and the police finally began to investigate and confirm the existence of the long-running abuse.

Phil Virden, MA (Oxon), MA (Leics), won a scholarship to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He then took an MA in Sociology at Leicester. For ten years he was a lecturer in Sociology at York University. In response to his outspoken democratic and critical activities, when the Conservatives were elected in 1979 his academic and teaching career was soon terminated by his being illegally sacked and blacklisted. He has since made his way in a variety of occupations, but for more than thirty years he also channelled a commitment to the struggle for human rights into the movement for democracy in psychiatry. He was Executive Editor of Asylum magazine for its first six years, and also did most of the typing, design, lay-out and secretarial work. He still contributes to the magazine, and in 2008 once again became Executive Editor.

  • Kitty Zinovieff ,

    Can this be bought as a real life paper book?