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Florida Museum Calls Psychiatry “Industry Of Death”

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Photo: Health News Florida

“Think psychiatry has nothing to do with you? Think again. The whole field of psychiatry has gotten into every facet of your life.” That scary voice is just one of many you’ll hear when you walk inside the modest storefront museum in downtown Clearwater, sponsored by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. The group, founded by the Church of Scientology, calls the museum “Psychiatry: Industry of Death.”

It’s a quiet, office-like setting, with soft lights on its 18 exhibits. Displays include historical photos, posters and flat-screen TVs playing dramatic videos on the evils of psychiatry. On the videos, people talk about being hurt by the mental-health system. Some professionals on screen agree.
American University psychology professor Jeffrey Schaler said psychiatrists and drug companies have a distorted view. “They basically believe that everyone is mentally ill,” he said.

Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, author of “The Myth of Mental Illness,” died in 2012. But his image lives on in the museum, chiding colleagues for turning every human failing into a treatment opportunity. “You smoke too much it’s a disease. You’re too unhappy it’s a disease. You’re too thin, it’s a disease. You’re too fat, it’s a disease,” said Szasz.

The exhibits cover 19th and early 20th century horrors, including asylums and lobotomies, along with modern scandals in insurance fraud and pharmaceutical monopolies. The museum, right down to its name, is modeled after one the Church of Scientology opened in Los Angeles decades ago. If there is anything positive to say about psychiatry, you won’t find it here.

Several state and national mental-health groups turned down our request to review the videos at the museum. They said they don’t want any hassles with Scientology, which has a reputation for litigation.

One who did speak is Stephen Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta, where he studies new religions. He said Scientology’s founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard, tried to get recognition for his alternative approach to mental health in the 1960s. But after the medical profession snubbed his ideas, he declared war. “Hubbard was increasingly frustrated with why Scientology wasn’t being adopted mainstream and he wound up blaming psychiatry,” said Kent.

Kent said the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, CCHR for short, makes some valid points about early mistakes in psychiatric treatment and about today’s pop-a-pill culture. But he says it doesn’t credit recent advances in diagnosis and treatment of severe mental illness. “You’ll never see, never, a single word of praise for psychiatry in CCHR,” said Kent.

Diane Stein, executive director of the Citizens Commission in Florida, said the museum is just one facet of her group’s work. Trained volunteers staff a hotline for patients who say they are being held in a hospital against their will or who think their pills may be harming them.
Stein said her group is not opposed to all mental-health treatment, just the part that’s unnecessary. “We’re a mental health watchdog group, ok here’s the abuse, correct this, fix this, but we also want to be part of the solution,” said Stein.

The museum includes some controversial exhibit including one that links prescription drugs to mass murder. With each mass shooting, the video displays the name of the gunman and the psychoactive drugs he was prescribed. It builds to a frenzy.

Wayne Hilton of Tampa doesn’t agree with the group’s message because of what happened to his son. The boy began hearing voices at 15, and developed fears that Nazis were taking over the world. “He was trapped in his delusions, he couldn’t get out,” said Hilton.
Now that his son is on psychiatric drugs, Hilton said, he’s stable and nearing high-school graduation. Hilton says psychiatry is not an “Industry of death.”

“They saved my son’s life. I guarantee you if we had not gotten my son to the right hospital, to the right psychiatrist, to the right medication, he would not be alive today. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.

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