Threatening Families:
Another Twist on Psychiatry's Main Theme
John Breeding, PhD
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On December 21, 2000, Allison Haines, a 33-year-old mother of three, was "scared, apprehensive, had weird thoughts, felt like her family was against her, felt shaky, had hallucinations confusing TV with reality, was slurring words." She said that she felt very frightened that her family was against her, and worried that her husband might be hurting her children. According to her family, she was also behaving very silly and childlike, "acting like an outgoing 2-year-old." Mrs. Haines and her family met with Dr. Allen, the psychiatrist with whom she had been working for the previous four months. Dr. Allen sent her for an evaluation at St. David's Hospital which reportedly found no medical problem. Dr. Allen recommended psychiatric hospitalization at that point. Mrs. Haines did not want this, nor did her husband. The psychiatrist requested an involuntary commitment.

Coercion is fundamental to our mental health system, the foundation stone of institutional psychiatry. Involuntary commitment is a well-established practice in all of our 50 states, the logical action of a system mandated to fulfill the legal and philosophical doctrine of parens patriae, the modern equivalent of the divine right of kings to decide what is best for their less divine subjects. Psychiatry has been anointed and royally supported by the therapeutic state to take care of those who are deemed unable to handle such responsibility for themselves. These needy unfortunates are, of course, those we call "mentally ill." The position of the state is that the need of the mentally ill for care, together with the need to protect other citizens who are not mentally ill, supercedes the usual constitutional safeguards for freedom, liberty, and legal due process.

The facts reported in the above description of Allison Haines' situation on December 21, 2000 are accurate. Given these facts, and given the societal directive that psychiatry act as responsible state "parents" of those designated as mentally ill, Dr. Allen's decision to pursue a court-ordered involuntary commitment of Allison Haines would be considered entirely appropriate by her profession and by our country's courts. In fact, the psychiatrist would probably be considered negligent to do otherwise. Variations on this story are constantly occurring throughout these United States. Every year, thousands upon thousands of citizens are involuntarily incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals, or forced to take psychiatric drugs against their will as part of their involuntary outpatient commitment (IOC).

Another form of psychiatric coercion has come on the scene in recent decades. Since 1970, psychiatry has turned its eyes on children in our schools. In 30 years, the number of our school age children on psychiatric drugs has increased from about 200,000 to an estimated 8,000,000; that is a 4000% increase. Part and parcel of that dramatic increase has been the systematic pressure placed on parents to administer psychiatric drugs to their children. Most of this pressure has been somewhat covert, but it has not been uncommon to threaten parents with school dismissal of their child. Lately, the coercion has gotten worse.

Two New York families can attest to the fact that parents are increasingly being accused of child abuse or neglect and threatened with removal of their child from the home if they refuse to give their child prescribed psychiatric drugs. Jill and Michael Carroll were concerned that their son, Kyle, was sleeping only five hours a night and eating only one meal a day. So they told school officials they wanted to take Kyle off the Ritalin for two weeks to see if that helped. Sounds reasonable, but that's when they got a call, and then a visit, from a Child Protective Services worker, based on a complaint from Kyle's school guidance counselor. The charge was "Child abuse," in the form of "medical neglect." The Albany Times Union (May 7, 2000) reports the Carrolls are now on a statewide list of alleged child abusers, and find themselves "thrust into an Orwellian family court battle to clear their name and ensure their child isn't removed from their home." This February, Tammy Kubiak of Buffalo, New York, lost custody of her 12-year-old son for taking him off of three psychiatric drugs which she reports were making him "zombie-like."

As I stated earlier, the facts in the above story of Allison Haines are accurate. Such "facts" are representative of case reports used to justify abrogation of civil liberties as part of forced psychiatric treatment. Anyone interested in investigating such reports should know that more important than what is said is what is left unsaid. In this case, I can fill in a great deal more of the story.

I met with Allison Haines and with her family on February 26, 2001, for an evaluation of her psychological condition, and for an evaluation of the well-being of her children. Mrs. Haines is a 33-year-old mother of three wonderful daughters. The girls appear to be quite happy. They enjoy being together, and they all do very well in school, as indicated by report cards and teacher reports. Allison and her husband, Gary, have been married five years. They are devoted to each other and to the three girls.

Mrs. Haines' life has not been easy. She was physically and sexually abused as a child; her hard work during a period of professional counseling about eight years ago reportedly helped a great deal to heal around the traumas of her childhood. She spent a few years as a working single mother; now the Haines' marriage has resulted in the kind of family life Allison desired for herself and her children. Especially difficult, however, was the chronic illness she suffered from.

Systemic Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that may affect many organ systems including the skin, joints, and internal organs. Lupus symptoms tend to be exacerbated by stress; prolonged flare-ups usually involve great discomfort, pain and fatigue, and can lead to complications with various organ systems. Mrs. Haines had been suffering from a prolonged Lupus for quite awhile when she began taking Prednisone, a corticosteroid medication about one year ago. After six months, she was still experiencing many troubling symptoms. In July of 2000 her complications and pain forced her to stop working and forgo her salary and vital source of income for the family. Complaining to her general practitioner that she felt depressed, he prescribed 10 mg of Paxil, a so-called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). A month later, in August, she was referred to a psychiatrist, Dr. Allen, who in the all too typical 15 minute session diagnosed her as suffering from "mild depression," and increased her dosage of Paxil to 40 mg.

Although an MRI brain scan in July had been clear, Mrs. Haines on made a decision in September to leave her job in an attempt to reduce the stress which exacerbated her illness. The family could live on Gary's salary; the additional income of Allison's good job with Apple Computer was not worth the risks and discomfort of a downward spiral of worsening symptoms of her illness.

Shortly after the increased Paxil dosage, Mrs. Haines was prescribed Hydrocodone, a narcotic analgesic, for pain by her family doctor. Despite leaving her job, and despite the Prednisone, Ms. Haines continued to experience painful and debilitating flare-ups of the Lupus. Her depression seemed to get worse, and sleep disturbance became a major problem. Another consultation with Dr. Allen in October resulted in an additional prescription of Trazodone, an antidepressant with sedative properties, 100-200 mg per night. Mrs. Haines was now taking Prednisone, Paxil, Hydrocodone, Trazodone, and two other medications from her general practitioner to help with Lupus symptoms.

Her symptoms reportedly continued to get worse: she felt "scared, apprehensive, had weird thoughts, felt like her family was against her, felt shaky, had hallucinations confusing TV with reality, was slurring words." she said that she felt very frightened that her family was against her, and was experiencing nightmares and night sweats. These symptoms are all listed adverse reactions of the Paxil, trazodone and hydrocodone. On December 18, Mrs. Haines and her family met with Dr. Allen. Allison told me that she feeling tremendous fear at this time, and worry that her husband might be hurting her children. Dr. Allen now prescribed Risperdal, an extremely potent neuroleptic, used for its "antipsychotic" effects.

Mrs. Haines reports that, by three days later, she had "totally lost it." According to her family, she was now also behaving very silly and childlike, "acting like an outgoing 2-year-old." Mr. Haines called Dr. Allen who met with them and referred her for an evaluation at St. David's Hospital which reportedly found no medical problem. According to Mr. Haines, the doctors there were unresponsive to his repeatedly expressed concern that his wife's symptoms might be due to the medications she was taking. While this seems astounding, it is a tragically common occurrence to find that doctors are oblivious to the realities of the effects of psychiatric drugs and their interactions. Ironically, the fact that St. David's also has a large psychiatric wing would actually tend to lessen any tendency of its emergency medical staff to be sensitive and aware of psychopharmacology. This counter-intuitive assertion is due to the fact that psychiatry assumes that "mental" problems are due to biologically or genetically based "mental illness," mental disease sufficient to explain psychiatric symptoms. Believers in biopsychiatry tend, therefore, to ignore both genuine medical conditions, and, more to the point here, to attribute symptoms of drug effects or drug withdrawal to the alleged mental illness. Dr. Allen recommended psychiatric hospitalization at that point. Mrs. Haines did not want this; the hospital called in the mental health deputies who evaluated Mrs. Haines and concluded that she was not a danger to herself or others, whereupon she was released.

Upon leaving the hospital, the Haines began researching for themselves the drugs she was taking, and discovered that the literature reported a variety of drug effects and drug interactions which were consistent with the symptoms she was experiencing. A search on the website, drkoop.com, reported at least 11 clinically dangerous drug interactions, including one considered potentially fatal, indicating that the combination of trazodone and Paxil may lead to serotonin syndrome (i.e., agitation, confusion, myoclonus, tremor, sweating, seizures, coma). Most of the others emphasized the additive or synergistic effects of the drug combinations. This was enough to convince Mrs. Haines that she should discontinue her drug regimen; with her husband's support, she began a program of gradual drug withdrawal. She reports that in a very short time her symptoms abated, and she was restored to her ordinary state of consciousness prior to beginning Paxil. The information that mild depression was also an effect of Prednisone, and the understanding that it was an expected aspect in response to the chronic stress of physical illness, has also helped the Haines to be more at ease with their situation.

Lack of authentic informed consent is a huge problem in psychiatry. Patients are routinely given insufficient information about the drugs prescribed for them. As is evident in Allison Haines' case, they are not told about the grave dangers of drug combining. For example, consider the findings, as reported by Ann Tracy in Prozac: Panacea or Pandora, that mixing three drugs can give patients a 50% chance of a drug interaction and mixing six makes it extremely likely that an accumulation of SSRIs in the brain results in at least a 10 fold magnification of other drugs or that one alcoholic drink would have the effect of 40 with Paxil.

On January 30, 2001, the Haines filed a complaint with the Texas State board of Medical Examiners against Dr. Allen. The next day, the Board of Examiners sent letters to the Haines and to Dr. Allen stating that they had accepted the complaint and would be making an investigation into Allison's case. On February 12th, a complaint was filed against them with Adult and Child Protective Services of the Texas Department of Human Resources and Services (DHRS). The APS charge was dropped after an initial visit. The CPS investigation included a surprise school interview with their oldest daughter, which included questions about whether her mother was acting weird, and whether her step-father had been inappropriate with her in any way sexually.

The Haines' conviction that the timing of the DHRS complaints was more than coincidence has been verified by Dr. Allen's narrative summary of Alllison's case, shared with this author by Mrs. Haines. No doubt, in a fashion similar to her request for involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for Mrs. Haines, Dr. Allen and her profession would consider the DHRS complaint completely ethical and justified given Allison's bizarre behavior and fears about her husband. That the complaint was filed in February rather than in December when she last saw the family belies this argument, however. The vastly greater ethical outrage is that the entire situation was created by administration of a polyglot of toxic drugs under the guise of medicine. Subsequent failure to consider that the patient's symptoms had nothing to do with mental illness, but were wholly an iatrogenic effect of this psychiatrist's practice, made matters worse. Any trauma that the Haines children suffered as a result of this experience is not due to abuse or neglect caused by Allison's wrongfully diagnosed mental illness or the false accusations of her husband's pedophilia; it is a direct consequence of the effect of dangerous pseudoscientific biopsychiatric practice. The misguided efforts to coerce Allison into treatment and to threaten the family with removal of the children when they chose not to comply with the doctor's demands caused even more harm to everyone in the family.

I met with all three girls, and they obviously enjoyed each other's company and cared for each other. They reported being scared and confused during late December and January when their mother was having such a hard time and acting "funny," but they all seemed satisfied by the explanation that it was due to drug effects. They also all agreed that the family situation was good now, and that their mother was acting quite normal. Though quite frightened by the CPS investigation, they seemed to be handling it well. I was favorably impressed by the parents' open and honest discussion with the girls. Meeting privately with the girls, they assured me that they liked their family, and wanted to stay together. They all said they liked their step-father, Gary, and that he did not hurt them or act inappropriately sexually in any way. The girls appear to be thriving; they all have excellent report cards for this year, including the last six weeks. Mrs. Haines, and all of her family, were extremely relieved to find out the day after I met with her family that CPS was closing their investigation.

It remains to be seen whether the Board of Medical Examiners will find any wrong-doing in the complaint filed against Dr. Allen by the Haines. Amazingly enough, the standard of "customary and usual practice" is such that they may find no fault with her handling of this case. Nevertheless, it is clear to anyone with eyes to see that Allison Haines was harmed by the polypharmacy practiced on her. Had it not been for the grace of a menial health deputy and the strength she and her husband showed in resisting coercion, it could have been much worse. Furthermore, this family's life was violated by the DHRS investigations instigated by Dr. Allen; again, there are countless ways in which this outcome could have been worse.

The simple truth is that Mrs. Haines' drug regimen while under Dr. Allen's care is entirely sufficient to explain the distressing symptoms she was experiencing in December and January. That the symptoms left when she withdrew from the drugs clearly corroborates this opinion. Another simple but harsh truth, illustrated above in this story of Allison Haines, is that psychiatry's role in the therapeutic state is expanding even more into the lives of individuals and families. All who value freedom, liberty, and the integrity of families need to know this, and to resist the iron hand of coercive psychiatry, however hidden it may be under the velvet glove of social and medical benevolence. (Allison and Gary Haines, and Dr. Allen are pseudonyms).