The experience of survivors of psychiatry in Brazil

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Mad in Brasil. The author, Mariana Witte Lins, is a psychiatric survivor and moderator of an online peer support group for women in psychiatric drug withdrawal.

me I spent years of my life thinking that mental disorders were diseases like any other, and that this idea was unquestionable to anyone from a scientific point of view. I had a psychiatric diagnosis myself, which made a lot of sense to me. It was at a conference at an Asylum Week event that I realized I was wrong. In it, I discovered that academics, health professionals, and former psychiatric patients have long pointed to the lack of scientific evidence that the phenomena we call mental disorders have any biological basis, and have denounced the harmful consequences of different types of psychiatric interventions.

Since then, I began to see myself as a survivor after realizing that I had suffered various forms of violence during the psychiatric hospitalizations I was subjected to, as well as developing various health problems from being on psychiatric drugs since I was 16. years. .

I researched the substances I took through The Withdrawal Project website,
created by American survivor Laura Delano. This website also has one
platform called The Withdrawal Project Connect, which allows people who suffer from unpleasant physical or psychological effects and who want to stop or reduce the use of psychiatric drugs to talk and exchange strategies for dealing with the difficulties inherent in this process, which weighs heavily on a body that has adapted to drugs.

And in 2022, two Brazilian survivors decided to create a WhatsApp group inspired by this initiative, so that we could also have this exchange space in Portuguese. This was the first time, as far as we know, that Brazilian psychiatric survivors met.

In Brazil, historically we don’t have survivor movements, only movements of
Users of RAPS (Ateno Psicosocial Network). What differentiates Brazilian user movements from survivor movements that exist around the world is that, while users understand that they have an illness that needs treatment and demand that this treatment be humanized, psychiatric survivors understand that they are not sick and that asking your questions, which are not biological in nature, since the objects of medicine is something inherently inhuman.

I soon joined the group, which allows women on retreat or to think
drug withdrawal to exchange information about the substance used and how to reduce it, as well as strategies to cope with the difficult symptoms that arise in the process. The search for a professional to properly monitor the reduction process is encouraged and the idea is not to offer medical advice, but to provide support. Over time, the group also became a space for sharing about adverse experiences with psychiatry in general.

There are several common difficulties. One of them is that psychiatrists usually don’t
recognize problems caused by drugs, even when they appear on the medication leaflet itself, or when they are symptoms of akathisia, a syndrome that the DSM itself already recognizes as caused by psychiatric drugs. Desperate to get rid of it
Symptoms, many patients try to stop taking the medication at once, developing withdrawal symptoms and are blamed, hearing psychiatrists that this would be the disease that would return, even when the symptoms have nothing to do with it. Even when they find a professional who is willing to withdraw the medication, they are usually not aware of the existence of a safe way to do so.

Another challenge is finding psychologists who have some knowledge of the harm that psychiatric drugs cause and who do not interpret the choice not to use them as resistance to treatment. Allegations of violence committed by professionals and adverse experiences with psychiatric medications are invalidated. Even professionals who claim to be critical of psychiatry are only so until the patient reaches a psychiatric issue such as suicide, self-mutilation, or hearing voices. When patients try to bring any of these issues to the psychologist, in an attempt to dig deeper, they listen. Are you taking your medication? or have you told your psychiatrist? implying that these are issues that should only be medicated, not verbalized, and blaming the person for what they are experiencing: if they still feel this way, it is because they must be doing something wrong, not following the treatment. This does not match the reality, as many patients have been taking medication for years and feel that they are only getting worse.

Therefore, many survivors who want to work on their problems forego psychotherapy. In my case, I only went back to therapy when I saw a psychologist posting about the psychiatry survivor movement on Instagram, because I wanted a professional who believed in me. So I was able to delve into years of trauma caused by psychiatric hospitalizations and violence. suffered by health professionals. Seeing that violence for what it is, violence, makes all the difference. It is rare for a psychologist to recognize that another professional committed violence, as he usually assumes in advance that the specialist, who possesses the knowledge, was correct and the diagnosed person irrational and wrong.

In CAPS, unfortunately the situation is often the same as in the private sector. In addition to not knowing how to withdraw the medication and repeating the same speech of guilt,
professionals coerce users to consume psychiatric drugs, either by making their participation in other CAPS activities conditional on drug consumption, or by threatening the involuntary hospitalization of those who do not want it.

One point that is clear in the reports of survivors is that suffering and reactions
caused by physical, sexual or psychological violence, common in women’s lives, are
pathologized It is possible to see this in cases where a survivor’s anger is read as inappropriate because it upsets the psychiatrist and the abusive family, for example. The focus of the interventions, in turn, is entirely on the behavior of the victims. In fact, allegations of violence came up so much in our group that this was one of the reasons for the vote that only women would enter. Many said they were uncomfortable with the risk of men invalidating their stories, something they’ve experienced before, even with health professionals. Another interesting point is that more women are also appearing on our Instagram page, many making it clear that they are feminists. Feminists are already used to institutions that claim to be neutral but in fact serve the interests of the patriarchy.

But not all survivors were pathologized for being victims of violence. Some report experiencing a particularly difficult or stressful period, visiting a psychiatrist and ending up much worse than when they arrived at the office, with symptoms they had never experienced before. What unites survivors is the quest to rethink what psychiatry has put on them and, in many cases, the experience of a process of demedicalization of their own suffering, through critical reflection on their own history. When we understand that our problems are not caused by an illness, we open the door to building new meanings. Stories that used to be I’m deeply sad because I have depression can become I’m deeply sad because I really experienced a very sad situation.

The experience of exchange between women who have been through the same situation or who simply show themselves available and in solidarity with the pain of the other, shows that a medical diagnosis is not necessary for the suffering to be recognized and validated, nor because exchanges occur between people with the same situation.

Today, this group has already reached its maximum capacity, with 15 participants, due to the limitations of the WhatsApp format and the ability of the moderators, who ensure that no dangerous behavior, such as abrupt withdrawal from any drug, is encouraged. encourage new survivor groups to organize to address the issue of psychiatric drugs or other issues. We are open to exchanges, sending reports and building projects on Instagram @sobreviventesdapsiquiatria.

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Mad in America hosts blogs from a diverse group of writers. These publications are designed to serve as a public forum for broad discussion of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are those of the writers.

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