We are writing to ask you not for any time or money but simply to co-endorse our call for Congressional Hearings about psychiatric diagnosis in an attempt to explore the nature and extent of harm that many Americans have suffered solely because of being given a psychiatric label. The aim of the hearings would be to find ways to prevent this harm, beginning with a clear-sighted examination of the totally unregulated nature of psychiatric diagnosis. Many people have the mistaken impression that the Food and Drug Administration oversees psychiatric diagnosis, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2002 and 2003, two Congressional Briefings were held on this subject, co-sponsored by a dozen groups concerned with health matters and by New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.
This call is not an attack on or a questioning of psychotherapy or even diagnosis across the board but simply an attempt to draw attention to this minimally-investigated enterprise of psychiatric diagnosis and to find ways to protect people from the harm that can result. The kinds of harm have included loss of the right to make decisions about one’s legal and medical affairs, loss of health insurance or sky-high premiums, loss of child custody, and plummeting of self-confidence.
This issue affects people across the spectrum, regardless of social class, education, sex, race, and age.
Few laypeople or even therapists realize that psychiatric diagnosis is not a scientific endeavor, although some of the most powerful people and organizations in the mental health field assert that it is. As a result, millions of people who seek help because they are suffering have no idea that they are not being diagnosed in scientific ways and thus that their treatment largely lacks a scientific basis; nor do they know that in important ways their treatment may be experimental because they are given labels that may not stand for anything that has been proven to exist. Furthermore, although drugs can be helpful for some people, it is important for the public and their therapists to know that they are often prescribed to treat diagnostic “entities” that may not even exist. Patients have a right to try anything that might help them, including medication, but it is essential that they do so after being fully informed of the limitations of the diagnostic labels that are usually the basis for therapists’ treatment recommendations.
The absence of science creates a vacuum, and biases and distortions rush in. This happens in three ways:
1. Such biases as racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and homophobia powerfully affect psychiatric diagnosis, becoming partial determinants of who gets a psychiatric label and of the seriousness of the label that is chosen.
2. Serious problems such as depression are overlooked as people are diagnosed with unproven “mental illnesses” such as Compulsive Shopping Disorder or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.
3. Many people who are suffering because of social problems like poverty or because they are victims of hate speech or violence are wrongly treated as though the problems come from within them.
Why Congressional Hearings?
First and foremost, the purpose of a Call for Congressional Hearings is to put psychiatric diagnosis, with its problems and possible solutions, on the national, public agenda.
There are many reasons for choosing the Congressional Hearings route, related to numerous ways this is a federal issue.
What Can You Do?
All we ask of you is that you grant permission to have your name or that of your organization listed as a co-endorser of this Call for Congressional Hearings which we want to issue in the form of a press release.
Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., Director
Coalition for Informed Patients and Doctors
26 Alpine St., Cambridge, MA 02138
* This is the slightly edited text of the request for endorsers that was sent to a small number of organizations and people in the fall of 2004.