CHILD PSYCHIATRY IN MADRID: LABELING AND DRUGGING CHILDHOOD AS A "MENTAL ILLNESS"
Lucia Ortiz is a schoolteacher in Madrid who discovered for herself the truth about psychiatry. Teaching in a children’s psychiatric day program (a mental health facility where children with behavioral troubles go to school and receive “treatment” five days a week), Ms. Ortiz observed that psychiatry is bereft of any understanding of children, their needs and their problems and that its methods and “treatments” are anyting but therapeutic—on the contrary, it appeared that the purpose of the staff at the hospital where she taught was not to help children recover from their various traumas, but to find reasons to keep them at the hospital indefinitely, on the assumption that they were somehow “broken” and incapable of recovery. However, in her contact with the children, she discovered how simple it sometimes can be to help a troubled child. When she discovered CCHR, she knew she’d found an organization that shared her concern for children’s safety and through which she could tell her story:
The day before I started teaching at the hospital, I met with a representative from the Education Council (the state bureau in charge of schools and education) to get briefed about the job. The first thing this person told me was that I should not worry since all the children were on medication. Contrary to this suggestion, the fact that the children were on “medication” was exactly what worried me.
What I found at the hospital was a group of extraordinarily sensitive, smart and intuitive children, aged eight to 18 years old who had all been labeled with psychiatric diagnoses such as “adaptation disorder,” “ADHD” (one of the most common ones) and “oppositional defiant disorder.” They often came from very difficult and challenging family backgrounds, ranging from divorced parents, new step parents and step siblings to more serious and harmful conditions.
Few, if any, of the children I interacted with would have fit the description of “mental patient.” However, they all fit the description of “child,” with all the accompanying needs, difficulties, behaviors and feelings that accompany being a child.
There was a very special girl name Elisa at the hospital who was recovering from an eating disorder (early on, she was fitted with a tube to facilitate force feeding). However, in three months her recovery was spectacular. She did not need the tube anymore, her hair was strong and ther physical appearance began to change for the better. While I do not wish to imply that I was the source of her recovery, I do feel that I played a part in it. While the general “climate” at the hospital was not one of encouragement and support, in class, I did encourage and support Elisa and her resurgence was coincident with that encouragement and support. She told me she felt very quiet and in calm when in my classes.
Admittedly she still had some conflicts with regard to her grades, which her psychiatrist often characterized as a fault: Elisa’s being excessively demanding of herself. However, after meeting with the teachers from her public school, I understand why Elisa had such a high level of self-demand. It was not due to a psychiatric condition; her school was simply extremely academically demanding!
I met Elisa again out of the school a few months after she left the hospital. She appeared to be in very good health but was facing the usual problems any teenager in the world would have. She told me in more detail about the whole process she had been through at the hospital. It seemed that the doctors did not allow her to move forward but rather kept reminding her about her past “disorders” and problems.
This was not news to me. I had learned early on in my employment at the hospital that the staff generally had a very low opinion of the children they were supposedly there to care for. I observed that many of the staff felt the children were incapable of improvement and actively, if covertly, transmitted this idea to the students. This is the culture of the psychiatric hospital.
Though eleven-year-old Daniel had been been labeled as having had a “psychotic attack,” his public school teachers could not understand why he was at the hospital. Neither could I. However, I later found out that the reason for the diagnosis was that this boy was talking to Jesus or God. It’s was apparently never taken into account that Daniel, like many Spanish people, is Catholic. It is very common for people with this background to pray to God, Jesus, Mary or the numerous saints existing within the Catholic religion.
In any of the meetings at the hospital which I attended, his therapist said that Daniel and his family needed to accept that he has an illness. I never noticed anything strange about him in all the days we spent together in class. (Using psychiatry’s rationale, all devout Catholics are actually psychotic and need to see the psychiatrist, who will prescribe them psychiatric drugs.)
Furthermore, on my last day at the hospital, Daniel was very affectionate, embracing me. His therapist told us to stop it and not to be “improper.” Sadly, this was the very reason the staff used to keep him at the hospital long past his projected release: not being “proper.”
Isabel was 14 years old and labeled “schizophrenic.” The only thing I noticed in her during the daily hour we met in class, was that in general, she was a bit slow to talk, to think, to act...understandable for a person who is full of psychiatric drugs. One of the side effects of the pills she was given paralyzation of the lips. (If it paralyzes your lips, what does it do to your brain?) Writing about herself for a poetry contest, she wrote "my life has been the least desirable for a 14 year old girl." When I read this, I knew she was not "crazy." She had been bullied at school and so to survive the terrible suffering she was undergoing, she imagined another world for herself. It seemed that later she suffered from “hallucinations” but if you read the side effects of some of the drugs these children are given, “hallucinations” is one of them. She admits with her friends having imagined and created a “parallel world” to survive the bullying.
I could give numerous examples of children I met in the hospital who suffered with real problems (social, familial, emotional) or who merely thought, felt or behaved in a way which the local mental health practitioner found to be objectionable and evidence of a “mental disorder.” However, what I found was that children responded to (and correspondingly improved) through understanding, encouragement and stability—things which they will never likely get from the majority of staff at a psychiatric hospital.
I quit teaching in the hospital in September 2010 because it was seemingly impossible to do anything positive with regard to the general institution, the therapists, the heavy drugs the children were receiving and the deep pessimism of the specialists in charge of their care. My hope for these children is that their families seek out and find the many alternative treatment methods, which would have a favorable outcome and not require one to be on drugs for the rest of their lives. It is vital that one identify the sources of their problems and find the solutions as they go through life. Having one’s problems “drugged away” is not a solution.