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anti-psychiatry movement

Don Weitz believes 'all psychiatric labels are a fraud - they're forms of character assassination.' Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and MailKevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

In 1951, Don Weitz was diagnosed with schizophrenia, committed to a psychiatric hospital for 15 months and subjected to 110 sub-coma insulin shocks, a now-discredited treatment that provoked convulsions and left him virtually comatose.

He recovered from the ordeal, but never forgot - or forgave. In the years that followed, Mr. Weitz studied psychology and worked in the psychiatric-care system, but what he witnessed and learned served only to radicalize him further.

"It took me almost 20 years to understand my forced psychiatric incarceration and forced treatment in political terms, 20 years to understand that I was not a 'mental patient' but a political prisoner of psychiatry," he says.

And, for three decades since, Mr. Weitz has been a leader in the small but vocal anti-psychiatry movement.

Today, at the age of 78, he is a leader of the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA), a Toronto-based group that largely rejects mainstream treatments such as prescription drugs, electroconvulsive therapy and psychiatric therapy.

Mr. Weitz, for his part, does not even accept that conditions like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia exist. "All psychiatric labels are a fraud - they're forms of character assassination," he says. "Lots of people act weird. They're different. It doesn't mean they have a disease."

If people are sad or suicidal, he says, they can choose to undergo psychotherapy, or accept that there are different forms of reality and they don't have to conform to a rigid societal norm.

Mr. Weitz says psychiatry is part of a "vicious social control system" designed to keep people like him quiet. Aside from the insulin-shock treatments and a single drug treatment (with thorazine, an anti-psychotic), he has never undergone treatment.

The main critique of anti-psychiatry activists, of course, is that they are ill and the skepticism (or paranoia) they express about treatment is part and parcel of the illness. "People say: 'You're crazy. Why should we believe you?' It's a very dismissive attitude. I wish they would stop being blinded by labels like 'crazy' and look at the evidence," Mr. Weitz says.

The evidence, he says, is that drugs such as anti-psychotics don't cure anything - they act as a "chemical lobotomy."

Mr. Weitz concedes that many people swear by these treatments and, like him, they should have a choice of whether to be treated. But he says the choice is illusory. "I'm all for choice, but there's no informed choice in psychiatry. All the treatments are brain-damaging."