IMAGINE a world in which the state keeps compulsory psychiatric records of all its citizens dating from birth. A world in which the only mode of treatment is drugs and electroconvulsive shock therapy. A world in which dissident voices, outspoken critics, different points of view are swept away behind a curtain of secrecy, conformity and denial while natural remedies, peer counselling and psychological support services are banned. If plans by South Africa’s Psychiatric Consortium are to be taken seriously, then a nation-wide programme of psychiatric intervention in the form of “aid to children of school-going age,” could result in a dystopian vision reminescent of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

The Information Age has advanced knowledge to such an extent, that technological progress is rapidly outpacing the ability of civil society to keep watch over those who claim to have our best interests at heart. South Africa’s privacy laws could simply disappear under mounting pressure from the authors of the latest Mental Health Care Act (2002) which promotes psychiatry as the “designated methodology” and fails to recognize alternative medicine and natural therapies.

 The consortium whose Mental Health and Poverty Project has produced a country report which advocates the development of a “national mental health information system, integrated with the district health management information system, based on a set of nationally agreed indicators and a minimum data set,” also fails to acknowledge the role that apartheid has played in the use/abuse of psychiatry, choosing rather to defer debate about the system of racial segregation until such time as it is “no longer a factor in mental health”.

 

In its outlining of the issue of treatment protocols, the report make no mention of freedom of choice, the right to engage in alternative modalities and treatment regimes and fails miserably to allow for various objections that members of the public may lodge with respect to religious, spiritual, and intellectual reasons. In a sense a Jehovah’s Witness could be forced to take blood under the current MHCA as it is currently implemented and while the rights of political activists are catered for, those who demand an end to pyschiatric coercion and alternatives to psychiatry are still considered beyond the pale.

 

Despite a history of psychiatric abuses by the state, and decades of repression under apartheid, South African’s are beginning to organise around consumer issues, and patient rights. In fact there is a vibrant local mad movement that has sprung out of the anti-psychiatry tradition formed during the sixties and seventies, and which has found common ground with the experience of user-survivors and groups such as MindFreedom International which is campaigning for human rights in the mental health system. This year saw the second annual Mad Pride event in South Africa, and the movement is becoming more vocal and outspoken, demanding alternatives, and an end to psychiatric interventions such as forced hospitalisation and outpatient commitment.

 

 

 

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