They Call This “Help”: One Man’s Tears and the Horrors of Canadian Institutional Psychiatry
By: Otto Douglas
I am an inmate of St. Joseph’s Psychiatric Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario. Although I am still trapped in the intricate web of the forensic “mental health” system, I consider myself a psychiatric survivor. After all, I’ve made it this far, but I realize that more time is needed before I’m finally able to extricate myself from the forces of psychiatric oppression. Before entering the system, I knew virtually nothing about the philosophy and practice of psychiatry. After about a year and a half of being subjected to an endless, humiliating barrage of psychological and physical abuse, I have come to loathe and despise this pernicious and evil form of pseudoscience.
At first, I fell into the deepest fog of despair I had ever experienced in my life, paralyzed by the emotional and physical pain I was forced to endure at the hands of my psychiatric keepers. Since I realised how evil psychiatry is, I now spend almost all of my waking moments completely devoted to making sense of the bizarre and irrational world in which I find myself. How, I wonder, are psychiatrists the world over allowed to abuse their "patients" with impunity? Any time I have to spare, I devote to spiritual matters.
Let me make myself clear: I want to see psychiatrists punished for the criminal frauds and quacks that they are, perhaps before an international tribunal similar to the Nuremberg trials. I vow to spend the rest of my life fighting this monstrous crime against humanity and hope to see the day when it is finally abolished. I believe that everyone who has suffered at the hands of psychiatry deserves compensation. I will do everything I can to speak out against it and to help those still trapped in this evil system. Unfortunately, until very recently, I didn't even know that such an abomination existed in what I had thought was a civilized society.
Who am I and what am I doing in this institution? This is my story.
I’m a middle class native of Brampton, Ontario. I first attended university in the mid-1990s. I started studying humanities but didn’t graduate until 2014. Originally, I wanted to study law at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, but for various reasons, enrolled in a master’s in education. But before I was able to begin my degree, I was arrested on a bail violation. What led up to this?
In 2013, I had been feuding with some neighbors. In August, they called the police and, although I claimed self-defense, I was arrested for a number of minor criminal offenses. The next day I was bailed out by my father, but we were forced to move and live elsewhere. About a year later, in August of 2014, I was arrested again but my father refused to bail me so I remained in the provincial jail while my lawyer and the crown negotiated a plea bargain. When I heard it involved about a year behind bars, I was horrified. I’d served about 20 days in prison some ten years before but this seemed totally unreasonable. I felt I could not survive this sentence so I asked about pleading not guilty. However, the lawyer felt I could lose and be sentenced to up to two years for “wasting the court’s time over a foregone conclusion.”
In desperation, I tried to find alternatives. Someone mentioned going to a mental hospital instead of remaining in jail. I was told by a number of former psychiatric inmates that inmates had their own rooms, could order takeout and play videogames. They said it was easier than doing time in jail.
"How hard would it be to get in?" I asked one of them.
“Not hard at all,” he said. “If you tell them that you’re suffering from auditory and visual hallucinations they’ll find you not criminally responsible (NCR).”
"Won’t they know I'm lying?" I asked. "Won’t they know I'm an imposter?"
"No," he said, "not at all. You can tell them you’re suffering from delusions and they’ll believe it almost without question. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any history of psychiatric illness or hospitalization, just make up some nonsense about hearing voices and they’ll swallow the whole thing hook, line and sinker. If you want a guaranteed, automatic NCR, tell them that you’re seeing things. They’ll really believe you then. And remember, they can’t prove whether you’re lying or not."
At the time, it seemed great but I now know this was the worst possible advice. I now realize I over-reacted to my fears. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I should have realised that if it was so easy, why wasn’t everybody doing it? But I was desperate to avoid jail so I didn’t look into it properly. I didn’t ask for “hospitalization,” I asked my lawyer to mitigate any sentence by requesting some form of mental health diversion. Apparently believing that my lawyer’s plea for mental health diversion was just malingering, the judge decided to have me transferred to the Waypoint Centre for Mental Healthcare in Penetanguishene for psychiatric assessment. I asked my lawyer how long this would take. He said it would probably take about as long as a jail sentence, maybe a bit longer. He did not tell me that once committed to a “hospital,” I could be held indefinitely. Nor did he tell me about such routine practices as forced administration of drugs and electroshock, or the mechanical restraints and solitary confinement that could be imposed as punishment for the most trivial infractions. If I had known this, I would never have gone this way.
At first, I found that the living conditions at the “hospital” appeared to be much better than jail. After all, you did have your own cell, as well as being able to order takeout and play videogames throughout the day. I did not know that these seemingly better conditions came at such a terrible price.
Sticking to my story, I lied to the examining psychiatrist about hearing voices and other perceptual disturbances. Even though I knew next to nothing about schizophrenia or any mental disorder, I told him about seeing purple elephants and men in pink bunny suits. Despite my fears, he appeared to believe everything I told him, no matter how ridiculous or improbable. Once again, no one told me that commitment was an indefinite sentence with involuntary treatment. I was never told of the dangers of their so-called “treatments.” Only much later did I learn that psychiatry was not really a branch of medicine, just a form of social and psychological coercion disguised as medical “treatment.”
In mid-January of 2015, I was found NCR by the presiding judge on the basis of the psychiatrist’s report. I was promptly returned to the “hospital.” At first, I did everything I was told. I embraced the sick role during the first few weeks of my “hospitalization,” but then ceased malingering and began acting normally. I thought that I would be out in a few months. Staff told me that because I was a “model patient,” I would have no problem getting out of the system. I was assured by staff that my “hospitalization” would be no longer, or maybe a bit longer than the jail term originally recommended by the prosecutors.
However, because of psychiatric recommendations made during my first Ontario Review Board (ORB) in mid-April of 2015, I realized that I wasn’t getting out anytime soon. I was immediately transferred to St. Joseph’s in Hamilton. Realizing the incredibly stupid mistake I'd made, I contacted the patient advocate to file an appeal. I requested a second opinion and was then examined by another staff psychiatrist. In his final report, he said that I had lied about my experience of psychotic delusion, further indicating that there was absolutely no evidence that I had ever suffered from any psychosis. He did say that I suffered from a number of different “personality disorders.”
I then applied for legal aid but this was rejected so the judge appointed a lawyer to act on my behalf. In February of 2016, I saw an independent psychiatrist. He was very critical of the original examining psychiatrist’s findings in the NCR report. He rejected the original diagnosis of “unspecified delusional disorder,” concluding that I was not NCR. He was surprised that this psychiatrist did not detect an obvious case of feigning illness, one with all the classic features of malingering. The crown decided this report should be reviewed by the NCR report’s original author. In turn, he has indicated that he does not dispute the independent report. So it seems I will finally be allowed to leave the prison hospital and go home.
As for my stay in this “hospital,” I can only describe it as the most brutal, vicious and degrading “treatment” that I have ever experienced in my life. My (limited) experience of jail is that it is easy compared with the daily psychological and physical tortures visited upon the “criminally insane.” For example, in a “hospital,” inmates have practically no privacy. Every 15-30 minutes, cell doors are flung wide open which means the occupants are constantly on edge. Rooms are stripped and searched weekly, sometimes more often. There are also routine body cavity searches. Inmates are asked the same questions over and over again, to assess whether they are a danger to themselves or others (this is the so-called “mental status examination”). The same questions can be asked over and over again in a single day but whatever its justification, it is nothing more than a particularly intrusive, degrading and infantilizing form of harassment.
Trivial infractions, such as failure to return a plastic spoon to staff members, can lead to a barrage of abuse, more intensive surveillance, and even additional room and body cavity searches. Other offences such as “raising your voice” or pushing away a chair in a supposedly “threatening manner” can lead to loss of “privileges,” such as they are. Looming behind this is the ever-present threat of violent physical restraint by guards, forced drugging, mechanical restraint and solitary confinement.
One incident stands out for me. I was forced to live beside a mentally retarded inmate who refused to bathe or clean up after herself for 5 or 6 months. The stench was horrible. The ward constantly smelt of urine and feces. It reached the point where some inmates were unable to eat in the dining room because of the stink. One inmate vomited while getting his meal. Complaints were made to staff, but inmates were told to mind their own business. It was apparently her “right” not to take a bath and to stink the place up. What about the health and safety of the other inmates? Again, the staff didn’t care. Further complaints were either ignored or were met with threats of being detained in the institution for even longer. Fortunately this nightmare finally came to an end when the mentally retarded inmate was transferred to another institution.
In addition to all the daily horrors of civil commitment, I’ve been subjected to considerable personal abuse from the director of forensic psychiatry. Despite my limited contact with him, he believes he knows what is in my best interests. In May of 2016, he came to my cell to talk to me. I have always found him to be callous, arrogant and condescending. I don't like speaking with him as he dismisses anything and everything I have to say unless I agree with his opinions. I explained that because I find him bigoted and intolerant, there wasn’t much point in our having any conversation because he would immediately dismiss all of my concerns as a possible “symptom” of some underlying “chemical imbalance.” I then closed the door.
Twenty-four hours later, he returned, accompanied by some 20 staff members. Through this overwhelming display of force, he tried to physically intimidate me into speaking with him. I again refused. He said that if I continued to refuse to speak with him, he would be left with no other choice except to have me physically restrained, forcibly drugged and placed in solitary confinement, possibly for days or even weeks. A few days later, and with about 20 staff, he again approached me but I refused for a third time. He then announced that if I refused to take the neuroleptic Risperidone he prescribed, he would apply to the Consent and Capacity Board of Ontario (CCB) to have me drugged against my will. The CCB is a mere formality which rubberstamps anything the psychiatrist recommends.
I called him a fascist and said I would never accept his brain-damaging, brain-disabling neurotoxin. He then ordered his guards to restrain me as I had “raised my voice.” He threatened that if I showed any signs of resistance he would have me forcibly drugged on the spot with Haloperidol. I was then placed in solitary confinement for 5 or 6 hours. The next day, I was found “mentally incompetent” by the director and handed a summons to appear before the CCB on June 1st. This was subsequently adjourned by a legal aid-appointed mental health lawyer to June 23rd and again to August 8th.
It was only during my civil commitment at St. Joseph’s that I began to realize what complete and utter bullshit psychiatry is. The nurses seemed to be incredibly ignorant of how the drugs and electroshock were supposed to work. When I asked them how forcing someone to do something against his will could possibly be considered therapeutic, they said only that it is "just hospital policy.” I asked them to define “mental illness” but none of them could do so. Perhaps they were acting dumb but it was very convincing. Eventually, I realised their ignorance was just part of the serious methodological and empirical deficiencies in psychiatric theory which form the basis of “hospital” practice.
Many times the nurses would become angered by my persistent questioning, to the point of taking away my few “privileges.” Eventually, they stopped answering and told me to ask the psychiatrists. They said that “mental illness” was caused by “chemical imbalances” in the brain, but when asked for conclusive scientific evidence, they were unable to provide any. Because I refused to accept their seemingly “authoritative” pronouncements, they decided I was paranoid. By that stage, I had realised that psychiatry is just pseudoscientific quackery and that psychiatrists are delusional “true believers.”
Even though I am subjected to degrading and dehumanizing ill-treatment on an almost daily basis, I do everything in my power to avoid doing anything that might lead to any direct confrontation with my psychiatric torturers. Given the highly arbitrary and subjective concepts of “dangerousness” and “aggressivity” that are routinely deployed by staff, this is not easy. The slightest disagreement is easily blown out of proportion and can be interpreted as aggressive behavior, requiring immediate physical restraint and injections, followed by mechanical restraints and solitary confinement. Because of this arbitrary abuse of power, I feel that I am in constant danger. I have no choice but to do everything I can to get out of this system. My lawyer is appealing the original NCR finding in the summary court but I am also trying to get people to pressure the hospital administrators to have me released.
I want to get out of this medieval torture chamber in one piece. I do not want to come out with brain damage, neurological disease such as tardive dyskinesia, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular problems, shortened life expectancy or severe psychological trauma, with nothing but a monthly disability check and government subsidized housing as “compensation” for my sufferings in this brutal system.
The longer I stay in this madhouse, the more I realize that my health, safety and even my life are in jeopardy. I can understand why some inmates turn on the hospital staff who are supposed to help them but who hurt and humiliate them. I see now that a long sentence in prison is better than this abuse. Who cares about the iron bars and orange jumpsuits of the federal penitentiary? At least your mind and spirit will be free of all externally imposed chemical, mechanical and electrical restraints. Better a drug- and shock-free imprisonment where one can finally be left to one’s own devices than therapeutic “treatment” in some “hospital.”
Psychiatrists always think they’re right, even when they can't prove it. Their credo is a crude biological reductionism. This is what makes them so dangerous. Human rights aren’t objective, empirical phenomena that can be observed under a microscope, so they’re automatically dismissed as figments of the imagination. Thus, questions of morality and ethics mean absolutely nothing to them. There is no independent thought; the typical psychiatrist is a narrow-minded ideologue with authoritarian tendencies. Anything that questions his biological utopia is ignored or crushed.
In retrospect, I realize how incredibly stupid I was, even though I honestly did not know what I was getting into. I should have known better. I should have been skeptical but the past cannot be undone. If I had known about the indefinite nature of the sentence, the humiliating daily surveillance, the routine infantilization, the daily physical and psychological abuse, the forced drugging, the forced electroshock, the physical and mechanical restraints and solitary confinement, I would have run to the nearest jail and banged on the gate to get in.
Since my commitment, my life has been a terrible nightmare. Imagine beginning each new day, sweating, your heart pounding, sick inside from a life that is beyond horrifying, an endless series of sufferings from which there is no relief. I cannot describe this torture. I accept that I deserve to be punished for what I did. I accept full responsibility for my actions but I do not deserve this. No one does.