Warning: This post contains real life anecdotes on serious subject manner. If the up close and personal dissection of experiences endured by those suffering from mental health issues makes you uncomfortable, be advised to click away now—perhaps an article on Buzzfeed or Reddit will be more your speed. All names of people in this article have been changed.
This past weekend, my friends and I went to get a tour of the Church of Scientology Community Center (because they say you’re supposed to do one thing that scares you everyday and what better way is there to spend a Saturday afternoon). A 4-floor trek and 3 hours of learning the life changing power of Dianetics later, I left the tour with one particular visual I just couldn’t get out of my head. No it wasn’t the upwards of hundreds of pictures of L. Ron Hubbard, the multiple floors of classrooms used for ‘seminars’, or the framed charts of Tom Cruiz and John Travolta’s emotional well being before and after graphs: This was more disturbing. What got me really heated was thinking back to when Ron, our tour guide and Scientology member since 1972, stood in front of the dozens of TV stations where propaganda films were played for new visitors (why did they need all those TVs to play different videos anyway? They couldn’t figure out how to make a single TV alternate through multiple videos? Isn’t this ideology supposed to be based on science? I digress…) and handed us a pamphlet entitled ‘The Truth About Psychiatry’. He proceeded to inform us that not only are all psychiatrists and psychologists Nazis, but also that all psychotropic medications, specifically antidepressants, lead people to commit crimes like shooting up elementary school (I’d love to see his face if he knew about all the crazy meds that were circulating through my bloodstream in his very presence).
More specifically, Scientologists believe that all treatments for mental illness “have no basis in science and are brutal in the extreme”. According to the church, the insane are subjected to these torturous practices to keep patients depended on psychiatrists so they can rake in billions of dollars from their elaborate ponzi scheme. As with many of their beliefs, Scientologists hold additional views on psychiatry that they don’t publicize in an effort to not sound bat-shit crazy themselves to the outside world. However, once members reach the higher levels of spiritual enlightenment, they’re permitted to know the churches full beliefs on the matter. Allegedly, all psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists—referred to as ‘psychs’—are a special breed of being created and invested with the sole purpose of keeping humankind mentally imprisoned sent to Earth from a planet called ‘Farsec’. Sounds sane and rational to me.
The Church of Scientology has gone as far as to create a museum, called The Psychiatry an Industry of Death Museum, and a ‘documentary’, also called Psychiatry an Industry of Death, to promote their anti-psych agenda. The film is entirely propaganda that presents nothing but faulty statistics, misleading representation of accounts and data, and cheesy music you’d find in a low budget horror film. I could go into a detailed account of all the inaccuracies in this movie, but this article is not aimed to be a 10-page fact checking post. I encourage you to not take my word for it, and see how outrageous the film is for yourself.
It wasn’t the fact that the Church of Scientology was teaching something that was untrue that upset me; this was expected. What really got to me was how what they taught so fully perpetuates the existing stereotypes held in our culture towards those with mental illness. There is a huge stigma towards the mentally ill in American and those suffering are commonly stereotyped as ‘not strong enough’ to overcome their feelings on their own and needing to make up their ‘fake disease’ to cower behind as a result. The fact of the matter is that psychiatric illnesses are real medical diseases that affect one’s brain matter and chemistry. By not only suggesting that the most scientifically promising treatment available to mental health patients is a hoax, but by doing so by presenting these conspiracies as legitimate fact (few people doubt what they see in documentaries, and even fewer doubt what they learn in museums), the work of Scientologists can seriously back track the progress mental illness has seen in recent years. At this point, many of you may already be wondering: Who would believe Scientologist propaganda? How much harm, therefore, could it actually cause? Perhaps most reasonable people will write off these publications as disinformation, but the damage caused, particularly by the Industry of Death film, is not great because of the number of viewers convinced, but rather, who those viewers are. This outlandish movie may not be enough to convince the average person that psychiatry is a scam, but it was enough to convince my friend Dylan.
Dylan is an avid music aficionado and loving grandson in his early twenties; he also suffers from sever paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar 1 disorder. I had the pleasure of meeting Dylan when I was incarcerated in a psychiatric ward near Chicago while he was on his 18th involuntary visit—I warned you this post might be a bit much for some readers. Being the only two people under 50 in the ward, we became very close.
Dylan was fucked up, and he knew it. After being in and out of hospitals his entire life with seemingly no improvement, I could understand how he felt frustrated with the system. Many of these visits weren’t taken in an effort to get better—they were an alternative to prison. I remember confiding in Dylan about the medications and treatments the doctors were putting me on, and he’d tell me:
“Pretend to swallow it, and hide it under your tongue. You don’t need that shit. They’re just trying to get you hooked on drugs and take your money.”
When I asked him why he believed that, he told me to YouTube ‘Psychiatry and Industry of Death’ when I was released.
Even after researching the film and learning it was produced by the Church of Scientology, I still could see where Dylan was coming from with his beliefs. On portion of the movie discusses involuntary treatment and highlights how psychiatry is the only medical profession that can drug and restrain. The more a person objects to these treatments, the more these person’s objections are allegedly viewed as a symptom of mental illness. The longer these tactics keep patients in hospital beds against their will, the more money the psychiatry industry is making from insurance companies. As someone whose been incarcerated and administered drugs in the ass that made me not know where I was for five days, I can attest that there is definitely truth in these statements. I learned that the hospital I was at was notoriously known for extending the holds of patients with good health insurance; I was held for 14 days. I was livid. For months after my hospitalization, I was bitter about what I felt was stolen from me in terms of my freedom and sanity. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a moment while watching Industry of Death where I wanted to believe everything I was being told; I wanted a scapegoat to blame for my traumatic experiences in the psych ward, and the emotional appeal the film made to experiences I’ve lived through made it easy to agree blaming psychiatrists was the answer.
However, after I took a breath and calmed down, I regained my perspective. I could not believe the propaganda I was watching just because it used very real flaws that exist in the mental health care system as a crutch for the rest of Scientology’s preposterous beliefs to stand on. My experiences demonstrated some of the problems that still exist in federally ran mental hospitals; the experiences displayed in an Industry of Death attempt to demonstrate how psychiatry as a science is evil. The latter assertion is simply untrue. The flaws in the public system are in no way representative of the entire field. As bad as my experience in a public mental heath facility was, I can personally attest that my private psychiatrist has made my life tremendously better.
Unfortunately, Dylan’s new found beliefs on the nature of psychiatry has prevented him from attaining the same help that has changed my life. I still get calls from him time to time telling me he’s on street drugs, hearing voices telling him to commit crimes, and feels like killing himself. It pains me that if an Industry of Death wasn’t falsely presented as a factual documentary, he could potentially be better mentally, off wellfare, and on the right track towards happiness.
By no means is the Church of Scientology persuading mass amounts of people to ignore their shrinks recommendations, but for the people who are affected by the church’s lies the impacts can be extraordinary. In a nation with guarantees the right to freedom of religion and speech, how do we hold these people accountable for this catastrophic deceit? The Church of Scientology, as with any religion, should retain the right to speak their views; however, claiming to be a religion should not allow a group to hide behind the label in order to get away with presenting their views as scientific fact. I don’t claim to know how many more Dylans there are out there, and I can’t imagine a legal proposition to filter deceptive presentation of fact that wouldn’t hinder freedom of speech. But until there is a way to protect brainwashing of the susceptible, we the people need to hold groups such as the Church of Scientology accountable for what they say. Some might think this is a non issue for people unafflicted by mental illness; however, accountability in the press has a huge impact on our politics (see NMZ Talk’s take on media accountability here: http://nmztalks.tumblr.com/post/142600770275/where-is-the-accountability), our health (for example, ever heard the media claim vaccines cause autism? Check out this unchecked media myth via Think Science at: http://thescientificperspective.blogspot.com/2016/04/you-talkin-to-me.html), and virtually any major issue that is subject to misinformation. When a ‘documentary’ is filled with lies, it is up to us to raise our voices–whether literally or via the internet– to make it known.