A few days ago I attended a talk by a leading member of the British psychiatric bureaucracy. It was his proud boast that he and his colleagues had persuaded the government that hospitals and health authorities should have to explain why they refused psychiatric assistance to anyone who had asked for it. The idea that some people might actually be harmed by the desired but nevertheless ineffective and unnecessary psychiatric assistance was completely beyond his comprehension. He evidently believed in a neo-Cartesian dictum: I want, therefore I need.

It is not difficult to work out that such an attitude would serve the financial interests and appetite for power of the so-called caring professionals. The psychiatric bureaucrat also cited in his talk a frequently quoted figure about the proportion, 70 percent, of prisoners who had “mental health problems”—among them, of course, unhappiness at being locked up. That slippery...


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