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Human Rights and Freedoms
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Investigative Reporting in the public interest

Reforming the Mental Health field

Psychiatrist walking alone down hallway
Investigating abuse, harm and
deaths in the name of psychiatry

ince its first issue in 1968, Freedom has been outspoken against criminal practices, human rights abuses and brutal treatments in the mental health field. In this regard, many of Freedom’s stories have had global impact, and the coverage has led to substantial reforms.

     In the mid-1970s, the South African edition of Freedom conducted an extensive investigation of conditions for black mental patients in facilities owned and operated by the Smith-Mitchell Holding Company—a profit corporation which consumed about one-third of the South African mental health budget.

      The investigation began when a lost, traveling windowpane salesman stopped for directions at what appeared to be a desolate mining compound outside Johnannesburg. While there, he witnessed a naked and terrified native woman being restrained by a uniformed guard. Troubled by what he saw, the salesman, a Scientologist, reported what he had seen to the Church of Scientology.

      Freedom’s investigation revealed a shocking picture of inhumanity, in which 10,000 natives—more than 70 percent of all black certified mental patients in South Africa—were detained in nine Smith-Mitchell facilities as virtual prisoners, and hired out as an involuntary slave labor force. The patients lived in base conditions, with minimal nutrition and care. The camps were devoid of equipped medical facilities, and at least one patient died every day.

      The subservience and cooperation of patients was obtained by subjecting them to psychiatric drugs and, where deemed necessary, transporting them to nearby state psychiatric facilities where they were administered electro-convulsive therapy (ECT)—without anesthetic.

      Freedom’s charges were investigated by the United Nations’ World Health Organization, which concluded, “The limited evidence available on the conditions within the private mental institutions suggests that the ‘sanitaria’ are in fact custodial institutions with very few discharges per year, and with poor standards of patient care. ... [I]n a country which is among the richest in the world, the type and quality of mental health care are determined by the colour of the patient’s skin.”

      The American Psychiatric Association dispatched an investigative team to South Africa which reported that the “most shocking finding” was the “high number of needless deaths among black patients” in the camps.

      The then-apartheid government of South Africa responded by passing a law banning the publication of material or photographs about the psychiatric camps.

      After the fall of apartheid in 1994, Freedom and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), an international psychiatric watchdog group established by the Church of Scientology in 1969, brought this dark chapter of apartheid to the attention of the new government. In 1995, the Minister of Health ordered an inquiry to investigate and report on any current malpractice or violation of human rights in psychiatric hospitals.

      By 1996, the inquiry issued its damning findings, and recommended strong reforms, which are now becoming a reality.

Freedom Magazine articles, published by the Church of Scientology
In 1976, Freedom in South Africa published a series of major reports which chronicles appalling conditions, abuse, and death for black mental patients held in white buisness-owned camps. The World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and the American Psychiatric Association conducted independent investigations which confirmed Freedom’s reports.

Institutional Conditions

      Freedom and CCHR have exposed conditions in psychiatric institutions in other parts of the world which fare little better than those found in South Africa.

      Atrocious conditions and patient abuse in psychiatric hospitals throughout Italy have been exposed by CCHR and Freedom for more than two decades. The resultant institutional reforms throughout the country have included the closure of a number of facilities, and their later conversion to non-psychiatric medical centers.

      Freedom and CCHR in Italy also exposed one of the more gruesome chapters of psychiatry’s past in that country, after researchers discovered the existence of mummified patients—men and women who had been murdered and preserved for years in the basement of a psychiatric facility.

      When inhumane conditions were discovered on the Greek island of Leros, where psychiatric patients were held in degraded facilities that could be best described as medieval, Freedom was in the forefront of condemning the institutions and helping to generate reform.

      Similar conditions found in facilities in Britain and in Germany were exposed and condemned, where patient abuse included overdrugging and irreparable mental and physical damage.

      A probe by Freedom researchers into the unexplained deaths of more than 100 patients at two state psychiatric facilities in California in the 1970s led to an investigation by the California state legislature, and substantial reforms in both institutions.

      Freedom, CCHR and former psychiatric patients were also at the forefront of successful efforts in the 1970s to mandate informed consent for electro-convulsive therapy.

Psychiatric Sexual Abuse

      The base ethical standards rampant in the psychiatric profession are typified by sexual abuse of women and children.

      Among the most outspoken of voices against rape of psychiatric patients, Freedom’s coverage has contributed to successful efforts in a number of U.S. states to make the practice punishable by felony conviction and sentencing.

      Freedom has probed multiple reports of psychiatric abuse of children, such as its 1985 investigation into alleged child sexual abuse in connection with the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, and the 1989 exposure of sexual abuse at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca, New York, where dozens of documented incidents of assault, rape and sodomy took place. These and other detailed exposes helped to raise the awareness of legislators and the general public of child abuse in such institutions, leading to new laws in some states which mandate background checks so offenders with criminal backgrounds are denied employment.

      Freedom has also documented and been highly outspoken about psychiatry’s pernicious influence on the education system. The effect has been to steer schooling away from learning and into the field of behavior modification—victimizing children by the millions as evidenced by the disastrous decline in education scores throughout the nation. Through Freedom’s coverage, many legislators, officials, education leaders and the public have been informed of vital issues that involve our youth and affect generations to come.

Reforming the Mental Health Field continued ...
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