On Sunday, October 16th, several members of the Jewish community spoke out about forced psychiatric treatment at a United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in San Diego, California.
The Working Group was part of the United Nations’ effort to closely examine various forms of arbitrary detention in the U.S. Over the next several weeks, UN delegates will be visiting places of deprivation of liberty, including jails, prisons, and psychiatric institutions, in addition to holding forums around the country on the topic.
Members of the international network Jews Against Forced Treatment spoke about the trauma of forced psychiatric hospitalization alongside survivors of forced treatment who are members of all faiths and cultural backgrounds. Survivors spoke about the trauma of losing their bodily autonomy, frequently being subjected to restraint, seclusion, invasive strip searches, forced drugging, and verbal and physical harassment. They highlighted the lack of education and support in filing grievances against these types of abuse, as well as the fear of retaliation that prevents so many from doing so.
Tina Minkowitz, President of the Center for Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, led the effort for psychiatric survivors to speak at the United Nations forums around the country. The Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry is active both at home and internationally in the development, promotion, and implementation of international human rights norms related to the abolition of forced treatment and substitute decision-making, linked directly to the standards of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Emily Sheera Cutler, Founder of Jews Against Forced Treatment, led this effort in Southern California. She spoke to the Working Group about the ways that her Jewish values have influenced her to speak out against forced treatment. “I strongly feel that forced hospitalization is in direct opposition to my Jewish values,” she says. “One of the greatest mitzvot in Judaism is pidyon shvuyim – freeing captives. Indeed, the Talmud states that captivity is worse than starvation or death.”
Psychiatry is the only medical specialty to have its own survivor movement – not from the illnesses it hopes to treat, but from the practices of the profession itself. Many individuals with mental health struggles, trauma, and distress cite fear of coerced or forced treatment as a reason that they do not choose to seek mental health treatment or speak out about their mental health. A recent study found that 63 percent of patients have witnessed traumatic events in psychiatric settings. 31 percent have experienced physical assault, and 8 percent have experienced sexual assault.
Click here to read survivors’ accounts of forced psychiatric treatment.