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John McCarthy of Mad Pride Ireland is one of the founders of MindFreedom Ireland. John recently was diagnosed and treated for cancer. In one of the main newspapers in Cork, Ireland, John compared the detailed treatment he was given for cancer, with the unscientific way he was treated when he had a mental and emotional crisis that left him suicidal. (At bottom is how all of you in the mad movement community can e-mail your support to John.)

John McCarthy: Comparing a Diagnosis of Cancer and Psychiatric Disorder

Date Published:

Nov 12, 2009 12:00 AM

Author: John McCarthy

Source: Cork Independent

John McCarthy in UNI have cancer. I’ve just been told I’m going to lose a kidney. I’ve got a malignant tumour 11cm by 11cm growing on my kidney. My kidney and the tumour are going to be cut out and I’m going to be fine. It is all very positive and it is all very good news. I am the luckiest man in the world that the cancer was found in time and there is no evidence of secondaries or any spread.

Why would I want to write an article like this, at a time like this? I’ve discussed it with my family and friends and they thought it was a good idea. You may or may not know that I am a mental health campaigner and I have been campaigning for change in how the mental health system operates for years now and I saw this as an opportunity to point out a fundamental flaw in how the medical model of treatment in psychiatry operates as against main stream medicine.

Let me tell you about my admission into hospital recently. I had a pain in my leg, I was beginning to limp, it was getting worse, my GP recommended that I see a neurologist there was a huge waiting list to see a neurologist so I went to A&E. I was rejected at one hospital and went to the CUH where I was immediately taken into A&E, a cursory examination took place and I was put on a trolley and told I was going to be admitted but not under a neurologist, much to my annoyance but under a physician.

What I have just told you is very pertinent so please keep it in mind as I will refer back to it. So I along with 30 odd other people am lying head to toe on a trolley in an A&E corridor, not the best accommodation in the world but the standard of care from the staff was tremendous. As I said to one of the staff it is like booking into a 5 star hotel and being told you had to sleep in the lobby.

Over the next 36 hours, my pulse, my temperature, my blood pressure were taken 3 times a day. I had copious amounts of blood taken for blood tests, x rays and a scan. In between all this I have rung my wife to tell her that I was being admitted and we both agreed that it was a good thing to see if we could find out what is going on with my leg. While she and my son are visiting the following day my admitting doctor returned and very kindly told me that they had found a problem with my kidney and I stopped him and I asked three questions

“Do I have cancer?” And he replied “yes”

“Is it malignant?” and he replied “yes”

And finally “can you fix it?” and he replied “yes”

So I said that’s great let’s go from there. He then explained to me that I would have to be admitted and further exhaustive tests done in order to come to a final diagnosis and come up with a regime of treatment and to come up with a prognosis.

These would include a series of neurological tests to ascertain what was wrong with my leg and whether the two were interconnected or not. So over the next 10 days I had further x rays, a bone density scan, numerous bloods taken, ultra sound, MRI scan and when all of these tests results were taken together and analysis by a team of doctors consisting of a physician, a number of registrars, two neurologists and a surgeon then and only then was a final diagnosis made. A treatment regime explained to me, which was the removal of my kidney, my lymph glands, and the fatty tissue surrounding it.

And the prognosis was that I was going to be fine and that I could survive with one kidney as so many other people do. A project for me. It had a beginning, the growth of the tumour, middle, the removal of the tumour and an end, my recovery to full health.

I can handle that.

Contrast that with my admission into a psychiatric institution. I had become more and more depressed over a number of years until it finally became chronic and I became suicidal. I went to see a psychiatrist. I sat in front of this gentleman for 20 minutes and after that 20 minutes, he came up with a diagnosis of uni polar depression, not only did he come up with a diagnosis, but he also wrote a prescription for my regime of treatment. He also told me that I would have the problem for the rest of my life but the “good news” was that he would be able to control it with drugs.

Contrast this and think about what I’ve just written in the context of what happened to me in the scientifically proven area of general medicine. This consultant psychiatrist was able to look at me and talk to me for 20 minutes and at the end of that time tell me I had a disease in the most complicated organ of my body, my brain, tell me where in my brain this disease was located, identify and name it and tell me the type and level of medication that was going to control it.

How luck am I that I was treated by such a genius? He never even took my pulse, he didn’t need an x ray, he didn’t need a scan, and he knew it all by looking at me and talking to me.

But we do not stop there. We put the force of law behind that opinion, we by law allow psychiatrists to lock up members of my community without trial, to force them to take medications, to force them to take electro compulsive therapy ECT, all by law based on his opinion and that only.

Is it not time that psychiatry and we in the general population began to question the ethical and moral implications that are involved in standing over this total lack of science that constitutes the treatment regime for “mental illness” under the medical model?

I said I would refer back to my original admittance into the CUH. As I progressed and formed a relationship with my team of doctors, I realised something about the whole series of events and I asked my admitting doctor who carried out my original examination when he was probing my stomach and my back with his fingers, did he realise then that I had a tumour?

His answer was “yes, but I had to have all the tests carried out before I could stand over my opinion”. What we have within psychiatry is what I can only call an arrogance that allows the doctors opinion to be accepted as medical science and since I began campaigning a number of years ago, I have met so many people who have been severely damaged by the lack of science behind that opinion.

A recent Joe Duffy show highlighted the damage that has been caused by the over prescribing of psycho tropic medications not just by psychiatrists but by GP’s, as a convenience in the treatment of so called “mental illness”.

The fact is there is not a pill for every ill. The fact is that writing a prescription is simply too easy a solution when people who have emotional problems as I had need a listening ear rather than a convenient prescription pad.

When I had depression, I nearly died when I attempted suicide; I used to pray for something like cancer because, you see there is something tangible in cancer. At least I know I have cancer and science backs it up and I can fight it and I will be fine.

But with depression, a friend said to me once that it’s like trying to bag smoke it is an intangible thing, it is a problem of the mind not the brain, it is emotional thing not physical and it needs time, love and community in order to make it right.

Could it be that we are all looking at the kings clothes here?

At the very least we need to have a serious and open debate on this subject.

John McCarthy

Mad Pride Ireland

Social Entrepreneur

[Photo at top is by Tom Olin showing John McCarthy in the United Nations representing MindFreedom International.]


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