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Personal Stories

Pat Risser

“I had been brainwashed by the psychiatric system to be hopeless, helpless and overly dependent. So now I’ve dedicated the greater part of my life to try and reach people who are currently affected by the system and deprogram them from the cult of psychiatry.”


24 September 1952

Contact info: Pat Risser Address: 1530 10th St. West Linn, Oregon, USA; His Website:

Currently doing: Pat is a semi-retired Mental Health Consultant who provides training and workshops for consumers/survivors throughout the country.

Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced Treatment, Coercive Treatment, Restraints, Solitary Confinement

Psychiatric labels: Catatonic Schizophrenia, Undifferentiated Schizophrenia, Schizoid Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar, Major Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder

Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Stelazine, Navane, Sinequan, Imipramine, Valium, Cogentin, Paxil, several others that can’t remember

Off psychiatric drugs since:


Recovery methods: Peer Support, Self-Help, Social Activism, Reading “On Our Own,” One good therapist out of many seen

Greatest obstacle: Overcoming the hopeless, helpless state and fighting the urge to be dependent on others.

Brief History:

I was angry. I’d worked hard all day, had a miserable day and upon coming home, there was no wife and no note. I stuffed my anger and went to work on some leftover ham. I spent considerable time meticulously carving it into paper-thin slices just the way I like it and made a neat pile on a paper plate. I grumbled and muttered to myself wondering with concern where my wife was at.

Finally, she bopped in the door all bouncy and bubbly with joy. She’d been visiting a friend and then she bounced over to where I was stewing on the couch and just snatched a piece of ham from my plate. The ham I had worked so hard on. Something in me snapped. I started yelling, out of control. She got angry at me in return and headed down the hall and slammed the bedroom door. I threw the plate of ham against the door, crash, broken glass and ham everywhere!

I sat down, and all I thought about was that I couldn’t hurt someone I loved. I put my elbows on my knees and rested my head on my hands. That’s the last thing I remember. I was 22.

I was told later that my wife came out of the bedroom after a while and saw me sitting there rigid and uncommunicative. She called 911 and it took three burly police officers ten minutes to straighten my body out enough to load me onto a stretcher. I was hyperventilating dangerously. The first conscious awareness I had was of lying on a bed in a hospital emergency room with someone holding a bag over my mouth and nose to stop the hyperventilation. Eventually, I was given a referral to a psychiatrist.

I saw the psychiatrist and was diagnosed with undifferentiated catatonic schizophrenia. For the next five years, I saw the psychiatrist and took a cocktail of stelazine, navane, sinequan, imipramine, valium and cogentin. My wife was told that I was to be kept as free of stress as possible. I was even told not to work.

I was a good mental patient for several years. I was compliant and as I searched for answers to my emotional distress, I tried everything the psychiatrists and therapists told me to do. My biggest problem was that I’d feel overcome at times with unrelenting free-floating anxiety and depression. I struggled through these times and nothing seemed to help. There were times I’d feel such overwhelming emotional pain that I’d do things like cut on myself. I viewed this not as dysfunctional, but rather like a distraction from the emotional pain to help keep my emotions from consuming me so that I could continue to function.

When I’d be forced to see another doctor or another therapist, the diagnosis and the medications would change. Over the years, I was diagnosed as being schizoid, schizotypal, schizoaffective, manic-depressive, several of the personality disorders, multiple personality, PTSD, and various dissociative disorders.

Things got more serious. I got suicidal and made several serious attempts to overdose with the psychiatric drugs. Even cutting on myself wasn’t enough of a distraction so I’d sit under a freeway overpass and bang the back of my head on the concrete until the back of my head was a bloody mess and I was able to calm the emotional storms within again.

Every time I’d tell a psychiatrist or therapist that I was suicidal, I’d get locked up, forcibly drugged, secluded and restrained. I survived over twenty hospitalizations including one hellish stay at a state hospital. Nothing, and I repeat, NOTHING that the system did to me or for me worked. Everything they tried just seemed to make matters worse. The only thing that helped was being accepted as a “real” person by my fellow patients. Eventually, I realized that I could receive that sort of support without going into a hospital.

I had one particularly terrifying episode with Navane, where every muscle in my body agonizingly locked up. I was home from the hospital on a weekend pass and enjoying time with my family and we had some friends over. I was suddenly immobile with pain. I was scared and embarrassed. The only thing that helped was going back to the hospital for an injection of a muscle relaxant. That was the last time I took some of the drugs. I never want to repeat that horrifying experience again.

I started to have flashbacks to a horribly abusive childhood. I’d suppressed those memories because they were so terrifying. The memories of the beatings, the rapes and other abuse would come flooding back and take control of my life. I’d walk the streets at 3 a.m. screaming at my mother to get out of my head.

Luckily, I found a support group that specialized in helping victims of abuse and trauma. And I found another peer support group that I attended religiously. I found a copy of Judi Chamberlin’s book, “On Our Own” and I finally realized that I was not alone. Now I knew that there were others who’d been through similar experiences. This helped me so much.

The overwhelming feeling while being raped or battered as a child was one of helplessness. I went to the mental health system for help with my emotional distress and they responded by hospitalizing me and re-triggering the trauma of helplessness. I fought the restraints and seclusion because it only served to re-traumatize me with the same helpless feeling of immobility that was present when I was being raped by my step-father. The mental health system didn’t understand and they continued to try and treat me with painful drugs and other things that didn’t help. My peers and friends in support groups did understand and they never tried to “treat” me. Instead, they gave me love, understanding, kindness and support.

I built upon my experiences in the support groups and started to heal. I got involved and learned about the mental patient liberation movement. It’s been over 20 years of my life now that I’ve dedicated to being an activist in the mental health field. You see, I had been brainwashed by the psychiatric system to be hopeless, helpless and overly dependent. So now I’ve dedicated the greater part of my life to try and reach people who are currently affected by the system and deprogram them from the cult of psychiatry.

Helping others gave me a purpose and direction in my life again. I gradually ceased the medications over the course of several years. I stopped one at a time and it’s been since 1996 that I stopped taking the last of them.

I regained control of my life. Although I had the rare good therapist who provided some occasional insights that helped, for the most part, the system impeded any healing and recovery and in fact, usually made matters worse. The healing and recovery I experienced came from the support of loving, caring people who treated me as a human instead of a diagnosis.

Interviewer’s Comments: Although many may have lost hope for Pat, Pat never lost hope for himself. He has survived years of abuse both at home and within the psychiatric system to become a popular speaker, consultant, and leader in the consumer/survivor movement.

Year told: