Loss of youth and stolen education

The legacy of psychiatric meddling in the young life of Tom McCarthaigh

TM– Time and again, CCHR is contacted by people who, going through the natural uncertainties and confusions of youth, fall into the clutches of psychiatry and have their young lives wrecked by a combination of meaningless diagnosis and dangerous drugs.

Tom McCarthaigh wasn’t just a promising student, having been awarded certificates from his university for ‘high quality’ and ‘exceptional achievement’, before his unique talent and sharp artistic perceptions were robbed from him by clumsy psychiatric meddling.

It all started to go wrong back in 2007 when Tom was studying at the University of Central England in Birmingham. The pressures of growing up, studying and day-to-day living started to get to him and he found himself becoming confused and agitated.

In the middle of June, the staff arranged for an assessment to be carried out, and a psychiatrist was put in overall charge of his ‘care’. He retreated to his parents’ house in Midsomer Norton and waited there alone for the local CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) to visit, and advise on a course of action.

Tom had made it clear at the assessment that he felt able to manage the agitation without drugs, and that he would prefer to avoid their use if something better could be advised by the ‘experts’. Of course, nothing was, and the CPN quit the building in under five minutes, leaving behind him a prescription for Olanzapine.

His hopes of understanding and professional expertise dashed, Tom became more distressed still, and decided to try the only ‘help’ going.

Naturally enough, the CPN’s pitch for Olanzapine had not included any reference to its proven effectiveness at causing psychosis, delusional thinking and suicidal tendencies where none existed. Instead he was told the drug would ‘calm him down’.

Like so many others, Tom had no reason not to believe him, so began the course of pills that would shatter the course of his life. Within two weeks of starting on the drugs, his original agitation had been magnified to such an extreme that he tried to end it all by overdosing on Paracetamol.

To all intents and purposes, Tom accepts now that he was exhibiting classic symptoms of psychosis, at which point the care team decided to have him involuntarily committed. That his condition had worsened dramatically since submitting to psychiatric advice to swallow a product known to produce this effect did little to inspire confidence or set his mind at rest, and he was right to be wary.

Needless to say, ‘treatment’ on the psychiatric ward consisted of yet more drugs and, following his experiences of the preceding fortnight, Tom was understandably reluctant to swallow any more powerful pills, so he went through the motions when given them and threw them away when alone. He didn’t get away with this for long before an order was given for him to be forcibly injected by the staff with Risperdal (an antipsychotic with numerous mental and physical contra-indications).

By October 2008 Tom was living in supported accommodation at Westbury House in Bristol and trying to pick up the threads of his education at the University of the West of England. The staff at Westbury were obliged to place the wishes of the supervising psychiatrist above those of his ‘patient’, so persisted in administering both Aripiprazole [causes dribbling, difficulty speaking or breathing, loss of balance, sticking out of the tongue, unusual facial expressions and weight gain, among an extensive smorgasbord of helpful effects) and Citalopram (to add confusion, involuntary quivering, anxiety, gas and loss of memory, and all the other things you really need when you’re not that well in the first place).

No one will be surprised that being pumped full of these nightmare concoctions is not exactly conducive to learning. Tom tried desperately to concentrate, but, his early promise denied him, soon gave up the unequal struggle, made especially hard by the ridicule, and suggestions that he wasn’t making an effort, from fellow students and tutors, who knew he was better than that.

He had believed that the medication was to be for a short term, with some kind of result in mind. When he was informed that the prescription would be ongoing for at least a further five years, he was devastated, and talked to his own doctor about the possibility of withdrawal.

Even that hope was removed from him when it transpired that one of the psychiatrists supervising his case had written to his local surgery at Montpelier, specifically directing that he should receive no assistance in such a course.

This assault on his human rights further convinced Tom that the drugs were not doing him any good, and were not being prescribed for his benefit. So, once he was back in a position to deal with his own medication, he took the opportunity to begin his own difficult withdrawal process.

He managed a month without taking the prescribed Aripiprazole and Citalopram before word got back to the ‘care’ team, who issued instructions that staff should forcibly administer the ordered medication.

No improvement in Tom’s condition was achieved by taking the drugs, as his university psychologist confirmed: ‘Tom has reported problems with concentration, feeling paranoid and lacking confidence.’ All these symptoms could be laid at the door of the chemicals he was being forced to take, rather than any existing condition. The psychiatrists claimed the Aripiprazole was prescribed to treat ‘a paranoid psychosis’. At the very least, it did not help in this, so Tom had every right to refuse to take it.

Even now, he is quick to point out that there was often a big divide between the aloof and distant psychiatrists who ordered the treatment and those at the sharp end charged with carrying out their orders. Many showed a kindness and understanding completely at odds with the casual arrogance of their masters, a genuine desire to help having trapped them in a system with nothing positive to offer.

Eventually Tom moved into independent accommodation so was able at last to decide on his own ‘treatment’, and reflect on the four years of his life that had been taken from him, years in which he had been so sedated that his ability to think had been compromised, his cognitive powers reduced. His reaction time had slowed to a great extent and concentrating was a real effort. The medication had increased his body weight noticeably – and weirdly, in the way toxins tend to do. Agonising headaches and constant anxiety had become part of life under psychiatry.

His university studies had petered out as his talents and energy were drugged out of him. As he told CCHR, ‘These men’s drugs put me in such a sedated state that I could barely focus and contribute within the courses, and was ridiculed by my peers and a lecturer as a dope.’

He was to abandon his academic studies in 2011.

When he was finally freed from psychiatric labelling and drugging, Tom was able slowly to rebuild his life and regain his artistic abilities to the point where he is now in responsible paid work as an artist with regular commissions and his artwork published in magazines.

‘This shows conclusively that I not only can function without their drugs, but I can function to a much higher and happier degree as a contributing professional – something I could never have done on the drugs.

‘The emotional anguish caused by the actions of these men still affects me today, because that was my life that they were messing around with.

‘I’m left with no trust in psychiatry or a medical profession that toadies to it.’


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