Shocking developments in Canada

By Irit Shimrat

Antishock activist Leonard Roy Frank spoke in Vancouver, British Columbia, on February 12, 1996, about psychiatric force and fraud, focusing primarily on electroconvulsive "therapy." He began by talking about his own experience in the early 1960s. Committed by his parents because he didn't want to work, wouldn't shave off his beard and ate only vegetarian food (ooh - this guy must be crazy!), Leonard was subjected to 50 insulin coma and 35 electroshock treatments. As a result, he lost years of education and, after he got out, had to put a great deal of time and effort into re-educating himself. Ever since, he has been a tireless fighter for human rights and against psychiatric abuse. In 1978 he edited an excellent book called The History of Shock Treatment.

Among many other things, Leonard talked about how electroshock came into being, the lies psychiatrists tell people in order to convince them to have their brains fried with electric current, and the growing prevalence of this brain-damaging practice.

Leonard came to Vancouver on his way back to San Francisco from Whitehorse, Yukon (in northern Canada), where there is only one psychiatrist, who recently had the hospital where he practises purchase a shock machine. SOS (the Second Opinion Society, Whitehorse's amazing antipsychiatry group) was outraged, and immediately took action. First they went to the press, and got lots of good coverage. Then they invited Leonard to strategize with the group, conduct a public meeting, and speak at a demonstration. He was a huge success.

About three weeks before he went there, SOS contacted the West Coast Mental Health Network (a "consumer" group), whose coordinator, Jon Leah Hopkins, asked me to arrange for Leonard to speak here in Vancouver. With help from activist friends Persimmon Blackbridge and Lenny Gagnon, I booked a space and spent the next two weeks doing tons of publicity for the event, including posters, press releases, public service announcements on radio and television and a mailout to Network members.

To put it mildly, Vancouver is not a great centre of psychiatric survivor activism. I was really scared that none of the media would touch this issue, and that no one would show up for the talk.

To my delighted surprise, the Vancouver Echo (a weekly community paper) interviewed Leonard by phone after receiving my press release and ran a wonderful totally anti-shock piece, even keeping in what I'd written about the Network being a group of people with psychiatric labels!!! This is unprecedented in the Vancouver media as far as I know; we are invariably referred to as "the mentally ill."

On the morning of the 12th, CKNW (a local radio station) had Leonard on a phone-in show. They wanted a shock doc for "balance" but failed to get one. (Yahoo! This "balance" business drives me nuts, pardon the expression. Whenever a dissident view is put forward they have to go and get some turkey on the other side to negate it, with all the force of the status quo behind him. Sure, that would be balance if whenever they ran a pro-establishment piece they came to us for the other side!) The show went beautifully. In the short time allowed for callers, three people phoned in, all on our side (and only one of them was from the Cult of Scientology). One caller said she'd seen the effects of ECT, and it was not a pretty sight. Her uncle, treated with shock and drugs for alcoholism, was "a basket case by the time they got through with him." Finally, the interviewer quoted someone as saying that psychiatry is the disease for which it purports to be the cure!

That evening, a reporter from Co-op Radio, a radical community station, came and taped Leonard's entire talk, which Co-op later aired on three consecutive Saturday mornings.

What amazed me the most, though, was that 70 people showed up for the talk. The first person to speak in the question period asked what we could do to stop shock. Leonard suggest demonstrations and vigils in front of hospitals, with flyers handed out to passersby, as a start.

Someone asked Leonard about the spiritual aspect of madness. He said that when he got locked up he was going through a transitional period that the psychiatrists labelled as a psychotic episode. He was trying to renew himself spiritually: "I believed I'd seen the light, and I think whether I really had or not is immaterial. I had to go through changes. Psychiatry is a counter-transformative force."

Finally, someone asked what Leonard thought about stress. He replied, "Stress can be a useful tool. We need to understand and evaluate what contributes to it, rather than running away from it. It's often brought on by impossible financial, social or family situations. But it can also be brought on by lifestyle. People may need to rethink what they believe in, and change the way they live. Meditation, yoga, tai chi and dietary changes can be helpful. People who are labelled mentally ill often consume lots of sugar, preservatives, meat, dairy products, rich food, coffee and cigarettes. That's chemical imbalance! And the poisons available in every drugs store, from painkillers to antibiotics -- the cumulative effect of all these things ruins bodies as well as spirits.

"People have to learn to take better care of themselves. Most of us have learned bad habits from earliest childhood. But there comes a time when we have to take charge; to take responsibility for what we put into our bodies, and also for what we put into our minds. To move from television and bad fiction to reading and discussing good stuff that opens us up to new ideas."

By far the most moving moment of the evening was when a woman stood up and said she'd had more than 100 shock treatments in the 1980s. "I'm a senior, and if anyone mentions shock to me now, they won't last long in my life. I can't remember 68 years of my life. I can't remember my childhood, my marriage, giving birth to my children. It's normal for me that people start sentences with, 'You won't remember this, but ...'

"I'm thankful that in 1991 I went off the drugs, and then stopped the ECT. I made the decision on my own, in the middle of a series. I had to learn everything again. I couldn't fry an egg. I had to learn to drive, learn the names of streets.

"If there's anything I can do to help fight shock in a quiet way, I will."

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Created: December 11, 1996
Last modified: May 2, 1997

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